DevMode
Palestinians and Israeli Jews are deeply committed to the same tiny piece of land, from which both generate their identities and histories. The conflict has resulted in a total separation between them, and this is expressed through their respective narratives, rituals and myths, which compress the present into the past and mobilize the future. If the 1993 Oslo Accords created the hope that the two peoples were moving out of 100 years of conflict, the current cycle of violence that began in September 2000 has created new depths of despair and frustration. The deeper both peoples descend into the abyss of dehumanization and victimization, the farther they move from the possibility of mutual acceptance, healing and hope.
Each side tries to justify its own moral superiority. Palestinians usually start from the Balfour Declaration in 1917, move through the British Mandate, the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967 (Farsoun and Zacharia, 1997). These events appear as one continuous tragedy in Palestinian minds, and are often blamed on Zionism and its exclusionary ideology (Said, 1980; Masalha, 1992). Palestinians living in Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or in exile, experience Palestine as real and its Jewish usurpers as victimizers. Rashid Khalidi writes, "...Israelis, many of them descended from victims of persecution, pogroms, and concentration camps, have themselves been mistreating another people" (1997:5). There is still a deep-felt wish among many Palestinians that the Jewish State will just "evaporate."
Jews view the return to their ancestral homeland after 2000 years of exile as a miracle. Many consider it a return of "people without land to a land without people." They see the Palestinians as an unexpected and unwelcome interference. They would like to wake up one day, to find the land empty and their memories freed from this "bad dream."
How can one move out of this mutual exclusivity and into mutual acceptance of the other after so many years of hatred and loss?

The Catch of Victimhood
We can forgive people in our heads without forgiving them in our hearts. For the former to become the latter, it must be, in Freud's phrase, "worked through." Psyche and soma, which have been divided by trauma, must be reunited again. This means shifting the past out of the present; replacing psychological simultaneity with linear sequence; slowly loosening the hold of a grief and an anger whose power traps us in an unending yesterday. (Ignatieff, 1998: 164-5).
Michael Ignatieff made these insights, while citing Stephen Daedalus of Joyce's Ulysses: "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." He reached the conclusion by looking at several current ethnic conflicts, in which peacemaking (that is represented usually by the "heads") and peace building (that is ordinarily dependent on the "guts") are still far apart. What mechanisms separate "head" and "heart" or "psyche" and "soma," even when top-down peacemaking is under way?
The feeling of "being victims" is normally based on solid individual and collective experiences during protracted violent conflict. These experiences gain a powerful grip on identity construction, however, when they are transformed in the collective memory into myths and transmitted from one generation to the next through memoirs and family stories, school books (Bar-Tal, 1997) and national symbolic acts and festivals (Ross, 1999). Today, many Palestinians are probing the past and present, both to reconstruct and remember history and to transmit its lessons to future generations. (Said, 1999; Barghouti, 2003; Shehadeh, 2003).
When one asks Palestinians where they come from, they will promptly name a village or town they themselves might have never inhabited, but their grandparents had left, or were forced to leave. Some will even show rusted keys and torn documents inherited from parents and grandparents as proof of land or house ownership. The Israeli Jewish context is still dominated by the myths of "fertilizing the empty land" and "the few against the many" relating to the 1948 war, preventing them from reaching beyond their own ethnocentric thinking and feeling the plight of the "other."

Exclusion of the "Other"
Both sides identify themselves as victimized by the other. Rarely, though, are such long-term conflicts symmetrical. Usually, one can define one party as the more powerful, trying to coerce, exclude or de-legitimize the other. Conflicts can be divided according to their level of asymmetry. The most complex are those in which there is no agreement on the measures used to decide which is the more powerful party. Palestinians typically view Israeli Jews as being more powerful, militarily and economically. Israeli Jews feel threatened by the demographic immensity of the whole Arab-Muslim world, relating it to their previous experiences of being a minority in Europe and Afro-Asia for many generations. They cannot accept the Palestinian perspective of the current asymmetrical power division, as it does not relate to their own fears of being overwhelmed, demographically.
In the Israeli-Palestinian context, the mutual feelings of victimization are best illustrated by two historical events that are the cornerstones for the collective memories of the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews. These are the Holocaust, (Shoah in Hebrew), and the Catastrophe, (Al-Nakba in Arabic); the exodus of Palestinians in 1948 and the resultant refugee problem. Generally, both sides mourn their own man-made cataclysm separately. There is an underlying fear that the acknowledgement of the tragedy of the "other" will justify their moral superiority and imply acceptance of their collective rationale. For the Palestinians, accepting the Jewish pain around the Holocaust means accepting the moral ground for the creation of the State of Israel. For the Israeli Jews, accepting the pain of the 1948 Palestinian refugees means sharing responsibility for their plight and their right of return.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the ruins of Deir Yassin lie close together, west of Jerusalem, but are a world apart in the psyche of Jews and Palestinians. While the former commemorates the systematic mass extermination of European Jews under the Nazi occupation prior to and during World War II, the latter is the village where 254 Palestinians were massacred at the hands of Jewish extremists in April 1948. It symbolizes Palestinian dispossession and the struggle for self-determination. Jews and Palestinians have been steadfast in their different interpretations of past events and current realities, refusing to participate in each other's painful memories, and thereby denying each other's past.
Following two visits to Yad Vashem, Ghassan Abdallah, a Palestinian activist, wrote: "We were never responsible for the pogroms and discrimination against Jews in Europe.... So why should Palestinians pay for the crimes of Europeans against Jews? What Palestinians and Arabs are up against is modern political Zionism, with its invasion of our historic land and culture, using false myths and pretenses." (2002: 43) This is a typical Palestinian reaction to the pain of the Jewish people, rejecting it as being invalid from their own perspective. Even while stating a truth (Palestinians were not responsible for the Jewish plight during the Holocaust), Abdallah missed the opportunity to empathize with the deep pain that Jews feel when they come to Yad Vashem. Conversely, when Yasser Arafat wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in 1998, American Jews turned him down, interpreting his wish as a manipulation of their most sacred feelings. The history of the two peoples is full of similar missed opportunities.
There are many instances in which Palestinians have questioned the validity of the Holocaust, expressing an underlying logic that "the enemies of our enemies are our friends." At the 1998 Hamburg meeting of the TRT (To Reflect and Trust) group1, FS (a Palestinian woman from Gaza) asked on the fourth day of the encounter, "How do you know there was a Holocaust?" The Jewish participants were shocked. They felt she was disqualifying the stories of their parents which they shared earlier. The crisis that arose required the intervention of a German participant who told FS about his father's involvement in the atrocities. Only then could she accept these facts. It became clear she had never learned about the Holocaust in school or college.
There are also many Israeli-Jewish examples of ethnocentricity (Steinberg & Bar-On, 2002). In a recent visit of Israeli (Jewish and Palestinian) and German students at Buchenwald concentration camp, Jewish students left the camp agitated. They let their feelings surface by expressing anger toward the Palestinian students rather than the Germans who participated in the tour. The Jewish participants perceived the Palestinians' behavior as "inappropriate." Some of the Jewish students felt that the Palestinians ignored Jewish suffering in the camp and thus did not meet Jewish expectations of the experience in this memorial context. Following the visit, the Palestinian leader wrote that he felt the Jewish students vented their anger on the Palestinian students, anger that had nothing to do with them. The Jews could not express their anger about the Holocaust directly toward the Germans. He felt this reflected a pattern of displaced Israeli aggression (Halaby, 1999). In another workshop at Ben Gurion University, the Jewish and the Palestinian groups convened separately on the day of Al-Nakba. The Palestinians approached the Jewish group to invite them to join their memorial ritual, and were deeply hurt when none of the Jewish participants came to stand with them for the minute of silence (Bar-On & Kassem, in press). This was later addressed and worked through in joint group sessions.

Beyond Victimhood: A New Beginning
Only recently have some Israeli Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals found the courage to bridge this gap. On the Israeli Jewish side, for example, Ilan Gur-Zeev and Ilan Pappé have called for the Holocaust and Al-Nakba to be examined within a mutual context (2003). Their argument does not claim equivalence between the two events but rather highlights the thread that ties them to the collective psyche of both people. Hence, they raise the serious need for each side to recognize the pain, morality and legitimacy of the other's narrative, without raising any issue of moral superiority. Benny Morris's historical research (1999), while not always critical or objective (Finkelstein, 2001: 51-87), established a new Jewish understanding of the Israeli government and military command role in the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war.
On the Palestinian side, Azmi Bishara (1996), Edward W. Said (1997), and Father Naim S. Ateek (2001) connected Palestinian acknowledgement of the Holocaust to Israeli Jewish recognition of the Palestinian Catastrophe and dispossession. "In order for the victim to forgive," Bishara (1992:6) argued, "he must be recognized as a victim. That is the difference between a historic compromise and a cease-fire." In examining the foundations for peace, Ateek (2001: 168-169) urges Palestinians to develop a new attitude toward the Holocaust. He explains, "We must understand the importance and significance of the Holocaust to the Jews, while insisting that the Jews understand the importance and significance of the tragedy of Palestine for the Palestinians." Hazem Saghiyeh and Saleh Bashir go further by suggesting in Al-Hayat (2000) that "the Arabs will not gain anything by ignoring or denying the Holocaust. Continuing such denial, paradoxically, can even be facilitative for Israel."
Recently, Arab-Israeli pupils have joined Jewish schoolmates on trips to Poland. In this spirit, Father Emil Shoufani and his Jewish partner Ruth Bar-Shalev introduced the From Memory to Peace initiative, to "establish a better understanding for the pain the Jews suffered in Europe during World War II and how it affects them until this day" (Lavy, 2003). Ester Golan, a Jewish participant who lost her parents in the Holocaust and journeyed with Father Shoufani and 250 others to Auschwitz-Birkenau, views the initiative as "a way of healing old wounds." In her journal, she writes: "Let us stay on the 'Connecting Path' and live for a better future for us all. As Father Shoufani repeatedly said: 'We have to grow from within.' We all grew. We all changed, each in his or her own way. That is what it is all about."2 However, the Israeli Jewish public still has great difficulty finding ways to participate, even symbolically, in the Palestinian commemoration of Al-Nakba.
Our duty is to question past mistakes and end the cycle of violence by changing attitudes from "who desires peace, prepare for war" to "who desires peace, prepare for peace." Our mission is to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the "other" as part of the process of conciliation that will take place between the two peoples once the Palestinian state is established and mutual violent acts end. This is part of our moral obligation toward each other. Dialogue between Israeli Jews and Palestinians must include an inward look into one's own culture and society and an outward look into the "other's" culture and society (Sarsar, 2002b). If dialogue is to be a sustainable, ongoing process, each national community must acknowledge and respect the other's pain, whether it was party to its creation or not. Such an inclusive act of communication and faith will prepare the way for working through the past and building peace. Our future and the future of our children and grandchildren, depend on it.



1. The TRT group was originally composed of descendants of Holocaust survivors and descendants of Nazi perpetrators (Bar-On, 1995). In 1998 practitioners from current conflicts (South Africa, Northern Ireland and Palestinians and Israelis) joined the group to test the possibility that the story telling method the group developed could also be used in these conflicts (Bar-On, 2000).
2. Excerpted from Golan's personal account of the journey, e-mailed to Saliba Sarsar in August 2003.


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