Conflict and Resolution
Last fall, I participated in a program for rising Israeli and Palestinian women leaders, which brought together twelve women from each community for three intensive weekends as well as several one-day programs. Although I have been working in the peace and human rights community professionally for three years, this program was the first time that I participated in a dialogue group. The experience profoundly re-shaped the way I view both my professional work and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; I appreciate much better how the conflict affects real people.
For the millions of people – Israeli and Palestinians – living in this region, the current reality is one of conflict. Some, more than others, feel the conflict in their daily lives. The road to a resolution lies in bringing understanding to as many of these people as possible.
One of my fellow participants stands out for me. Muna is from Hebron (Halil in Arabic). Muna had a shy and unassuming gaze, and carried herself modestly, wearing the traditional hijab and modest clothing. In the many days I spent with her, I always noticed her colorful outfits and meticulous makeup, as well as her impractical, but stylish, footwear. What was most striking about Muna was how respectfully she spoke despite her forceful message. She was not fluent in English, so she spoke through an interpreter, which created a lag between her impassioned expressions and my understanding of what she said. Muna spoke intimately about the loss of dignity she experienced in her daily life, the longing for the village of her ancestors (who left their ancient home in 1948), and most of all, of her struggle to maintain hope. She never pointed blame at the Israelis or anyone else, but longed for dignity, pride and a homeland.
I have been to Hebron many times and I have seen first-hand the hardships the residents of that city experience. However, until meeting Muna, I had never had the chance to become friends with a resident of Hebron. Something about the way she spoke, the passion encased in compassion, drew me in. I felt a very special kinship with Muna, despite the language and cultural barriers. I could relate to her and empathize with her deeply. I felt conflicted in my own identity, feeling somehow responsible for Muna’s struggles yet helpless to end her suffering. I also understood the gap between those in Israel and the Jewish diaspora who want peace and the people on the ground who are most in need of a solution to the conflict. For many of us, “two-state solution” and “final status agreements” are deeply held beliefs, but the hypothesis of two-states for two-peoples will be tested on the street. People like me and Muna will be the ones who will try to make the hope for peace a reality.
Since listening to, and becoming friends with Muna, I have begun to ask more questions about how peace will improve the lives of real people. I invited Muna and the other Palestinian women from the group to my home for a casual reunion, only to be met by the challenges of arranging a cross-border meeting. The women did not get the permits from the Israel administration to cross into Israel, so we had to postpone the meeting by one month. That small experience of frustration that I experienced was a glimpse into the world Muna was describing.
While I still believe that a two-state solution is only solution that will ensure security and the fulfillment of both people’s national aspirations, I now better understand the tremendous sacrifices people on both sides of the conflict will face in accepting this necessary compromise.