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Finding Possibility in the Midst of Despair

By Scott Dickman, Compassionate Listening Facilitator, Originally written for Peace Action




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 bring 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, or 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 all these organizations reveal 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. By amplifying these stories, The Compassionate Listening

Project prefers to challenge the prevailing discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,

by 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

approaches 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 that 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. Go to The Compassionate Listening Project website -

https://www.compassionatelistening.org - for links to these and other NGOs dedicated to

peacebuilding.


 

Scott Dickman is a longtime peace advocate who resided in Israel during the '70s. He later joined the CL Israel & Palestine Journey in 2016. He engaged with the New Hampshire Board of Building a Culture of Peace and now serves on the NH Peace Action Board, along with NH Friends of Combatants for Peace and J Street. These organizations focus on reconciliation and bridging differences. He is currently facilitating Israel-Palestine discussions at a local synagogue. Scott is semi-retired, and relishes family time with his new grandson, while pursuing his outdoor passion through conservation easements with conservancies.

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