Bringing our own lens: Visualising conflict in Palestine
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
15 March 2016
The rear room at Common Grounds Cafe was the venue for a display of three types of imagery — participatory, documentary, and expository — for the Imagine! Festival of Ideas & Politics event, Visualising Conflict in Palestine, which was attended by a mixture of the artistically intrigued and politically motivated.
The passage of time (since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and even before)
The facts on the ground
The facts in the minds
A new set of demographic changes
The changed geopolitical landscape in the Middle East
Yet he said that the biggest obstacle to peace is that neither side had educated or united its community, to what a peace deal would entail.
Prof. O’Malley also mentioned the lack of transformative leadership within Israel/Palestine — the inability for current leadership to be responsive to changing demands as negotiations progress.
An even deeper problem is psychological: polls show an ever decreasing public belief in a future of Israelis and Palestinians even being able to live besides one another.
Prof. O’Malley describes how this abetted by a cyclical addition to war, which begets failure, which begets further grievances, which begets more war.
He called for inclusive negotiations, with Hamas, and for the Israeli Government to drop its insistence for decommissioning as a prerequisite for negotiations.
Prof. O’Malley explained how this precondition is a nonsense, with there being no one able to verify the quantity of arms held or their decommissioning, unlike the way this issue was managed in Northern Ireland.
Anyway, he continued, Hamas (or any other Palestinian group) could reacquire a large amount of significant weaponry almost immediately.
Within Palestinian politics, Prof. O’Malley described the relationship between the more theologically-driven Hamas block and the secular-oriented Fatah group (which is currently in power and feted by the international community).
“The reality is that they are rivals,” said Prof. O’Malley, giving examples of and inter- and intra-group contests for power.
The Israeli Government’s complete lack of trust was explained with a quotation from a high-ranking official: “They have to convince us that they are not a threat to our existence.”
Furthermore, Prof. O’Malley gave two challenges for peace:
Young Israelis moving farther to the right, e.g. many preferring to be more ‘Jewish’ than ‘democratic’
An agreement on settlements would be very difficult to implement, with Israel Defence Forces being called upon to physically remove their own citizens (Prof. O’Malley compared the 1914 Curragh incident in Ireland, when the British Government contemplated using force against those (especially Ulster Volunteer Force) who would not implement the Home Rule agreement; the British Army threatened mutiny, prompting the Government to consider (and implement) the geopolitical partitioning of Ireland).
Prof. O’Malley’s blunt conclusion is that currently there is neither the will nor adequate leadership to negotiate for peace.
For him, the situation is so bleak that even pacifist groups — both Palestinian and Israeli — have told him that perhaps only a large scale war will provoke a serious intervention by the international community.
Prof. O’Malley also described the systematic humiliation that ordinary Palestinians suffer from Israeli police and security forces, and a consequential belief that Israel won’t change its mindset until they feel the pain that Palestinians have felt.
But both societies are living in a state of trauma — he explained — with Israeli Jews crystallising their identity from the Holocaust, and Palestinians from the 1948 Nakba; both sources of identity are loss.
Professor O’Malley finished with some personal remarks:
“My sympathies are on both sides.
“My belief is that the occupation must end.
“Palestinians want their dignity back; their humiliation must stop.
“That demand for dignity has to find an outlet, at some point. And this is how a suicide bomber justifies killing himself, as an act of affirming humanity.”
During the subsequent question and answer session, Prof. Monica McWilliams replied to the pacifists’ apparent call for war, with a quotation that violence is the absence of creativity.
She agreed with Prof. O’Malley on the point that the international community has been collectively woeful in regards to Israel/Palestine, but highlighted the symbolic value that the Palestinian State has at the United Nations, as well as private efforts, such as the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel).
Prof. O’Malley acknowledged that the boycott movement was very effective in ending Apartheid in South Africa, but Israel has an alternative of approaching Russia for increased trade.
We worked hard to end the session with a message of hope.
Prof. O’Malley’s initial response to this question was hope with a lot of pain:
“Hope lies in the fact that in the near future, the situation will become explosive.
“And when that happens, don’t go back to the two-state proposal, but start from where you will be.”
The cliché, “hope lies with the children”, was suggested.
But here, Prof. O’Malley suggested changing the school textbooks in Israel/Palestine: “The books are getting worse not better!”
He described the work of a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers, who came together in 2000 to try to ‘disarm’ the teaching of the Middle East; the result is a ‘dual narrative’ history, Side by Side.
So while the current form of negotiations may be delusional — the repeat pursuit of a failed predefined outcome — starting a conversation with children (and their parents) may be a more peaceful path to peace.
Professor Padraig O’Malley thanks ISCTSJ and Queen’s University Belfast for the organisation and opportunity provided by the event.
The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice was established in 2012, to facilitate sustained interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching and to provide strategic focus to support world class research.
As part of its 2010 Summer School, Community Dialogue (www.communitydialogue.org) hosted an exhibition of international cartoonists’ contributions to The Parents Circle – Families Forum (www.theparentscircle.com), which is a grassroots organisation based in the Middle East.
The Parents Circle – Families Forum represents more than 500 families, both Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost a family member to the conflict.
At the Belfast launch event at Farset International, Springfield Road, Forum members Robi Damelin (Israeli) and Seham Ikhlayel (Palestinian) described the background to this exhibition and their project work, as well as shared their stories, experiences and hopes.
I was particularly intrigued to learn more about their “Crack in the Wall” project, which will make interactive use of websites and social media. As Robi explained, with it becoming increasingly difficult to physically meet up, the use of phone lines and online resources become vital.
Robi and Seham insist that any peace agreement that does not involve the people in the process nor include reconciliation as a specific outcome is doomed to failure.
Robi also has no time for the display of flags, citing Israeli flags in Protestant areas and Palestinian flags in Catholic areas of Belfast:
“I don’t think that’s helping anybody. It just makes you feel good about yourself. I don’t see how Seham’s life was improved by a Palestinian flag.”
After Robi and Seham spoke, there was a Q&A session, with inevitable comparisons between the Middle East and Northern Ireland experiences. My impression was that the locals weren’t actually listening to Robi’s understanding (or incomprehension) of forgiveness. That is, several people tried to probe why it is apparent that Christian-populated places put such a premium on forgiveness. At one point Robi said that when Bishop Desmond Tutu insists on forgiveness, that’s immoral; you can’t righteously compel forgiveness.
There were workshop-style discussions afterwards, which I wasn’t able to stay for. But I am very grateful for Community Dialogue for facilitating this exhibition’s trip to Northern Ireland.
Robi and Seham were also interviewed by BBC Radio Ulster Arts Extra, where they described their work further: