The assumption about peace organizations is that their purpose is to work for a world where there will one day be peace. In the Middle East, that eventuality seems less and less likely. Just as we seem to be moving in the direction of peace, some rookie politician or militia leader comes along and sets out to prove to his buddies or his constituency that he isn’t a wimp, and launches a new round in the conflict.
The cliché is that everyone except a few fanatics wants peace. But the fact is, people are very easily convinced of the necessity of war. Right now, in the middle of the latest Lebanese adventure, it is hard to find a single Israeli who is in favour of stopping the guns. Even northern residents whose houses have been struck by missiles sigh and say that, despite everything, Israel is doing the right thing: If she didn’t go after the Hizbullah now, she would have to do so at some time in the future, when the organization is even better-armed than today.
The same sense of inevitability prevails over the Israeli - Palestinian conflict, where both sides seem to have sufficient interest and motivation to continue sparring for another thousand years, if necessary.
Against this hard reality, grassroots peace organizations, with great effort, scrape together sufficient money to conduct a few encounter workshops or other activities that have limited effect. It is perfectly reasonable to ask what, if any, is the lasting influence of such activities. If their purpose is to create a wave of public opinion that will sway the leaders towards peace, that objective seems almost ludicrous today.
If the peace process is, as Amr Moussa said this week, “dead”, and the goal of a future peace is unrealistic, does such work have any purpose at all? Is there any justification for a community like Neve Shalom ~ Wahat al-Salam, with its aspiration to show that Arabs and Jews can live together peacefully?
In the absence of hope for a blessed future peace, peace work will need to demonstrate immediate value for it to remain relevant. It will need to offer a useful approach to conflict in the here and the now.
The conflict is a real and present danger, and we are not able to resolve it. Therefore, how do we deal with it? The military response to the same situation will be something like “maintaining a strategic advantage”. The narcissistic approach will be to look after number one, seek greener pastures, or contrive ways of pretending the conflict does not exist. Peace work will avoid false solutions like these, in order to keep the potential for peace alive in ourselves and our society - just as the gene pool keeps alive the possibility of adaptation of the species to a radical change in climate.
It may be that the questions being posed here are more important than the answers. For me, peace work is activity where the means and the end are intimately joined. It’s about preserving a humane view towards people on both sides of the conflict where there is subtle incitement to do the contrary. It implies the building of bridges rather than fences. It means remaining vulnerable, in order to be strong.