Shachar Ben-Ami

Not a Religious, National, or Political Conflict

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Part One
Were you hoping to be part of the solution? To support a more sustainable reality in any way?

Here is what you need to understand about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what we need, and what we don’t need.

Part One
This is not a religious, national, political, or power conflict like you think. This is an emotional conflict.
This is two nations in trauma, fighting to survive.    

The political and religious and national elements are very present and very real, however their power does not come from the cohesiveness or justice of their philosophy. Each of their power draws on each of our traumas. Again and again. They channel our trauma to verses from the bible, they channel our trauma into political solutions, they channel our trauma into national identity and into positions of power. Without our trauma, their arguments would be irrelevant, uninteresting, and their power over us minimal. 

 This is an emotional conflict.  

This is a teen couple, with a child together who they both love very much. Both grew up in violent homes, and both are trying to find another way to forge a non violent relationship. But their toolbox is empty. They want to believe there is another way, however because of their past, even the smallest things set each other off. They have learned there is no room for mistakes, every moment is a test “can I trust my partner?,” and any small mistake by the partner (or his brother, or uncle, or nephew) is an unequivocal “no!”

This is a not a friendly test -and the score is not graded from 1-100. This is a pass/fail, and it occurs in both directions.

Each event, each trigger, is a test → and it always ends the same → with a big red “fail” next to each of their names.  

“Trust must be earned,” they each say. 

“Trust can not be given free to one who has proven himself so heartless.” 

“There is no room for trust, or for mistakes – we have learned that the hard way.”

For they each feel rejected, they feel fear, they feel scorned, and they have learned in their personal histories that the stronger one seems to win. They both have memories of an abuser, who has violently hurt them, their parents, their grandparents- and won. They both have memories of multiple abusers, most importantly, including the very same partner sitting across from them. 

The stronger always won. 

And so they try to show strength, to hide weakness, and find themselves lashing out at each other in a vicious cycle of never ending violence.

When one of them hesitantly reaches for the other, tries to reach a more long term resolution or to break the cycle- he finds he is conflicted. She hears infinite internal voices in protest. These voices are scared, terrified. Traumatized. How can you trust him? How can you trust her? These voices are strong- they have no qualms about killing innocent children, shooting prime ministers, targeting civilians, targeting soldiers, targeting anyone and everyone – to make sure this peace doesn’t happen. They are powerful – ultimately, powerful enough to make each of them take a step back.

Why don’t they separate? Go somewhere else? you might ask. 

In the name of the child they both love.  

So if you want to be part of the solution, you must understand, the politicians in Israel and Palestine who are “not partners for peace” are getting stronger, winning even in democratic elections. 

Its easier, more optimistic, to say that they don’t represent the people, that they are corrupt dictators, that they are evil — but let’s not simplify. Believe it or not, these right wing “extremist” leaders, these are unfortunately the ones who are giving voice and giving space to anger, to fear, and to trauma, in a way that the “pro peace” leaders seem unable to do. So while its true- the leaders on the right do not represent all of us. They do not represent me, or many of my friends- but we are all watching as our camp of optimism gradually becomes  smaller and smaller, my friends and family being overwhelmed with fear, anger, despair. Hope turning into hate, gradually gaining strength.

The “extremist” leaders know what the world doesn’t seem to understand- that this is an emotional conflict.

They become the empathetic listener, they are the  loving god-father, the only protector passionately standing strong for a young woman and young man who grew up in a world with no protection. They remind us, again and again, of our vulnerabilities: and promise guardianship in return. They speak to our hearts instead of our minds. This is their strength.

So if you want to be part of the solution – recognize this.
The obstacle to peace is not just Ben Gvir, Smotrich, Hamas, or Mahmoud Abbas…
Ultimately,  it is our trauma that is feeding them, empowering each of them to continue their rule.

Lets ask ourselves:

How can we make more space for anger, fear, trauma, and validation — *for both nations *–  before making any demands?

What are we doing to reduce and prevent further trauma – for our own, and for the other?

I do hope the war will be effective in protecting us from Hamas, but at the same time – I know one thing for sure – it will be counterproductive in our fight against trauma.

About the Author
Shachar Ben-Ami, an Israeli American, is a peace activist and founder of the organization "Talk on the Trail," an initiative which organizes language exchange hiking events, between native Hebrew speakers, English speakers, and Arabic speakers.
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