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B. Shalev: Reconciliation Requires Honesty and Integrity

Address to the Middle East Peace Initiative
Jerusalem, May 11, 2005

Reconciliation is a subject we can talk easily about, but is very difficult to carry out. It demands deep personal work to be able to bring about reconciliation through words or through deeds.  Total honesty and integrity is vital. No matter how beautiful the words we say or how great the deed, if it does not come from a place of integrity and honesty it is not better than no action.

Difficult as it is,  we must accept the fact that without true reconciliation we will not have true peace — not in our families or in our nation or region.

Reconciliation is not a political exercise but rather a spiritual, emotional and moral effort that encompasses forgiveness, compassion and a will to leave behind the past and build for the future. It is clear that women should have a leading role in this effort, as they may be better able to sympathize with the other’s pain and know to listen with their hearts.  Even if we think we are saying the right thing, in order to reach the hearts of the ones with whom we are in conflict we need to speak from the heart rather than the head. It is the heart that finds the common ground. Our heads analyze the facts and create separation.

Reconciliation is a people-to-people process, rather than a political process, and it must begin at the grassroots level. There can be discussion whether or not it is appropriate to discuss reconciliation before a political settlement to the conflict has been reached, but I personally believe that reconciliation efforts should not be delayed.

Neutral platforms are required in order to nurture a balanced and fair attitude where the voices of all can be heard and where true listening can begin.

Each situation is different. We Israelis and Palestinians must find our own method for releasing the bitterness and fear accumulated over the years. We in this region find it difficult to face reality. On both sides there is a strong desire for the “other” to disappear.  In order to move forward we need to face reality. After much suffering this process is starting.

Different approaches have been used in countries where years of conflict were resolved:

In Northern Ireland, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Macguire and her friends initiated rallies and dialogues. They hired halls in community centers where people were invited to come and talk, area by area, in Belfast. At these venues people had a safe place in which to express their fears.

In South Africa a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed, giving opportunities for the victims to provide a clear picture of their suffering while the perpetrator gave the speaker the dignity of being fully listened to without the fear of punishment. In South Africa this reconciliation process began even before peace was achieved.

It is  essential to maintain the spiritual vision of reconciliation as the journey toward greater understanding and acceptance of  each other, to cultivate a sincere respect that  truly acknowledges the equality of the two communities and the dignity of each individual. The two societies will then have the chance to develop their own inner integrity and independent strength. Without this we will not have the trust to truly accept one another as equal partners.

One of the central difficulties is the lack of positive encounters between Israelis and Palestinians. For Palestinian youth, often their main encounter with Israelis is with the soldiers as they pass through checkpoints and witness house demolitions. For Israelis it is the sight of suicide bombings on buses and in cafes. The majority of young Palestinians and Israelis never meet as humans on equal ground.  

I believe deeply in the power and will of youth to change the course of their communities, if given the tools, the resources and the vehicles to be heard. The power of the individual to influence events cannot be underestimated.

Palestinian and Israeli young people are the key to the future of the region. Greater outreach to them is urgently needed. The key challenge is to make and maintain contacts and to ensure that reconciliation dialogues continue as an ongoing process.

The international community is very important as a neutralizing force, and the contribution of the Interreligious and International Federation for World in this area is deeply appreciated.

The process of reconciliation could be guided by those who are respected for their spiritual and moral character or those who have undergone a reconciliation process themselves, such as the Parents’ Circle and Families Forum. This is a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to violence and who have formed a mutual support group. They conduct seminars in schools and are willing to help in facilitating reconciliation initiatives.

There are many grassroots initiatives. These efforts need recognition from the highest levels in our respective governments. Such a forum should be formed on the national level. Just as we have a Council for National Security, Councils for Peace should be formed at cabinet level by the Israelis and the Palestinians.