Michael Hilkowitz

Those who fight for Peace and those who fight for Human Rights are not the same

Over the last month and a half of fighting in Israel and Gaza I have come to some startling conclusions. I have come to realize that people who fight for Human Rights are much different than people who fight for Peace. I grew up in the very liberal community of Mt. Airy in Philadelphia. It is a wonderful community that taught me to think through issues and to accept that people have differing opinions on things, and that the fact that people have different opinions does not invalidate them as people or as friends.

That said, I had thought that people who fought for human rights were the same as the people who fought for peace. I don’t believe this to be true any longer. I have come to believe that while people who fight for human rights have their place in the world, and offer a valuable contribution, they in fact, actually get in the way of real peace, in much the same way as religious and nationalist zealots do. Obviously, this is a generalization, not all people who believe in something believe in it in the same way, but for a majority I think this is true.

Here is the problem. People who are fighting for Human Rights are idealists, which is a wonderful thing but it gets in the way of compromise. It is a black and white perspective, if everything is not done, nothing is done. Also, these people generally look at a conflict in the same black and white way, that one side is completely victimized and that one side is completely oppressive. Clearly I am talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, but this addresses many conflicts outside of this specific one. This idea that one side is right and one side is wrong leads the groups involved to take a harder stand against their opponents. It also forces the other side into harder stances, feeling that they are being unfairly labeled as completely wrong, that all of their grievances are being ignored. For every person who pushes the agenda that this is a black and white situation, both Hamas and the Israeli government are pushed into taking harder, less flexible positions. It leads to a situation where Hamas says it will not cease fire until every one of its demands is met. It leads to Israel saying that a ceasefire is fine, but they will not make any concessions to achieve it. In the black and white view, there is no room for compromise, in the idealist’s view; there is not room for compromise. Just as with the religious or nationalist zealot, there is no room for compromise.

People who fight for peace aren’t idealists, they don’t view the world, and specific conflicts in a black and white view. They are interested in finding ways for both sides to compromise in order to stop the fighting. Taking a black and white view makes this impossible. People who fight for peace are interested in trying to bring the two sides together to start a meaningful dialogue, and you can’t do this if you vilify one of the sides. Fighting for peace means blame is unimportant, that the important thing is bringing the two sides, whatever sides, to an understanding that will end the fighting. There can be no understanding if both sides are not flexible. Getting to peace requires compassion for the people, all the people, and an understanding that our conflicts should not be solved through violence, but instead through dialogue. This dialogue is not easy, it is not a quick process, but it requires both sides understanding the needs of the other. It requires both sides seeing the humanity in the other, not seeing the other as the devil.

In the current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, I see this refrain replaying itself on both sides. The massive PR war that is being fought around the world does nothing to bring peace; instead it pushes both sides to harden their positions. Jews around the world have decried world leaders for not coming out strongly enough in support of Israel, and supporters of the Palestinians have decried world leaders for not coming out strongly enough against Israel. On the other hand, anyone who comes out in favor of compromise is vilified. We see some world leaders vilifying Hamas or Israel, Stephen Harper and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan come to mind, they are just encouraging Israel and Hamas not come to a cease-fire, they make peace less likely. We see this same phenomenon occurring in the American political system for the last few years. Any member of either side doing something seen as compromise with the other will likely face their own ouster in the next primary election. It has led to a situation where Congress cannot pass laws, and when it does, the votes are pretty much along party lines. There is no compromise. It is much the same in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It is time for true people of peace, for true people of humanity, who have compassion and understanding for all people to come to the forefront. It is time for people to stand up and say with a loud voice that we want compromise, that idealists have no place trying to mediate between warring parties, that they should have no place at the table. Idealists never make peace, they can make wonderful changes in the world, but not during times of war, and this is a time of war, not just between Israel and Hamas, but all over the world, we are in a time of conflict, and it is time for realists to step forward to make peace, people who understand that compromises are needed to be made to build trust and move our world forward, to bring it back from the brink.

This is not meant to justify Hamas’s indiscriminate attacks against Israeli citizens, nor to justify the views of the Israeli right, voiced by people such as Danny Danon and Naftali Bennett. This article isn’t to justify anyone or anything. Just because I can understand where their feelings come from does not mean I agree with them, but that’s really the point isn’t it? That only people who understand the needs and feelings of both sides will be able to push both sides to make the compromises that will be needed to create a lasting and durable peace.

In conclusion, this is not the time to hold to ideals, it is the time to attempt to understand the other side and to push all people toward compromise. That is the only true way forward. In peace, you don’t get everything you want, but hopefully you get all that you need.

About the Author
Michael Hilkowitz holds degrees in History and Secondary Education from Temple University and is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for International Affairs. He is currently a Masters student in Security and Diplomacy Studies at Tel Aviv University. Living in Israel since 2012, he formerly served as the Chief Content Office for The Israel Innovation Fund, a 501.c.3 working to promote Israeli culture, art, and humanities innovation abroad.
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