There are important next steps being debated for what states can and should do to stop the current war, and set the stage for ending the current cycle of violence. That is not my subject. They had their chance for thirty years and blew it. All of them. Politicians follow votes, they follow people, and the people must set an example.
I wrote recently that leaders are followers and followers are leaders, and neither knows it. The fact is that people and their individual initiatives have much more impact on the course of history than is acknowledged by government officials, by cynics, and by those citizens too apathetic, too callous, or too fearful to act. If you are in that category, do not read forward. Just go back to Al Jazeera, Fox and CNN and choose a side. Or, go back to Jon Stewart and have a good laugh.
Here is what is necessary, efforts that have worked before in history in changing the available information available to all parties so that more rational and more morally decent decisions can be made in terms of limiting violence, eliminating violence, and moving toward fair and rational common ground. Here are a series of efforts that have worked in other conflicts in the world to mitigate and eventually eliminate violent conflict.
IF YOU ARE A PARTY TO THE CONFLICT:
Reach out to anyone who is from an 'enemy' group that you think is most likely receptive to being a bridge and communicator. Interview them. Ask them questions about themselves or their lives especially in the current situation. Ask them about their families, where they come from, essentially what is their story and the story of all those they love or care about. Listen patiently if they start to confess to you about anyone, on either side, that makes them upset.
This can be also be done online and virtually, and in fact there are many good places to do this. In fact, if we are to affect a global situation involving millions of people, we must find intimate ways to do this virtually. I know I have.
Take the relationship and conversation off public line, however.
Ask if they would do the same in terms of interviewing you on what is happening in your family and community, but don't push it. Sometimes only one way is possible emotionally. But you are planting a very important seeds, and seeds are the key to peace.
Faithfully find ways to convey the information to friends and colleagues, off or online who would be open to hearing such information. If you are a writer, try to get this into the public domain of twitter, FB, blogs, in any way you can.
Do not write or convey that anything one person says as gospel truth, but as one piece of the puzzle.
Be prepared as you pass on information to others to be attacked especially if you convey information that involves pain to one side or another, or things that do not confirm stereotypes.
If you have the courage, after much self-training, try to engage those who you might be least likely to humanize from the other side, those who fill you with fear. For example, if you are Jewish you may be able to reach out to Palestinian Israelis, but not West Bankers, or you may be able to relate to Christians but not Muslims, or vice versa. You may be able to reach out to secular, but not religious, or vice versa. You may be able to talk about family alive today but not family fifty years ago.
Stretch yourself, a little more each time. Go beyond your comfort zone, and honestly seek out the strange other, the estranged other. This is the only way.
2. Encourage and engage in any forms of direct address to people from the other side with positive expressions of sympathy, understanding or care. Many people are not good at talk, and many situations are beyond talking. Think of anything you can do as an expression of care. Food, greetings, aid in any way, solidarity in holidays, in mourning, in anything that is challenging to the other. As you do it, express your hopes for peace, for safety for everyone. Don't avoid the eyes.
IF YOU ARE A BYSTANDER:
Do the same as above, except do it with people on both sides, and see if you can convey information between one or more people on both sides who are capable of listening. Be an adjunct and assistant to efforts of #1
History suggests that such messaging and gestures cause a great deal of cognitive and emotional dissonance to violent enemy systems and discourages violent responses. Anything that humanizes the other tends to discourage violent responses and solutions, and makes the space for other solutions to emerge or at least be supported.
Keep in mind these are short-term approaches, but they could give rise to long-term brainstorming and new ideas.
Keep in mind that ultra-violence's only opportunity is that it drives others to ultra-peace shifts in thinking and behavior. This is an opportunity to be seized.
What has been clear to many involved in relations between the sides is that every conflict is like a winnowing press, the chaff floats away and the kernels that will nourish the body become clarified. We are seeing this now. We are seeing an unprecedented flowering of love and care across boundaries even as the bombs fall, and even as others are showering hate. We are seeing an unprecedented level of common frustration with politicians and political divisions, and a common wish to live in one land where everyone is safe and equal, and these bridges are emerging from very identified Jews and Palestinians, not just academic universalists. Something is happening, and it is not just war.
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