The Empathy Tribe What a Spiritual Progressive Approach to Israel/Palestine Might Look Like

NO LASTING PEACE will be possible between Israel and Palestine until there is a dramatic change of consciousness comparable in depth to the kind of change that took place in the United States as segregation was dismantled; as the women’s movement put patriarchy on the defensive and dismantled many (but not all) aspects of sexist oppression that predominated for 10,000 years in much of Western society; or, more recently in the United States, as the LGBTQ movement fought to achieve marriage equality—all changes that were dismissed as “unrealistic” in the first decades of those struggles. A similar change of consciousness in Israel-Palestine will require a strategy of nonviolence, compassion, and empathy.

Such a strategy requires the development of a powerful movement that at once critiques both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and at the same time tries to convince each side that it is through generosity toward the other that something might change. Each side, of course, will tell you that they’ve already tried this approach and that it didn’t work. In this, both sides are deluded, and they can be taught to see things differently.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, who campaigns to stop demolitions in the West Bank. Eoghan Rice, Trocaire / Wikimedia Commons

Palestinian violence toward Jewish settlers did not start in 1967 or even in 1948. It was there from almost the start, when Zionist settlers began arriving in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and was mobilized more fully by the Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as by other nationalist and fundamentalist extremists. Likewise, Jewish violence against Palestinians did not begin with the conquest of the West Bank, but was already present in the expulsion of some Palestinians from their land in the 1920s and 1930s. Jewish violence became a major factor in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem from 1947 to 1949. Neither side has clean hands, and we who seek peace must be able to critique both sides, even as we assure both sides that a satisfactory mutual peace agreement is possible.

Yet none of this can even begin to be heard until we approach those with whom we disagree—on both sides—with a spirit of generosity, a commitment to nonviolence, and a strategy of compassion and empathy: everyone must feel that they are being heard. We need to train a massive force of empathic and compassionate activists, people from around the world who can begin to teach such skills to both Palestinians and Israelis. But since they are likely to be blocked from entering Israel-Palestine in large numbers once the Israeli Right understands our strategy, Israelis and Palestinians themselves must also seek this kind of training.

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