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May 14, 2012

“Give the Palestinians a state, and get them out of my face.” This was the gist of Amos Oz’s comments on Israeli-Palestinian peace in his recent address at the March J Street national conference inWashington. Since the second Intifada, many progressive Israelis have adopted this stance, reflecting the horror and disappointment we all experienced as our buses and coffee shops exploded, killing scores of civilians and leaving in ashes the heady optimism of theOsloyears. Which brings us to Oz’s scenario: “Some people say, ‘As long as we don’t hug each other in tears, saying, ‘Oh brother, what have I done to you, can you ever forgive me?’ As long as we don’t engage in such a Dostoevskian scene of reconciliation, peace is not real.’ Throughout history the opposite is the case. First, nations make peace with clenched teeth, and sometimes with mal-intentions. Then, gradually, over generations, the hard feelings de-escalate….Visa vis the Palestinians, my slogan has always been, ‘Make peace, not love.'”

 I could not more profoundly disagree. Oz’s dichotomy is gratuitous. If we are to advance toward peace, we must find in ourselves the courage to make love and peace, simultaneously. The artificial linearity Ox proposes cannot work. What prevents us from creating the relationships with Palestinians that we will need in order to navigate the complicated labyrinth of a political agreement and to bring people aboard from both sides? It is our own unchecked bitterness, our deep disappointment in the wake of the second intifada, which stands between us and the humanizing imperative that must inevitably accompany any future live-and-let-live. Coupled with our disappointment is the hard-heartedness that accompanies 45 years of occupying others and threatens our very ability to feel, as exemplified in the recent vicious attack of a lieutenant-colonel on a non-threatening Danish demonstrator. What is happening to us? Who are we becoming?  After 45 years of occupation, how can we not express our moral shame? Have we closed our hearts so thoroughly that it has now become passé to hear decent Palestinians condemning terror?Visa vis the Palestinians, where has the humanity of our great literary humanist gone?

 Though the efforts are battered, some activists are still engaging the other side. Since the worst moments of the second Intifada, the Sulha Peace Project has consistently brought together West Bank Palestinians and mainstream Israelis. In monthly gatherings where we actively reach across the existential and emotional gulf that divides occupier from occupied, we enable exactly such Dostoevskian scenes that Oz now devalues. Young Palestinians, who have never met an Israeli who is not a soldier, meet with Israelis who have never talked with a Palestinian. And yes, sometimes there are tears as we confront together the pain of the tough realities we have all created here.

 We harbor no illusion that our empathy, our reciprocal listening will bring Netanyahu to the negotiating table or persuade the Hamas to accept thatIsraelis here to stay. But each month, more than one hundred Palestinians and Israelis return home to tell friends and neighbors that, for an evening, they connected heart-to-heart with the other side, and that yes, there is indeed a peace partner there. We tell our disbelieving friends about moments of closeness and about honest disagreement that can be contained within the profound human contacts we have established. Is this acknowledgment of the other’s reality indeed irrelevant to whether or not Israelis and Palestinians will ultimately achieve readiness for compromise?

 And what about our relationship with the settlers? Any agreement’s adjustments of the ’67 borders will still require us to evacuate thousands of Israeli settlers from their homes. Will we be emotionally equipped to confront this challenge? Ironically, the same empathic capacity required for listening to Palestinians will serve us when we finally confront the settlers’ pain as they grapple with the soul-wrenching call to abandon their homes for the sake of peace. Just as during the evacuation of Gush Katif, we will have to teach thousands of police officers and soldiers the difficult blend of “determination and sensitivity.” Once again we will need to evoke a noble interpersonal decency that enables us to treat each other with respect.

Can we put our sensitivity on hold? If we now set aside our humanity for some distant thawing, “gradually, over generations” as Oz foresees, when the day comes, we will have no humanity left. Occupation hurts us while it hurts the Palestinians. As events regularly remind us, occupation is grinding away at our souls. We need to reach out to the other, and soon.  Peace will be built top-down and bottom-up, simultaneously. We cannot afford to dismiss any effort that brings peace, and each other, closer.

  Yoav Peck serves on the Board of the Sulha Peace Project. He is a Jerusalem-based organizational psychologist.


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One Comment
  1. Marcia Kreisel permalink

    It’s wonderful to see you expressing so well what I so strongly believe in my heart.
    Thank you Yoav Go for it!

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