by Maya Yechieli Wind
Young people have a great capacity to initiate processes of change. Yet in observing my society during and after the last operation in Gaza, I felt that this capacity was not employed at all. Despite our vast potential to create change, with our energy level and tendency to question the previous generation's values, opinions among Israeli youth regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain sadly static. We need to channel our natural tendency in constructive directions, by questioning our perception of the conflict and nurturing the notion of doubt. Developing doubt will increase young people's capacity to think originally and to translate our ideas into innovative actions that may change the political reality of the region.
One way of nurturing constructive questioning would be to create an online "Israeli-Palestinian Doubt Forum." Doubt should be developed particularly in relation to three concepts: facts, collective identity and personal responsibility.
First, it is important for my generation to question the official historical "facts" that generally serve as a framework for discussion of the conflict. These "facts" have been internalized and are now considered to provide the background to the debate instead of being subject to debate themselves. We don't realize that what we assume to be "facts" are frequently only our own narrative, and this greatly restricts our ability to think about the conflict openly and critically.
In a Doubt Forum, Israeli and Palestinian youth could post articles, pictures and their own opinions and feelings, as well as ask others questions about the way they experience the conflict. Exposure to a diversity of information would encourage greater skepticism of the way their respective societies represent the conflict.
This new kind of online interaction would challenge the notion of "fact," leading to a more open-minded and less self-righteous approach to the political debate. It will also lead people to challenge what they "know" about those on the other side, including the reasons for their actions, and the compromises they would be willing to make for peace. In this way, the Doubt Forum would allow for a deeper and more original discussion.
Second, the concept of collective identity should be questioned. The conflict is deeply personal to many people, yet the emotions regarding it are often experienced communally. In both societies there is a sense of insecurity, which leads to a feeling that nationalism is necessary to keep the state - or the struggle for one - alive. When collective identity plays such a central role, distinguishing between individuals and their actions or communities becomes difficult. Furthermore, over-identification with one's society or government does not enable one to examine critically that society's actions, as the subject becomes emotionally loaded.
The Doubt Forum would help undermine collective identity and reveal the individual voices within the two societies. Breaking down collective identity would highlight the common denominator of human experience shared by Israelis and Palestinians. Finding this common denominator would promote understanding of the "other" and create a platform from which to debate the conflict effectively.
Finally, perceptions of personal responsibility and of the individual's ability to make a difference ought to be examined. Although the conflict feels very personal to most Israelis and Palestinians, many still consider their individual actions to be removed from it. People perceive it as affecting them but not the opposite. Therefore, they do not pause to doubt before acting and, as a result, do not feel personally responsible for the course of the conflict.
Reading conflict-related personal stories from the other side would force individuals to consider the effects of their actions and recognize that not doing so only helps perpetuate the conflict. The Doubt Forum will promote self-examination and allow us to challenge the intractability of the conflict by doubting before acting.
A joint Israeli-Palestinian Doubt Forum that questions the notions of fact, collective identity and personal responsibility would provide a way for Palestinians and Israelis to interact and recognize each other's humanity - allowing them to meet somewhere other than on opposite sides of a checkpoint. This, in turn, would allow us the freedom to think as individuals - not as nations - and come up with original solutions to the conflict. Interaction in the Doubt Forum would help us question the "facts" and demonstrate the plurality of voices present in both societies. The Forum would strengthen individual identity and empower young people to effect change. With the heightened consciousness, new perspectives, and confidence that the Doubt Forum would give them, young people could make peace possible.
Maya Yechieli Wind, 19, of Jerusalem, was the Israeli winner of the Simcha Bahiri Youth Essay Contest organized by the Palestine-Israel Journal. A conscientious objector, she is doing her national service with Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.