Renewed violence in Israel/Palestine will require dialogue

Sent On: 
Wed, 2023-10-11
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Editorial note: The newsletter below is from our founding editor, Cornelis Hulsman. Dialogue Across Borders recognizes the powerful emotions raised by the tragic events unfolding in Israel/Palestine. Despite the escalating tensions and violence, we maintain that the hard work of dialogue remains a crucial part of the way forward. We are interested in hearing from our readers about your perspectives on the crisis. You can send us a message by simply replying to this email.



Media reports from Israel/Palestine over the weekend informed us of the grim news that hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed in a coordinated attack from Gaza. Possibly over one hundred more were taken hostage. Israeli reprisals have already led to hundreds of Palestinian deaths, including many civilians.  As of Wednesday, the BBC reports that approximately 1,200 Israelis have died while 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes. The prominent Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has issued the following press statement, which I fully support: “Abandoning the basic moral principle that all human beings were created equal (“b’tselem elohim”) is a loss of humanity.”


In this newsletter, I would like to briefly share some personal experiences with you. I lived in Israel periodically between 1974 and 1981. I visited the West Bank and Gaza and was connected to activists in the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement. I was disappointed because of Israel’s settlement policy in the territories it has occupied since 1967 and switched all my attention to Egypt where I got engaged in Muslim-Christian dialogue which led to the establishment of Arab-West Report that was last year renamed Dialogue Across Borders.


The consequence of my life and travels is that I have Jewish Israeli friends, Palestinian Israeli friends, know Palestinians living under occupation, and have Jewish and Palestinian friends in the USA and the Netherlands. For the last four decades, I have heard so many different perspectives about Israel/Palestine.


What I see happening in my circles of friends at present is that each is rallying to the support of one’s own party: Israel or Palestine. For many in Europe and the US, the attack from Gaza seems to justify all that Israel has done in the past or will do to Palestinians in the future. For many living in the Middle East, the attack from Gaza is a tragically comprehensible response to decades of dehumanizing Israeli policies toward Palestinians. I understand the emotions, but I do not think this approach is helpful. Instead of rallying to one’s party, we must try to listen to credible voices from both parties and try to separate the complex realities we face from the sometimes powerful ideological and religious beliefs that may have shaped our lives to this point. This hard work is a necessary part of finding viable paths forward that we pray can lead to greater peace.


In the Netherlands, I have noticed some cities have posted the Israeli flag in support of Israel while other cities placed the flag of peace. I am with the flag of peace.


(The Flag of Peace)


All citizens of all nations deserve protection. Siding completely with one party will not help, yet both parties continuously seek uncompromising support for their stances.


In 2012, I was in Egypt and was contacted by Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist who sought ways to diffuse tensions around Gaza at that time.  Hamas had been firing rockets at Israel resulting in fierce Israeli responses. Gershon Baskin thought contact with the then Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt might lead them to exert influence on Hamas leadership in Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood political leadership was unwilling to meet with Gershon Baskin. He, however, was able to meet with Egyptian officials who were dealing with Gaza. These officials were not in line with the Morsi government at the time. Egypt has often played an important role in negotiations between Israel and the Hamas leadership. Egyptian security is not supportive of the Hamas ideology at all, but tries to help mediate tensions. I hope that Israelis will again find a way through Egypt to diffuse tensions between Gaza and Israel.


Palestinian friends in the Netherlands invited me to participate in the 8th conference of the European Alliance in Defence of Palestinian Detainees in Madrid (September 30 - October 1). I knew nothing of the plight of Palestinian detainees but was shocked when I heard several of their stories. None of the Palestinians at this conference were supportive of Hamas. They sought solutions through political activism, not violence. They asked me to speak. I explained that in 1975 I came to know the Israeli-Palestinian Greek Catholic priest Fr. Elias Chacour, later to become Archbishop Chacour. Fr. Chacour had experienced injustices at the hand of Israelis but despite those experiences always advocated peace and justice. I spoke about how political interests can influence religious and other beliefs, at times creating myths that may people help understand troubles they have faced but are not necessarily true. The Palestinians at the conference very much appreciated my reference to Archbishop Chacour and asked me to record a short tribute for him for an event in honor of him on Saturday October 7 which I did. This Saturday would come to be known as Black Saturday because of the Hamas attack. Palestinians in Madrid also asked a text for publication to which I agreed. Of course, I added a postscript to my lecture in Madrid on the disaster that followed days after the conference. For this text, please click here.


Since the Hamas attack, I have been engaged in dozens of email and WhatsApp exchanges with people from all over the world. One of them concerns the response of an American Jew on Facebook, someone critical of Netanyahu but after the onslaught rallying behind Israel. I responded to that his message. I understand the emotions but believe these do not help. We need to realize that there are two major conflicting narratives about the Israel-Palestine conflict.  


The author of this message was speaking of Israel as his historical and spiritual homeland. That is one narrative. The Palestinian narrative is one about imperialism (Britain and later the USA) engaged in power politics and supporting Israeli colonialism at the expense of indigenous Muslims and Christians living in the Middle East. Presenting only one narrative does not help. These are conflicting narratives which, whether one agrees with the conflicting narrative or not, it needs to be recognized that they exist and must be negotiated with. That won’t be easy because beliefs and political interests are involved but it is yet – in my view – the only way out of this  conflict that has claimed already so many lives and that continues to claim more lives. That must come to an end.


So, I am not with Israel, I am not with the Palestinians, but I am with peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians, firmly believing that all human beings are created equal.


The way of peace will be hard. The way of conflict will be even harder.


Cornelis Hulsman

Founding Editor - Arab-West Report/Dialogue Across Borders

Senior Advisor - The Center for Arab-West Understanding


October 11, 2023