What do we do when people are burning each other? When a stabbed soldier no longer gets a headline in the papers?
As I was trying to explain to my right-wing friend from a village outside of the Gaza Strip that these are the costs of the conflict, he got frustrated. “Don’t you think I know?” he said. “I have far more at stake than you do living in your Tel Aviv bubble. I have lost more friends to this war than you could ever understand. But there is nothing we can do.”
I asked why he didn’t support a peace process. Why he didn’t vote for representatives that would promote that agenda. Why he didn’t fight for a peace agreement that would put an end to the constant state of war with the Palestinians.
“Because I don’t trust them.”
This simple fact stands at the core of most Middle-Easterners’ understanding of the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has been one of the factors impeding any attempt at a peace agreement. The Arab Peace Initiative, one of the best opportunities for a different future for the Middle East, was doomed to fail. Why? Because we don’t trust each other. And the tremendous concessions necessary for peace will require leaps of faith and deep reserves of trust on all sides.
How do we get to that point? Generating trust in a space of existential fear — where identity is linked to enmity and opposition — is incredibly difficult. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.
It is therefore crucial to develop what Herbert Kelman, a prominent scholar of conflict resolution, refers to as “working trust” — an initial step in understanding different perspectives and moving a relationship between enemies away from pure antagonism.
Our college campus provides a unique opportunity to begin to fill those wells of trust; the campus is home to students from all over the world with diverse backgrounds, strong passions and desires to become involved in policymaking. The Arab-Israeli conflict is already a topic of campus discussion. Last week, the Yale Political Union debated the conflict with political scientist Normal Finkelstein. Just two days ago, Yale Friends of Israel hosted Mark Dubowitz and Dr. Philip Gordon in a discussion on the Iran nuclear deal.
Yale students should address the foundations of mistrust, shame, anger and resentment. We should work toward values of mutual understanding and respect that will be necessary to achieve a lasting peace.
It is critical, for instance, that Jews understand the historical and religious significance of al-Quds within Islam, and how losing control of the Temple Mount scarred the Muslim world. Those who seek to understand and trust Jews and Israelis must learn that, despite military might and an alleged nuclear program, Israelis are driven by a real existential fear that dominates their psyches. These are small steps we can begin to take at Yale, to gradually build a new — and different — set of leaders in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In keeping with this goal, I worked with other students to create a space for all the different voices on campus to sit around one table and discuss. Middle Eastern Resolution through Education, Action & Dialogue is a group of undergraduate and law students; Israelis and Jews from the entire political and religious spectrum; Palestinians and Arabs from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia; members of organizations such as Seeds of Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine and Yale Friends of Israel.
So I invite students to share their stories, share their feelings and try to see the conflict from a different point of view. I challenge the proud voices of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee to come together and discuss both at Yale and on other college campuses. I challenge them to break through the two narratives and create a new positive atmosphere intent on working toward a solution rather than more aggression.
We start here, with all of us grappling with the rage we feel at horrific acts of violence. But imagine a negotiation table sometime in the future. Sitting around it are leaders of the Arab world, side by side with Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. Imagine that the Palestinian negotiators understand why it is important for the Israelis to have a Jewish state and a safe space. Imagine that the Israelis understand why the Palestinians feel a deep and strong connection to the land that was their home for centuries, and why it is important for them to have a Palestinian state. Imagine that the Arab team were rid of its certainty that the Israelis sat next to them with only sinister intentions; imagine if the Israeli team believed the same. Imagine that. That is so much more than we have now, and that is what it will take for this conflict to come to an end.
Lia Weiner is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .