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Peace from the ground up

Enough politics -- when people from both sides truly want peace, they will demand leaders who pursue peace, and replace those who do not
Illustrative. Participants at an Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony held in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2017, as Israel marks its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. West Bank Palestinians were barred from entering Israel for the event. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Illustrative. Participants at an Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony held in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2017, as Israel marks its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. West Bank Palestinians were barred from entering Israel for the event. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

When my friend invited me to the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, I was hesitant. Although I am involved in Palestinian-Israeli encounters throughout the year, I wondered if Memorial Day, a national day of Israeli mourning for those killed in the Israeli-Arab conflict, was a proper time to do so.

But then I went back and read the Israeli Declaration of Independence, in honor of Israel’s upcoming Independence Day, which will begin as soon as its Memorial Day draws to a close. A section struck me that I had never noticed before: “The State of Israel…will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

71 years later, this peaceful vision seems far from becoming a reality.

The more time I spend living in Israel, the more I am convinced that the fatal flaw of most political solutions is that they attempt to impose peace from the top-down. Instead, peace must be built from the ground up.

A political solution, that declares new borders and states that a conflict is over, can indeed create a new reality. Border controls can keep people apart, and new sovregnity can appease some, lessening the chances of violence. But if, fundamentally, both sides still hate each other, then true peace has not been achieved – and people may rebel and disregard the political agreement that has been signed.

If, on the other hand, people from both sides truly want peace, they will find a way. They will demand that their leaders pursue peace, and replace those who do not.

That’s why I believe in focusing on solutions that bring together Israelis and Palestinians, rather than on politics. That’s not to say that politics have no role; indeed, ideally, both a top-down and ground-up approach would work together. But the political arena seems stuck at the moment, whereas the social arena is not.

It’s always a good time to encounter each other and get to know people from the other side; it’s always a good time to educate towards tolerance and respect for the Other. These initiatives might not have immediate results, and they might not bring peace overnight. But they are creating a growing group of people committed to peace who, once they become large enough, will become a real pressure point on political leaders.

Once I focus on social solutions, instead of political ones, I’m no longer dependent on polls or political crosswinds.  I’m also not dependent on the other side: Is there a lot of hatred in Palestinian society? Maybe. But that’s not my responsibility. I can’t change Palestinian society; I’m not a member of it. All I can do is focus on changing the society that I am a part of – Israeli society. It’s possible that Israeli society will be ready for peace before Palestinian society, and that would be extremely frustrating. But the work I did will not go to waste; it will simply become effective at a later point than I had intended.

Despite that, the slow-going nature of the process can be extremely frustrating: Even if you believe that one day your actions will have a real effect and help catalyze momentum for a long-term solution, it’s hard to remain optimistic in the face of the ever-enduring status quo.

But remaining hopeful is part of the Israeli ethos. We put the words “Our hope is not yet lost” in our national anthem.

As Israel prepares to mark its 71st Independence Day, I am still hopeful that we can live up to the promise of our Declaration of Independence, to live in freedom, justice, and peace: That’s why, when my friend asked me if I’d go to the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony, I said yes.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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