Falastine Dwikat, an up and coming Palestinian activist and writer recently published a piece calling for deep introspection and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. The article explores how both people legitimize violence from a perspective of self-defense and victimhood. Dwikat has a personal understanding of the horrible conditions of the region, yet she urges her readers not to give into despair. She ends the article on an optimistic note, “While misdeeds have been committed against both Israelis and Palestinians”, she writes, “more people are beginning to believe that it’s up to them to create a better future.”
For her article, published in Voices, Dwikat had interviewed me. She asked questions about violence, hope, peace, and an organization I used to work for called Seeds of Peace. For those readers who would like to read the full interview. See below.
Q: What do you think are the main reasons that would make an Israeli legitimize violence directed at Palestinians?
A: The main reason that Israelis legitimize violence directed at Palestinians is self-defense (or its perception). Most Israelis justify violence against Palestinians as a response to terrorism and war. Some see it as a necessary evil, while others see (and desire) it as revenge. There is a minority of Israelis who legitimize violence by reading their holy books and listening to their religious leaders. They believe it is a religious duty (hence legit) to act with aggression against the enemies of the Jews. But as I said, they are a minority.
The one thing that they all have in common is that they de-humanize the other. That makes it much easier for the conscience. As a friend recently told me, “If I have cancer, I want to use chemotherapy for the disease. It is nasty and violent, but that is what I have to do if I want to eradicate the cancer.” So that is how it is done – people become diseases. And this came out of the mouth of someone who believes in peace and co-existence.
Q: You used to work for Seeds of Peace. Can you please tell me about it? Why did you work there? For how long? And how do you look at it’s vision & mission?
A: I choose to work at Seeds of Peace because by brining together and empowering young Israelis and Palestinians (among other kids from regions of conflict) they offer one of the most significant approaches to peacemaking between Arabs and Jews. I worked for Seeds for a few months as an intern back in 2005.
Q: Are these organizations really influential in combating the reasons why people legitimize violence?
A: I believe so. A lot of people when the first hear of organizations like Seeds of Peace react with skepticism. They say something like “oh, it is very nice, but at the end of the day it is merely a drop in the ocean.” By I say that that view is all wrong. The paradigm for peacemaking at seeds is based on a leadership model. In other words, it is ocean going into the drop. The kids selected for seeds are the best and brightest. Their experience at camp – living with, interacting, and talking with the enemy – transforms them and they return back changed. The psychological pattern is one of separation, initiation, and a return. On a grand scale it means that one day these kids are going to run Israel and Palestine. On a micro scale it means that when they come back they can no longer laugh at that racist joke that their uncle says around the dinner table. Because now the other has been humanized.
Q4: Do you see hope in the horizon? Do you think people are ready for peace?
A: The thing with hope is that it came inside Pandora’s box (with all the ills of the world). I am not sure if hope is a remedy or part of the problem? The hope of the Oslo years, for example, still burns in my chest. But hope, as Emily Dickinson said, is also “the thing with feathers.” And I believe it was Camus who said, “where there is no hope, we must invent it.” Without hope we grounded to an uninspiring realism. Without hope we cannot dream. Without it we become paralyzed by nihilism. We must sustain hope. But not just any hope. We need tough hope. Hope that is tenacious enough to deal with all difficulties of the region.
Do I see hope in the region? Of course I do. The fact that people keep on living, get out of bed every morning, act with compassion toward one another, voice their opinion, send their children to school, participate in the political process, all these are signs of hope to me.
As for people’s readiness for peace. People have always been ready for peace. Just on their own terms. The real question is: “Are people really ready for the compromise that real peace calls for?” I think that while Israelis have shown more of a readiness for compromise than the Palestinians (pull-out from Gaza being one example), by and large both people are not yet psychologically ready for the compromises needed. This a fundamental failure of leadership. People want justice not compromise – the latter, as politicians know, is a much harder and less attractive sell. But fortunately, more people are beginning to understand that compromise is the only solution.