Some years ago a friend and I were discussing the circumstances under which people change their minds.
Some years ago a friend and I were discussing the circumstances under which people change their minds. Aware that I had been known to get fairly loud and forceful in expressing my own opinions, he asked, “When was the last time you got someone to change his mind by yelling at him?” With a small sheepish grin, I responded, “That would be never.” That bit of wisdom is on my mind every time I sit at the keyboard to write one of these periodic letters or any other presentation on the subject. It is also uppermost in my thinking when I offer public seminars and workshops on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of us—almost without exception—are prone to react emotionally to the subject, often to the extent that the content of what we hear is obscured or even ignored. All of which is why I try to emphasize to those to whom I am speaking that what I say or present is entirely what I have seen, experienced, or learned. Obviously, I have strong opinions on the issues, but what I want my hearers to do is listen, read, and learn, and then form their own opinions. Verbal force—just as physical force—may alter behavior, but it will not change attitudes and opinions in a positive direction. So I often place before others ideas and propositions which require all of us to think beyond our preconceived notions, images, and stereotypes.
For example when the subject of Iran and its potential for producing nuclear weapons arises, I may ask if the fact that Israel has a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them might act as a motivator for Iran to counter with its own such weapons. From there we might move to the fact that the United States has engaged in a kind of international, diplomatic word game with Israel which goes something like this: “If you don’t state publicly that you have nuclear weapons, we will act as if you don’t have them. OK?” And the “game” has now gone on for more than 50 years. Let me be clear: the fact of Israel’s nuclear arsenal should not determine how the rest of the world should treat Iran, but, if we are to make sound decisions which involve the welfare of countless millions of people, we should consider all the facts available to us.
Again, I recently was told that it is a “sin” to term the dispossession of the Palestinian peoples from their homes in 1948 a nakba[or naqba] , the Arabic word for “catastrophe.” The pronouncement came within an episode of written “shouting” in my direction. There was no attempt to share a differing point of view, just a desire to overpower me with one perspective rather than work to see if we might find points of concurrence from which we could proceed to greater understanding. My point is not that we both must agree, but that, if any progress toward a just peace is to be made, we will both understand these two parallel phenomena: Israel, many of the world’s Jews, and much of the rest of the world celebrate the events of 1948, marking the founding of the state of Israel, as a great, positive watershed development; at the exact same time Palestinians, other Arabs, and many in the international community look to that year as a time of grievous injustice, and the intervening years as having compounded what is seen as an international tragedy. We must not only realize that there are two diametrically opposite recollections of the same sequence of events; we must also understand what brought Israelis and Palestinians into such a fierce conflict.
For several generations people have been told of the vicious attack on the fledgling Israel by Arab forces immediately at the declaration of statehood in May 1948. Yet there is another perspective. Even Israeli historians today disclose that official pre-state records and files maintained by leaders of the national movement give ample evidence that there was far more to the situation than that: these now-open records show that para-military operations, marked by fear and terror tactics, long preceded the 1948 war. Our approach must not be to see which side can shout its version the loudest, but to acknowledge that there conflicting viewpoints which must be reviewed honestly and resolved with integrity.
There are three things I would ask of each of us:
1. Keep telling everyone you can that there are stories of two peoples—not one—written in the soil of the Holy Land.
2. Even while you are telling the neglected story, remember to listen to the concerns of those who stand opposite you.
3. Refuse to allow others to stifle the strong witness for peace with justice by raising concerns that we will be misunderstand and our relationships will suffer.
If we do not stand with courage in behalf of justice for those who are oppressed, I cannot see that we have anything left which will be worth standing for.