Israel-Palestine War: How Do We Move Forward?

Photo by Andy Swindler in Bethlehem, Palestine. Red warning signs and armored Israeli vehicles are common sightings when crossing checkpoints in occupied Palestine.

The events of October 7th, 2023, have left us in shock and sent jolting ripples of pain and suffering around the globe. Many are following the news daily, wondering how to make sense of this sudden and horrific escalation into war between Israel and Palestine. As individuals and organizations grapple with what stance to take, how to react, afraid of saying the “wrong” thing, of being perceived as sympathisers of the wrong side, let us take a moment, pull back, and put some things in perspective. 

Firstly, let’s be clear on the fact that the violence we have witnessed on the part of Hamas cannot be condoned. No problem can be solved with such brutality and hate. It is impossible to hear and witness the horrors of this attack and not feel horrified, shocked, and perhaps even rageful. 

Or is it? 

Any human connected to their heart and their humanity cannot remain indifferent to such brutal attacks. However, where it gets more complicated is when we try to look for simplistic, one-sided answers or solutions. And if you prefer to stay with simplistic solutions, I invite you to close this article here. 

As a Muslim, I am deeply sorry to see and hear the fear, the pain and suffering Jews are going through at this time.  And I am also tired of the biases and simplistic thinking that paints all Muslims as terrorists, or that conveniently forgets that Palestinians have a legitimate right to be on their own land.  

Or, that ignores that the death toll of Palestinians, even as we watch this crisis unfold, is already higher than Jews. 

This is undeniably a human tragedy. But let us be lucid and clear that it is painted with the same biases and collective amnesia endemic to our world. In case you are wondering if this is true, pay attention to these factors in the news you hear:

  • Is all brutality labeled the same? 
  • When you hear the mention of Israel, do you hear the word Palestine next to it? 
  • Are the lives of non-violent civilians on both sides valued equally? 

This is by no means an accident. While I cannot speak to whether it is deliberate, I can safely assert that this is exactly how power dynamics work. The “weaker” side is vilified, invisibilized in the conversation and over time, dehumanized. And this is exactly what we are witnessing in the lives of Palestinian children and civilians. Subconsciously, we begin to see one side as oppressed, and we excuse when they act as the oppressor because it is called “defense”. 

We begin to hear the words Arab, Palestinian in this case, and Muslim as terrorists. Because the dominant narrative fails to distinguish or remind us that terrorism wears all sorts of masks and religious affiliations, that Islam does not have a monopoly on active terrorism, and that Muslims are not all potential terrorists. The majority are everyday people trying to live decent lives, to build bridges, and be productive members of society. 

But this article is not to convince you of anything. Is it to shed light on some half-truths we are all exposed to daily and give you some perspectives and tools to examine this complex situation with more nuances. It is neither a condemnation of any one side nor an excuse for either side. The aim of this article is to remind us that below the narratives we are fed and below the agendas we do not hear and see, there are humans suffering and what we can do differently to do better together as humans. We can only achieve this by bringing some critical facts to light that seem to be conveniently absent and prone to sound bite narratives: 

Israel was established by British Mandate on a land that did not belong to Great Britain. 

Imagine someone giving your home to someone else. Would you not find that oppressive? Would you not be upset? Would you not try to get it back? Why should it be different for others? 

Now imagine that in your house, you are oppressed and silenced by force. And given increasingly small parts of your house to live in. And then you are policed in how you move, you are denied access to basic resources such as food, and medical treatment because the person who took your home wants to feel safe. Really take a moment and imagine that. How do you feel? 

Yet, this tragedy is not that simple. Israel has now been established for many decades. Is it realistic to expect Israelis to leave and hand over a land that has been given to them by a colonial power? Especially considering the deeply traumatic experiences they have suffered during the Holocaust, which, by the way, was not at the hands of Palestinians or Muslims. 

No one can diminish the trauma Jews have been subjected to during the Holocaust, and continued antisemitism around the world. But why do we diminish the trauma and racism that Palestinians and Muslims go through? Why do we invisibilize the experiences of the vast majority of Muslims to center terrorists?  

Perhaps because a natural human instinct post trauma is the need for safety at any cost. Because the perception of danger becomes amplified. Everyone and everything become a potential threat, making it hard, if not impossible, to act with compassion, especially when triggers get activated, which is the case with the October 7th attacks and the events that followed. And perhaps because global events and dominant media narratives are prone to the same power dynamics and biases that dehumanize us and keep us in this perpetual cycle of violence and trauma. 

And here we are in 2023, facing the future with all this baggage. We are far from the initial stages of the occupation and there have been generations suffering from this conflict. Generations carrying the trauma, the pain, and terror that accompany such a bloody conflict. 

From a human perspective, the only solution is to commit to lasting peace. But on both sides, there will likely continue to be elements who will oppose it ideologically, which makes it even more vital that our commitment to peace be stronger than their commitment to war. Because the truth is that peace is neither built overnight nor by accident. 

And peace is impossible to build if we stay blind about the suffering of one side or to the fact that there are geopolitical implications and aspirations far more complex than we receive in simplistic media rhetoric. 

On both sides of this conflict, we are looking at deeply traumatized populations. Populations trying to live under the constant threat of death, violence, and dehumanizing humiliation. Populations living with endless cycles of compounded trauma. Which in case you are not familiar with the impact of trauma on the human body and psyche, tends to recreate itself, until we deliberately and skillfully interrupt it. 

Once more, let us acknowledge that this is complex and painful. Let us take deep breaths and feel the pain, feel the rage, feel the grief, feel the helplessness. And let us be lucid that there are forces who will use this and any human tragedy to further agendas of hate, greed and destruction. And then let us rise above that and choose our shared humanity. Let us remember that before being victims of horrific acts that aim to bring out the worst of us, we are heart-centered beings who have the ability to see each other, to empathize, to be brave, and to manage complexity without getting lost in simplistic sound bites. 

How does this translate into your day-to-day life as an everyday citizen of the world, trying to earn a living and be a good person? Unless you have the ability to directly impact events at the systemic or political level, the best use of your energy and attention is for those around you. 

Here are 9 things you can do in your workplace and in your community. 

  1. Acknowledge that this is bigger than any one of us: it is ok to feel overwhelmed, confused and scared. Feel it and let it go. 
  2. Listen to more than one perspective of this tragedy. Yes, listen to the experiences of Jews and the experiences of Muslims and Christians whose families or communities are caught up in the conflict. Empathize with all of them. Because all of them are victims. 
  3. Recognize that the global narrative is heavily biased toward one side and begin to notice simple things like how violence from any side is talked about and the labels used to portray Muslims versus others. I say this again because I have lived through the experiences of these biases. 
  4. Express empathy to your colleagues on all sides. You do not have to condone behaviours to feel empathy for humans. We are more sophisticated than that, even when simplistic narratives paint us otherwise. 
  5. If you are going to express opinions and take a position, do your homework and read multiple perspectives. Especially from those living the impact of this war and those who have lived experience with them. And recognize that, as humans, we all carry inherent biases from our experiences. But it does not mean we have to perpetuate them. 
  6. Distinguish between Muslim and terrorist, Palestinian and terrorist. I am personally tired of being sorry for being Muslim because it’s easier for others to stay with simple, one-sided rhetoric.  
  7. Acknowledge Israel and Palestine as two sovereign, yet interdependent nations.
  8. Allow others to feel: Expect to hear blame, anger, and deflection. These are all natural human responses to violence and cognitive dissonance. 
  9. And be the change that brings a balanced perspective and centers the human experience. 

If people on the ground, grappling with this tragedy day in and day out can find it in their hearts to do this, what excuse do we have to continue perpetuating division? 

Here are some resources to build a more nuanced perspective: 

Listen to Dr. Gabor Mate, world leading trauma expert and holocaust survivor 

Learn from the journey of a Palestinian man to collective liberation: Penina Eilberg-Shwartz with Sulaiman Khatib, In this place Together

Learn from women leading peace movements in Palestine and Israel  

Learn from a 3 time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Scilla Elworthy, how we can effectively stop war with her book The Business Plan for Peace

Learn to build an inclusive culture of wellbeing, belonging and peace with my book, Unfolding Peace, 9 Leadership Principles to Create Cultures of Wellbeing, Belonging and Peace

Learn more about Palestine from Andy Swindler’s experiences and his short video interviews with Palestinians in the West Bank: Unpacking Palestine

Kawtar El Alaoui

Kawtar El Alaoui, LL.B, PCC is a Multi Award-Winning Consultant, Speaker & Coach. Her work and leadership model provide a roadmap and tools to enable leadership for a more prosperous and peaceful world. Kawtar is the Best-Selling Author of the book Unfolding Peace, 9 Leadership Principles to Create Cultures of Wellbeing, Belonging and Peace.
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