Israeli soldiers standing next to a tank.

The perennially increasing military budgets of world powers have resulted in unprecedented militarization, in the middle of which often sits Israel. Peace, on the other hand, is a child of nonviolent communication and empathy. Credit: CreativeCommons / Palestine Solidarity Project.

Promoting the capacity for empathy and supporting measures that help to develop empathy would be the better way to pave the path towards peace in the Middle East — and perhaps the only viable one.

It would certainly be a cheaper one. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the total sum of the world’s military expenditures in 2014 amounted to 1,776 billion dollars. With $610 billion, the United States was far and away at the top of the league. The U.S.A. exported armaments worth more than $20 billion, making it the world’s leading exporter, too. In some cases the United States is very generous and offers additional military aid (supporting their own killing industry in the process). Israel, for example, is such a beneficiary. It receives military aid of about $3 billion annually. The U.S. has also helped with additional aid in special cases, such as the funding of the Iron Drone project with $429 million in March 2014 or with $576 million for the Tamir interception missiles in July 2014 (Haaretz,10 March/18 Aug 2014). Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. “In the interest of U.S. national security” and despite the protests of human rights activists, the States is going to resume its frozen military aid. President Obama has asked the Congress for $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt per year. (Reuters)

Germany is another generous donor on the military scene: With licenses for export worth $4.49 billion, it ranks fifth on the 2014 arms export list and comes in second for exports to Israel. Germany is even helping Israel to develop its nuclear military capabilities. Israel is soon expecting to receive its fifth dolphin submarine, worth about €550 million. It is subsidized with €135 million ($168m). Israel even got the first and second boat free of charge. According to media reports, the German government is planning to subsidize the supply of warships (corvets), worth more than one billion dollars, with $336 million. (Der Spiegel)

The motivation for such generosity can be found in Germany’s National-Socialist past. The German-Israeli arms deal started in the early Sixties — covertly. Germany was about to pass a law that would prohibit the export of weaponry to conflict zones (1961). A third party was also involved in the deal: Although the American military relationship to Israel was not prompted by historic guilt (this is not to say that it did not exist) the American administration decided to comply with Israel’s wish for a delivery of tanks, cannons, missiles, boats and submarines and to join the secret German-Israeli agreement. When information about the deal was leaked to the German press in 1964, the German government felt pressured into cancelling the annual supply of arms, including boats and planes, worth 200 million German marks. However, there was counterpressure from Israel. “Germany must not cancel the deal with Israel, even if it decides to stop selling arms to conflict zones in general,” warned Shimon Peres, then director of the Israeli Defense Ministry. “Germans must commit themselves to correcting historical injustices toward the Jewish people” (Haaretz). A backdoor was found. The U.S.A. continued the weapons deal, now publicly, and Germany continued to manufacture war boats and submarines for Israel on French and British wharves and maintained its covert tactics. (Berlin Transformation-center for Transatlantic Security, BITS)

Germany and the United States have repeatedly assured the public that they are committed to Israel’s security. Are they really? The increasing extent of arms transfers to Arabic countries, above all to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, among them states that are known for extreme violations of human rights), gives rise to doubts. The Merkel government defended these deals on the grounds that such moves would help bring stability to a volatile region and fight terrorism. (Huffington Post)

Of course, other arms exporting nations are also at work here. Barak Obama, David Cameron and Francois Hollande all vow to fight terrorism. Fight terrorism? How is that possible? The evidence is growing that the confrontation of violence with violence will most probably lead to more violence.

In 1985, when plans for a German arms deal with Saudi Arabia overshadowed the official visit of the German head of state, Richard Weizsäcker, to Israel, his Israeli colleague Chaim Herzog reminded him, “Day after day we hear about the arrival of additional deadly weapons in our region, each supply more lethal and more murderous than the previous one…Has not the time come to stop the deadly arms race? Have we not had our full share of catastrophes and wars? It is not weapons we lack, but peace.”

Thirty years have passed. There are warning voices that see us confronted with a last chance to avoid the deadly catastrophe in the evolutionary epoch of the human race.

What are the alternatives to the vicious cycle of violence? What are the ways of controlling the forces that threaten to destroy human life and, if not stopped, mankind itself? There are several ways, all based on psychology instead of weaponry. Common to all of them is the conviction that it is necessary for opponents to see or learn to see the so-called enemy as a subject and not as an object, a ‘terrorist’ without a human face or soul, Then the question of the cause of the behavior that makes the opponent evil or dangerous can be raised. What led him to attack, kill, destroy? The two conflicting parties need a psychologically trained mediator who can help dismantle prejudices, aggressiveness and fear and increase awareness and confidence instead.

One such method is nonviolent communication (NVC). This method was developed by Marshall Rosenberg (1934-2015), whose non-academic psychological practices were profoundly influenced by Gandhi, Buber, Rogers and Fromm. He taught NVC as a process of communication designed to improve compassionate connection to others. It focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy,as a compassionate awareness of one’s own inner feelings; on empathy, an ability to listen compassionately to the other; and thirdly on honest self-expression. Rosenberg’s method has also proved to be successful in situations calling for mediation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Another method that is based on empathy is the simple method of story telling that was developed by the psychologist and peace researcher Daniel Bar-On. By learning to listen to the other’s story, the participants are able to get to know each others as human beings. Then they can begin to transform the violence resulting from suffering into compassion.

There are more such methods and they are frequently used by Israeli-Palestinian peace groups like Combatants for Peace or Parents Circle (PCFF) and others. Group participants get training from professional psychologists.

But how do these groups obtain financial aid? Compared to the amounts of military expenses referred to above, they receive next-to-nothing. Usually peace-promoting organizations depend on donations by benevolent organizations, such as churches or conflict management NGOs. These contributions, however, are drops in the bucket. If they received more financial aid, they could be more effective. The financial blessing would attract more and more people who would join the reconciliation movement. They would learn that these encounters have nothing to do with’ normalization’ — a term that was coined to warn of trends to maintain the status quo.

The United Nations, as well as some European governments, have developed a hierarchic institutional system to give advisory and financial support to institutions, groups and individuals that promote civil conflict transformation. Although financial support is transferred to these institutions, in the case of Germany by the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the amount given is almost insignificant in comparison to military expenses. In addition, the rigidity of the bureaucratic guidelines prevents the allocation of funds which might respond to special situations or support innovative projects.

One such project is the Cross Borders Concert that will take place onJune 4 in Kfar Aza in the immediate vicinity of the Israeli-Gaza border. The concert, in which Jewish and Arabic musicians will perform together, follows the path from animosity to cooperation, from despair to hope. For weeks, months, the organizers have been trying to raise the funds necessary for the concert. They are motivated by a vision of reconciliation and peace promoted through the cross-cultural language of music. A clef will serve as a key. At the same time politicians are spending billions of dollars to destroy mankind.

Learn about and support the Cross Borders Concert here.

Edith Lutz took her degrees in Jewish sciences (Potsdam) and worked as a high school teacher, until her peace activity prompted her to give up her job.


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