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Op-eds

Knowing us, knowing them, healing feels impossible

  • Geoff
Sunday morning’s killing of Israeli employees by an Arab worker at the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank, a zone punted as exemplifying how Israelis and Palestinians could work together despite political problems, shows again the conflict’s intractability. Will reconciliation ever occur between the sides, even in small doses?
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Oct 11, 2018

Barkan reportedly has more than 100 different factories where 8 000 Palestinians and Israelis from both sides of the Green Line earn a living.

Jews in Western countries look on with despair: what would it take for meaningful reconciliation to happen? They look to their own countries for possible approaches.

What about South Africa, touted as the exemplar of “dialogue” for resolving problems because of achievements during former President Nelson Mandela’s era? Can this country offer anything? There are gigantic differences between the contexts – historical, religious and cultural. But this country also once attempted to reconcile obdurate differences between sides at loggerheads for generations – black South Africa and white South Africa – even though military power lay with the whites. It has been partially, but not completely, successful.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996 followed South Africa’s political settlement. Is it totally naive to think there might one day be a Palestinian-Israeli TRC, even though there is no Mandela there?

There have been political wrongs on both sides. Even Barkan’s location in the occupied Palestinian territories makes it an obvious target for an attack. But nevertheless, could Palestinians and Israelis ever sit around a table and unpack rationally what occurred during seven decades of battle? It is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The chasm between them is so deep, that mutual understanding is probably impossible in the short term. And victories and defeats in a peoples’ history become incorporated as emotive folklore, never to be forgotten. The Jewish people is as adept at this as any other; Arabs and Muslims equally so.

Add to this today’s “fake news” ethos of social media, where distinguishing truth from lies is often impossible. Past attempts to reveal truth through a process such as South Africa’s TRC seem quaint today amidst the full-blown social-media circus, where truth is utterly malleable. How would Palestinians and Israelis fare?

Many people would say that Middle Eastern politics is so complex, the TRC model is a complete non-starter. South Africa’s problems seem relatively simple by comparison. All we can hope for is an uneasy truce between the Israeli and Palestinian enemies, where each side knows it cannot fully defeat the other.

Sporadic groups of Israelis and Palestinians have formed forums to get to know each other, with small-scale successes. The Barkan zone is an example where, through working together, some progress may be made. Politically, too, there have been some successes, such as the fact that Arab Israelis – Palestinians, essentially – have full rights in Israel and hold official positions in government and elsewhere.

But healing on a grand scale can begin only after a political settlement. Indeed, South Africa’s TRC happened only after the political settlement. This is still a very long way off in the Middle East, and none of the current crop of leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterparts, seems willing or able to attempt it. United States President Donald Trump’s much-touted “peace place” is yet to offer any hope.

Continuing with the theme of truth-seeking, a movie opened last week in Johannesburg cinemas called The Forgiven, about Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s successful role in the TRC. In contrast, in Israel, the killing continues in Barkan and elsewhere. Will a film called The Forgiven ever be made about Israel-Palestine?

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