April 4, 2011

Israel Reflections–Restorative Justice

By Andrea Schneider

In honor of the RJ conference that Marquette is hosting today (link here for the agenda on clergy abuse and healing) I thought I would post several student reflections on our meeting with the restorative justice group Parent’s Circle when we were in Jerusalem.  The Parent’s Circle is a group of bereaved family members on both sides of the conflict that work on reconciliation and hearing their stories is truly an honor.  Below are two different student reflections, from Rebekah Thigpen and Juan Amado, on our meeting and the work of the Parent’s Circle:

When we arrived in Israel and began our sightseeing and touring, one of the things that struck me the most was how “normal” our surroundings were – people went to work, had families, and lived their day-to-day lives like the nothing out of the ordinary was going on in the region. Even though the conflict was not as apparent as I thought it would be, as the trip went on, we heard many different speakers with many different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some more favorable to Israel and some more favorable to Palestinians. However, it was during our time meeting with two individuals from Parent’s Circle that the consequences of the conflict became real while at the same time breaking down the barrier between the two sides.  During our Parent’s Circle meeting, we met with two individuals both of whom lost a loved one in the conflict. The older woman, Robi, lost her son while he was on active duty in the Israeli Defense Force and the younger Palestinian man, Ali, lost his brother at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force. At first blush, one might assume these two individuals would be natural enemies given their stories, but instead they have come together in their grief to move past the conflict. Although these two individuals, like many others who participate in Parent’s Circle, have come together as a result of unfortunate circumstances I think it demonstrates a larger concept at the heart of resolving disputes peacefully. Participants in the Parent’s Circle, both Israelis and Palestinians, are able to move beyond the conflict because they each have something in common, something in common that humanizes one another. I hope that if more Israelis and Palestinians can come together based on common interests or common experiences such that each side realizes that the other is human, both living day-to-day lives as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, the conflict can fade into the background.

“A woman in South Africa described forgiving as giving up your just right for revenge, for me forgiving is understanding.” Such were the words of Robi during our meeting with Parent’s Circle on March 13, 2011 in Jerusalem. Robi is an Israeli woman who lost her son, an Israeli soldier, amidst the numerous confrontations that have assailed Israeli-Palestinian relations in the last fifty years. Robi’s remarks described the necessity of non-legal measures to reach the peace that both parties to the conflict in Israel desire. Robi’s co-speaker, a Palestinian by the name of Ali who had lost his brother in the same conflict, expressed hope in that if only Palestinians and Jews could understand each other’s narrative, not from their own perspective but from the other’s point of view, a solution might be reached. In his view, understanding each other’s narrative puts a “face on the enemy.” Robi and Ali led me to believe that current efforts by the Knesset and other organizations are working, but that  governmental efforts alone are insufficient to overcome decades (and centuries) of social, political and religious animosity. In addition, the ability of Parent’s Circle to humanize the conflict would seem to stand for the proposition that a humanistic approach would prove more powerful and would create more permanent change than brute force or legislation. Anecdotal references from Parent’s Circle emphasize that violence creates a pernicious circle of victimization, revenge, and mistrust. To break this circle, individuals, followed by communities and states, must adhere to acts of non-violence, create empathy, and enable an atmosphere of trust. Trust is crucial to reach an agreement. Legislative efforts may establish trust through the rule of law, but community efforts are necessary to reach individual and collective reconciliation.

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