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July 18, 2016

For the peace camp, the current setting is grim. Increased pressure in Palestinian cities for our partners to cease meeting with us. Israeli activists’ decreasing involvement. Many of us Israelis are busy taking care of ourselves, trying to stay stable financially and personally. Beating our heads against the obstinacy of the political status quo is not an attractive alternative for many folks. Bitter, peace-loving Israelis are hibernating, watching the snowstorm outside our cave, waiting for spring. We feel like used car salesmen in a dried-up market, but there’s this one guy with a comb-over who keeps selling cars like crazy, just moving them out the door and laughing all the way to the bank. We’re sure he’s got some kind of hustle, but we can’t nail him.

And meanwhile the situation goes from bad to worse, Israeli democracy seems to be slipping through our fingers, new generations of our kids go off to do their army service, war is our way. We seem to choose conflict and violence, more frightened of peace than of war. What would we do if there were peace? How would thousands of young people earn minimum wage if they were no longer needed as security guards? Where would all the Secret Service interrogators go to work, if they became redundant? The weapons designers? During the first war in Lebanon, I handled munitions. One anti-personnel artillery shell contains 6,000 steel arrows that spray in every direction upon impact. Someone sat down to figure out how to make those things. Kissed his wife and kids in the morning and whistled his way to work, today’s challenge – to maximize effectiveness by increasing the spread of the lethal arrows… What forces will be released, if we end the conflict? Perhaps there’s a museum curator hidden deep inside that weapons-designer, just waiting for peace so he can come out and design lighting instead.

I saw “Ben Gurion – Epilogue” last week. Long lost 40 year old tapes of an intimate interview with the man at the end of his life. “Inspiring” is to belittle it. Suffice it to say that as the credits rolled, the longing for serious, earnest, humble leadership was palpable, in the hall full of beautiful Israelis. Benny Ganz, former Chief of Staff, was sitting near the front, and I am sure I was not alone in wishing that perhaps he would be the new Rabin, tough on security, but open to creating a new future. When Shaul Mofaz was Chief of Staff, Gantz led a committee to work on advancing human dignity in the army. My partner Avi consulted to the committee.

Human dignity, in the army? Possible. In 2005, organizational psychologists trained hundreds of commanders, who trained thousands of soldiers and policemen to be assertive without violence, in preparation to evacuate 7,000 settlers from Gaza settlements. “Determination, with sensitivity” was the mantra taught to the force. Weeping soldiers carried out their orders gently, empathizing with the victims of a democratically-elected government’s decision to leave the settlements in strife-torn Gaza. And settlers’ rabbis persuaded them to respect the soldiers, barely a finger was raised against the evacuation. We can do this.

A powerful Arik Sharon was behind the evacuation. And ten years before Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin was driving the Oslo agreements forward, until his death. But now there is no one on the leadership horizon. Not Gantz, not any one person is now coming to lead us. Now the ball is in our court. We need to stop being angry at the leaders who do not lead. When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you. The solution lies in what we can produce. We, the folks who can touch other folks who can touch other folks who can make a difference.

There are no magic solutions at the end of this dark tunnel. Israelis will continue to elect Netanyahu and his ilk, unless there is a massive shift among the public. The shift will occur through deliberate contact between the seekers of an end to the conflict and those who fear the price of peace. Conversations, arguments, engagement with the resistant public. For this we need to learn skills. We once again require determination and sensitivity in the way we approach the frightened peace-resisters.

Some friends and I have been developing and running a workshop for activists, to learn together the art of influence. Not “convincing” people how right we leftists are. The Latin root of “convince” is “ to vanquish.” No one will yield to being vanquished. “Influence” etymologically is about “a flowing in….” We can pour our vision into our fellow Israelis’ listening. But they will open to us only if they can pour their own concerns into us. As someone once said, “If you want to be interesting, be interested.” Listening, compassion, listening some more, then saying what we must, in a way that the other can hear. We have much to learn, the road ahead is long. We will be weary, but we will buoy each other as we move forward.

As “Combatants for Peace” has shown us, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian street-fighters can discard their weapons, build trust and work together. (Look for Combatants’ new powerful feature-length documentary, “Disrupting the Peace.”) At Friday’s demonstration in the territories, 600 of us walked a mile at midday in 100 degree heat, calling for the end to this 49 year occupation, celebrating 10 years of Combatants’ work. Guests from Northern Ireland addressed us, one a former IRA operative, the other a former Protestant fighter, now friends. We are jealous of their success, yet we gaze at each other and find hope. A thin, eager 18 year old Palestinian caught my eye as we stood together to hear the speeches. He said, “This is the first time I have ever been at a demonstration with Israelis.” We talked, eventually we hugged, and we exchanged facebook names. Carrying on.

                                                                                    Yoav Peck



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