The ever-increasing conflict between Israel and Palestine may be
very far for most of us, even for those with Jewish or Muslim roots.
Most of us may have become numb to it and say "so what, I don't
care anymore!". I wonder, though, if there is something out of
that whole mess that we can all be reminded to do in our own lives.
I listened to a short radio interview with a couple of consultants
to the Palestinian negotiating team. The reporter prefaced the show
by saying something like "Israelis and Palestinians rarely meet.
They rarely talk to each other. So, for two Palestinians to come to
an Israeli home to talk, even if the home belongs to left wing Israelis,
is very uncommon." The reporter also mentioned that the two
consultants were only allowed to go to the area because they held
foreign passports, so were not seen as "true Palestinians".
The interview then proceeded with the consultants saying things
like, "well, if they expected us to thank them, we had to tell them
they failed in their efforts." The Israelis then could be heard saying
they had the power in the conflict and that was that. At the end, it
was too late for the two consultants to drive home and two Israelis
offered to put them up in their homes. The Palestinians flatly
refused and went to a hotel. Unfortunately, both sides squandered
this rare opportunity to meet. Again, they focused on their differences.
I think that the reporter hit the nail on the head when she commented that the Israelis and the Palestinians never talk to each other. Of
course not. That's how they cannot relate to each other at all. The
only thing they can see is how the media in their own region bashes,
depersonalizes and demonizes the other side. They are unable to
see their similarities; only differences matter. This is exactly what happens in any conflict. Watch a couple getting a divorce. Watch
a conflict between union leadership and company management.
The unfortunate part in all conflict is this lack of seeing the other
side as a person - as someone's child, wife, husband, grandmother,
coworker, neighbour, friend, mentor, uncle, or any other role that
make the other side more human. In my experience, when we can
see each other for our similarities, our differences either go away
completely or, at least, they allow us to like each other enough to
be able to negotiate through our differences.
Being born in Communist Czechoslovakia in the middle of the Cold
War, I remember this type of polarization very clearly. As young
kids in Grade 8, we ran around in gas masks and learned about
what to do when (not "if") the nuclear attack came from the big bad
NATO countries. I was rather shocked when I came to North
America and found out that similar paranoia existed here about
being attacked by the Communists. Who was then attacking who?
Also, having grown up in a country in the middle of Europe, I had
very little access to non-white people. As a result, my society
taught me that "all Gypsies were thieves", and that "Oriental
people have lice in their hair and they will kill you if you upset
them." Not having access to information to disprove these types
of statements, I didn't quite question them. Imagine, then, my
horror of arriving to Vancouver, Canada. I was put in an English
class for new immigrants - and I was the ONLY white person.
There were 2 East Indian kids, all the others were Orientals.
I was honestly terrified. It seems silly, very silly now, but
I was terrified of speaking to them. Somewhere, somehow, I
was afraid of catching lice and ending up with a knife in my back.
I was rather surprised when I started discovering my classmates
for who they were. Kids who, just like myself, were trying to learn
a new language and a new culture. Kids who, just like myself,
left their friends and families behind. Kids who, just like myself,
tried to get good marks, get rid of teenage pimples, and get
invited out for a Friday night date to the movies. We were a lot
more alike than I would have ever thought. I lost my fear, and
gained a few friends.
You and I may not have much ability to directly affect the conflict
in the Middle East or any major war. I do believe, however, that
we can have an effect by what we are willing to understand around
us. Do you have a boss who you cannot stand? Invite her out for
lunch and just ask some questions about her life. What does she
like to do? What is her background? Are you Catholic? Sit down
with a Jehova's Witness and ask questions about their religion.
Don't talk, just ask and listen. Are you a middle class professional
who has judgements about punk teenage kids? When you see
one on the street next time, ask if you can chat with him for a bit.
Not to patronize or to convert, but just to chat. Again, ask a few
questions and listen. You may find growing closer to the very
people who you thought you'd never, ever understand.
And, please, do let me know what you've learned...:)
"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it
to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
William Arthur Ward
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to
continue that counts."
Sir Winston Churchill
"By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to
be a boss and work twelve hours a day."
"When a man does not know what harbour he is making for,
no wind is the right wind."