At the demonstration in Tel Aviv last Saturday evening, in memory of the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, the first and probably the most important speaker was the current President of Israel, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin. In his first year and a half, he has become the moral conscience of the State of Israel, saying all the right things at the right times. He did it again when he reminded us of the need to sustain a vision for a better future and to keep hope alive in Israel when he said:
Without vision, without hope, without a dream, the people will be left desolate… Two decades have gone by, and still we remain overly focused on the wounds of the past, and not enough on building the future… Too much are we focused on fear and not enough on hope.
Our president is correct, and I could not agree with him more.
The current political leaders of Israel have mostly been specializing lately in their own very unique brand of demonization of The Other — especially Palestinians in general, and Muslim Palestinians, in particular — which has been successful in instilling more fear and a greater sense of victimization among the people of Israel. The speech of the Prime Minister of Israel about the former mufti of Palestine’s role in the Holocaust — which has been widely condemned in Israel and abroad — is just one of the latest blatant examples of incitement and fear-mongering on the part of our “leadership”. In fact, he and many other members of his government are inciting against Palestinian Arabs, within Israel, and in the West Bank and Gaza, almost every day, in a not-so-clever attempt to shift all the blame for the violence to the other side.
All too often, it seems — by reading the mainstream media and much of the social media — that the leaders of Israel and Palestine (who have also spent more time in incitement than in come up with realistic and constructive ideas for peace) have given up on offering a genuine vision for a better future for both peoples in our region. They prefer to spin the narrative — each one in his own way — and just engage in trying to score hasbara (propaganda) victories. Indeed, it appears that they are more focused on the past than on the future.
What is wrong with focusing on the past? And why is it more important to envision the future?
Many years ago, I attended workshops in Jerusalem on conflict resolution and transformation methods with Professor Jay Rothman, who is now a professor in this field at Bar Ilan University in Israel. At these workshops, we learned that when one starts with history — with the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — one often remains mired in the past, with the result being an ongoing argument over two main narratives, without the ability to transcend or integrate them into one synthetic narrative. One learns, for example, about the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, which for Israeli Jews is a great miracle and a religious event, and for Palestinians is the “nakbah”, the great catastrophe, in which 800,000 Palestinians became refugees and 450 Palestinian villages were destroyed. This often leaves participants in dialogue groups duly depressed, and their despair often leads to paralysis rather than action.
Instead, Professor Rothman suggests that we begin our dialogue groups with envisioning the future. What would we like to see for our people? For the Palestinians? For all of us? What are our overarching goals, as well as some specific objectives? What processes — political, psychological, religious, spiritual, educational — can help us bring the real closer to the ideal? And, what is our role — each and every one of us in civil society (and not just our political leaders) in designing programs and processes that can help us achieve our goals of peaceful coexistence over time?
What then is a good vision for the future?
Can we imagine two states, living side by side in peaceful coexistence, with new and improved economic and educational opportunities for all? Can we conceive of a long-term truce (what the Palestinians call a “hudna”) which might bring an end to so many wars (in recent years alone, we have lived through 3 Israeli-Gaza mini-wars, and the Second Lebanon War!) and so much violence — we have already suffered through two “intifadas” (uprisings) and some say that we are now at the beginning of the third one? Can we imagine what “normal relations” might look like, with open borders, educational exchanges, economic development and much more?
This is particularly difficult now, since we are currently living through another unnecessary round of violence, which will get both sides nowhere, except to feel greater victimhood. It is hard, when a person or a community or a nation is in a depression to see beyond the present moment, to dream — despite everything going on at the current time — and to hope for a better future.
Nevertheless, we must do all we can to resist despair and depression, and to keep a flicker of hope alive in what all-to-often appears to be a desperate situation. This is why I appreciate the words of comfort and encouragement given to us by President Rivlin, both last Saturday evening at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the astonishing assassination of our Prime Minister, by a so-called “religious” Jewish fanatic. In fact, I appreciate and applaud President Rivlin’s moral and meaningful speeches and acts on an almost daily basis. He is a leader with an ethical and democratic vision of what this country can and should be. He reminds us of our most precious values, and he helps keep hope alive for the future, for all of Israel’s citizens.
I am often accused of being too optimistic or too hopeful. I accept the accusation. I prefer to see our cup half full in Israel, rather than half empty. So, let’s avoid apathy and denial, and instead, each of us do what we can to ensure a better future, for all of Israel’s citizens, and for our Palestinian neighbors in the emerging state next door to us.