Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Thoughts Following Khaled's Visit

It's been a bit of a weird day here so far. I got back into bed after sending the kids off to kindergarten. Woke up more or less on time to go pick them up. They're resting in their bedroom now (ok, ok, watching a DVD, sue me... it does mean they're in bed!) and I finally have a few minutes for coffee and reflections.

We stayed up late last night here, sitting around the table with Khaled, my dear father-in-law, our friends Arnon and Deb, and IsraeliDad and myself. We just talked and talked and talked, until it was time for Khaled to go catch his train and go to the airport. At some points, we reflected on the visit, at others, we discussed possible solutions for the future, and there were times (quite a few) where we dragged ourselves back to one of the historic debates that were so common along the visit.

I learned a lot during this visit. I have learned a lot from Khaled before the visit as well (as he put is so eloquently, "I have been exposed to his poison before..." ;)), but somehow going through the debates again along with others helped me see some things more clearly. The one thing that stuck on my mind the most relates to the historical aspects of the conflict but is very significant for understanding the current situation and coming up with solutions as well. It is the huge difference between the respective narratives of each side. There we are, facing an ocean of historical facts (and those are more than enough btw, no need to come up with tales and fantasies on top of that..), and each side seems to pick up their own pieces of the colorful rubble and create their own narrative from that. Every point of the conflict, as far back as we went, we discovered that we mostly agree on the facts, yet come up with different interpretations to them. A different story, or history, is created by each side.

What's more, these being such emotional issues at core, it is all too easy to get upset, shake your head in disbelief at the other's "fantastic and ludicrous tale", and give up on it. In many ways, it is so much easier to hold on to your familiar comfy fortress of views and just disregard the other side's perspective. Of course, by sticking to your own narrative, the only way to explain the other side's behavior is by saying that they are either stupid, cruel, out go get you/your land, or all of the above together. Any settlement you achieve within this mindset is going to be extremely fragile, obviously.

Well, I think we can be proud of not going that route during Khaled's visit. There was genuine interest in each other's perspectives and narratives. We spent hours talking and simply explaining the logic's behind each side's actions. When you're on that side, what you do seems only too clear. You know why you're doing it, and you assume that the other side (the stupid and evil side) understands your thinking as well. They only respond the way they do because, well, they are evil and stupid, duh. Explaining intentions and thoughts behind each side's actions went a long long way with us. Be it the Six-Day-War, the Wye Plantation Talks, the Intifada, the way the IDF treats Palestinians, the boycott on the peace with Israel by the Egyptian elites... the list goes on and on and on. Every topic we touched, I think we managed to cover some ground in dispelling the notions of "stupid and evil" and going on to actually understanding each side better. I hope Khaled feels something like that about Israel and its policies, I know we have made great progress when it comes to understanding the Arab positions on so many topics. The reason we were able to do that? because we became friends, I think. We shared meals, chit-chat, road trips. There was zero hostility, and it enabled us to move forward with this loaded dialogue and actually listen.

So... where do we take it from here? Is there something to be gained from this visit, other than a great friendship formed across borders? I believe so. It may take a while for things to sink between us. We need to ferment now, then we'll see, maybe. I am not delusional enough to think that the small circle here is going to break new grounds - we will probably not be the one to bring everlasting peace to the planet... There are many people around these parts making more serious efforts in that direction too (read Khaled's blog to find out more about them).

For me, the visit motivated me even further to reach out, learn more about our neighbors, talk to people, and maybe get active again with the concept of getting people from both sides to get to know each other. As human beings first, forming online friendships even, and then as representatives of a different narrative. One that can co-exist with ours, perhaps without the need to settle things through an armed conflict.

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