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Cartooning in Conflict
Chicago Nov. 4-6

Opinions
01/02/2009

When Will They (We) Ever Learn?

Carrie Menkel-Meadow*

On the eve of the Israeli bombing of Hamas sites in Gaza, I returned from the most recent of two trips to Israel and the West Bank. My mission, as a conflict resolution expert, practitioner and teacher, is to facilitate learning about conflict.


 My work was both at the highest levels, with members of the Knesset, key Israeli negotiators at Camp David, Annapolis, members of the Palestinian legislature, and Washington officials, and with a grassroots peace group, the Parents Circle-Family Forum.  The latter group is comprised of 500 Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost family members in the conflict and are seeking to raise awareness for possible reconciliation through personal narrative. At both levels, participants seem to have tried everything they can, but cannot make any progress? Why not?
 
One answer, common to most intractable conflicts is that the “high level” decision makers and grassroots activists do not talk to each other. Higher level officials (called “transactional” or “professional” negotiators by many) are often dismissive of the “transformative” level of NGOs, grassroots and other peace and reconciliation groups, calling them ineffective, “soft” or “the peace industry.”  Families who choose reconciliation, human understanding, dialogue or even forgiveness are inconvenient to those who both seek revenge at the state or individual level and those who need to make official policy.    These levels of engagement often have different world views. Some think that leaders were out in front of the people during the Oslo Accords (now widely regarded as a failure). My recent experience demonstrates that now the Israeli military and civilian leadership and Hamas lag behind what most ordinary Israelis and Palestinians want – a normal life. Note I did not say peace or full reconciliation – just “normal.”
 
A second answer is that despite the development of some rudimentary conflict handling knowledge, no one seems to act on core concepts of conflict resolution:
•        It is much harder to de-escalate after an escalation than it is to slowly escalate from relative calm;
•        Demonization by one side produces more demonization by the other side. (Have Jews learned nothing from the Holocaust? Have Sunnis and Shi’ias learned nothing from civil wars throughout the world, irrespective of national borders?);
•        Firm deadlines (like the “ending the ceasefire in Gaza on December 19, or the false deadlines at Camp David in 2000) are often the enemy of more subtle and detailed partial trust-building negotiated agreements;
•        Conflict is dynamic and interactive. No matter what the strategy or long-range planning used on any one “side” of a conflict–what the other “side(s)” do and how they will respond is often unpredictable and can spiral out of control or lead to “viral” spreading and impact;
•        Ripeness is for fruit, not conflict resolution. It is wrong-headed to say that conflicts must be “ripe” for resolution (enough pain and intolerance of the status quo to motivate parties to come to the table). Unlike fruits that are ripe for only a few days, people are always “ripe,” for talking, for negotiating, for attempts to figure out something new.
 
In my work with multiple levels and multiple “sides” of this seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it appears as if we have learned little from thousands of years of human conflict. The Europeans (who took at least 1,000 years of violence to make a lasting peace) urge the parties of the Middle East to make peace in 60 years (without fully acknowledging their own colonial responsibility for the arbitrary borders that are part of the conflict). We Americans, from a safe distance, scold, cajole or tolerate behaviors that we wouldn’t if they were closer to home. (This includes thinking about how the US would react if Mexico repeatedly fired rockets into San Diego, but also how our democracy would respond if we used excessive force, killing innocent civilians , to eliminate a potential terrorist group in Canada.) Virtually nobody who acts in this situation takes the full measure of what, in my field, we call, not “collateral damage” but multi-party conflict. Once two sides start a conflict, there is no telling how others affected by the conflict (neighborhoods, refugees, allies, enemies, “frenemies”) will join in, supporting one side or taking advantage of or profiting from the conflict.
 
It is the ordinary people, families, workers, and students, who live the conflict and its costs every day. They are the ones seeking new solutions, new ways of talking, activities to do together, whether playing sports, seeking cultural exchanges, or recognizing what Mark Twain so eloquently said in his masterpiece “The War Prayer,” that while one side is praying for victory (and the death that is inevitable to victory), so is the other side doing the same “to us.”
 
 
If there is one salutary effect of the current escalation, it is that it provides a new opportunity to stop the old ways of trying to resolve conflict. In my view, as well as  the view of the younger generation of my Arab and Israeli students in the region, it is time that either the “professionals”  learn something about conflict “handling” (not necessarily “resolution”) principles, or they should turn the conflict over to those who have suffered and still prefer no killing to downward spirals of revenge and more death -- the ordinary people who do want some form of human flourishing (whether full peace and reconciliation, or simply co-existence). The “transformative” human level of pain and suffering must inform the formal “transactional” levels of military and diplomatic actions. Or maybe, as Bob Dylan wrote, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang “How many wars will it take before we learn that too many people have died?”   “When will we ever learn?”


________________________________________
* Carrie Menkel-Meadow is A.B. Chettle Professor of Law, Dispute Resolution and Procedure at Georgetown University Law Center, and author of many books on conflict resolution.
 
 
 
 
Carrie Menkel-Meadow
A.B. Chettle Jr. Professor of Law, Dispute Resolution and Civil Procedure
Georgetown University Law Center
600 New Jersey Avenue N.W.
Washington DC 20001
ph. 202-662-9379
fax 202-662-9412
SSRN author page: http://ssrn.com/author=98428
 
co-editor, Journal of Legal Education
co-editor,  International Journal of Law in Context
 

 





Replies

Date:  12/02/2009
Name:  Alaa Balsha
E-mail:  alaa_balsha@yahoo.com

I opened dialogue with Israel an ……. (1)I think we have to read it right, Israel blockade the Palestinian, Hammas throw some rockets, Israel reply with air crafts, if it''s happened between tow districts in Haifa or Tel Aviv, what they will do? Ask them, use air crafts to bit civilian or make cordon round the place, vacating the civilian, searching for the elements whose doing that by the Special Forces? No one say Israel has not to reply, I remember, President Bush said "I am worried about the civilian", there are Joshes in Israel were crying, All over the world say NO it''s wildness and inhumanity to bit kids in school or red cross, or to let kid sleeping on his breath mother which killed for four days without food, I repeat it again, I didn''t say not reply for rockets , But there is fight rolls, No one say stop fighting with Hammas which is refusing to stop fighting, Ask States, Russian, China, Indian any other where about the fight rolls. There is no excuse for what happened with the civilian. (2)Mr. Yahooed Barak the Minster of Defense reply, "Our forces not Police or Security Guard", But I said" I want to ask him, RANGER flow Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense?" Second I want to ask, as the option of majority the most of the American citizen elect the peace, adjusted, cross over the economic crisis, this is the true face for the magnificent American citizen, Financial, Liberty and Adjusted. So Mr. Obama appears the true face of the United Stat of America, what about the situation in Israel, when you will increase fighting it means increase your shares in the election, Do you think Israel will not comply with the roll play which founded in the states, as result of the option of the majority in Israel, or the time not coming to make it?... (3)The hard diction has to get by strong leader so it''ll become Chance to achieve the peace, but if suppose it happened what about the other side or will be peace from one side… (4) One Nation Under democracy Replay from Israel. (5) You are right, in the history general low for development and disappearance, where the Pharaoh civilization, where the British imperial, as start as finish, so the Palestinian and Israeli an as start one nation, will end one nation, Israel occupied west bank, Gaza, Golan, Sinai, and draw back from Sinai, Gaza, west bank, they will back as one nation whatsoever you accept or not that the history, as start as finish but as you said one nation under democracy. Maybe united between tow federalism as you say under democracy, but it takes time. (6)The Meld East Research Center in Jerusalem Mr. Elli Afeedar said, whatsoever government from the right or between some of parties, the peace our choice, and we will not forget that Mr. Began achieve the peace in spite of he was from the right, The extreme right will get 18 sets, it''s react for Hammas being, but it''ll not effect because this party is one of government coalition now. I sent to Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton this dialogues and said to them "I touch in darkness, there is hope from all parities like light which is appearing in the dawn, let sun rise, Get your action, you have unique chance to achieve the peace, I believe that the hard action need strong leader, but if suppose it happened what about the other side or will be peace from one side?.. What do you think about what we take about????? I need your reply deep, clear and cutting.


 
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