Note by Rabbi Michael Lerner: Sami Awad’s statement below provides an immediate and clear answer to those who think that there are no Palestinians with whom Israelis could work to build the preconditions for peace between Israel and Palestine.
Awad’s endorsement of Tikkun‘s book Embracing Israel/Palestine (available for kindle at Amazon.com and in hard copy from tikkun.org/eip) was rooted in the perspective he now outlines below—he shares our view that there is no possibility of peace until there is a fundamental transformation of consciousness and a healing of the post-traumatic stress disorder that afflicts many on all sides of this conflict.
Sadly, many of the good-hearted organizations that have funded Israeli and Palestinian organizations and institutions that are doing good but very limited and narrowly focused reconciliation work have never fully grasped the need for a full-scale societal-wide consciousness-changing effort like that called for by Tikkun and by the Holy Land Trust Foundation.
Such an effort has to operate at every level—pro-peace television, radio and print media, a political party that talks about love and generosity toward each side, a religious movement in each camp that is unequivocal in its affirmation of the humanity and needs of “the Other,” a campaign at every level to influence mass psychology, and the building of peace-oriented educational institutions and yeshivot from grammar and high school to universities in both Israel and Palestine. The right has worked at this kind of consciousness changing for the past forty-seven years, while the pro-peace forces have developed neither the strategy nor the funding base for this kind of campaign.
Until this happens, expect the hatred and fear that have been the key to the Right’s success to continue to shape the way most people on each side of the conflict see “the Other” and thus to marginalize those who call for the nonviolence and embracing of the Other that our Torah calls for. Sami Awad boldly affirms his commitment to nonviolence even in the midst of the recent assaults by Israel. It is amazing that a Palestinian people so deeply hurting could produce a leader like Awad!
—Rabbi Michael Lerner
Entrapped in a Cycle of Hatred and the Way Out
A Statement from Sami Awad in Bethlehem and Other Palestinians Committed to Nonviolence
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 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 toward 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 it—is due to the continuous, systemic process of building, indoctrinating, manipulating and multiplying fear and hatred, as well as inciting 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. Grassroots 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 for a nonviolent movement to emerge that 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.
This statement was written by Holy Land Trust founder and executive director Sami Awad.