The Art of Engineering Peace: The Role of History in Shaping and Transforming thePalestinian-Israeli Conflict

Conflicts are diverse and complicated, driven by multiple and multi-layered elements; so are their solutions. Although some argue that the Palestinian- Israeli conflict is a religious one, I believe that the principal root cause is history. History supposedly urges its audience to dream of and to seek to revive the ancient glories of their people, which in turn poses a threat to all others in the region. In fact, the history of this land has played a crucial role in the continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and strongly threatens 
any potential settlement. The continuation of the conflict undermines the basic needs, interests, rights, and aspirations of both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples. Yet, that same history, given a logical and humane understanding, can transform this tragedy.

History is the point where all challenges, actions, and memories converge. It enables human beings to live twice, to lift up their expectations, and it provides them with crucial lessons which can enable them to avert obstacles. The solution of current or even potential future problems inevitably lies in the past, as William Faulkner once stated: “[t]he Past is not dead. It’s not even past” (Faulkner, 1951: 73).

The way history is taught affects conflicts to a great extent. This article focuses on the interconnected correlation between history, violence, and conflict transformation. In order to engineer a lasting peace, all historical mistakes and injustices must be acknowledged, and a corrective process developed. To do so, there must be a comprehensive, detailed understanding of history, ranging from facts, reasons, procedures, counter-procedures, actors, needs, fears, interests, and consequences of the conflict.

The goal is to engineer a lasting peace among the disputing peoples through a conflict transformation approach — by focusing on the role of knowledge and emotions arising from the process of addressing the root cause of the conflict: “History.” Furthermore, based on a people-to-people approach, and by defining, accepting, and acknowledging the injustices, as well as through adopting a proper injustices-correction process, this article will offer a pivotal and scalable model for peace-engineering, which undoubtedly is among the top priorities of all human beings.

To achieve an untrammeled understanding of peace-engineering, each of violence, conflict, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, history, peace, and people-to-people approach must be under close scrutiny.

Violence, Conflict, and History

No one is untouched by violence; it prevails on streets, in homes, and at schools, workplaces, and institutions. It’s a basic trait of human beings. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “[i]t’s one of the leading causes of death for people aged from 15-44, as 1.6 million lose their lives to violence, yearly.” (World Health Organization, 2002: 3)

Moreover, Johan Galtung defines it as “[e]ither intentional or unintentional use of power against individuals, groups or environment by words, actions, attitudes, or physical and psychological methods which completely lead to damage” and adds that “[v]iolence is divided into two categories; direct violence, and indirect violence which includes structural and cultural ones” (Galtung, 1969: 180-184). According to Galtung, the direct violence is called ‘Positive Violence’ as this kind is totally visible and noticeable just like wars and murders while the ‘Indirect Violence’ is called negative violence, as it’s hidden and completely hard to be addressed (Galtung, 1990: 292). In this regard, I believe that violence is an act of using power against the surrounding environment by all avoidable methods which negatively affects creatures’ existence.

Conflict, Conflict Resolution, and Conflict Transformation

Conflict resolution has an immense role to play across the entire globe, to enable people to live free of fear, want, and danger. Human beings, in general, are facing political, cultural, economic, environmental, social, and ethnic conflicts; therefore, conflict resolution as a relatively new field has become a necessity. According to Peter Wallensteen, it means “[a] process in which conflicting parties enter into an agreement that solves their central incompatibilities, accept each other’s continued existence as parties and cease all violent action against each other.” (Wallensteen, 2002, 8)

But before going any further, what does conflict mean? Bercovitch, defines conflict as “[a] situation which generates incompatible goals or values among different parties” (Bercovitch, 1990: 6), while Lewis Coser defines conflict as the “[c]lash of values and interests, the tension between what is and what some groups feel ought to be.” (Coser, 1957: 197). In my own perspective, conflict is but a situation in which one or more creatures exist in with different goals.

Besides conflict resolution, conflict transformation distinctively emerged as an alternative, which first proposed by John Lederach. He defines conflict transformation as “[a] process that undertakes to transform a conflict between parties into peaceful outcomes by both: transform the relationship between them and do social, political changes to correct injustices” (Lederach, 1998: 97). Actually, conflict transformation provides the disputed parties with enough time and space to accept each other as well as it brings to the rivals’ table more applicable solutions far away from the goals and interests of the leaders. At this point, I underline the crying need for an appropriate conflict transformation approach that in depth matches all needs, interests, fears, and aspirations of people, from both sides, which widely spread the word and action of peace.

History: Knowledge and Emotions

The problem is that, on one hand, the majority of Jews in general and Israelis in particular have no idea about the massacres committed against Palestinians in order to establish Israel. All of these crimes, massacres, and violations are fully justified in their eyes, due to deep misconceptions and a premise of “Protecting the National Jewish Home,” neglecting the Palestinians’ rooted existence and right to this land. On the other hand, Palestinians do not realize that there is a historical Jewish right to this land as well, and they fight by different means the Jewish existence, rights, and narratives. Personally, I’m not against Israelis nor against Palestinians, as I fully recognize their rights, allegations, and motivations; I’m completely against bloodshed, violence, settlements, annexation, human rights’ violations, and occupation. Further, I’m firmly against the adopted Israeli violent technique against Palestinians trying to reclaim their right. Ilan Pappe assures that “[i]t’s a horrific story of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, a crime against humanity [...] Retrieving it from oblivion is incumbent upon us; it’s the very first step we must take if we ever want reconciliation to take a chance, and peace to take root, in the torn land of Palestine and Israel.” (Pappe, 2006: 18)

In his book, for instance, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, Charles D. Smith provides us with a chronological sequence of history, as the following: “Canaanites inhabit Palestine (West of Jordan River, Costal Lebanon, and Southern Syria) form 3000-900 BCE. From 1200-1100 BCE, Philistines and Jews settle in Palestine region of Canaan. The United Kingdom of Israel established in 1050-930 BCE. Later, the Kingdom of Israel established in Northern Palestine in the 8th century BCE while the Kingdom of Juda established in the Southern Part of Palestine in the 7th century BCE” (Smith D. Charles, 2012: 10). Sayce H. Archibald adds that “Abraham the founder of Jewish people lived about 2,000 BCE on this land. He is named in ancient clay tablets, dated around 1950 BCE in contracts between him and kings in Babylonia” (Sayce, 1897: 159). Several historical books and documents, such as Ancient Israel: A Captivating Guide to the Ancient Israelites, Starting from their Entry into Canaan Until the Jewish Rebellions against the Romans, elucidate that Jews inhabited Palestine in 2000 BCE; In the 19th century BCE, they moved to Egypt in the period of Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham wherein later on they became slaves. Afterward, around 1500 BCE, Moses led Jews to this land, and they resettle in Palestine in 1450 BCE (Captivating History, 2018: 15-19). Indeed, these pieces of history favors no side; rather, they show their right to this land which goes back thousands of years into history.

Basically, history means “[a] set of choices made by individuals and groups in the past. It comes from the Ancient Greek word Historía, which means “inquiry, knowledge from inquiry, or judge” (Joseph, Brian; Janda, Richard, Vance, Barbara, 2003: 163). History provides us with crucial skills such as critical thinking, sharpness, analysis, creativity, communication, and problem-solving abilities which, undoubtedly, affect the way the disputing peoples act. History enables us to understand people and societies, absorbs changes, and offers us critical lessons.

Using history, political leaders can incite peoples and formulate narratives that support their own perspectives and purposes behind violence. The vast majority of the conflicts around the globe are history-based. Yet history also lays the foundation for a full and clear understanding of the injustices committed and, in turn, enables individuals to define, accept, and acknowledge injustices that have driven the conflict; this is “knowledge.”

History also deeply addresses our “emotions,” which moves us to respond to injustices, or at least motivates us to make an attempt to correct them: “[e]ven though the emotion of guilt can be classified as negative and unpleasant, there is some consensus that feelings of group-based guilt are likely to generate tendencies to repair the damage and thus benefit the outgroup.” (Clancy Sabina; Goldenberg Amit, Gross J. James, & Halperin Eran, 2016: 9). Therefore, I reassert the correlation between history, violence, and conflict transformation.

Peace and People-to-People Approach

The discipline of peace studies evolved at the end of the World War II. Peace was initially defined as “[t]he absence of war” (Matsuo, 2005: 19). Masatsugu Matsuo argues that the ramifications and misfortunes of World War II were the leading reason behind the absence of other peace values, which is normal and acceptable. Peace has no particular definition and has been evolving as a concept based on changing perceptions.

From the 1960s on, other intellectuals have featured different peace values such as economic prosperity, physical and mental health, and welfare. Sugata Dasgupta was the first one who argued that peace does not only mean the absence of war “[p]eace is referring to a situation where not only guarantees the absence of war, but also the absence of poverty, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, discrimination, oppression and so on” (Dasgupta, 1968: 19-42). Still, Galtung provides us with a comprehensive definition of peace “[p]eace is the absence of both direct and indirect violence.” (Galtung, 1969: 167)

A people-to-people approach, by contrast, means “[a]n approach that entails bringing together representatives of conflicting groups to interact purposefully in a safe space. This type of work addresses divisions within a community that may be rooted in group differences such as ethnicity or religion, or status as a returning ex-combatant, displaced person, or refugee. This approach addresses the prejudice and demonizing that reinforces the perceived differences between groups and hinders the development of relationships between conflict parties. The aim is to create opportunities for a series of interactions between conflicting groups in the community to promote mutual understanding, trust, empathy, and resilient social ties. As the health of the relationships between the groups improve, the likelihood of violence between them declines” (USAID, 2011: 6-7).

This approach sets the stage for the disputing peoples to listen to, understand, and respect each other, to reflect on their needs, interests, and, most importantly, their fears, which inevitably leads them to peacefully cooperate, to establish common ground between them. In addition, this approach involves both the feelings and reasoning of all participants and leads to collective cooperative peace-oriented actions among the disputing peoples. I believe this is the one and the only effective tactic to solve conflicts in terms of violence, and by the very beginning, erupts among peoples, so peace ought to thrive, in the first place, among peoples, as well.

Peace-Engineering Model for the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

In my own point of view, the process of building peace is like a house-building process, and that’s the main reason behind labelling it as “peace-engineering;” both have three equal phases: the foundation, the ground, and the roof. In peace-engineering, the foundation refers to history, which reflects history’s significance in conflict transformation process. The process of defining, accepting, and acknowledging historical injustices conducted by any, against any, is a must in this phase of engineering peace, as it drives 
us to an advanced phase of healing wounds and others’ rights acceptance. Next, the ground is the place where, in addition to addressing the needs, interests, fears, and aspirations of the disputing peoples, a holistic corrective process for the historical injustices — social, political, economic, cultural, environmental, and developmental — is to be taken into consideration. Finally, the roof represents “conflict transformation,” which is the desired end that allows both peoples to live together, no longer in fear or want, in a tolerant and cohesive manner, and, most importantly, in full dignity.

Peace-engineering is a process that undertakes to prevent and reduce violence, to ensure a peaceful future for both the current and the next generations of the disputing parties, and to conduct a holistic corrective process of the suffered injustices in order to secure a healthy, dynamic engineering of the peacebuilding process from the bottom, “the foundation,” to the top, “the roof.” This model is to be done through preparing the general atmosphere among disputing peoples as well as by taking the people-to-people approach of conflict transformation by digging deep into the foundation, addressing the root cause of the conflict, which is history in the Palestinian-Israeli case.

For me, a conflict transformation process cannot be properly implemented without two main components: the history of the conflict, and the peoples. History is the leading factor behind whether there is conflict or peace; therefore, to define, accept, acknowledge, and correct the injustices is the fundamental requirement for addressing the needs, interests, fears, and aspirations of the peoples. This is the missing key in the Palestinian-Israeli context, I think.

Bottom line, defining, accepting, and acknowledging injustices in the peace-engineering process is absolutely necessary, if we are to overcome the current bloody situation, as both sides are threatened by the continuation of this conflict. A careful implementation of the people-to-people approach of conflict transformation will lead to positive change, or at least will place the first cornerstone of a win-win situation for the sake of peace, to protect this and the next generations. Thence, I invoke both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis, to rethink their stances, needs, interests, fears, and aspirations of the running situation, as well as I call their attention to humanely and responsibly act toward our future and to steadily move toward peace. My motivation for developing the peace-engineering theory with a focus on history as the main cause behind the conflict stems from the following questions:

  • Where are we going?
  • What about our generation and the generations to come?
  • What about both Israelis and Palestinians who were born on this land and consider it their home?
  • How long can we live under such a tough, violent, bloody, unsafe situation?


The perpetuation of a conflict and the continuity of a bloody cycle of violence lie in externally imposed elements such as intransigence, wrath, intolerance, lack of acceptance, and the desire for revenge on the hearts and minds of the disputing peoples. Consolidating peace, however, requires a high level of different skill sets and values including intelligence, courage, tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and future-oriented planning. Indeed, this is the reason behind considering peace- building as a process is tough and challenging; still, it’s not impossible.

This article, simply, assumes that the solution of this conflict tacitly lies in its root-cause “history;” in terms of, a perfect addressing of the cause guarantees a unique conflict transformation of the conflict. In order to successfully engineer the Palestinian-Israeli peace, disputing peoples must implement a history-based people-to-people approach of conflict transformation that acknowledges injustices. Using both knowledge and emotions resulted from history, and far enough from intervening external-powers’ interests as well as from domestic leaders’ goals, both sides will work together, in harmony, to support the truth, to heal wounds, and to find a common ground that guarantees a lasting peace.


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