This was my first visit to the Palestinian towns of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Rawabi and the Jewish town of Gush Etzion in the West Bank. It required special clearances and security measures. I came away with the feeling that any signs of hope for peace are complicated and fleeting.
Throughout our visits, Israelis (Jews, Christians and Muslims) and Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) each spoke about their deep sense of a victim / villain dynamic. Israelis spoke of bus bombings, wars, and terror. Palestinians spoke of occupation and check points. While the Israeli story is most familiar to me, I now realize the battle of competing narratives cannot be won. For each people, their sense of being the victim and the other being the villain is real and deep.
The Palestinian diplomat who suggested the Israelis are European colonialists and should not be in the Land is not going to be convinced of the Jewish historical ties to the region. His comments were offensive to me and many in the group.
The Israeli who discounted the conditions of the Palestinians today because they had chances for a State of Palestine in 1948 and again in 2000 with the Camp David proposal with Palestinians controlling 91% of the West Bank is not sympathetic to their slogans of ending the occupation when he feels they don’t really want peace or coexistence.
While these narratives are not equal in my eyes, they are deeply true for each of them – Israelis and Palestinians. The sense of victimization by each is palpable.
There are a few efforts underway to build new ways forward and move beyond the victim / villain claims.
I met with both of these incredible organizations and will let them describe their own work: “For the past 13 years, Kids4Peace has provided life-changing interfaith peace education programs for Israeli, Palestinian and American youth. More than 1,800 youth, parents and volunteers have participated in summer camps and year-round programs.” Their staff and work are really inspiring.
Shorashim or Roots in English, “offers a paradigm shift, changing people and transforming the relationship between the sides. We provide a space for understanding, where hates and suspicions are challenged and enemy is transformed into neighbor and partner. At Roots, despair and fear experience hope and collaboration. We are a unique network of local Palestinians and Israelis who have come to see each other as the partners we both need to make changes to end our conflict. Based on a mutual recognition of each People’s connection to the Land, we are developing understanding and solidarity despite our ideological differences.” While these are grand aspirations, my experience at Roots of meeting with an Israeli settler and a Palestinian ‘liberator’ and hearing how they came to see each other in new ways was very powerful.
The victim / villain narrative will not lead to peace or justice for Israelis or Palestinians. Until each can move beyond that though, the ground will not be ready for whatever agreements politicians craft. The hardest work remains ahead – to prepare both Israeli and Palestinian societies to shape new ways of seeing each other and themselves.
Until a new paradigm emerges though, peace will remain the greatest victim.