My Turn: Peacemaking sessions humanize the conflict

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2003

I t always makes it easier to fight a war if you demonize people so that you're not killing human beings, you're killing the devil," said retired Army Col. Harry Summers. Demonizing the enemy is probably as old as war itself. Given today's five-second sound bite, the rhetoric has special punch and moral clarity. And demonizing has clearly led to more deaths and a very violent and unsafe world.

Religious, national and world leaders have often been quick to escalate fear and violence as a way to promote their agenda. Examples; "Axis of evil," "Palestinians are like cancer," "Islam is a very dangerous and evil religion," "Blessings for whoever saves a bullet in order to stick it in a Jew's head."

But if there is to be any peace and non-violent solutions to world, national and local conflicts, then we must move beyond the demonizing and strive to humanize people, religions and nations. Where do we start? Locally seems like the place to start and perhaps the only option for most of us.

Conflicts are seldom, if ever, simple. To understand the complexities takes commitment to active listening and a clear understanding of all viewpoints, especially those different than yours.

The Palestinian and Israeli war is as much a threat to world peace as is the war in Iraq, the nuclear proliferation of North Korea and that of the U.S., not to mention another dozen or so other volatile and dangerous spots and issues around the world.

Presidents Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush have taken their turn at trying to bring Palestine and Israel to the peace table and help craft a lasting peace, still the violence continues. These efforts only hint at the long history of the deep feelings and complicated issues involved. But the U.S. is a major player in the conflict and must be a major player in any hope for resolution

And there is hope. We Juneau residents have an opportunity, even an obligation, to come together in dialogue, study and compassion as an important step in our understanding and peacemaking efforts.

"As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues the humanity of all people involved is being lost. In the last three years nearly 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians have been killed. There are things normal people in the U.S. can do. By humanizing the conflict a new reality can be created..." This is a quote by Hillary Rantisi and Paul Beran, both of whom will be leading two peacemaking sessions; Friday, Nov. 28, at Northern Light United Church from 5:30 to 9 p.m. (a light dinner served) and Saturday at Chapel By The Lake workshops from 3 to 6 p.m. All people of faith and conscience are welcome to participate.

This won't result in a Palestinian-Israeli peace.

But hopefully it will lead to a local dialogue and understanding of opposing perspectives, and the realization that we are all humans on all sides of the issues - who fear, love, feel, bleed and hope.

We owe it to those under the gun to try and understand. And once we understand, we owe it to them to not be silent.

As we undertake our local peacemaking efforts we join a growing number of Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers who see the wisdom of stopping the violence, in whatever form, regardless of their government's policies.

Barbara Demming, an international peacemaker nailed it when she stated, "The longer we listen to one another - with real attention - the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions."

• K. James Metcalf is a member of Juneau People for Peace and Justice and Northern Light United Church.

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