Finding peace for Israelis and Palestinians among people – not policies
John Kerry or the Arab League may prod a peace deal into place, but nothing can last unless ordinary people living under the policy see that every Israeli is not a settler and every Palestinian does not begrudge Israel a right to exist. I've seen the groundwork of that dialogue at work.
Tel Aviv, Israel
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a perennial feature of the Middle Eastern political scene. Students of international relations like me find it intriguing, but also tiring – and static. Issues that can change, developments that are fluid, trends that are dynamic – that’s where I see students’ interests pulled instead. I myself almost began to forget how much this conflict mattered until a very personal association forced me to confront its intractable reality. I began to date a student at Yale from the Palestinian territories. Even to me, that sounds like a really silly way to find your political conscience.Skip to next paragraph
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This summer I came to Israel to work at the Parent’s Circle Families Forum, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis seeking to cultivate peace through reconciliation. I came here confused. Dating a Palestinian for more than a year, his stories reluctantly, unassumingly unfolded to me. He talked of curfews, exclusion from Jerusalem and the airport, thrown rocks returned with fired bullets.
During the school year, as I would fly back to school from a break, I would think of his journey back to campus – leaving his home a day early to get to Amman, Jordan, making sure he passed the checkpoints before they closed, locking him into Palestine for the night. I had never before heard what it was like to live as a Palestinian. It shocked me. How could these people live like caged animals? As I got to know him bit by bit, I came to gradually understand the importance of the human story behind the conflict. The way it affects the everyday lives of ordinary people. And once I knew, I couldn’t stop caring.
[Editor's note: The original version of this piece incorrectly described the writer's friend from the Palestinian Territories back to campus in the US.]
And so I came here, to Israel and to this organization, skeptical and acutely aware of my own bias. But the one belief I was sure of was that human stories needed to be shared. Politics make issues impersonal. To create or loosen personal convictions, to create openness, people have to share their real-life narratives.
I’ve been watching that process at work through Israeli-Palestinian dialogue groups. In my first week, I watched a women’s group cooking together. The scenario is easy to romanticize – bonds of trust built between two former enemies as they spend time sharing experiences. But I can attest to what I’ve seen: The process of coming together on a personal level is hard and it’s messy, but the effort is worthwhile.
It’s not just a political conflict that divides these women – it is language, culture, dress, and so much more. Communication is about nuance – widening eyes, raised eyebrows, curving lips. Muted and dulled through a translator, they lose a lot of the power to connect.