Deborah Lauffer and Katja Rieger on Peacebuilding, Israel/Hamas, and Future Visioning



Newsletter #193 — January 10, 2024

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Part of the BI Israel/Hamas War Discussion

We knew Deborah Laufer years ago when she was a leader in the U.S. Alternative Dispute Resolution scene. She held the position of Manager for Mediation Services at the World Bank, was Executive Director of the Federal ADR Network, which she founded, and was a trainer and consultant on workplace dispute resolution in the U.S. for many years. She also ran a listserve (or some other now ancient technology) to share ADR information widely—she helped us get up to speed in the early days of the field. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she also had ties to Israel and had lived there off an on in the past. And she is living there now. It also turns out that Deborah is friends with Ashok Panikkar, author of the article Growing Strawberries on Coconut Trees, and she responded to him directly about that essay. Ashok shared her response with us, and we reconnected when I asked if we could publish her response here. Deborah said "yes," but she wanted to explain it a bit more.  She ended up writing the following article.

Following Deborah's piece, we are sharing two other short pieces by Katja Rieger.  Katja is the founder and CEO of Rippleffect, a Swiss organization that helps to "reconnect companies with their purpose and reconnect leaders with their authenticity."  She first wrote us about Lisa Schirch's 5-Point Peace Plan (her comments follow Lisa's in the same Newsletter), and she also sent comments on our post on Envisioning a Future (Almost) Everyone Will Want to Live In and a second comment on Ashok's article about Growing Strawberries. We'll include those comments first, since they focus on the same topic that Deborah is focusing on, and then follow with her earlier thoughts on visioning.  

Thanks to Katja and Deborah for taking the time to write these pieces!


Deborah Laufer on Living in Israel and the Current War

I sleep with my mobile phone on my nightstand. This is against the recommendations of absolutely everyone. The phone is purportedly off but always tuned to an emergency alert system in Israel, regardless of whether I’m actually in the Middle East or not. This is how on October 7, while in the US, I learned what happened. I use the word “learned” because we are all learning. I arrived in Israel afterwards to where my grandkids spend nights in air-raid shelters, where going to funerals and houses of mourning is frequent; where one checks rosters to pick vegetables on farms, pack sandwiches for soldiers, and put together furniture for displaced families. Being in emergency mode causes one to get tunnel vision. You operate from day to day trying to keep your wits and some semblance of balance. It is hard to think about “the other side” or the proverbial “third side” when you are in the midst of a war. I‘m very aware of what is happening in Gaza. However, what should you do when you desperately want — and need — a mental health day, and in this case that might be a cease fire,  but you are afraid that such an agreement might be the first step to Armageddon?

It would take reams of paper to explain all that I feel intellectually, emotionally, professionally and spiritually about Israel and its neighboring countries. My own connections to this complicated part of the world includes attending the Hebrew University while working at one of the Israeli ministries. This coincided with periods of war and intifada. I’ve also worked with populations in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries while at the World Bank and in other professional capacities. 

One can study peace, politics, law, conflict, economics, education, psychology and trauma and we have — with so many other nuanced subjects — yet we need to learn history, perspective, culture, and all the spaces in between. By this I mean, that despite being within a community that believes is peace, I have found myself at a crossroads. I don’t know whether the peacebuilding community should be at the forefront of forming the new peace. 

It is because of this question that I admire deeply and profoundly the painstakingly careful analysis that Heidi and Guy Burgess constructed in their Middle East - Israel/Gaza analysis. It provides historic clarity to explain background to what led to the October 7,\ massacre. They also are to be credited for bravely naming Hamas as bad, even evil actors. I am also grateful to Ashok Panikkar who has help me think more carefully about the role of peacebuilding. Here are my additional points:

  • The building of the tunnel network (which has been designed and engineered for over 20 years). I saw building materials carried to Gaza on my trips to Israel. I never understood why the people and villages continued to be so impoverished until I realized that the tunnels have become a city below a city with munitions factories, living quarters, transit for cars, and animals, storehouses, and more existing out of view. 
  • Humanitarian organizations that have operated in Gaza for twenty years have had a pathetic track record. Could it be because Hamas, hiding behind its “social-health” arm was commandeering resources and not distributing them directly — as required — to the people of Gaza? There have been too many instances, even during this war, when starving Gazans were fired on by Hamas when they tried to get to storage facilities of humanitarian aid. 
  • The extensive monetary network of Hamas that goes throughout the Middle East, Europe and many other countries. The Wall Street Journal has some of the best reporting on this. This is with the (wink, wink) of many governments. It is shocking to think how many entities prosper along this monetary chain. You blow out one cog in this network, it will be patched quickly. Munitions, money and other goods — so quiet on all fronts while billions were changing hands. Are there any clean hands?
  • Hamas’ current leadership trained and built its networks and skills when its members were within Israeli prisons. There they learned Hebrew, established gangs, established retaliation systems for individuals who might spy for Israel or might become “soft” (turn against Hamas). When these individuals were freed in prisoner exchanges, they replicated the systems perfected in prison on the ground in Gaza, and around the Middle East. These new “bosses” rose within the ranks of Hamas. However, importantly, Hamas always emphasizes that its members can be interchangeable — as martyrdom is a higher ideal — so as to keep the organization fluid and flexible. And don’t forget that the highest echelons of power and leaders of Hamas don’t even live in Gaza: think Saudi Arabia, Qatar and further abroad. So much for those much touted Abraham Accord partners or potential partners. Where are you now?
  • Additional funding and training from Iran (of Hamas leadership that has trickled down) has increased a level of brutality that has not been seen before in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, it must be studied and should not be minimized in contextualizing the attack on October 7, its level of horror, and absolute brutality. Those who have studied how soldiers were trained to become brutal killers in Iran have described to me that they are removed from their families when they are young, told that their families have abandoned them, and trained to a level of brutality and barbarism with psychedelic drugs. I assume you have been reading the increasing evidence of total barbarism and dehumanization against especially women and children. It turns my stomach and there are nights I cannot sleep. In Israel there are forensic units still trying to identify body parts. This goes beyond studies of child-soldiers that have been undertaken before. 
  • What has been written by Jay and others about being careful not to demonize an entire population is very true. However, with Hamas in control of the educational and social sectors within Gaza (and similarly in primary schools in the West Bank of Israel) too many schoolbooks talk of jihad, talk of wiping out the hated Israel — the oppressors — and talk of children becoming martyrs to the cause. It is an idealistic view that we can redo the entire educational system that Palestinian children have been receiving. Maybe this is exactly what you have quoted [in Newsletter 168] from the Israeli journalist Yehuda Yifrach:
  • The problem is that while it is possible to recapture the Gaza Strip and to kill all of Hamas’ leaders, Hamas is first and foremost an idea, and it is not possible to kill an idea. The worship of the sword and of death is emblazoned on the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians who were nursed on jihadistic toxicity from their earliest days, and they know no other taste.”

    However, re-education was done after WW2 in Nazi Germany.  So, perhaps, if there are strong partners who agree to a different narrative then, there might be a way out of this quagmire. 

  • We need to be very realistic, though, that what happened on October 7, and the consequences of what has been wrought on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border created a newly traumatized population. Are we creating a hardened generation in Israel and Gaza (and much further) that speaks and seeks war and vengeance? What a grim future Hamas set off on October 7! Additionally, 80 years after the end of WWII and the Holocaust, with its ghastly murder of six million Jews, and another million of others deemed undesirable, have we learned nothing of the past? During this span, so many of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and survivors of the post-war generation have been trying to create — and believe —- that perhaps we could live in a better world where differences could be erased by similarities, where debate could be replaced with dialogue, and where children could grow up understanding each other’s languages, histories, religions and realities. Instead we have poisonous political rhetoric, ugly divisiveness all over, and armed conflict. Where are our dreams? 

My last points will be devoted to peace work in times of crisis and to “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride”.

The Israeli communities along Gaza whose members were tortured, their homes destroyed and their lives uprooted, as a group they represented — before October 7 — the ones most willing to work and live most peacefully and in harmony with their Palestinian neighbors. Talk to the ones who are the survivors. Listen to them. Then, listen some more. See what future they are trying to envision. Peace is never in a vacuum. It must blossom and grow within relationships that allow it to thrive. Do not supplant what is there with what you think should be there. Honor the realities. Then, as is said, you will dwell in the possibilities. Individuals on all sides of the situation are living with trauma. This may be their only truth now. Hopefully, soon, a future truth, a vision for their tomorrows may be born. If you learn to sit in humble silence and listen with presence, you may be there to hear this future.

I wrote above that there are many countries that are the financial beneficiaries of Hamas. There are a few countries that harbor the leaders of Hamas. Evil actors have been internationalized. To stop the current madness and rebuild, all must agree to work to eradicate Hamas — and the ideology of Hamas. International support and intervention is needed to see that:

  • All hostages (alive and dead) from this and past conflicts must be unconditionally returned; countries must come to the table to surrender the leadership of Hamas to an international tribunal;
  • Countries must come to the table to freeze all assets of Hamas;
  • Countries must come to the table to declare Hamas an illegitimate entity and a terrorist entity and to renounce its ideology (this means recognition of Israel);
  • An international monetary assistance fund should be established (perhaps under the World Bank or its IFC) to collect the monies of Hamas and the international community to change its weapons into plowshares and use that and other money to rebuild Gaza;
  • Money should be used to monitor and redesign the education of Palestinian — and, if needed, Israeli children; and 
  • Palestinian and Israelis should be encouraged to study and speak Arabic and Hebrew.

I could go on, but I think the holiday season is over and my birthday isn’t quite yet. Plus, others might want to contribute other wild ideas. Remember, this is our dream list for a better future. 

Katja Reiger

Katja's Response to Ashok's "Growing Strawberries on Coconut Trees":

Where to start responding? Just to make sure, my response is put in proper context: I will only respond to a few aspects, that stand out for me particularly, as the overall essay is too long and complex to take it all in in one go.

While I am one of those optimists, I agree with many of your points like the idealistic but privileged youth, that in their idealism is ready to tear down a system that is unjust. They will be horribly surprised that the fair and equitable world they hope for can’t be as easily achieved by a system change as they fervently believe. And I totally agree, that we need to work on our western societies, not just on the polarization, but on making them work for everyone. Without role modeling, who are we to offer solutions?  

There are some of your "truths“ that I differ with or draw different conclusions, for example that yes, open societies may be unstable, but they don’t have to end in violence. I am learning for myself that the fight for democracy and free and fair societies is one, that each and everyone of us needs to contribute to constantly. This is something we have forgotten in times of peace and prosperity, but something we can learn to do again.

The "Islam versus secular (western?) society“ strikes me wrong as well. First of all there are too many streams and interpretations of Islam to make such a statement. It almost implies as if there are no secular Muslim groups or more open all the way to mystical ones. Even in the Arab world alone there are so many variations. Many Palestinians are as secular as many Israelis. I could actually see them working well together, but for the question of land and statehood—and of course bitter history.

I firmly believe there are more peaceful open-minded people whichever the religion than violent extremists. Why we allow those minority extremists to again and again stop any progress towards mutual understanding is something very frustrating. 

The challenge for me lies more in the question of power. People who derive their power from religion are not willing to give it up (they may believe or not, but it’s the power that decides them) 

The other participants in this are those, who either experienced grave injustice like in a war, bombing etc. and/or those who have no hope/job/future beyond what those in power give them in exchange for eg terrorist attacks.

And of course there are the followers who hear and believe the narrative, however most of them don’t act and could possibly be reached by another narrative as long as it’s accompanied by credible visible action.

I recently came across this quote and it makes eminent sense to me:  “When a complex system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos have the capacity to shift the entire system to a higher order.” by Ilya Prigogine. 

We can be those islands, seek out like-minded people, not give up and strive continuously for a more peaceful and more just society.

I am an optimist, because we create the world as we see it. But you are right to remind us of reality, so we tackle the right problems and find the right solutions.

Thank you for making me think. 


Katja's Response to Guy and Heidi's "Envisioning a Future (Almost) Everyone Will Want to Live In"

I love the idea of "meeting places for reconciliation." And of course the place needs to be accompanied by a process and consistency of meetings. I love this phrase from your article: 

a place, the point of encounter where concerns about both the past and the future can meet. [To give proper credit, this is John Paul Lederach's line.-HB]

I actually believe that this could serve to solve most big problems. As well the less intractable ones. To solve big problems, we need dialogue and collaboration. Healthcare, Food, Infrastructure, Housing - all this and more poses many problems and great potential. 

But almost everyone I talk to tells me, the challenges are too big, it’s too complex, it can’t be done. 

And everyone I talk to tells me as well, it should be done and we have so many great solutions already.

I don’t even know, which problems to tackle first or which ones are already being discussed.

But what I know is, that talking across silos and different stakeholder groups helps.

My inspiration (beyond your newsletter) comes from this Ted Talk with a CEO talking how an industry wide problem can be solved. In it, the CEO of Maersk said:

We are moving and scaling too slowly to solve industry and society wide problems. Collaboration is the part of the solution. An organisation: Independent, no vested interests, working together with governments, regulators, academia, entrepreneurs, competitors …”

It can work!  Here's one example:

This TedTalk explains the start of one such "meeting place":  Why Rivals Are Working Together to Transform Shipping | Bo Cerup-Simonsen | TED.

And this is one of the results.  Shipping CEOs join forces to accelerate the decarbonization of the global maritime transport


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