Moving Beyond War

The longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict engenders strong feelings on both sides, with the Palestinians citing decades of oppression and the Israelis recalling a long history of abuse and genocide. But Winslow Myers suggests that the principles of Gandhi offer hope.

By Winslow Myers

The seemingly intractable discord between Israel and Palestine not only continues to cause enormous suffering and anxiety, but also to reverberate around the planet as a kind of symbol of all our conflicts in what we might call the post-nuclear age.

The mid-20th century superpowers were forced to admit, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis, that war at the nuclear level was self-defeating, a victory only for war itself, not for the participants.

Isn’t that ultimately true for all wars, large or small? Yet the world continues to divide along the Israeli-Palestinian fault-line, almost as if one had to have an adversary to be clear in one’s identity.

The conflict has functioned as an iconic symbol of general feelings of fear or powerlessness or injustice, let alone claims to the same territory, that give rise to the best or the worst in us as we humans try to resolve our endless differences.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

It is symbolic in a darker and more specific sense for the Arab world, where, even as the Arab Spring flourishes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has encouraged anti-Semitic stereotypes and still energizes the hatred of extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

Not all conflicts involve sides with equally legitimate aspirations. Few would recognize the legitimacy of drug cartels to dominate and corrupt the governments of whole nations like Mexico or Afghanistan.

And in the United States, there is a growing recognition that some financial institutions have profited obscenely by betting against markets and throwing millions into poverty, avoiding criminal prosecution through their power over elected officials. Even now a new “Arab Spring”-like protest against insufficiently regulated corporate power is growing in many cities across the United States.

It is the rough equality of the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ and the Israelis’ demands for security and land that makes that conflict particularly difficult.

The Jewish people have a history that has earned them the right to a certain realistic paranoia about adversaries. The Palestinians are legitimately concerned by the expansionist impulse of Jewish settlers who create more “facts on the ground” as each year passes without resolution.

The issue has tied the United States government in ethical knots as it tries to maintain its traditional support for Israel while not condoning Jewish expansion into territory that might lie within a future Palestinian state.

President Barack Obama, caught in a difficult political position, nevertheless said one true thing in his latest appearance before the United Nations:

“Each side has legitimate aspirations, and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes.”

This rough equality is why, in spite of the contortions candidates for high office in the U.S. must undergo to stay in the good graces of a powerful Israeli lobbying effort, and also in spite of the fact that Hamas still refuses to accept Israeli’s right to exist, President Obama had it right when he said that each side must learn to see with each others’ eyes.

Seeing with each other’s eyes must begin with self-examination, because the conflict also represents the universal human propensity to externalize what some Islamic scholars have called the Greater Jihad, our struggle with ourselves and our own shadow-side, into a Lesser Jihad, a zero-sum game in which we simplify “enemies” into stereotypes who are different from us and wish us ill.

This is happening not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also Pashtuns and Tajiks, Shias and Sunnis, and let’s not forget Democrats and Republicans.

The insight, or inter-sight, of empathy is not a political act in the usual way we think of politics as competitive jockeying for power. It is something that takes place on a deeper level, within and between individual people.

It requires the sharing of separate stories that take their place in the common story of what everyone wants for their children, a world without genocidal weapons, drug violence, militarism, or financial institutions that have forgotten their obligation to the common good.

Empathy as a principle can seep into politics as a refusal to take sides, a refusal to define ourselves negatively in terms of whom we fear and hate, an embrace of global citizenship that looks for what is best for the whole.

The world we want for our children, for all children, cannot and will not be a world without conflict.

Still, we can build a world where, from the time they are very young, children grow up understanding that conflict and difference are not negative, but an opportunity for examining ourselves in the spirit of Greater Jihad, for learning the skills of everyday peace-building, and for moving toward creative resolution of conflict on the basis of common aspirations.

The ultimate implications of the Arab Spring for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are still unclear.

The paradigm of violence, “an eye for an eye,” still holds our world in the balance, but as citizens both in the Middle East and the United States turn increasingly to non-violent assembly and protest, we are witnessing the possibility of something new that is both political and beyond politics, a movement into the mainstream of Gandhian tactics of non-violence and creative initiative.

May everything we think and do further this new spirit of true reciprocity, the dawning realization that we are all in this together.

Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Board of Beyond War (, a non-profit educational foundation whose mission is to explore, model and promote the means for humanity to live without war.


6 comments for “Moving Beyond War

  1. John
    October 12, 2011 at 14:50

    A well written article! The author is, in my opinion, a mature and spiritually well grounded person. Unfortunately his message will resonate only with other like minded people. Most will be unable to overcome the hatred in their hearts to see his message and thus perpetuate the suffering (on both sides) in that part of the world. How tragic!

  2. flat5
    October 12, 2011 at 01:38

    Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. Let’s take the Shalit case.

    Where is the world outrage concerning this crime against humanity? Hamas continues to defy the Geneva convention regarding prisoners on a daily basis. Gilad continues to be denied Red Cross visits nor regular contact with his loved ones. No one even knows if he is dead an alive. This has been going on for 5 years and honored by the silence of the EU and the UN. Had the world cut off aid until Gilad was released it would have been the right and moral thing to do. Now Israel will take a huge risk to recover this unfortunate soldier for as history clearly shows released terrorists return to terroism to threaten, maim and kill again. Should they be successful in doing so the blood of the victims is on the hands of every Hamas/Gaza supporter.

    It shows how Israel values the life of a single soldier caught in a cynical game played by the Palestinians in flagrant violation of international law. In contrast, the Syrians have killed almost 3,000 of their own people and the world, including their Arab bretheren, are silent. The Israelis should be praised for the extent they would go to free one of their captives.

    This long overdue “trade” is welcome, though we must not forget that Sgt. Shalit was kidnapped unlawfully in undisputed territory by a group of armed bandits, and in 5 years, Sgt. Shalit was not allowed visitors by any international group.

    It is a necessary first step to an interim accord between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, on the way to a two state solution, and I am thankful for it. I hope that the release of these prisoners, though, does not increase or incite violence directed at Israel, and I hope it does not lead to more soldiers being abducted in Israeli sovereign territory (or elsewhere).

    Let us be clear, though: Gilad Shalit was not abducted from disputed territory nor in an Israeli act of “aggression”. He is a soldier, yes, but innocent of anything other than protecting the Israeli border in nondisputed Israeli territory. His kidnapping is morally wrong, and internationally against all mores of “Prisoners of War”. These are the people with whom Israel must negotiate.

    Gilad Shalit is not being held captive, but is a hostage.

    Since his capture, HAMAS has broken the Palestinian treaty obligations with the International Red Cross. Unlike every other POW in the world, HAMAS has held Gilad Shalit incommunicado, forbidding not just communication with his family, as the Palestinian Authority is obligated to do as a member of the ICRC, but has forbidden representatives from the organization from meeting with Shalit, including confirmation of his physical well being.

    Consortium News should be honest in its reporting. It has had no problem castigating Israel’s government for every perceived slight, it should hold the Palestinians to the same standards, and certainly in an issue where its political leadership acts as a terrorist organization rather than a legitimate government.

  3. rosemerry
    October 11, 2011 at 15:59

    “It is the rough equality of the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ and the Israelis’ demands for security and land that makes that conflict particularly difficult.”
    How can you possibly say that? Palestinians had NOTHING to do with the sins against Jews.

    The choice of Israel in land occupied by others for thousands of years because “God gave it to us and forever because we are His chosen people” is not a valid reason to push out or deny rights to the people already living in “your” land.

    Unlike Israel, the Palestinians have tried non-violent resistance, but the constant excessive response by Israel does not help anyone.

    Another point- why is Israel still so paranoid? Surely they know the Nazis were defeated in 1945 and Jews can live in any Western land with ease and welcome, unlike lots of other non-chosen groups.

    As for the demonising of Hamas. Irgun and the Stern Gang were well-known murderous Jewish terrorist groups, whose leaders became PMs of Israel later. Hamas was elected by Palestinians but never allowed to show it could rule. Please don’t go on about Israel’s right to exist. There is no such right for any land, and Hamas has accepted the 2002 Arab Peace Plan recognising Israel in its 1967 borders. Israel is the intransigent one; the Likud and its extreme right partners are far worse than Hamas.

  4. flat5
    October 11, 2011 at 06:21

    What hypocrisy.. As usual you whitewash the fundamentalist Arab states whose repression would throw us back a thousand years. Your obsession with so called Israeli aggression is laughable.

    • John
      October 11, 2011 at 20:41

      We are talking about Palestinians, not other Arab countries you like to lump them with. Back in the 70s’ Palestinians had a high rate of success in educating their children under Israeli oppression (I no longer have the statistics but it was remarkable for people under such duress). And why not look at your own side, many highly educated people too, but also a fast growing number of fundamentalist backward bigots who don’t get on easily with the secularists and moderates. Look hard in the mirror, and think that possibly the aims of Zionists and Palestinians under slanted democracy or occupation are much the same. Grow up and learn to get on with people! Bashing people only makes it harder to control those who react to or who have been badly hurt inside to the thuggery. But, perhaps that is what you want so you can further paint them more as the problem.

  5. J. B. Gregorovich
    October 10, 2011 at 21:22

    When pigs fly. The Israelis did not have any right to disposses the Palestinians, the original inhabitants of Palestine of tjeir lands and ossessions. Plestine isa state recognized by some 120 countries.

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