One of the biggest challenges in our field of work is promoting reconciliation to those who purposely oppose it. In Israel and Palestine, we witness many individuals and communities that do not want to be part of any reconciliation process and can often oppose others from participating as well. For example, recently Haaretz news agency published a report on how 76% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews avoid making friends with Palestinians, 92% would find it problematic to live next to a Palestinian family and 76% believe that Jews should have more rights than non-Jews. Similar hostile attitudes can be found in other segments of society, including among Muslims and Christians. But how does one relate to such opposition and segments of society? Can these people see the benefit and importance of reconciliation? Is there hope for peace and reconciliation when large portions of the society are hostile? These are indeed difficult questions to answer.
To begin with, we must not completely rule out these segments of society. There are many voices, even in communities we consider to be fundamentalists, which are interested in reconciliation and can influence their respective social circles. It would be far too simplistic for us to think that all the voices in one community are the same. Thus, we should not give up on any community as a partner for dialogue and possible reconciliation partners. It might take time, but it is not a complete lost cause. We work with anyone who is interested.
In addition, we should actively seek to meet and talk to people we think are not interested in reconciliation and are considered ‘closed-minded’. As mentioned, there are already individuals who would be willing to collaborate, but it is important to engage with those who are opposing reconciliation. When most public discourses are hostile towards the conflict, the voices of reconciliation are ignored or forgotten. There is a need to push forward the principles we hold as an alternative narrative to the conflict.
Moreover, there can be a danger to think that we are self-righteous and know what is best for every community. Of course we can confirm that reconciliation is a better path than hostility and enmity, but we ought to hear from all people and including those who disagree with us. For opponents of reconciliation have deep rooted concerns and fears that need to be addressed honestly. On top of that, by engaging with these communities we can also learn about our negative contribution to the conflict and reflect on other aspects we could not see.
With all of the optimistic talk, we also need to recognize that some people will not change their mind and will remain hostile. In such cases, when reconciliation is genuinely impossible, we need to promote co-existence as a substitute to sincere reconciliation. This will ensure a minimum standard of peaceful living side by side, and a first step to reaching serious dialogue and reconciliation.
All in all, this subject is very challenging and can lead to interesting discussions. We must remember not to fall into the mentality that ‘we’ are the solution and ‘they’ are the problem. Rather we need to recognize that ‘we’ are also the problem and ‘they’ are also the solution.
Musalaha Executive Director — Salim J. Munayer