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Groping towards a common ground

By Dvir Abramovich - posted Tuesday, 12 December 2006

The recent heartbreaking and bloody conflict in Lebanon, and the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab conflict, would appear to embody W.B Yeat's feeling that "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of a heart".

And indeed, the July fighting in Lebanon may have reinforced people's perception that hatred, irreconcilable differences and hopelessness are the prevailing moods between Arabs and Israelis.

Yet, another tale is slowly emerging. Although the news reports tend to focus on the religious division, tension and violence, the truth is that reconciliation efforts between Israelis and Arabs are quietly gathering momentum.


Small and faithful acts of hope, they form part of a continuum of peacemaking possibilities propelled forward by tireless warriors who are driven by the belief that the mightiest tree may grow from the tiniest seed. Determined not to allow extremists like Hezbollah and Hamas win, Arabs and Israelis have been doggedly attempting to build peace from the ground up, breaking through the years of distrust and suspicion and boldly trekking towards co-existence.

Searching through the deepening morass that bedevils the two peoples, bold activists can see beyond the seemingly hopeless circumstances. For it has become common wisdom that the solution to the Israeli Palestinian divide necessarily requires vigorous and imaginative principals who, groping towards a common ground, are able to lift the combatants out of the chaos.

David Makovsky, former executive editor at the Jerusalem Post contends, “there is no other way to resolve the endless conflict between Middle Eastern Muslims and Jews than a long dialogue modelled on the successful talks that took place between once mutually suspicious Jews and Roman Catholics”.

Despite the overwhelming reports and images of violence that have apprised us of the suffering of both peoples and have engendered a sense of irreconcilable difference and hopelessness, there is another perspective to be considered within this rubric.

Because of the media’s penchant for chronicling only the carnage and havoc associated with the Arab-Israeli clash, the meetings and forums in which Israelis and Palestinians have engaged with each other, have listened compassionately and without judgment and have built relationships, have gone under the radar. The dialogue groups, projects and stirring initiatives explored herein are driven by Gene Knudson Hoffman’s dictum that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard”.

This principle is dramatised in Yossi Klein Halevi’s At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for Hope With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land (2001), a sobering and illuminating search by one of Israel’s finest reporters on the religious dimensions of conflicts in the Middle East.


A senior writer for the Jerusalem Report, Halevi endeavours to embrace religious empathy in order to discover whether faith could be a means of healing rather than intensifying the conflicts in the region. And as one Palestinian poet observed, “Moderate voices have to speak more loudly. We have to shout as moderates, even though it is not our style.”

It is also worth considering the philosophical tenets of Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Jewish journal Tikkun (in Hebrew - repair of the world) who heads the Tikkun community, a peace lobby group.

In his instructive study Healing Israel/Palestine Lerner first advocates stopping the blame game (2003). He then posits that this is to be followed by a new spirit of generosity, heart-to-heart reconciliation and a true commitment to find non-violent roads to peace, even when violent elements have momentarily taken over.

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About the Author

Dr Dvir Abramovich is the Jan Randa senior lecturer in Hebrew-Jewish studies and director of the University of Melbourne centre for Jewish history and culture.

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