Opinion: Finding hope in the midst of despair

Aid packages are seen at left, on a platform near to the docked ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group, center front, as it prepares to ferry some 200 tonnes of rice and flour directly to Gaza, at the port in Larnaca, Cyprus, Monday, March 11.

Aid packages are seen at left, on a platform near to the docked ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group, center front, as it prepares to ferry some 200 tonnes of rice and flour directly to Gaza, at the port in Larnaca, Cyprus, Monday, March 11. Petros Karadjias/ AP


Published: 06-15-2024 6:00 AM

Scott Dickman lives in Concord.

In a world saturated with news of conflict and division, we easily become entrenched in the belief that certain disputes are intractable, that certain people are destined to live in perpetual conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian situation is often portrayed in such terms, as hopelessly entangled in irreconcilable differences.

Yet, amid the headlines of violence and the seemingly insurmountable political quarrels, collaborative efforts towards peace emerge that challenge the narrative of perpetual discord. These endeavors, though less publicized, reinforce the potential for coexistence and shared humanity.

One compelling example is that of Combatants for Peace, founded by former Israeli and Palestinian fighters who lost confidence in the politicians, on each side, tasked with resolving this conflict. These individuals, who once viewed and fought each other as enemies, now work together to promote peace and reconciliation. Their collaboration is a testament to the transformative power of dialogue. Through joint activities and public demonstrations, Combatants for Peace brings individuals together from both sides, fostering connections that transcend the entrenched hostilities of the past and work towards a shared future.

The Parents Circle-Families Forum offers an extraordinarily poignant example of collaboration. This organization comprises over 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who lost loved ones to the conflict. Instead of succumbing to hatred and revenge, these families have chosen reconciliation. Through dialogue, educational programming, and media campaigns, they share stories of loss and their hope for peace. The Parents Circle highlights the impact of personal stories by nurturing empathy. Their message? The cycle of violence can be broken, and a future built on mutual respect and understanding is possible.

Similarly, Standing Together is another wellspring of hope. This grassroots movement unites Jews and Arabs in Israel to fight for equality, social justice, and peace. They organize workshops and campaigns addressing issues from economic inequality to the occupation. Working side by side, members of Standing Together demonstrate that cooperation is not only possible but essential for creating a just and peaceful society — that unity in diversity provides a compelling alternative to the narrative of division.

Education also plays a crucial role in bridging divides and fostering coexistence. Several schools in Israel conduct all their activities in both Arabic and Hebrew, creating an environment where Jewish and Arab children learn and grow together. Institutions like the Hand in Hand network of bilingual schools embody this vision, where children receive an excellent education and learn each other’s cultures, languages, and narratives. They celebrate each other’s holidays, engage in joint projects, and form bonds that challenge stereotypes and prejudices that fuel the conflict. These schools are microcosms of what two peaceful multicultural communities could look like, proving that mutual respect can be nurtured from a young age.

These examples of collaboration are not isolated cases but part of a broader, though less visible, movement towards peace and coexistence – currently, whether two states or one state in the future. They demonstrate that Israelis and Palestinians can and do work together, driven by a shared desire for a better future. Their example challenges the dominant narrative of hopelessness and underscores the potential for positive change.

The press often overlooks these efforts, focusing instead on the political impasse and the outbreaks of violence. However, the work of these organizations, and others, reveals a different reality. They illustrate how, at the grassroots level, many Israelis and Palestinians are committed to peace and stepping outside the normative view that each side can only be the enemy of the other. I believe these examples of cooperation challenge the prevailing discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighting the resilience, courage, and humanity of those who strive for a better future.

Note too, the benefits NGOs engaged in peacebuilding bring to top-down political efforts. For instance, when individuals from opposing groups interact directly, the opportunity to dissolve stereotypes, build trust and establish a foundation for empathy emerges. And, by empowering individuals to take an active role in peacebuilding, NGOs create an inclusive and enduring path to peace. Comparatively, top-down political efforts often face significant limitations. Politicians are constrained by political rivalries and need to maintain power, leading to compromises that fail to address the root causes of conflict. Further, peace agreements negotiated at the political level can be fragile if they lack the support of the broader population. Therefore, while top-down efforts remain important for creating frameworks and policies for peace, it is the everyday interactions of ordinary people which breathes life into peace agreements and ensure their sustainability.

In closing, recognition of these and the other NGOs dedicated to grassroots peacebuilding maximizes the potential to shift the conversation from one of despair to one of possibility. They remind us that peace is built through countless acts of individual courage, empathy, and collaboration, and that, even in the most divided circumstances, there is always room for hope.