By Yakir Englander via ISLAMiCommentary
Serious illness calls for first aid, then sometimes surgery, followed by healing the source of the disease. If you ask which is most important, I’d say you can’t have one without the other. Without first aid, the patient will never reach the doctor. First aid without deeper treatment and true healing can cause a slow, more painful death and/or disability.
Unfortunately, this analogy applies to the recurring violence between Israel and Palestine. As first aid, we must quickly stop the violence. Then the leaders will need to sit and talk and agree on a political solution. But an immediate ceasefire and political negotiations, like first aid and surgery, are no guarantees of a long term healing of the underlying diseases of hatred and fear, of injustice and deep discrimination.
The Facebook posts of my friends this week — both pro-Israeli pro-Palestinian — do reflect a focus on stopping the violence; that is good. But at the same time they are screaming that the other side is entirely to blame. This discourse does not heal the disease. When a cease-fire comes, I’m afraid that most of my American and Israeli Facebook friends will simply continue on with their ordinary lives as if the current conflict had never happened.
Elie Wiesel once wrote that the Holocaust “robbed man of all his masks.” If we want change, we cannot go back to wearing the masks. Instead, we must internalize the stark reality of the death of the image of God, and then create a new system that allows, once again, for true human relationships.
A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas can slow down the death of more bodies. But it will not stop the death of the soul and of the image of God. I understand why many of my family and friends will put their masks back on and continue their daily lives, leaving memories of the bombings and sirens behind. We have many other issues in our lives. But some (mostly Palestinians and people living in the south of Israel) will not be able to so easily move on.
To my friends: when you publish another article about why the “other” side is totally evil and wrong, I ask you: Does your soul feel healed?
I grew up in a typical, beautiful modern Hasidic Israeli family. My mother was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. My grandparents were forced to watch as the Nazis hanged their parents in Auschwitz and bashed in their newborn son’s head. My grandmother never hung laundry again, since the images evoked her parents’ hanging. She never hugged her children. My father was a child during the Holocaust, running with his family from one hiding place to another before he could speak.
My siblings and I were kids when the Gulf War broke out and Saddam Hussein fired SCUD missiles at Israel. At the age of 13, I could put on a gas mask as quickly as putting on my tefillin. My little sister was too young for a gas mask. She was placed in a sealed and filtered plastic tent, screaming and alone, unable to even get a hug from our parents. As an adolescent, she took the bus to school every day, fearing it would explode. Today, she is a young mother, trying to calm her two-year-old child who’s been shaken by the sound of sirens and explosions in the air.
My sister does not really distinguish between the Nazi gas that killed her great-grandparents, or Saddam’s missiles, or the hundreds of Hamas rockets targeting Israel over the past week. It all means danger for the Jewish people, danger for her family. Now, she just wants the rockets to stop, even if that means continuing to bomb Gaza.
I could try to explain to my sister, one of the most sensitive people I know, that children in Gaza have not slept for a week. That any minute a bomb might come down on their heads. That in Gaza children actually die, but in Israel her much beloved child is “only” traumatized, since Israel has better weapons to protect itself.
But what language can I use to tell my sister that Palestinians suffer real pain? And that, as an Israeli, she is part of the Palestinian Nakba – their loss of freedom and of much of their native land? Because of the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands, Palestinians have lost their homes, their movements and rights are restricted and controlled in many ways, and their economic prospects are diminished. My fear is that the longer this terrible conflict goes on, the harder it will be for my sister and her baby (as he grows up) to comprehend just how much the terms of their secure existence in Israel have at the same time caused a never-ending disaster for the Palestinians.
I think my sister is beginning to understand on some level. She told me this week, that as a mother, she just can’t fathom that Israel is bombing children in Gaza. We must end it, she believes, but on the condition that we all go together (Palestinians and Israelis) to group therapy and then find the right solution for all of us.
We must all internalize that each bomb that goes into/from Gaza contains much more than just explosive materials. It contains hatred that poisons both populations and its effect will be seen for many more years.
The Israeli discourse did change for three days as a result of the cruel murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, burned alive by Jewish extremists. For three days Israelis asked for forgiveness. In those days we saw how the Jewish community in Israel reacts to acts that don’t fit the values of their Jewish state. The brutal murder of an innocent boy by Jews is an anti-Jewish act. And yet the continuation of the Occupation, and this denial that the very existence of Israel takes place at the expense of another, do not get the same kind of attention.
Dialogue and Reconciliation
For more than a decade, I have been involved in Kids4Peace, a grassroots effort of dialogue and action engaging Israelis and Palestinians of all ages. For me, raised in a modern Hasidic family in Israel, to work side by side with my Palestinian colleagues has transformed my life’s narrative.
In my inner world, Israelis and Palestinians no longer live separated from each other. I now understand that my narrative as an Israeli is deeply linked with the Palestinian narrative, precisely because the founding of the State of Israel, after the tragedy suffered by my Jewish family in the Holocaust, entailed a new tragedy for the Palestinians, who have paid the price in many ways for what was done to my people in the past by others.
These days I think about the responsibility I have for the kids, teens and families that we have under our care in Kids4Peace. I wonder about the responsibility that comes with educating young generations about a new narrative that includes the narratives of both sides.
In Israel and Palestine, educating youth to be peace leaders disrupts the status quo. Israelis and Palestinians ordinarily educate themselves and their children to fear and/or hate the “other” for a reason: it helps us to deal with our suffering. Describing Palestinians as evil, as the new manifestation of anti-Semitism, makes it easier for Israelis to bomb them and to continue the Occupation without guilt. It is much “easier” to be a “good” IDF soldier when you fear the Arabs and hate the “terrorist.” It is harder to serve in the army when you care about an “enemy,” who is really a human being like you. During the past week especially we’ve heard too much of this hate speech.
At a deeper level, the fear and hatred help us to withstand the waves of violence against Israel. We can just add the Palestinians to a long list of those who have hated the Jewish people (even without knowing, or wanting to know, why they hate Jews). Then we as Jews don’t really need to deal with the Palestinians. Just put them in a category with the biblical Amalek, or with Hitler or Saddam Hussein.
Educating children and youth not to hate and fear is risky. If the conflict is not solved in the coming years, Kids4Peace will have essentially created a new generation of young adults without a psychological shield to protect their future — a generation of Israelis who will need to serve in the army with no real desire to defeat the “enemy;” a generation of soldiers who will suffer from post-traumatic stress even before they begin. Perhaps too, we are creating a generation of Palestinians who will be humiliated again and again, without the protection of their common narrative that says they should hate Israelis. Kids4Peace is working with teens on both sides who will not fit into communities that hate the other.
Many peace programs work with children and youth because adults carry so much pain that it’s hard for them to be part of a dialogue and action toward a new future. Working with youth is easier, since they have not suffered from so much violence. But it also means that you could hurt them more in the long term. If we don’t finish the conflict very soon, these teens will (rightly) blame us for taking advantage of their innocence.
Kids4Peace gathered last week, in the middle of violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the rockets from Gaza, to celebrate together an iftar meal, at the end of the Ramadan fast. They did it not in Los Angeles or New York, but in Jerusalem in the midst of violence. Despite their fear, they felt an urgency to meet – to share their pain and be heard by the other. More steps are needed, and they continue to challenge themselves, their families, and their communities how to have compassion for both narratives and act together.
So why do I serve as the leader of a youth peace movement? I do it because these risks that I mentioned are precisely the tools that can be the foundation for a new generation: not only ready to end the conflict, but to work towards serious reconciliation. These youth and their leaders do not just give first aid. They are the doctors who will heal the root causes of the illness.
Two years ago, I got an award for my work in Kids4Peace. My parents decided to attend the award ceremony, the first time they came to anything related to Kids4Peace. Not unexpectedly they sat on the other side of the hall from where my Palestinian Kids4Peace friends sat.
In my talk, I spoke about how my Hasidic theology helps me in my peace work. My parents were so excited to hear that everything I do is because of them, that at the end of the ceremony, my mom came to say hello to my Palestinian Kids4Peace friends — my other family. One of our directors, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, hugged my mom. I saw the face of my mother become totally white, since subconsciously she was sure that this Muslim woman was about to put a knife in her back. When she saw that she just got a warm hug, she had tears — remember, she was never hugged by her own mother. This Muslim woman told my mom that I am like a brother to her, and my mother replied that this means that she (the Palestinian Muslim lady) is also her child.
I had totally forgotten about the event, since violence was affecting Kids4Peace on a daily basis. But months later, at a Shabbat evening meal with my Hasidic family, one of my relatives spoke bad words about “dirty Arabs.” Since it is not my home, I didn’t say anything. But my mom pounded the table and started shouting at him: “How dare you? Don’t you believe that they too have the image of God? Did you ever speak with the Palestinians? I hugged them with my body and saw how many lies I was told all of my life.”
Since that night, no one can speak even one bad word against Palestinians and Muslims in my family.
This is the result of one hug by a Muslim peace leader, who is suffering on a daily basis because of the Occupation. How does she endure it? I don’t know. For me, she is a holy person. Because of her I started learning more about Islam.
If and when Gaza and Israel accept the next ceasefire, please don’t go back to putting pictures from your coming vacation on Facebook.
Remember your anger and pain from today and support the holy people who dedicate their life to meet with the “enemy, ” and maybe even partner with them. Decide what you want to do in order to end the conflict, for real. Be part of something that goes beyond first aid. I can’t tell you what is the best way. But I know that the deeper conflict will be ended by people who are sensitive to both narratives, who act day and night to challenge themselves and others — by people who take the risk to live without the safety of a narrative of hate. . .
Yakir Englander is Visiting Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Northwestern University, Chicago and Vice President of Kids4Peace International. Founded in Jerusalem in 2002, Kids4Peace is a global movement of Jewish, Christian & Muslim youth, dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in divided societies around the world.
This article was made possible by the Transcultural Islam Project, an initiative launched in 2011 by the Duke Islamic Studies Center — in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies — aimed at deepening understanding of Islam and Muslim communities. See www.islamicommentary.org/about and www.tirnscholars.org/about for more information. The Transcultural Islam Project is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Mirrored from ISLAMICommentary
Related video added by Juan Cole: