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Cartooning in Conflict
Chicago Nov. 4-6

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Thought for the Day, 7 May 2009

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, BBC

The UN investigation report on the conflict in Gaza earlier this year was published this week. It accused the Israeli military of negligence; this was rejected by the Israeli Government which described the report as "patently biased". In stark contrast, last night I went to a meeting where both sides of this conflict came together. The event was for an organisation of bereaved families working for practical reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. We listened to the powerful testimonies of a Palestinian who lost his brother and an Israeli who lost her son.

Given how intractable and bitter this dispute is, many people would have found it hard to be in the same room together, but here they were, showing there's another way, still able to talk about peace - despite their loss, and because of it. Rather than being representatives of two nations in conflict, they more resembled brother and sister.

The connection between Palestinians and Israelis has the same potency as the relationship of siblings, who live near each other, sound like each other, and can irritate each other like no-one else can. When they hear each other's names, often they flinch with an almost physical reaction. Some may even prefer that the other didn't exist. Each honestly fears the other, and with good reason. Like siblings, they have different versions of the same narratives, different perspectives on family history.

In the Biblical account of Jacob and Esau, they were not only brothers, but twins. They struggled even in the womb and they developed into two nations, two separate peoples. Jacob and Esau were rivals for their inheritance. As teenagers they separated in fury but after many years they were reconciled. Even when families are this toxic, it's possible for them to change.

We don't know where we are on this storyline of sibling history - still fighting in the womb, or backbiting, or slowly, painfully moving towards compromise. Neither side will like the process, but it has to be possible.

I experienced the power of possibilities when I lived in Israel, and worked in Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and a recent poll acknowledges these possibilities. A clear majority of Palestinians and Israelis would accept a two-state solution and a negotiated peace. Palestinians and Israelis are economically and physically interdependent; neither will have security without the other. Unlike Jacob and Esau, today there's no single heir to the inheritance of the land.

Sibling rivalry can be the source of intense conflict but the power of that sibling bond can also lead people to recognize each other's humanity and each others' needs. This isn't about forgetting the past; it is about dealing with it.



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