Entities don't have
The need to keep the political focus on the individual
Associate and Board member
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Jerusalem, June 27, 2007
On the occasion of the passing of 40 years since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and Israel’s subsequent occupation of the Palestinian Territories, the causes of the on-going conflict between Israelis and Palestinians were once again being hotly debated by political analysts. The Arab world is pointing the finger of blame mainly at the “international community” and its inability, or unwillingness, to apply appropriate pressure on the Israeli government; the western wing of the “international community”, in turn, is pointing the finger of blame largely at the Palestinian Authority as evidenced by its boycott of the Hamas government; Palestinian groups are pointing the finger of blame at each other, perhaps due partly to the long years of frustration and apparent hopelessness since 1967 and before that 1948; and within Israeli society itself there is no shortage of internal frustrations and conflicts with regards the on-going Occupation.
In the midst of all this finger-pointing, however, stand myriads of individual men and women, all of whom share the same mental, emotional and physical needs given their common identity as human beings. It is my belief that the road to a lasting and just peace in the Middle East and elsewhere can only come about if the psychology and constitution of the human being is given due consideration within the political process. What I mean by this is that “governments”, “the international community”, “the army” are all entities i.e. they are made up of human beings, but they are structures not living organisms. Entities do not have a consciousness; they do not have a sense of humanity. It is much easier to implement unjust, unethical policies within the parameters of an entity because there is no apparent human interconnectedness: “people” are killed, or are suffering, “over there” out of sight in another country or another town and “I”, the individual, am not responsible because “they” – the government, the military, the international community, etc. – are doing it and “I” have no power over that.
Entities are like machines fuelled by human beings who more often than not think – or are made to think - that they are contributing positively to the structure in which they are embedded. Unless they feel supported – implying also that they are not being judged – even those individuals who begin to realise the moral and ethical deficit inherent in the entity that they are a part of will be unable to extricate themselves from it. Their sense of vulnerability will lead them to defend their entity’s policies and practices at all costs even when, at a personal level, they would consider those same actions to be immoral and unjust. This is the case oftentimes with governments who, guarding their geo-political interests, openly follow unethical or short sighted policies leading to human suffering and environmental damage. Many individuals within that governmental structure are so far removed from the effects of their entity’s policies and feel so disempowered personally that they seem able to turn a blind eye to the negative impact of their actions on the lives of other men and women with whom they share their membership in the human race.
What is needed is for each man and woman to assume his/her individual responsibility for the political situation on this planet, which is home to us all irrespective and inclusive of race, nationality, religion, etc. Individual awareness and action are required to counter the moral deficit apparent in international governmental relations, which are susceptible to being corrupted by geo-political and/or “big business” interests. In order for individuals to make a difference, they must not only be engaged in some way in the political sphere, but they need also to understand the human psychology and act according to this knowledge. Just as one example, if we genuinely want to communicate with others, it is essential for us to listen compassionately even to those whose views we do not share. Put it this way, when you or I are criticised, what is our likely spontaneous response? I imagine it would be to act defensively, to defend our position even if we know it to be wrong. In fact, the more we realise our position is wrong, the greater our sense of vulnerability and the greater our tendency to defend ourselves, perhaps. In this state of insecurity we are less able to listen, to really hear the words the other person is using or to evaluate the other speaker’s perspective. What is needed in this instance is greater understanding, more openness and deeper dialogue; things which we can more easily achieve if we are able to connect with one another on common ground i.e. if we can recognise our common humanity. Instead of this, what tends to happen currently in the global political sphere is that negotiations are swiftly ended and mutual recrimination begins.
Entities and structures are susceptible to becoming “soul-less” constructions through which actions that individuals for ethical, rational and compassionate reasons would not normally carry out can more easily be implemented. To counteract this, conflicts worldwide need to be brought down to a “person” level. What is needed is to put humanity at the centre of our relations with others i.e. at the centre of the political sphere. This is particularly true when our relations with those “others” are founded on irrational fear and miscommunication.
Let’s take the above considerations in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Palestinian men, women and children living in the West Bank and Gaza - and even in East Jerusalem - are on a daily basis subject to physical violence and humiliation as well as to restrictions on their freedom of movement and expression; much of this due to the entity known as the Israeli Occupation. It is right to decry the policies of the Occupation – as indeed Palestinian, international and even some Israeli groups are doing – however, if there is to be a paradigm shift within Israeli society powerful enough to end the Occupation, there needs to be a focus on the individuals within the entity. Each Israeli as well as each Palestinian woman and man’s needs and fears need to be acknowledged and understood – without judgement or aggressive counter-argument. People living on both sides of the Wall must be brought to understand at a personal level the needs and fears of their neighbours.
At the end of the day, Israeli citizens are themselves subject to violence under the Occupation – not so much violence of a physical nature, but rather structural and cultural violence. Each boy or girl is born into a structure that requires them to spend 2-3 years of their young lives, before university, in the Israeli military. Even after those initial years, they will be called up for reserve military service for a number of weeks annually. If the youngsters do not comply with these requirements, they are stigmatised by “society” (another entity), they risk loosing a number of social benefits and they will likely be ostracized by their nearest and dearest. As well as the structural violence of a “highly militarised” state, many Israelis are also subject to the cultural violence of their upbringing and education which instils in them stereotypical images of their Arab neighbours as terrorists. As a result of these stereotypes, there is a greater likelihood that Israeli youngsters will experience high levels of fear and distrust which might in turn lead them to implement without question the policies of the Israeli Occupation, which oftentimes require them to act in ways which are cruel and unfair towards Palestinian men, women and children – to act in ways that they would never dream of doing under “normal” circumstances.
Having said this, it is important to emphasize that there are Israeli men and women serving in the army who manage successfully to maintain their sense of justice and humanity vis-à-vis the Palestinians living under occupation. Furthermore, stereotypes exist also on the Palestinian side and violent actions by splinter Palestinian military groups go only to increase the fear and distrust of the Israeli citizens making it even more difficult for any calls to end the Occupation to be heeded.
Although I am certain that the majority of Israeli and Palestinian men and women desire peace, Palestinian families continue to adapt to increasingly restrictive conditions imposed on them by the Occupation and young Israeli men and women continue to go through the process of dedicating 2-3 years of their lives to military service. Why? Why after 40 years hasn’t this general desire for peace at the individual level resulted in the concrete ending of the Occupation at the entity level? The answer to this question is complex and it is not within the scope of this article to offer any comprehensive theory; however, any suggested answer should take into consideration the difficulty experienced worldwide by peace activists who aspire to mobilise and engage the general public: in Israel and Palestine, as elsewhere in the world, people understandably want what we all want i.e. the chance to get an education, to get married and start a family, to find a good job, to enjoy leisure time, etc. In order to have the opportunity to experience those things, men and women might choose to accept the status quo rather than face the uncertainty of change. This aspect of human psychology works to the benefit of the structures and entities, but added to public fear and stereotyping on both sides it can greatly hinder and delay any efforts to achieve greater justice and peace on the planet.
In order to mobilise Israeli public opinion, rather than pointing the finger of blame at “Israeli society” for the on-going conflict with the Palestinians – something that will only lead to more defensive attitudes and a greater sense of vulnerability on the part of the “accused” - it is important to raise awareness of the harm and the suffering that the Occupation is causing not only to the Palestinian people but also to the Israelis themselves. The pain of the Israeli as well as the Palestinian mother/father, who sees her/his child’s life mired by unnecessary oppression and hatred needs to be highlighted, acknowledged and addressed.
In fact, the solutions for the transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict already exist as evidenced by the numerous civil society groups in Israel(1) and Palestine (2) that are working from the inside to change the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. These men and women are embracing their individual responsibility as human beings in order to break out of prevailing structures and destructive stereotypes, enjoining others to follow them on the path to peace. A lasting transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to come from within, but it can be assisted by support from outside.
This requires of each of us – Israeli or non-Israeli, Palestinian or non-Palestinian, citizens or government representatives – that we demonstrate our human responsibility in the global political process by providing support to these groups through which the energy of peace is already flowing. By connecting at the individual level i.e. at the common level we share as human beings beyond the vested interests of geo-politics, I believe that stakeholders can more easily commit to making a determined effort to finding a solution that can bring about a comprehensive and just peace in the region.
1) Examples would include organisations like:
Breaking the Silence: http://www.shovrimshtika.org/index_e.asp
Machsom Watch: http://machsomwatch.org/eng/homePageEng.asp?link=homePage&lang=eng
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: http://www.icahd.org/eng/
Combatants for Peace: http://www.combatantsforpeace.org/
Parents Circle: http://www.theparentscircle.com/
Women in Black: http://www.womeninblack.net/
2) Examples would include organisations like:
Holy Land Trust: http://www.holylandtrust.org/
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights http://www.pchrgaza.ps/
Right to Enter http://www.righttoenter.ps/
The Applied Research Institute Jerusalem http://www.arij.org/
Hope Flowers School http://www.hope-flowers.org/
Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation http://www.ccrr-pal.org/
Right to Education http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/
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