I would say it’s one of the oldest conflicts in history, but that’s far from true. Israel became a country shortly after World War II. In the history of civilization, this conflict is actually quite young. But the airtime this conflict takes up, as far as international affairs, is staggering and completely disproportionate to the length of time this dispute has been raging.
I write this article from the desk in a bedroom of a simple four-bedroom home in Pardes Hannah, Israel. Last week, I spent 24 hours with two Palestinian friends of mine in the West Bank, peace workers admirably dedicated to bringing cultural and religious understanding and acceptance between warring people (I can’t say between warring nations because Palestine honestly isn’t recognized as a country; it’s more accurately referred to as “occupied territories”). My friends work their hearts out with an organization called Combatants for Peace. They facilitate groups, they tour around Europe and the US giving talks about the reality of life in the occupied territories of Palestine. The reality here, for those who haven’t had the honor of coming and witnessing with their own eyes and heart, is the definition of heartbreaking; in my opinion, it’s truly one of the most heartbreaking human crises on our planet.
I’m here as a peace worker, as a healer, as a lover and friend. I listen and share stories. I share tears. I look deeply into the eyes of my Palestinian friends and feel largely responsible as an American – our military is the biggest funder of the Israeli military, a fact that utterly shatters my heart as I walk down the streets of Palestine, taking in the juxtaposition of the vibrant conversations I hear and the smiles I witness on Palestinian faces against the heaps of trash and villages without water and electricity. This is largely due to the fact that the Israeli government strategically prevents Palestinians from building infrastructure that would allow for successful trash removal and for access to basic resources like water and electricity. The oppression/repression/suppression is truly next level here.
In some ways, peace is a simple process: create an environment where people from adverse backgrounds can get to know each other by listening to each other’s stories about family, health, life’s successes and challenges. Once we get a feel for the human being on “the other side,” we start to experience compassion and empathy in a natural way we never imagined. After telling and listening to stories, peace requires acknowledging the abuses, the systemic repression that has existed since the creation of the state of Israel in 1947-8 and continues today as the Israeli government prevents Palestinian villages from constructing buildings and having access to basic resources. It’s obvious to anyone walking through the West Bank that Palestinians cities are strewn with rubble from buildings demolished by the Israeli government (which Palestinians simply don’t have the resources to remove and to clean up) while Israeli cities have a mostly pristine appearance with clean streets and modern buildings. Israelis acknowledging this shocking inequality and impressive power imbalance is an important aspect of peacebuilding, not unlike the need for white Americans to recognize the 150 years of systemic racial oppression against black Americans to arrive at any semblance of racial justice. When this power imbalance is recognized by both “sides,” it naturally leads to the need for a space where deep painful emotions can be expressed and trauma can be healed, eventually. Creating this safe space for emotional release and healing is critical to the peace process and Integrative Mediation has a unique offering in that regard. Once horrific experiences have been acknowledged and trauma has had at least some opportunity to heal, it’s imperative that Israelis work cooperatively with Palestinians to support their basic needs being met… or perhaps this should be the first step in the entire process. Only after basic social systems are in place to support Palestinians’ health, education, political involvement, and economic freedom can the peace process actually have a shot at succeeding.
Integrative Mediation seems to be a good fit for this conflict, for building a human understanding on each “side.” When mediators are trained to handle big emotions, we are able to hold deeper containers when we facilitate dialogue… and the Israeli-Palestinian conversation requires an extremely deep container of listening and welcoming the massive amounts of grief on both “sides.” I am here as a highly trained Integrative Mediator to bring my listening and my ability to create space where huge emotions can be expressed in meaningful ways. The answer is not suppressing our painful experiences; rather, sharing them, humanizing them, understanding that the “other side” has been through something similar and together we can agree to stop the violence.
I keep putting “sides” in quotations because part of the magic when conflict resolution occurs in the highest sense is a realization that we are truly brothers and sisters. The Arabs and the Jews speak languages that were birthed from the same mother tongue. Linguistically, there are few languages more similar than Hebrew and Arabic, both stemming from Aramaic. Genetically, the Ashkenazi Jews and the Palestinians are strikingly similar. Riddle me that. Really. When we look at the history carefully, we find an ongoing civil war for the past seven decades among brothers and sisters, among genetic cousins, by failing to recognize the similarities that unite us — like our human experiences of exile and murdered family members. Similarly, we all share the same joy when our sister births a beautiful baby who is our nephew or niece; we all rejoice when our kid receives an award in school or scores a goal in a soccer game. We all cry the same tears of pain and of joy.
The inextricable partnership of human existence and global consciousness has yet to be seen on a widely spread level (in the Middle East and elsewhere) and yet more and more conscious communities are being created every day in this age. More and more, we’re seeing that when an Israeli exhale, a Palestinian breathes in that air. When the Palestinian exhales, an Israeli breathes in that air. This is the way our planet was designed in perfect balance. Across races, genders, creeds, humans exist in a symbiotic relationship… it’s just that most of us don’t deeply understand how nature functions… yet.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘you owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky” [Hafez]. Let’s be like the sun, indiscriminately giving love and life to every being. Let’s be like the trees, indiscriminately giving oxygen for every human being to breathe. Peace is possible and it begins with us… now.