Israel and Palestine: The Tragedy of Unprocessed Trauma | Opinion

In the words of Arundhati Roy, "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day we can hear her breathing." Our faith that another world is possible is our most powerful tool for enduring and transforming the times in which we live.

It is a particularly daring thought when one approaches the situation in Israel and Palestine, where nothing short of another world entirely is exactly what we need. Yet current conceptualizations of the situation decidedly fail to pave the way for any other reality than the tragic one existing now. Some refuse to criticize Israel no matter what her transgressions, while others refuse to acknowledge even her right to exist. Neither far right wing nor far left wing propaganda—one so filled with willful ignorance and the other so filled with hate—can pave the way to a solution.

Roy is correct; another world is possible, but she does not arrive on the wings of either falsehood or hate. She arrives on the wings of brutally honest truth-telling, and compassion. One without the other is a dead end path to nowhere, while the two together are the fulcrum of a new politics and a new world.

Among Israelis and Palestinians there are many who would approach the world this way, yet there—as here—the haters are often so much louder than the lovers. At a time when hate speaks so loudly, it is not enough for those of us who love to merely whisper. Hate would destroy the world, and love alone will repair it. We must create a politics of love.

Such a politics refuses to succumb either to the preposterous minimization of the suffering of Palestinians, or to the destructive rhetoric of those who have downloaded Hamas talking points and consider them sophisticated analysis. Another world will come from neither of those two extremes, for neither are deeply true. Our work is to do our best to look with clear eyes, yet open hearts, at a situation begging for an alternative approach. One thing we do know, whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas are aware of it or not, is that brute force will not fix this.

Unprocessed trauma is the deeper disease underlying so much of the horror. Israelis reflect unprocessed trauma inflicted by the Nazis, while Palestinians reflect unprocessed trauma inflicted by the Israelis. When one's own trauma is unprocessed, we're usually emotionally incapable of being present to the pain of the other. Yet, in the words of Albert Einstein, "We will not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." It is not on the level of military action, but only on the level of acknowledging unprocessed trauma, that a solution to the problem will begin to appear. With every bomb that drops, already traumatized people are being traumatized further. It is soul force, not brute force, that will heal this.

Let us pause now, take a moment to be very quiet and hear the breathing of a new world. The details of its ultimate manifestation are not as important as the establishment of a new process by which to arrive at it. If the process is correct, where it leads will be correct. If the process itself is corrupted by lies or lovelessness, it will lead us nowhere.

No one is so naïve as to think that the current ceasefire puts an end to hostilities. The absence of war does not mean the presence of peace, and no one in their right mind is thinking the presence of a ceasefire means the presence of peace between Israel and Palestine. Having gotten to a place of now decreased level of gunfire, if anything with this latest round of bombs and rocket fire we're arrived at a place of increased hatred within people's hearts.

And what happens inside people's hearts and minds has everything to do with what ultimately happens in the world around us. The IDF cannot bomb away hatred, and Hamas cannot bomb away Israel's strength or intention to survive. Yet it is Israeli policies, more than anything else, that created the despair that has turned into all this hatred. Large groups of desperate people are a national security risk for any country, creating a petri dish out of which forms of externalized hatred are bound to emerge, and millions of Palestinians have been living with varying degrees of desperation for a very long time. If it had not been Hamas, it would have been someone else.

Yes, we can point to times when Israel made good faith efforts and they were spurned. Yes, we can point to horrible instances of Arab on Jewish violence just as we can point to horrible instances of Israeli on Arab violence. Yes, it is true that there are Middle Eastern countries who treat many of their citizens far, far worse than Israel treats Palestinians. Yes, we can point to the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization. And yes, we can point to a million lies on the internet. But the fact that another person is wrong doesn't mean that you are right. Facts are facts, and Israel's systemic oppression of the Palestinians remains a fact. Nothing will fundamentally improve until that is acknowledged and dealt with in a way that matters.

That is what we should have been saying to our ally Israel for years now. The Palestinians have been an invisible people—not just to Americans, by the way, but to many other countries as well. America's hypocritical failure to stand for our own purported commitment to human rights has been on full display in the case of the Palestinians. We have listened to the pain of Israel and ignored the pain of Palestine. With Palestinians having no voice, it is America—yes, America, Israel's ally—who should have lent them ours. For champions of freedom should champion freedom. And friends should tell the truth to friends.

We have not stood up and told the truth to our friend; rather, we have enabled her worst instincts. Giving Israel a blank check with which to clamp down on any threat to their domination has not supported the Palestinians, and it has not supported Israel. It has disincentivized her even having to try to address the deeper issues of a two-tiered society that now has human rights organizations labeling an apartheid state. Until that ugly truth is addressed, there will be no peace for Palestinians and there will be no peace for Israelis. Although Netanyahu has literally walled off the sight of Palestinian suffering from everyday Israelis, the suffering is there. And for reasons that are sound, the world will no longer tolerate its continuance.

To be clear, I am a Jew. I am committed to the idea that the Jews deserve and must have a homeland. But as a Jew, as an American and as a human being, I am equally clear that Palestinians deserve and must have a homeland too. God's justice is not just meant for some of us. Until Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal rights as citizens, there will be no justice. And where there is no justice there will never be peace.

Dome of the rock seen through arched columns in Jerusalem on August 16, 2018. Michael Jacobs/Art in All of Us/Getty Images

America's political elite are now falling all over themselves claiming that the only solution to the newest Middle East crisis is a moral one. Yet they are the very ones who have been rejecting, resisting and peripheralizing the moral argument for years. It has taken decades for American Congress people to suggest that the rights of the Palestinians should matter, much less suggest that we should reconsider a $3.8 billion aid to Israel every year in military assistance as opposed to roughly $300 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. It should not have taken so long for such glaring truth to make its way into the mainstream.

So we've changed the conversation, which is good, but change in policy is better. No status quo willingly disrupts itself, and the urge to go back to the way things were before will be strongly felt over the next few weeks and months. That's why it's so important that we, as citizens, keep the conversation alive. We must not resign ourselves to the sickening sense that we're all just waiting for the next bomb to drop.

That the heart has as much intelligence as the brain is becoming less of a poetic metaphor and more of an established scientific fact. And not a moment too soon, for only a commitment to the intelligence of both heart and brain will lead us out of this tragic quagmire. A consciousness of us versus them is a dead end for all concerned. Only a consciousness of us and them, your people and mine—as Muslims and Jews had lived with each other for centuries before all this happened—will pave a way to peace. There are many people in both Israel and Palestine, as well as in the United States, who honor that ancient relationship—who hold the consciousness of truth telling combined with compassion that is the hallmark of a new political consensus—and it is they who we must support with both our dollars and our will. They're not screaming at each other, they're not lying about each other, in many cases they are simply sitting quietly and crying together. Such moments of connection are paving the way to a new world.

For the last 10 years, Netanyahu has been a Donald Trump like figure in Israel, harnessing the sentiments of the most bigoted, right-wing forces in the country for his own political purposes. Far right-wing militias in Israel are no less ugly, or dangerous, than far right-wing militias in the United States; they are parallel phenomena spawned by similar racist elements in each country. And much like the political assassinations that rocked the United States in the 1960s, it cannot be overestimated how much the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deprived Israel of its political conscience. Netanyahu has delegitimized the Israeli left, moving the country ever deeper into systemic oppression of Palestinians not only in the occupied territories but also in Israel proper. Even there, however, we must not give up hope but instead become midwives of a new reality. The emergence of Merav Michaeli as head of Israel's Labor party is the most hopeful sign that a new direction for Israeli politics is possible. Those who truly want peace in the Middle East should support her.

The two-state solution is on life support, true, but it is not dead. It should be noted that it's not just leftists who want a one-state solution; Netanyahu wants it too! Those on the left who hold some fantasy version of a one-state solution where equal rights are the order of the day, remind me of the neocons before the invasion of Iraq: We'll just go in and kill a lot of people and then everything will turn into flowers!

In fact, the solution will not be imposed by anyone; it will emerge from Palestinians and Israelis who have transcended their mutual fear, and from a world that is listening with an open heart to both of them. But Israel can no longer control the narrative. Again in the words of Roy, "There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless.' There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard." The voice of the Palestinians will go unheard no longer, and Israel must face that. Those who support Israel, who love Israel, should not enable the delusion that it is either morally or militarily justifiable to ignore it. Rather, we must help her to accept, and even to embrace, that with God's help we can live as brothers in this world. Equal rights and opportunities for everyone, yes everyone, must now become Israel's living creed as well as America's official position. The settlements are illegal. The occupation is illegal. Apartheid is illegal. They must be condemned. Period.

Will it be difficult to change all that? At this point, yes. Excruciatingly so. It will take work, it will take international cooperation, it will take time, and it will take courage. But the alternative is catastrophic not only for Israelis and Palestinians but possibly for the world. Those who love Israel, and those who love Palestinians, must show up now to support this work. Love gives no one victory in battle; it lifts us above the battlefield.

Another world is possible, and on a quiet day we can hear her breathing. For those of us who can hear her, the mission now is to let her breathe through us.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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