Bridging the Divide: Peace Building in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, edited by Edy Kaufman,     Walid Salem and Juliette Verhoeven
Bridging the Divide: Peacebuilding in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, edited by Edy Kaufman, Walid Salem and Juliette Verhoeven. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006. 320 pp. including index. Paperback, $23.50.

Amnesty After Atrocity? Healing Nations after Genocide and War Crimes by Helena Cobban. Paradigm Publishers, 2007. 284 pp. including index. Paperback, $24.95.

Sol Gittleman

Sol Gittleman, former provost of Tufts University, Massachusetts, is now the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor at Tufts.

It requires a very special kind of courage to continue pressing toward reconciliation in the face of overwhelming odds. Here are two books that represent whatever there is left for hope in an age of apocalyptic violence and seemingly irreconcilable conflict around the world. The fact that Edy Kaufman and Walid Salem were willing and able to produce this remarkable volume of research into the role of non-governmental agencies still functioning in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in itself astonishing. The forces aligned against "normalization" would look on any cooperative effort of this kind as an unwanted truce in the battle for victory.
The opening chapter, "Palestinian-Israeli Peacebuilding: A Historical Perspective," written by Kaufman and Salem, is a tour de force of balancing on a tightrope over an abyss, but they pull it off. Every time period considered, beginning with the first Zionist immigrations to the end of the British Mandate, represents a potential minefield of contradictory interpretations, even conflicting terminologies. The authors deal with the crashing together of two nationalisms, but in the midst of the greatest hostilities there were still Arabs and Jews willing to meet and to call for cooperation and dialogue. This historical chapter is a play-within-a-play, as Kaufman and Salem do their own negotiations on the sub-headings: "From the Israeli War of Liberation, or the Palestinian Nakba, in 1948 to the Six-Day War in 1967." As for analysis, there is plenty of fault to hand around on both sides, and neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are spared, when criticism is appropriate. At the conclusion, they admit: "It is in itself a challenge for both of us to reach a consensus about what we learn from the past in order to understand the present and even more for going toward the future."
The next six essays were written individually either by Palestinians or by Israelis, or cooperatively with shared authorship. The writers and researchers represent the best of the civil societies on both sides, peace activists and faculty from Israeli and Palestinian universities: Tamar Hermann, Manuel Hassassian, Mohammed Dajani, Gershon Baskin, Menachem Klein, Riad Malki, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Shalom Dichter and Khaled Abu-Asba.
Who could fault them for getting discouraged? In the concluding essay written by Kaufman, Salem and Juliette Verhoeven, senior staff member at the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, the authors despair: "It seems that the effectiveness of the peace and conflict resolution organization in both societies is at a low point."
Nonetheless, Bridging the Divide holds out hope that the reasonable minds will yet prevail. It concludes with a directory of some 80 organizations working in the field of conflict prevention and peace building in Israel and Palestine.

Helena Cobban is a first-rate journalist who has observed the transition from anarchy to justice and reconciliation all over the world. She has no axes to grind. Her analysis of the post-war responses to the horrors of South African apartheid, genocide in Rwanda and the brutal armed insurgency in Mozambique are moving, but marked completely by a reality developed over years in reporting on humanity's capacity for brutality. It is realistic, yet depressing, to note that many of her conclusions might be used in the coming years, when the world inevitably examines the genocide-in-the-making in Darfur. Some things never seem to change.
In each of the three case studies, Cobban asks the difficult questions. In Rwanda, the brutality directed against the Tutsi community and also against those Hutus who would not show sufficient zeal in the killings left deep and unhealed scares in the post-genocide period. This led inevitably to a prosecutorial approach of seeking out the perpetrators, finding them and bringing them to trial in front of often terrified and intimidated witnesses. Cobban asks: Does this approach actually contribute to healing the wounds of the past? Or has it perpetuated and exacerbated past differences among human groups? How should we start to list the broader social and political goals at which criminal prosecutions should aim?
The South African experience was different. In late April 1994, the butchery in Rwanda was reaching its frenzied climax just as totally free elections, based on one person, one vote were experienced by 40 million formerly disenfranchised citizens. Apartheid was finished. Freedom had arrived, and the formerly enslaved, murdered and brutalized blacks of South Africa rejoiced. But would they seek revenge? How would they deal with those who earlier had tyrannized them? Even before the elections, the anti-apartheid parties led by Nelson Mandela had promised a version of amnesty and had won the grudging cooperation of the white rulers.
It was this spirit that led to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with its innovative victim-centered process. It was the repair of relationships that was at the heart of this policy, rebuilding the community of people in South Africa. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu played a significant role in producing a result that was a blending of Christian forgiveness and African ubuntu.
In Mozambique, there was yet a third way, different from Rwanda and South Africa. Unlike them, in post-civil war Mozambique there was no official forum to review the atrocities or to hear the voices of the victims, no official organ of the state or of the United Nations, which had played roles in both Rwanda and South Africa. With the acceptance of the 1992 peace accord and the end of hostilities, the Mozambicans reverted to a side of their national character that is reluctant to discuss painful incidents in public. There were blanket amnesties, followed by a series of "healing projects" carried out at the individual and small-group level all over the country. Parties in the civil war who had demonstrated the most brutal behavior either came into the government or participated as part of the formal and loyal opposition as a political party. The violence, which had lasted unabated for 15 years, had ended. Cobban is transparent in her admiration for the Mozambican solution: People pay little attention to Mozambique because it is not now a conflict-ridden society and does not attract the attention that failed efforts do.
Here we have two serious studies that hold up at least the possibility of peace on Earth, good will toward humanity. If their goals and aspirations were fulfilled, it would mean, paradoxically, the end of civilization as we have known it. Good luck to all of us in these perilous times.