And it’s important to connect hope and action in a moment like this in particular because the horror we’re witnessing has a context. This is not a natural disaster. We're not where we are simply because bad things happen, but because we brought ourselves here. Because too many have believed the lie that freedom and security come through violence, and that equality and peace can come via ideologies of exclusion and religious or ethnic superiority. We have accepted the fiction that our lives are not interrelated with those of our neighbors. And we have imagined that inequitable systems of subjugation and control can be sustained forever.
And so we keep hope alive by embracing the truth and grounding ourselves in the conviction that the death and destruction of this war will only lead to more of the same. Our words and our actions in this moment can be demonstrations of hope when they are rooted in a steely conviction that the horror of October 7th did not make Palestinians freer, and nothing that’s happened since is making Israel, or any of us, safer. This is how we got into this, not how we get out of it. Violence begets violence begets violence. We act in hope by calling for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. And ultimately we set our sights on a new reality in which Palestinians and Israelis can enjoy freedom, dignity and security in equal measure.
Here are some practices of the peacemaker that not only represent acts of hope but that open the possibility to bring about change in us and change in the world.
Listen to understand. Many of us live within the sound of only one narrative of the shared reality of Israelis and Palestinians. Listening to understand those whose stories are new to us is a first step in nurturing the empathy that will allow us to see the humanity of all.
Listening to those with whom we disagree, not to combat or argue, but to truly understand has the potential to sharpen what we know and believe even as it holds open the possibility of lowering the temperature between us and the person being seen and heard. And this may expose that behind our disagreement may be something deeper. (Hint: It’s often fear.)
Learn to hold experiences in tension. The physicist Niels Bohr said the opposite of a fact is a falsehood but the opposite of a truth may be another profound truth. Palestinians and Israelis each have their own connections to the same piece of land, their unique histories and experiences, and any honest peacemaking effort great or small has to hold these experiences in tension, not as equally true, but as the things that must be understood and dealt with in any effort at conflict resolution.
Peacemakers know the importance of centering the voices of those most vulnerable. In this case, that has to begin today with the millions of displaced Palestinian civilians in Gaza, the families of the hostages, the Israelis who’ve fled their homes in the south and north of their country, and the Palestinians trapped and apprehensive in the West Bank fearing all this is coming their way.
Peacemakers also acknowledge that each of us has agency. We may think our influence is small, but we have communities and circles of friends, we have elected leaders who are meant to be responsive to our concerns. There are always things we can do, and the cumulative effect of many small actions can bring change.
At a time of such horror and atrocity, casting blame is an easy and natural response. But what can’t be overlooked for those who want to create hope is the necessity of doing the honest work of self-interrogation. The persistence of antisemitism for centuries and its alarming rise in the present, coupled with the growth of anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments, force us each not only to examine our internal biases and those that exist within our own communities, but also to confront them. Credible voices from within our communities are needed, to borrow from Jesus of Nazareth, to point out the proverbial logs in our own eyes so that we might see more clearly to help our neighbor remove the splinters from theirs.
Part of the work of self-interrogation is also to own our complicity in creating the conditions we see today. For too long our governments in the West have acted as if the blockade of Gaza was somehow sustainable, and that Israel can perpetually occupy the West Bank with no political horizon for a better reality. And in recent years, the Americans have pursued a fiction that Arab-Israeli normalization could proceed with abandon while the Palestinians fall ever deeper into Israeli control and their own internal political dysfunction.
The fact that we are a party to this conflict---our implication in it--- also creates the opportunity and the imperative to transform our involvement into morally grounded policies and interventions that create greater space for the work of peacemaking and conflict resolution. Which leads us to advocacy as an essential practice of peacemaking