During the run-up to the Israeli election, we heard little about peace from the right or the left. As we puzzle over the results, I wonder what drives those who truly seek peace.
Those of us who have never lost anyone to violence can work for achieving peace without struggling too deeply. But if you have lost someone, what does it take to overcome hatred, the desire for revenge and ‘justice’? Robi Damelin, a long-time peace activist and member of the Bereaved Parents Circle, an organization of both Palestinians and Israelis who have lost immediate family members, faced this challenge directly. During the negotiations for Gilad Shalit’s release, she was forced to confront the possibility that her son’s murderer would be released as a part of the prisoner exchange. Her exploration forms the core of her documentary, “One Day after Peace.” Could she live up to the words she had so often articulated?
Marc Gopin of George Mason University explores what makes peacemakers tick in “Bridges Across an Impossible Divide: The Inner Lives of Arab and Jewish Peacemakers” (Oxford University Press). The book emanates from the “Unusual Pairs” film project, a series of videos that focuses on Israeli and Palestinian partners in the quest for peace.
The narrative unfolds in the words of the peacemakers themselves as they search for common ground with their adversaries. No well-known politicians are featured – these are truly unsung heroes. Gabriel Meyer, son of the late Rabbi Marshall Meyer, and his partner, Ihab Balha, are among the pairs. Meyer describes the difficulties that they encountered during the 2006 Lebanon war; Balha writes, “Peace is not a simple word, an easy word.”
Peacemakers have to confront their own anger, rage and the impulse to hurt. Ibrahim Khalil, whose 12 year-old son was killed in a hit-and-run by a settler, writes of the danger of the anger: “It’s building a new energy, a very, very strong and huge energy. This energy – it’s more dangerous than the energy of [a] nuclear weapon.”
Khalil, nurtured on historical injustice and fueled by grief at his loss, finally asks himself, “If I go and revenge, this will come [i.e. bring] back my son?” He does not remain isolated in his community but reaches out across the divide, building a bridge and embracing the humanity of “the other.”
Ultimately, Gopin concludes it is from the home that peace must emanate. “Victims and would-be aggressors …. crawl out of the hell of cyclical rage and revenge and into the mysterious region of peace building, reconciliation, and the achievement of justice.” Their words compel us.
Sharon Anstey is a business consultant and writer in New York.