Two weeks ago I participated in a workshop. Young Japanese students from Keio University came up with a naive yet sweet idea: to create bondage between ethnic enemies through drawings. Their first attempt was in Israel, where they asked Israeli (Jewish) students to draw their ideal country which they would share with the Palestinians, using abstract images or more concrete ones, like drawing a school and a hospital. After this activity, the Japanese went to Al Quds University in the West Bank, where Palestinians students would add drawings over the Israeli ones, hopefully creating one colorful paradise…
The Israelis who chose to attend the first half of this activity were, needless to say, not good representatives of the Israeli political map, and started off with a very peaceful orientation. Colorful rainbows and images of people holding hands were prominent themes on our white sheets. Everything was going the right way for the hopeful Japanese youngsters…
The next afternoon, following the activity at the Al Quds University, the Japanese returned to meet us, showing us the final result. The organizer, a sweet 22 years old soul, was crying, saying she was sorry things have developed in a tragic way, and that the result was much less ‘peaceful’ than she had expected. The Palestinians students didn’t cooperate with the rainbows, but added furious images which all cry for independence from the Israeli occupation, emancipation of the Israeli army and even more aggressive reflections.
In this post I’m not focusing on the Palestinian drawings, an interesting topic by itself. It is clear (and supported by what the Japanese told us) that the Palestinian students didn’t really understand the English instructions and used the drawing sheets as a platform for anger expressions and some spontaneous depiction of emotions. Furthermore, the choice of asking the Palestinians to paint a united nation with the Jewish-Zionist counterparts, in an era when they fight and pray for independence, was quite a bad and insensitive choice by the Japanese organizers. Clearly something had to go ‘wrong’.
What I’m more interested in here is the response of the Israeli students to this supposable slap in the face, the feeling of showing a gesture towards peace and being painfully rejected. Some Israeli students blamed the propaganda of the Palestinian media and politicians for not allowing people to express peaceful emotions. Other felt despair and even said they regret drawing nice images, that if the Palestinians express their political agenda, we should have expressed our political input, showing our side of the story. The rest of the Israelis emphasized the fact that the Palestinians didn’t understand the instructions.
This Hate & Relativism blog talks about subjective feelings and therefore it promotes an open hearted approach and acknowledgment of the fact that one’s pain and anger is never objective. However, the statements by the Israeli students that ‘both sides suffer equally’ (right wing Israeli students would never have said such a thing but would probably address most blame on the other side) and therefore each side should draw peaceful images, is only half way of the adult approach here. Even without mentioning the fact that living under the occupation is more painful than living in an Israeli city and therefore the former conditions tend to induce more anger, the key in such activities is to remain open, even when it hurts. Even when you get refused. An open approach isn’t necessarily about showing warm compassion, but trying to learn the feelings of the other side.
The disadvantage of this activity was that the Israelis and the Palestinians weren’t present at the same room. However, as this activity was not a political debate, we had no real reason to justify our position and our identity, even after viewing the Palestinian drawing. We could feel angry in return, indifferent and reluctant to join future activities, but we could also try to learn something about the feelings of the other side. Yes, perhaps some drawing were meant to be provokative, but surely some of them could give us an insight about life in the West Bank.
A paramount public rhetoric would suggest that if one is overly patient and tolerant towards his enemies then later those enemies would punish his softnessm, hence we better remain suspicious. Before examining whether or not such an argument makes sense on the political-policy level, how can trying to contain and understand the feeling of the other side truly risk something? After all, being open doesn’t have to come on the expense of acknowledging our own objectives. A lot of pain is involved in such dialogue, but with time, such process could peal the aggression and lead to better communication, as most dialogue groups prove every day.
P.S. : In days when combat takes place in Gaza and south of Israel, without analyzing the blame issue (I don’t avoid politics and express my opinions in several platform, but this is not the objective of this specific blog), I recommend taking a minute to feel sadness. Sadness for the kids who cannot go to school in Israel or for the people in Gaza who fear the air-fighters flying above their heads (and who are ultimately more at risk), while letting go of the need to explain who ‘initiated’ or to convince others. There is enough time to debate and point fingers, one minute of connection to this universal sadness is on the reach of us all, with no ‘but’, with a big ‘period’.