Tag Archives: Parents Circle – Families Forum

There’s nobody to talk peace with (even when you’re speaking to them)

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Peace Square (Bereaved Families Forum), Jerusalem, June 5 2016

The simplicity of the slogan of the Bereaved Families Forum, “It won’t end until we talk,” is already an answer to the simplistic and often repeated phrase “there is nobody to talk to,” (ein im mi l’daber). (The forum’s slogan rhymes in Hebrew: zeh lo y’gamer ad shen’daberI wrote about this slogan in the context of the 2012 war on Gaza). Reassuring themselves in the certainty that talking and dialogue is pointless, Jewish Israelis often convince themselves that while they want peace, “they” (the Others, Arabs, Palestinians) do not. It can hardly be an entirely comforting belief, because it condemns the citizens of the Jewish State to be at war, “to live by the sword,” for the foreseeable future. Inevitably, that means there will be more bereaved Israeli as well as Palestinian families. But we humans are peculiar creatures, so sometimes it makes more sense to us to repeat the trauma of personal and collective loss, to enfold it in a tragic narrative of good versus evil, the peaceful versus the belligerent, the victims versus the perpetrators, than to break through the loss. What could be more horrifying than to think that perhaps our loved one was lost because there was something we didn’t do, especially when that something was as simple as talking to your enemy. So it’s better to insist that there’s nothing that can be done.

Perhaps that is some of the feeling that I could hear in the anger of one of the people who passed by the Peace Square set up by the Parents Circle Families Forum in the German Colony neighbourhood of West Jerusalem. The tent, which I’ve written about previously from a distance, was part of a series of events to reclaim Jerusalem Day in the name of tolerance.  The day marks the “reunification” of Jerusalem when Israeli forces conquered (or some would say “liberated”) East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control, and has become a festival of the national religious settler movement whose idea of liberation is one of exclusive Jewish control.

Two members of the forum, Rami Elhanan and Roni Hirshinzon, were there to explain the work of the Forum, to answer questions, and once again to open their hearts and tell the story of the loss of their children to the conflict. For the most part, the discussion in the shade of the small park among those who had chosen to come to the event was quiet, somewhat curious, respectful. But not everyone who chanced by and stopped wanted to listen, or even to take note of whose banner marked the square. Foremost among them was Mr. Shouty, who succeeded in rousing other sceptical and critical observers to shout among themselves and close down the discussion.

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Rami Elhanan sitting with a picture of his daughter Smadar and his friend Bassam’s Aramin’s daughter Abir, both killed in the conflict.

Mr. Shouty (for the sake of this blog I’ve absorbed the statements of some others into this one character) had all the regular answers to the Forum’s slogan, all of which add to “there’s nobody to talk to” (ein in mi l’daber). We are only here because we’re strong. If they had the power, we’d all be dead. They vote for Hamas. If the Peace Square can’t be held in the open air in Hebron, that shows we’re the peace lovers and they aren’t.

I was less prepared to hear Mr. Shouty’s brutal put down when Roni told him he’d lost two sons in war: “And did you hand out sweets?” With one sharp rebuke, he dismissed the loss of Palestinians in conflict to dehumanized celebration of the sacrifice of martyrs. We are bereaved, he said in other words, but they are so consumed by hate that they don’t feel loss. Maybe it would have made some difference if a bereaved Palestinian had been there to voice her own pain, but I doubt Mr. Shouty would have been any more ready to listen. To talk.

Earlier a woman had passedby and rebuked “us” for airing Israel’s dirty laundry in the international public, clearly without knowing who “we” were. I asked Rami how he felt that someone could be so dismissive even as he asked her questions. He talked about how much harder it is when he goes into classrooms and the kids shout at him, but that all he hopes for is one hint of acknowledgement from someone at the back of the room – a glance that suggests that he has made once crack in the wall of enmity, that he might have saved one drop of blood. So Rami, Roni, and other member of the Forum keep on talking, hoping that someone will listen, even when they are being shouted at by people who won’t let them talk. They cannot know which small crack in the wall (the title of the Forum’s Hebrew and Arabic community Facebook page) will open the floodgates and stop the last drop of blood from flowing.

Standing together, standing in one another’s shoes

IMG_20160605_234815For this first time (June 3, 2016) I’ve been able to participate in the monthly Palestinian-Israeli “Freedom March” held at “machsom haminharot,” an Israeli checkpoint on Route 60 to the south of Jerusalem, just by the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. The march is organized by a coalition, in which Combatants for Peace are a key partner, called “omdim beyachad” in Hebrew (standing together). The group has operated since an upsurge in violence in October 2015, offering a clear alternative to the usual pattern in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians each increase their antipathy to and fear of the other.

Being who I am, I had already seen video clips and photos of the event posted on social media, and was expecting the colourful cloud of balloons in the hands of the marchers when our bus from TDSC00067el Aviv arrived at the meeting point. The protest procession crossed the main road slowly, but did not block it, and amid the shouting of slogans and the displaying of placards, found shelter from the sun under the monumental concrete overhang of the separation barrier at this point.

DSC00079The protest ended with short speeches (translated into Hebrew and Arabic) by MK Aiman Oudeh, the charismatic leader of the Joint List, Leah Shakdiel, a long time feminist and social activist who represented the religious peace group Oz v’shalom, and representatives of Combatants for Peace. But I won’t talk today about the content of the speeches, the formulation of slogans (also translated and transliterated between Hebrew and Arabic), or even the ritual of releasing the balloons from under the concrete canopy into the freedom of the skies.

Instead, I want to focus on another part of the protest, the performance of a short scene in which Palestinians and Israelis role played soldiers and themselves in a typical encounter at a checkpoint, an encounter which involves verbal and physical violence, detention, constriction, humiliation, pushing people to the ground. The performance ends with a call for non-violence, to the applause of those who had gathered round the scene. An upper level of the walkway by the separation barrier served as a stage, and some but not all  of the demonstrators gathered together to watch – although it was difficult to hear. Yet, the point is not the production or acting quality of this performance.

DSC00094“Standing together” itself performs the vital political position of “refusing to be enemies” at a time of hightened tension, and in the context of a conflict to which no political resolution can be seen on the horizon. Combatants for Peace, along with other groups participating in the freedom march, such as the Bereaved Families Forum, and the Jewish-Arab parliamentary bloc Hadash, have performed this partnership, including acts of co-resistance, for years now. Combatants for Peace has also turned consistently to the “theatre of the oppressed” as a key element of its activities, often in more rehearsed ways and in settings in which the audience could participate more easily. They have documented some performances, and I have written about one I saw a few years ago.

In the setting of the demonstration the performance has particular significance. We can stand together, we can march together. But we can do so meaningfully better when we have learned to stand in the shoes of the other, whether through role play or dialogue or hearing each others’ stories. Combatants for Peace is a partnership if Israelis and Palestinians who have seen how their armed force and violence of the other feel from the point of the other. They stand together by seeing themselves from the other stands, When you have stood in the shoes of the other, and experienced with them what it’s like to commit or be subject to violence, then standing together just feels a whole better than standing against each other.

Divine Violence, Divine Peace: Gaza 2014

This blog is an opinion piece I wrote during the time of the Gaza 2014 war, which has been published in a special supplement (which I edited) of the journal Theory & Event about the war. The whole collection is available free on online, and includes essays by smart, insightful and sometimes sad essays by Adel Manna, Amir Nizar Zuabi, Lev Grinberg, Ofer Cassif, Muhammad Ali Khailid, Louise Bethlehem, and Trude Strand.

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

On July 7th I flew back to the US after a month-­long trip to the UK and then Israel. On the same day, the Israeli assault on Gaza began, called in Hebrew “Operation Steadfast Cliff” (tzuk eitan). In my summer schedule, I had set aside time after my return to Bloomington to work on a paper titled “Peace: An Emergent Norm of War and Conflict,” for the American Political Science Association (APSA) conference. I intended to consider Walter Benjamin’s essay “Critique of Violence” among other texts.1 But I had not taken into account that during the summer I would be trying to write against the background of a war that I felt immediately, a war that interrupted my daily schedule as I constantly listened for and looked at updates.

As I tried write I was facing the “steadfast cliff” of the Israeli war on Gaza. The utter pointlessness of the deaths, injuries and damage weighed heavily on me. I didn’t want to be in Bloomington. As an Israeli citizen I felt a duty that outweighed my professional duties, a civil duty to participate in the activities of the Israeli opponents of the war, my Israelis, who are increasingly subject to intimidation by ultra­-nationalist phalanxes on the streets and on social media.2

It was impossible to separate my work from my anxiety, anger and frustration. I had to submit to the interruption in order to think critically about the normal abnormality of what Benjamin refers to as a “state of emergency.” By contrast, a “real state of emergency” 3 would interrupt not only our professional normality but also the regular flow of history – in this case, the repetition of warfare. What, then, with Benjamin’s help, did I think about peace while rockets, bombs and shells fell on Gaza and Israel and the anti­-war demonstrations went on? How could protests constitute an “effective critique” of military violence?4

Through Benjamin’s eyes, the predominant, juridical ways of critiquing the violence of this war are not an effective critique of military violence because they partake in the same means that justify it. In his critique of the legal critique of violence, he argues that all law rests on a “common basic dogma,” that “just ends can be attained by justified means, justified means used for just ends.”5 In the legal framework of the self­defense of nation­states, or peoples, Israel condemns the military violence of the other as aggression, as a means to unjust ends contrary to the sanctity of human life. At the same time Israel justifies its own force as self­defense, as a means to a just end – national and individual survival. Legal norms do not rule out extensive use of military violence as a means of self-­defense, while the spiral of condemnation and justification speaks to a diabolical logic of “we are good, our enemy is evil.”6

Significantly, Benjamin considers military violence to be paradigmatic of all violence, including the “lawmaking”7 violence of the state, whose ultimate end is in preserving itself. Law cannot provide an effective critique of violence because law itself has a “violent origin.”8 The origin of law is war, in the “peace ceremony” that sanctions “every victory” by “recognizing the new conditions as a new ‘law’.”9 The peace that follows victory establishes the “frontiers” in which the law operates and establishes the “power” of the law.10 Israel historically has been the victor that has used military violence to determine the frontiers in which the state’s civil and military law apply. It has determined who has a right to live within these frontiers, as well as granting partial rights to some of the vanquished, denying them entirely to others.

The “mythical violence” that constitutes law is, Benjamin says, the violent anger of the gods, which humans experience as fate. Indeed, fate, anger and retribution are the terms in which military violence is felt, not the reasonable language of international law. Many Jewish Israelis experience rockets falling like bolts of lightning cast down by the gods, as terror, as the manifestation of the anger and hatred of an enemy who has no rational motive, only a will annihilate them. For their part, Gazans experience unrelenting violence from the skies and on the ground as the anger and rage of their implacable Zionist enemy who denies them national and often personal existence. Military violence is their recurring fate.

As an alternative to the fate of mythical military violence, Benjamin asks whether violence is ever justified as a means, irrespective of its ends. His controversial, affirmative, answer is that there is pure, immediate divine violence that halts mythical violence” and initiates “a new historical epoch”.11 Benjamin’s conception of the pure means of nonviolence comes down to pure language that is neither intersubjective nor communicative. It is not a means to an end, nor a medium, but an immediacy that “corresponds … to the messianic end of the history.”12 The pure language of nonviolent means is the same as divine violence.

But Benjamin also takes us in a different direction – towards the non­violent resolution of conflict, towards peace. On the face of it, he has a conventional understanding of the nonviolent means of conflict resolution, referring to the values of courtesy, sympathy, and trust in resolving disputes, along with conferences and diplomacy. 13 Yet, it seems to me, that along with Benjamin’s notion of divine violence is a notion of divine peace that also does the Messianic work of interrupting the cycle of mythical violence.

Must we then wait, perhaps forever, for the coming of the messiah for this violence to stop, or can there be peace now? Perhaps, but perhaps the interruptions of mythical and military violence are performed and witnessed on an everyday level even as the violence continues. As an example, I turn to the activities of the Parents Circle Families Forum ­ Bereaved Families a joint Israeli­Palestinian organization of about 600 families. For them reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite for conventional, negotiated peace. 14 During the Israeli war on Gaza the Bereaved Families have interrupted the military, mythical violence in two ways.

In a video that they disseminated through social media, they interrupt the repetition through which mourning for the fallen is sanctified by further military violence which leads to more bereavement.15 At a time of war when the impulse is for each nation to unite, to become one camp, the video repeatedly tells us in Hebrew and Arabic that they don’t want us “here,” with them, in a circle of bereavement.16 The solemn faces against the grey background speak a pure language, the sharing of language as a sharing of existence.

Parents Circle Families Forum - Peace Square, July 2014

Parents Circle Families Forum – Peace Square, July 2014

The group’s second interruption of military violence is the “Peace Square” next to Tel Aviv’s Cinémathèque, in which they counter the media propaganda and hatred running rampant in Israel by sharing their stories, and their choice for reconciliation, providing a space for dialogue.17 The talk under their canopy will lead to no peace treaty, but it is a sharing of language and a persistent presence. 18 Their slogan is “it won’t stop until we talk” and though “it” hasn’t stopped, their talk interrupts momentarily the flow of violence.

Of course, I do not mean that in actuality the violence stops. The messiah is not here, and history continues. The language of divine peace is a language we don’t yet understand, but through it passes the “weak Messianic power” that each generation has.19 One of the Bereaved Families’ projects is a dialogue on Facebook in which posts are translated from Hebrew and Arabic, and vice versa. The site is called “Crack in the Wall,”20 and it indicates how “every second of time … [can be] the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.”21 Through these small cracks in the wall, the Bereaved Families interrupt mythical violence, making room for a different history that might burst through at any time. Peace.

Notes

1.  Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, ed. Peter Demetz (Schocken Books, New York, 1978): 277–300.

2.  Omer Raz, “Unprecedented’ violence stalks anti­war demos across Israel,” +972 blog, July 29, 2014. http://972mag.com/unprecedented­violence­ stalks­anti­war­demos­across­israel/94530/. Accessed August 3 2014.

3.  Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, (Schocken: New York, 1968), 257.

4.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 284.

5.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 278; 293.

6.  See for example Ari Shavit, “In this sad war story, Israel is in the right,” Ha’aretz online, English version, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium­1.606865. Accessed July 29th 2014.

7.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 283.

8.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 288.

9.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 283.

10.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 295.

11.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 297; 300.

12.  Carlo Salzani, “Purity (Benjamin with Kant),” History of European Ideas 36 (2010), 444.

13.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 289.

14.  Its mission is to prevent further bereavement through dialogue, tolerance, peace and reconciliation. http://www.theparentscircle.org/Content.aspx? ID=2#.U4Ss7PldWSo. Accessed May 24, 2014.

15.  See Jon Simons, “Mourning the fallen: working through bereavement,”  Picturing Peace blog, July 26 2014.

16.  Parents Circle Families Forum, “We Don’t Want you Here,” video, July 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgo1MpWuwgE&list=UUxz­1IROo6QyjY8fheIA9AQ. Accessed August 1 2014.

17. Peace Square Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/483960538374211/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular. Accessed August 3 2014.

18.  Israeli Social TV “Peace Square.”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KrilbWAei4 Accessed August 1 2014.

19.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 254.

20. Crack in the Wall Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/crackinthewall/info.

21.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 264.

Test is Copyright © 2015 Jon Simons and The Johns Hopkins University Press

 

Radical banality: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies.”

Placards at anti-Gaza war demonstration, Tel Aviv, July 26 2014. Still from video by Social TV.

Placards at anti-Gaza war demonstration, Tel Aviv, July 26 2014. Still from video by Social TV.

A large demonstration was planned for this evening by the Israeli peace camp in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Today the police cancelled it in accord with the directive of the Homefront Command against the assembly of more than 1,000 people in areas including Tel Aviv because of the danger of rocket attacks from Gaza. The organizing groups (the Meretz and Hadash parties, Peace Now, Combatants for Peace, The Forum of Peace Organizations, The Young Guard in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Another Voice, and the Parents Circle Families Forum) decided to postpone the demonstration. But activists called on social media to come to the square anyway, without the stage and the speeches, but with the call: “We’re changing direction to peace: not to war, but a political solution.”

Among the slogans that will probably still be shown and shouted in the square tonight, as at so many demonstrations before, such as the one in the same place last week, is the seemingly banal statement” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” The slogan is most often seen on the posters of the Hadash party, but everyone joins in, and others have adopted it too. It sounds like a naïve statement, as if merely repeating it will stop the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. It seems to fly in the face of the reality of the conflict, the spiral of violence, the unwillingness to compromise, the distrust and fear. It also appears to contradict another slogan of the Israeli peace movement, often attributed to Yitzhak Rabin, that “you make peace with your enemies.” Do those who chant and display this slogan really think that the Israeli government and the Palestinian delegation, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, can find a way to restart and extend the ceasefire into a broader agreement by waving a magic wand that ends the entrenched enmity?

The slogan “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” is neither unrealistic nor naïve. It is rather a radical, if not revolutionary statement. It does not deny the reality of the conflict, but refuses to accept the ethno-national-religious grounds on which the conflict is conducted. It speaks an ethical imperative, for (Israeli) Jews and (Palestinian) Arabs to refuse to be mobilized as Jews and Arabs in this war or any other war. It refuses the seeming naturalness of the belief that “well, I’m an Arab, and you are Jew, so I hate you, because you want to kill me,” and vice versa. It rejects the imperative to impose ethno-national and masculinist identities on ourselves and our bodies, instead of putting people before flags.

People on flags. Design by Ariel Katz, produced with her by John and Hazel Varah from Same Sky.

People on flags. Design by Ariel Katz, produced with her by John and Hazel Varah from Same Sky.

The slogan calls instead, implicitly, for Jews and Arabs to recognize themselves according to other, intertwining identities – as citizens, as humans, as Middle Easterners, as people of Abrahamic faith. The slogan refers, indirectly, to the civil society of Jews and Arabs that existed in Mandate Palestine until 1947-48. It was a civil society that could, with difficulty, have survived the 1947-8 partition process, had the network of Arab-Jewish relationships documented in the film Civil Alliance directed by Ariella Azoulay been sustained. The slogan is practiced daily by joint Israeli-Palestinian peace activists in groups such as Combatants for Peace, Parents Circle Families Forum, Ta’ayush and the Hadash party. The slogan refuses enmity and embraces peace by radically changing the terms, identities, loyalties and affiliations of war. The slogan at once calls out in the identities of Jews and Arabs, and puts them aside. Instead of Jews against Arabs, Jews or Arabs, it chooses and. Jews and Arabs.

Update: several hundred did demonstrate in Rabin Square on the evening of August 9th

It won’t stop until we talk

Parents' Circle slogan

Parents’ Circle slogan

Yesterday came the awful news of the breakdown of the 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza war known as Operation Protective Edge, and that an Israeli soldier (Hadar Goldin) was missing, perhaps abducted by Hamas, perhaps already dead. It seemed that there would be no end to the Israeli ground operation and continued attack on built-up areas in Gaza, with the terrible toll in Palestinian civilian casualties as well as the losses of Israel and Palestinian fighters. Today (August 2, 2014) it seems that there is some relief. As I write, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Security Minister Ya’alon are completing a press conference in which they confirm earlier reports during the day that Israeli forces are withdrawing from built up areas in northern Gaza and that all the known tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel will be destroyed within hours. The Israeli government is scaling back the war in Gaza unilaterally, rather than trying to arrange another ceasefire with Hamas and beginning negotiations for a longer term agreement through Egyptian (and other) mediation. They will rely on deterrence, the cost of the war for Hamas and Gaza, instead of coming to an arrangement to end the military violence. At the same time, they said that the Israeli government would continue to do whatever it takes to achieve “quiet” and security for Israeli citizens.

But it isn’t over. It’s not over not only for the reasons that the Israeli government gave, namely that the air bombardment or fighting on the ground would resume if it turns out that Hamas are not already deterred. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had already declared that Hamas won’t be bound by any Israeli unilateral measure: “They either stay in Gaza and pay the price, unilaterally retreat and pay, or negotiate and pay.” Probably, the Israeli government’s latest move has left the cards in the hands of Hamas, who can choose to drag Israeli forces back into full-scale war as they wish.

It’s not over not because nothing has changed. More than 1600 Palestinians have been killed, along with 66 Israelis, and thousands of homes and other buildings in Gaza have been destroyed. The death and destruction has been colossal and dreadful.

It’s not over because we didn’t talk. It’s not over because the underlying issues that led to the violence have not been addressed. It’s not over because there is still an occupation; there is still a siege on Gaza; there are still Israeli settlements throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories; there is still one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians in Area C; there is still a separation barrier running through Palestinian land; there are still checkpoints restricting Palestinian movement; there are still Palestinian refugees. It’s not over because Hamas and Islamic Jihad use murderous military violence rather than nonviolent means to bring the Palestinians an independent state. It’s not over for all the reasons that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has not been reached yet.

At the root of all those reasons is the refusal to talk. To really talk. To speak and to listen. To hear what is painful and to say what you fear to say. To talk not only to those with whom one feels comfortable, but with those whom you don’t trust and don’t like. To talk to your enemies. There are many reasons why Israel’s government and its citizens distrust Hamas and also the Palestinian Authority, and why talking with them will be difficult, painful, infuriating. And vice versa.

It’s not over in part because the Israeli government has decided that as a matter of policy it will not talk. It will not talk, except by the most indirect means to Hamas at all, and it will not talk in good faith – really talk – to the Palestinian Authority. It will not talk about peace agreements other than as a way to keep talking but not talk at all. And it won’t talk to a Palestinian reconciliation government that includes Hamas. It won’t talk to Hamas other than through the coercive, violent language of Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Protective Edge. Hamas talks back with rockets and tunnel attacks. Helluva way to talk.

PCFC.logoIn the midst of the horrific, terrible violence there has been a quiet voice, a voice that talks, that really talks, because it also listens, because it talks for the sake of talking. Not empty talking, but talking for the sake of reconciliation, for the sake of practicing peace long before the politicians get around to talking earnestly about peace. The voice, and the ear, is the Parents Circle Families Forum whose slogan is “It won’t stop until we talk.” During this war, the group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families has made efforts, such as this video on social media, to keep talking, to turn people away from the violence that breeds bereavement, and to turn them towards the talk that also listens in their “Peace Tent.”  The tent has operated daily throughout the war, in Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque square, offering a space in their words, “to provide an alternative to the propaganda and hatred running rampant in Israel …. [and]  share their stories, their choice for reconciliation.” It’s not over yet, because not enough people are listening.

Mourning the fallen: working through bereavement

As I begin to write this blog, there are three hours left of the twelve hour humanitarian truce in the military violence of Operation Protective Edge. It’s Shabbat, so there are no funerals in Israel today, but there have already been more than thirty funerals for fallen soldiers so far and there will be more. This morning the Israeli military announced the deaths of another two personnel, and then another three, bringing the total to fourty. Each death brings to an early end the story of an individual, a son, a brother, a young person with hopes and dreams. Each death brings immeasurable grief to families and friends, indescribable loss, unending mourning. For Hamas, for Gazans, these losses inflicted on “the Zionist enemy” are a cause for celebration, evidence of another “victory,” as they did when they claimed to have captured Oren Shaul. Certainly, that is how the Israeli media and much of the Israeli public perceive Palestinian response to their loss.

Israel wraps the families of its fallen in the solidarity of public mourning. Families do not mourn alone, as the dead are held to be everyone’s sons, everyone’s boys. A grass roots campaign to encourage people to attend the funeral of Max Steinberg, an American who came to Israel to serve in the army without his family, brought 30,000 to act as his surrogate family. The price paid is a collective price, mourned once at the funeral, during the week long shiva, and then again and again on each Memorial Day.

It is in the nature of the trauma brought on by bereavement to return to the loss. The mourning is repeated, as the loss becomes part of the identity, the very being, of the bereaved. Not to mourn, again and again, would mean to betray those who are lost. Not to be haunted by their death would mean to kill them again. If that is how an individual feels, what is it like when a whole nation feels it? Yet, the repetition of mourning is destructive. Not only is mourning repeated, but so is the situation in which the mourning fist occurred. If the memory of the fallen is to be honoured, then it must be given meaning. In the case of nationally felt loss, the meaning is the survival of the nation. The reason why the dead sons fell is so that the rest of the rest of the national family can live on. The dead fell to protect the family from an enemy, an Other, who must remain the enemy and the Other if the death of the sons is to have meaning, to have been for something, to not have been senseless. The situation of loss is one in which more sons will continue to fall to make sense of the deaths of the sons who have already fallen. Because senseless loss is truly unbearable.

To break the repetition of mourning , the return to the situation of loss, the mourning has to be worked through. A way has to be found to live, not without forgetting the lost, not without ceasing to mourn – as if bereavement could ever stop – but to live in a way so that the act of mourning does not make sense through more deaths. I have never had to mourn the loss of a parent, child or sibling in war. I do not know how it feels, and I never want to. Those who have found a way to work through mourning agree with me. They don’t want me to join them in bereavement. As the Parents Circle Family Forum say, repeatedly, in this video: they don’t want me with them, because they do know how that loss feels.

Each of them has worked through mourning to the point where they can also feel the pain of the Other, Israelis and Palestinians. Or maybe only by feeling the pain of the Other have they worked through mourning to live without the need for revenge, to revisit the situation of loss by seeing the enemy as implacable, incapable of mourning, glorifying and sanctifying their dead without feeling pain.  When the Bereaved Families mourn those who have fallen in conflict, they do so together, in a ceremony that takes place on the same day as the Israeli Memorial Day. In dialogue with the mourning of the Other, finding themselves in each other, they seek a reconciliation that will bring not only the bereaved, but those who are yet to be bereaved, out of the situation of loss which brings no security, only more loss. And that is why tonight, as the humanitarian truce has ended been (as I wrote) extended, the bereaved families will be in Rabin Square in a rally organized by Combatants for Peace with many others, Jews and Arabs, calling for an end to the deaths. There will be no end to human mourning and bereavement, but there can be an end to this senseless bereavement.

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.