JERUSALEM: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein
There is no symmetry or equality in the situation in Israel and Palestine – not in terms of power, resources, privilege or the lived experience of each side. There are, however, shared paradigms and emotions that fuel the endless, tragic conflict.
In order for liberating perspectives to emerge, the parties must be willing to question the basic assumptions that underlie the definition of the problem itself. When will Israelis and Palestinians be ready to question some of the concepts that underlie both of their stories? When will they be able to move beyond the dualistic right-wrong, good-bad, us-them paradigms? When will they be willing to acknowledge the limitations of their particular view of the story and take the leap towards a more complex, nuanced meta-perspective of the system as a whole, and in so doing liberate themselves towards a different, more life-enhancing narrative?
“There is no parity between us! insists the Palestinian. “There can be no justification for Israel’s horrific abuse of its military might, the flattening of homes and the killing of innocent Palestinians who are hostages in the war between Hamas and Israel. There is no limit to their cruelty! They will not stop until they destroy us completely.
“There is no parity between us! insists the Israeli. “They intentionally kill civilians, blowing themselves up on buses and in malls. In Gaza they shoot from behind the skirts of women, knowing that we do all we can to avoid harming innocent people. There is no limit to their cruelty! They will not stop until they destroy us completely.
“All we want is our land, the freedom for self-determination and the recognition of our right to exist as an independent people in our own land cry both the Palestinian and the Israeli to the world.
“We are only responding to their actions – it is their fault, their injustices, their inhumanity. How can you not see that we are right and they are wrong? Why do you only see their perspective? How can you support them against us? cry both the Israeli and the Palestinian to the world.
“We won! shout the Palestinians. “They have not managed to kill our spirit.
The world has now seen the true, cruel face of the Zionist monster with which we have to contend!
“We won! shout the Israelis. “We have shown we will not tolerate the constant attacks on our citizens. The world has now seen the true, cruel face of the Hamas and its Iranian connection!
“We have no choice! insists the Palestinian. “They have taken our land and deprived us of our basic human rights. No one hears our plight other than when we use bombs and rocket attacks. We have no choice but to fight oppression with violence.
“We have no choice! insists the Israeli, “We have given land for peace; we withdrew from Gaza and subsequently suffered years of rocket attacks and terrorism sponsored by Iran. We have to ensure the safety of our citizens.
We have tried all diplomatic solutions. All they understand is force.
It is precisely the difficulty in seeing a choice of a different narrative that binds Palestinians and Israelis in this loop of suffering. In seeing no choice one can avoid the pain of introspection and of discovering one’s own shadows, responsibility and accountability. There is comfort in feeling that all goodness and justice lies with oneself and that the source of the problem and of all evil is conveniently located in the other.
So what different paradigm can be offered as a pathway through this impasse? To start with, it would help to move beyond the focus on “us and “them and address the dimension of the system as a whole. For the Israeli-Palestinian system to be healthy it necessitates the health of all parts of the system. One part cannot thrive for long at the expense of the other. It is in the self-interest of all parts of the system to invest in the well-being of all other parts. Well-being is not financial prosperity alone but entails also a deep sense of safety, justice, recognition and hope. Without these there will inevitably be discontent, rage and uprising. It is clear that those in power have a greater burden of responsibility for the health and prosperity of the system as a whole, but this does not exempt the disenfranchised from their own authority and accountability.
The time is ripe to recognize choice in the face of threats. It is time to have the courage to look critically at one’s own contribution to the escalation of conflict and to the state of the system as a whole. Despite our differences, we are inextricably interconnected as one. As long as we deny our interconnectedness and mutual accountability and hold onto partisan interests and politics, we will dig ourselves and our children deeper and deeper into the same tragic divisiveness that spawns the ongoing enmity and war.
Shelley Ostroff PhD is a consultant living in Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).