Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Notes from a Field of Conflict: Trilateral Dialogical Engagement in Israel/Palestine

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Notes from a Field of Conflict: Trilateral Dialogical Engagement in Israel/Palestine

Article excerpt

Reconciliation, self-awareness, and finally the humility that makes peace possible come only when culture no longer serves a cause or a myth but the most precious and elusive of all human narratives--truth.

Chris Hedges (1)

When Leonard Swidler published his "Dialogue Decalogue" in 1983, the world was a different place. In light of the severe moral rupture caused by Nazi Germany's genocidal Antisemitism, Christian faith communities had begun a serious reevaluation of their own anti-Jewish traditions, and an honest and sincere dialogue evolved between Jews and Christians. There was hope that dialogical engagement would not only heal centuries of religious discrimination and exclusion, but that Jewish-Christian dialogue might also serve as an exemplar for other religions--or even become operative in political and social arenas. The Cold War was just about to end, the international community pushed the human-rights agenda, and armed conflicts seemed regionally limited. Indeed, post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian dialogue created frameworks for constructive conversation and practical cooperation applicable to other environments.

Then the tragedy of September 11, 2001, happened, and religiously motivated violence put to a halt what suddenly looked like lofty ideals of dialogical commitment. Tough talk about "them and us" and "the gloves are off," as well as military interventions, ruled public debates and policies. Religious and ideological entrenchment, not reconciliatory dialogue, marked new ethnoreligious boundaries that became increasingly radicalized. To be sure, renewed efforts of an inclusive Abrahamic dialogue flourished after 9/11, but a certain cultural pessimism and a politics of fear persisted. As chronic low-intensity warfare and full-fledged battlefields spread around the globe, what vanished were the values of humility, self-critical awareness, trust, and truth.

Self-criticism, sincerity, honesty, trust, and mutual recognition are keywords in Swidler's "Dialogue Decalogue." In light of a changed political landscape, have these "moral emotions" become obsolete? I would argue, to the contrary, that they are needed more than ever. What has changed, perhaps, is that dialogical commitment has lost its hopeful innocence of earlier times. Today, what need to be practiced are difficult dialogues in zones of conflict.

In this essay in honor of Swidler's work, I want to report on one of these conflict zones that require a certain amount of risk-taking when engaging in dialogical reconciliation. My essay will take us to Israel and the West Bank in the summer of 2014, at the height of the military conflict between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as well as daily confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

Summer, 2014

In past years, the organization, Friendship Across Borders (FAB), (2) has invited me to conduct and facilitate trilateral encounters among Israelis, Germans, and Palestinians. FAB's overall mission is to train peace-carriers among all three peoples. When I work with FAB groups in dialogical settings, I focus on improving communication (beyond iterations of political master narratives) and on building bridges of trust. FAB does not offer explicitly interreligious meetings, but religious identifications are part and parcel of FAB's intergenerational and intercultural seminars and workshops. Participants identify variously as Muslim or Christian Palestinians, as Jewish or secular Israelis, as agnostic or Christian Germans.

It took some persuasion and persistence in getting Israelis, Germans, and Palestinians to agree to meet in Israel/West Bank in early August of 2014. The political tension and military conflict that had begun weeks earlier--first with the abduction and killing of Israeli youths, then, in an act of revenge, the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager--continued unabated. Rockets and artillery caused real death, harm, and fear. …

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