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I can understand Israel’s anger at Australia’s decision to withdraw recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Israeli government go even further in their claim, as do many Jewish secularists and Orthodox, holding both East and West Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Jerusalem.

What can Australia do to promote peace?

It would be the height of arrogance for me to suggest I have ‘the answer’ to a longstanding conflict that has contributed to the loss of so many lives and caused so much trauma and grief. I am merely highlighting a number of principles, raised by more informed and experienced activists who also have a passion for peace.

First, let me address what we should not do. To join Israel against the Palestinians or vice versa only perpetuates the ongoing conflict. As a relationship therapist, I have sat with conflicted couples and families for over forty years, and I know that as soon as I join one party against the other, there is little hope of change in the relationship. The core issues of the conflict are not addressed. The dirty, destructive dance that both parties are caught in continues. Both are in pain, helpless in the power of the cycle. The same dynamic operates between communities and countries.

On my visits to Israel and the West Bank, I have heard from both Israelis and Palestinians, “We don’t want you to hate ‘the other’, but speak your truth. We are both children of Abraham.”

So, what stance should Australia take. What can we do to promote peace?

Firstly, understand as best we can the history and culture of both Israelis and Palestinians. That is not easy as both peoples often see history differently.

Secondly, accept and give dignity and respect to both sides. Both have a right to exist. Hear and accept the fears and pain of both sides. Put yourself into their skin. This was my task in writing the stories I collected during my visits to Israel and the West Bank resulting in a novel, ‘Wall of Tears: The Human Face of the Israel – Palestine Conflict’.

Thirdly, ensure educational opportunities. Currently there is a chronic shortage of schools in East Jerusalem. Elias Chacour is one of many Palestinians who has successfully created opportunity for students in The Mar Elias Peace Study Centre at Ibillin in the Galilee, northern Israel.

Fourthly, challenge violence from both Israelis and Palestinians. It is naive to think that if Israel laid down their guns peace would automatically follow, when Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are committed to removing a Jewish presence from the land. However, Palestinians understandably will resist when they feel the heel of the Israeli police or army on their neck. They resent their neighbourhoods being closed down for days when Israeli police are searching for suspects. They chafe at the discrimination against them by the legal system, severe restrictions of electricity and water; not having the freedom to fly their flag, or move within the West Bank without confronting roadblocks and checkpoints.

Fifthly, lobby governments to support peace projects that help create understanding and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. (US President Trump made cuts to hundreds). A landmark study commissioned by The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) found that Palestinian peace-building projects are a missing ingredient in the peace process. The report recommended policy makers learn the lessons from Northern Ireland, where well-funded peace-building projects that brought Catholics and Protestants together were in place 12 years before the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

The issues facing peace in Israel and the West Bank are many and complex. There is no simple quick fix. However, to work at holding the above principles, I believe will more likely create an environment for both sides to embrace a solution. When both parties in my therapy room listened, heard and accepted the pain of their partner, healing became a possibility. So may it also be for the sons of Abraham.

Photo: Chris Kerr. A section of East Jerusalem in the Old City with West Jerusalem on the horizon. Taken from the Mount of Olives


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