Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Transforming the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
By Todd Deatherage
May 16, 2014
Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-American, Pro-Peace. For five years, the Telos Group has been trying to live into these words and what it really means to dedicate ourselves to the common flourishing of Israelis and Palestinians.
For those who’ve long held to a traditional “pro-Israel” or a “pro-Palestine” position, our approach sounds either foolish or dangerous. We’ve been called both. And any who are skeptical or cynical about finding ways to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be forgiven; the pessimists indeed command the facts. This is a conflict that has defied solution for more than sixty-five years with too much war and violence, too much hatred, and too many missed opportunities.
And in that time, there’s a lot that has been broken that can never be restored. Lives have been lost that cannot be brought back. It would indeed be naïve to suggest that all these wrongs can be made right and a peace can be achieved in which both sides feel that they have obtained the justice and affirmation they seek. But it also fatalistic to suggest that the darkness is so pervasive that it is beyond any measure of redemption or healing.
Many Americans care deeply about the people and events of the modern Holy Land, and not all are willing to resign it to perpetual conflict and unending cycles of violence. At Telos, we believe that Americans have a role to play in transforming the conflict, one that begins by understanding how we’ve imported it into our own political and religious culture. The result is that the corollary to a pro-Israel position is often an anti-Palestinian one. And pro-Palestinian activism is often anti-Israel. When manifest in these ways, both have one thing in common: a zero-sum, winner-takes-all approach in which for one side to win the other has to lose.
In all humility, we would suggest that this “us vs. them” paradigm has ended up serving the conflict more than it has contributed to its resolution. Either we find a way to affirm the inherent human dignity of all the people of the Holy Land and accommodate each side’s legitimate connections to the land and national aspirations, or we will indeed need to resign ourselves to unending violence. And those pessimists will indeed retain the facts and will, tragically, be right after all.
The work of Telos is to contribute to the creation of a new paradigm, one in which Americans get to know real Israelis and Palestinians, respect them as individuals, and take in their stories. We encourage Americans to listen to a variety of representative perspectives from both sides. This includes Israelis who love Israel and support its continuation as a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people. It includes Palestinians who yearn to live in freedom with dignity and human rights. It also includes others who by experience, temperament, or ideology find it hard to make much allowance for the other side. Even they will have important perspectives, and they deserve to be heard.
But in the end, we’ll return again and again to those who are doing “the things that make for peace,” either by directly addressing issues of the conflict, or by working to transform their own societies in ways that encourage responsibility and respect for human rights and universal dignity. These folks are heroes of the conflict because though they live amidst the ruins, they wake up each day and pick up their metaphorical hammer, ready to build a new reality. They are purveyors of hope, and we can never tell their stories often enough.
In many ways, there is nothing new in our approach. It’s the gritty work of real peacemaking, and in that way we believe it’s connected to the deepest truths of the universe about how we are to find ways to live together in spite of our deepest differences.
We are grateful to have been joined in this work by a diverse group of friends. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of no religious persuasion. Political conservatives and progressives. Foreign policy experts and social justice advocates. Business and cultural leaders. These are unusual suspects, doing unusual things. If we are to have a chance of success in transforming this conflict, we need a broad-based and diverse movement of Americans all who would legitimately define themselves as pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace.
- Todd Deatherage is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Telos Group. Prior to that, he spent sixteen years in senior positions in the legislative and executive branches of the US government.
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