Tag Archives: Be’er Sheva

This is what “conflict management” looks like

Once again the ongoing tension between the Israeli government and Hamas has deteriorated into a massive, asymmetrical exchange of airborne explosives inflicted mostly on civilians. Last time, in November 2012, the Israeli military code for the “operation” was Pillar of Cloud/Pillar of Defense. Then as now the terminology varied between Hebrew and English, so now we have tzuk eitan (steadfast cliff) in Hebrew and Protective Edge in English. Who knows why. The current outburst of violence punctuates the persistent variation of armed conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza since the first mortar shell was fired from Gaza into Israel in 2001. We’re now up to the seventh Israeli operation to contain the launch of more than 8,500 Palestinian rockets, resulting in 4845 Palestinian dead and 174 Israelis, according to Ha’aretz. Probably somebody could estimate the mass of Israeli ordinance that has landed in Gaza, but the number would obscure the extension of destruction to Gazan property and prosperity brought about the Israeli-Egyptian siege. The siege hasn’t fulfilled its stated purpose of preventing the build-up of rockets in Gaza, only the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure after each explosion of destruction.

The code names of the Israeli military operation are much less significant than the conception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which they occur: conflict management. Sage “realists” who live in think tanks have concluded that the conflict is too intractable to be “resolved,” as the Oslo process has collapsed and subsequent efforts to revive it and the associated “two state solution” such as the Kerry initiative have failed too.  The best we can hope for, they tell us, is that temporary accommodations can be found that minimize the degree of armed conflict. No more wars between states, only “low intensity conflict” between Israel and its chief current enemies, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah and other “non-state actors.” So, you see, peace may be impossible, but war has been rebranded. The logic of conflict management shapes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s and the Israeli government’s relationship to Gaza and its Hamas leadership. Absent the option of a peace agreement with the Palestinians (which is blamed on the Palestinians), the best alternative is to deter the “non-state actor” Hamas from, well, acting other than as Israel wants, which is to disappear. So it’s within the rules of conflict management to punish Hamas as a whole, and any inhabitants of Gaza who are unfortunate enough to get in the way, with a dose of “low intensity conflict” for the murder of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the occupied Palestinian territories. And as Hamas responded with some “low intensity conflict” themselves, the conflict requires some more intense conflict management from the Israeli side, and so on, until things calm down for a while. Neither side really wanted the escalation, we’re told, so it’s just a question of time until they manage to find their way out. Sorry about the death and destruction until normal management is restored.

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

The “realists” who adhere to the doctrine of conflict management are not realists at all. The reality of conflict management is what is happening now. It is families in Gaza buried under rubble, and a lot more rubble. It is enormous and inevitable “collateral damage” (dead and injured people) of an Israeli operation that treats homes as legitimate military targets (“terrorist infrastructure). It is an Israeli pensioner who suffered a heart attack trying to get to shelter from indiscriminate rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is civilians in fear of what is falling from the skies. This is what conflict management looks like.

House destroyed by rocket in Beersheva. Photo by Herzl Yoseph

House destroyed by rocket in Beersheva. Photo by Herzl Yoseph

The asymmetry between the Palestinian and Israel casualties is immense, but it’s not a question of arithmetic. This low intensity conflict isn’t tolerable for Israeli civilians. It’s not so easy to manage shock and trauma, let alone physical injury, when you don’t live in a think tank. If you live in the confines of Gaza, there is nowhere to escape. This is what conflict management looks like.

Parents Circle Families Forum - Peace Square, July 2014

Parents Circle Families Forum – Peace Square, July 2014

There are some realists around, among the few voices in Israel that dissent from the mainstream discussion about how much military force should be deployed to manage the “non-state actors.” They might not look like realists at first sight. When everyone else is thinking about shelters that can withstand rockets, they put up a tent in a square. The Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace, also known as The Parents Circle – Family Forum, have created a public space for peace in the midst of the war.

Poster for Parents Circle "Peace Square"

Poster for Parents Circle “Peace Square”

“We, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the ongoing conflict take it on ourselves to be a sign of reconciliation and dialogue.” They invite the public to join them, to listen, to discuss, for support. Based on their own experience of finding a way from their deepest pain to the pain of their enemy, they express their conception of conflict resolution in a slogan: “it won’t stop until we talk” (in Hebrew this rhymes as: ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber). The horrific episodes of death falling from the skies won’t stop until there is a negotiation peace, a peace that the “realists” have given up on. The Parents Circle enact the difficult, painful reconciliation on the ground that is peace itself and paves the way for negotiation peace. That sounds realistic to me, a reality in which people can live.


Bombs Over Be’er Sheva

This piece was written by Rema Kheriya Irshed, a Palestinian Israeli psychotherapist and group facilitator trainer, with Ariel Katz, who studied Middle Eastern Studies at Cornell University and now works as a play therapist. This article was published by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) in May 2012, and refers to a previous round of military escalation between Israel and Hamas.

Be’er Sheva, Israel – Over a four-day period this March, sirens periodically sounded to warn residents of Be’er Sheva, one of Israel’s largest cities near Gaza, to take shelter from missile attacks.

On the first day when the siren sounded, my son was not home. Panicking, I called his cell phone. There was no answer. I began to pray to Allah and meditate to calm myself and overcome an overwhelming fear for my son’s safety. I went into our reinforced safe room but couldn’t bring myself to close the door without my son inside.

Moments later, he burst into the house, followed by two Jewish friends. I rushed the boys into the safe room and shut the iron door behind them, speaking to my son in Arabic, our native language. I told the boys, in Hebrew, to call home and reassure their mothers that they were safe. I covered
our dog with a blanket. It was enough that the Jewish boys were frightened. At least I could make sure they didn’t get bitten.

When one of the boys refused to call home, my identity as a mother faded into the background so that our national identities could be addressed. One of the boys, Yossi, had never met me before. There was something in his stillness that reminded me that it could be frightening for him to be with Arabs, even from his own community, during an attack. I considered the idea that he may have chosen not to phone home because he didn’t want his mother to know he was with Palestinians.

My thoughts and sympathies stayed with the Jewish mother who did not know where her son was. I could feel that mother’s anxiety, which had been mine only moments before. I insisted the boy text his mother to say he was safe in a shelter. That way, he would be filtering out the difficult information.

I put myself in this teenage boy’s shoes, sitting in a strange room with a Palestinian family while being bombed by Palestinians. I was overwhelmed with the boy’s fear of being trapped in a room full of the “enemy”. Even though it was unnatural for me to speak Hebrew with my family, to put the boy more at ease, I forced myself to do so.

The next day, the school that my son and his friends attend was closed in anticipation of further missile attacks. Though our family is Muslim, we chose to send our son to a Jewish school close to our house. When I returned from work, my son was not at home. Searching for him, I called the mother of the other Jewish boy I had sheltered, whom I knew better, and was told that the boys had all been taken to a local swimming pool. I offered to go pick the boys up and bring them home, and was given the address of the war veterans’ club where the father of one of the boys was a member. I
froze, finding it offensive that the Jewish mother could be so insensitive. I didn’t want my son at a military establishment, out of solidarity with the innocent Palestinians suffering retaliation across the border in Gaza. Then I asked myself, “What is the dilemma? When the mothers took him to that swimming pool, they were not thinking of us as Arabs. We are people looking after each other’s children.”

Both Yossi and I needed to rationalise away the fear of the other’s space, and what it meant about our identities to inhabit it. This complex zooming in and out of focus from background to foreground, from person to group and back again, is crucial to maintaining real relationships. For Yossi, it was hard to differentiate the people who are threatening him from the people protecting him. For myself, it was as natural to protect Yossi as it was to protect my own son.

I empathise with the fear of both Israeli children and the children of Gaza, and with parents’ desperation to keep one’s family safe on both sides of the border. When one’s identity precludes a clear “us” vs. “them”, what becomes clear is the tragedy of this destructive pattern. Only when we recognise that no one wins from terrifying the other will we understand that triumph in battle is not a solution – and that both sides can be winners if we all choose to let each other live in freedom, and with dignity.