THE COVID CHALLENGE
Can any good come out of Covid for the Middle East?
Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director of the Rossing Centre, who co-sponsored ‘The Healing Hatred Conference’ I attended in 2017 in Jerusalem and the West Bank, lays down the challenge. What I witnessed and experienced at the Conference was transformative. A passionate mix of Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Gentiles, Christians shared their stories. It can be repeated.
Dr Bernstein writes,
‘We have experienced an intense few months in many regards, the coronavirus, political uncertainty and growing frustration towards our leadership in many parts of the world. In parallel, movements for social change have gained impetus and new voices have been added to the demand for change. The developments here have caused Jews, Christian, Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis to be even more separated from one another than usual, at least in some ways. This separation contributes to mutual ignorance and prejudice, allowing stereotypes and misconceptions about the other side to fester.
At the same time, this period has been an opportunity for many people to re-evaluate their lives. As rapid economic, political and social change is affecting us all, we are almost forced to reflect on issues we put aside or considered unquestionable. In this opportunity for reflection, we can also examine the way we think about the Other and the conflict in our region. How are we going to respond to separation, xenophobia, racism, discrimination and hatred? Are we going to do anything differently?
There are many ways for us to respond to such challenging questions. One option would be to continue as before – to ignore the Other, to continue to live in our bubbles – and indeed the virus positively encourages us to do so. The second option is to grasp the opportunity for change – to see that the Arab-Jewish cooperation that has been so encouraging and visible in our health system could become the norm for society as a whole.
This can only happen if we begin the process of seeing the Other as ‘ourselves’. When we break through the social boundaries we have artificially created for the sake of self-gain and preservation, we can start to see the gain of the Other as our own. In essence, this makes a society inclusive, seeking the welfare and good for all people, whatever their background or faith. However, this second option is much harder than the first, and requires hard work to change ourselves as well as society as a whole.’