What to do in a situation when one side is being violated? It seems straightforward to chose the victim’s side – but how many of us do that? Do we look for excuses to not chose the victim’s side – he seems so nice, surely that story is not true…. First of all, we may fail in our empathy. And, secondly, in fact siding with the victim may feel morally correct, but actually it does not overcome the conflict any more than siding with the aggressor.
Our model for human action is simple. We see sides as black and white. We know intellectually that human have complex motivations which are most often a mixture of those we feel are morally upright and those which may be based in fear or selfishness. I have written elsewhere about encountering evil. This term raises for many of us echoes of hearing of tussles between good leaders and evil: Jesus and Satan. These cartoon-like images do us all a disservice: we can each of us probably recall a time in our history when we have thrown things apart, as the devil is said to do. The evil that I met created and perpetuated a conflict, pulling other souls into the conflict, stimulating anguish and rage and hurt, some of which is long-lasting. This is what I mean by evil: the fruit of this person in the grip of evil is destruction.
And I feel very sorry for this person, whose world seems to be about conflict and victory, who feels compelled to win and exert dominance in order to try to create a feeling of safety for himself. It is a terrible world in which to live. I know, becuase the pull of the destruction was to pull me into that world, too, of conflict and punishment. I am fortunate to have others around who have proved resilient to the lure of black-and-white thinking. And what happens at the individual level is so much the same for those countries and proponents of national security strategies. We can think of so many countries which are acting out the premise that ‘the best defense is a good offense’: the US, or Israel, for example.
Today, I attended a hearing on the future of Palestine in the European Parliament. There were calls form speakers for members of the audience be allies. Being allies was understood as choosing one side – although a true ally would be someone holding a neutral space to work for the future. Holding the space – and withholding judgement. It is so easy for those both involved in this conflict and those who experience it as visitors or supporters, to forget that it is both sets of people who have experienced trauma. Israel looks like an aggressor, but why is it we excuse ourselves of centuries of anti-semitism all over Europe and elsewhere? How do we assume that Jews must forget the pain inflicted on their family members not only in the 20th century but also the 15th, the 16th, and more? And then consider the injustices done to Palestinians: the damage of hopelessness on generation after generation.
In a call for allies, the conflict is perpetuated. It is the more neutral help of outsiders which can create a stage for peacebuilding. When the outsiders take sides, it does not overcome the conflict.
The solution will only begin when we make the space safe, when we hold forth that, as the UN has done, that neither side is entirely innocent. Both parties need to make changes.
There are those who call for the country of Israel to be boycotted, but I can’t say this seems useful. It implies that there is wrong only on one side of the conflict. We must look to the future. The pain of present-day people who may experience hate crimes should be responded to with love. Not everything they do is right, though: we separate the actions from the person. Love the people of Israel, love those working for peace and working for love at home, love those just needing to be safe, but don’t support the actions which hurt others. When one speaks in love, it makes it safe for others to decide to listen.