Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Escaping the Cycle of Hatred

Dear Friend,
Now that an "open-ended" truce is declared in Gaza, I'm spiritually, mentally and emotionally exhausted. What heartache. What waste. What wickedness in high places and low.

Of all the hundreds of things crossing my screen, these words by friend Sami Awad (Holy Land Trust) stand out. We must eat these words and digest them. The "war" that has to be waged must be against demonizing of "The Other" that justifies killing him. We need strategies that will humanize "The Other"; make room for the other, find our common humanity in each other.

Thank you Sami Awad for all you and your friends are doing to create an environment where respectful listening and empathy replaces the virulent stereotypes of bigotry and racism. JRK

A statement of Holy Land Trust regarding the current situation in the Holy Land [July 22, 2014]

Fear, anger, hatred, demonizing and dehumanization have for decades been boiling like hot lava in the belly of the Holy Land. This lava has been concealed and restrained from full eruption by a thin layer of illusions made by the political elite in both the Palestinian and Israeli communities. We have been told year after year that that our conflict is mostly a political conflict between two nation-states and that all that is needed is to reach a political agreement through a diplomatic mechanism referred to as a “peace process”. Once an agreement is reached, two independent states will be established and peace will prevail.

This illusion not only concealed the underlying issues mentioned above but also concealed the power dynamics of the conflict by presenting it as a symmetrical one. Even referring to it as a “peace process” (a process of peacemaking between two equal parties) negated the reality of what was happening on the ground. The world began to ignore the fact that there is a stronger power that controls everything it wants to control and a weaker one that is only allowed access to what is granted by the stronger. The world forgot that every individual who lives in the Holy Land has to adhere to laws issued by the State of Israel and within that there are two different sets of laws: one for Israeli citizens (civil laws) and one for non-Israeli Palestinians (Israeli military orders and regulations). The world also forgot that there is something called the “occupation” in this conflict, which means there is an occupier and an occupied and this practically translates into land confiscation; detention of individuals without trial, uneven distribution of water, denial of self-determination, restrictions on freedom to movement, denial of freedom to worship, etc.

The political rhetoric of “peace making” remained on the surface but was limited from progress within Israeli society through the calculated infusion of that lava (fear, hatred, anger, demonizing, etc) by the establishment itself. The occupation was justified, the denial of human rights was neglected, and the recognition of Palestinian historic wounds and/or fighting for Palestinian rights became treason. Through indoctrination and public responses to even Palestinian actions (violent or not) “security” became for the most part the only language spoken. Mistrust, fear, demonizing, and hatred became the mechanisms to lead Israeli public opinion and discourse.

Within the Palestinian community, the political elite continued to insist on the negotiated process as the “only way” to attain Palestinian rights; the Palestinian public began to perceive this as continuous compromise by the victim to the victimizer. At the same time focus by most political leaders was on fighting over leadership of the Palestinian Authority or maintaining it rather than putting everything on line for resisting and ending the occupation (despite the rhetoric). The repeated failures of the peace negotiations made the community lose its trust and the occupation itself continued to deepen its roots and aggression. All this led to greater infusion of the lava (fear, hatred, mistrust, etc.) in Palestinian discourse. Of course we cannot ignore voices that also perpetuated hatred, revenge and retaliation towards the other.

The recent violence has once and for all shattered all illusions. The volcano has erupted exposing the reality that many have denied and did not want to acknowledge let alone confront. The reason why we have not been able to reach a “political peace agreement” in over two decades of negotiations and over sixty years of conflict–and may never reach–is due to the continuous, systemic process of building, indoctrinating, manipulating and multiplying fear, hatred and incitement, of a sense of superiority, racism, victimization, demonization, and dehumanization of the other.

The sad reality is that it is far easier to motivate people by fear and hatred than by peace, compassion, and love. We have history (selective or not), that we can refer to that proves that the other is to be feared, mistrusted, hated, and even retaliated against–but when it comes to peace, respect, equality, etc., we have very little to show regarding the intentions and actions of the other. Worse, we have lots of rhetoric that has not only abused, but has even deformed these words and their meaning. Palestinians and Israelis, for the most part, have now fallen into an uncontrolled downward spiral of hatred towards the other.

As the volcano erupts, it is upsetting and angering to see what is happening in this land, especially to our own beloved community and families in the Gaza Strip who are facing the brunt of it all. There is no doubt that we must all stand strong against the killing of any human being, despite his or her identity, wherever they live, whatever their affiliation, or even their past actions.

We can easily and justifiably go into blaming, complaining and analyzing: "Who started it and who is responsible," but there are other options.

First: all acts of violence and aggression must cease, as well as the language of incitement and hatred used by the political, religious and economic elite as well as the media (locally and internationally). Peace, security, and freedom will never come from killing or terrorizing others. No matter how just a cause might be, violence undermines it.

Second: Leaders (no matter what party they represent, what nation they belong to, and what ideology or religion they adhere to) must acknowledge their failure to bringing any sense of peace to the land or to its people (even their own). If they were true leaders–with courage and vision–they would repent publicly, to their peoples and then to others for having failed all these years and decades.

Third: Civil society organizations need to acknowledge our own entrapment in the “political illusions” and thus our inability to create any real change at the grassroots level. For years, millions of dollars have been spent in programs, training, and activities that have barely scratched the surface. We have convinced ourselves that we have been creating change by highlighting the few (but limited) activities that take place but have never reached (for whatever reason) the masses on both sides who continue to be swayed by the language of victimization, hatred, and fear. Grass roots organizations now need to develop programs to address these issues–rather than looking into “political solutions” only. Politicians need to follow their communities and not the other way around.

Fourth: It is time that a nonviolent movement emerges which transcends political processes and illusions: a movement of Palestinians and Israelis as communities addressing all aspects of injustice in this land; to work together in building a new vision and model for what peace, justice and equality mean in the Holy Land (socially, economically, environmentally, spiritually) and link it with a strategy that breaks down all the physical and psychological barriers that perpetuate hatred, anger and thus separation and violence–even if the removal of such barriers challenges the core political assumptions and ideological beliefs we carry and whose existence we think we need for our own survival.

Finally: a core component of the movement will need to focus on working internally and separately within each community in order to create the space for healing and transformation: to address the challenges from within. Peace work is not what happens between two as much as what happens within one.

This is a call to action, a call to create a new paradigm in understanding and addressing the challenges facing the communities of the Holy Land, from within and in relation to others. It is a call for a new leadership to emerge that breaks ties with old patterns, assumptions and expectations and creates new and viable alternatives and models that bring true peace, justice, dignity and equality to all.

Holy Land Trust stands committed to such a vision. Even in the midst of violent atrocities and incitement to hatred. The peace we seek is not about political solutions and frameworks; it is not about compromising for the sake of agreement; it is not seeking the peace that neglects to address the core issues and challenges of the oppression and the suppression of communities based on their ethnic, religious or national background. It is that peace whereby all the rights of all the communities of this land are recognized and honored as being equal and respected despite whatever political framework is created.

Statement written by Holy Land Trust Founder and Executive Director Sami Awad.