Lou Kriesberg, Deborah Laufer, and Ashok Panikkar: Hopeful Thoughts About What Could Be, Contrasted with Darker Thoughts About What Is



Newsletter #211 — February 22, 2024


Here we are sharing three items on the Israel/Palestine situation.  The first is an article sent to us by our longtime friend and colleague, Lou Kriesberg, which he published in Foreign Policy in Focus on February 14, 2024. We asked if we could republish it here, and both Lou and FPIF agreed—thank you! The original article is posted at: https://fpif.org/examples-of-shared-israeli-palestinian-actions/.

The second is article is a conversation between Ashok Panikkar and Deborah Laufer that was shared with us last week.  We didn't engage at the time, as we were traveling (which is why this newsletter has been quiet for a bit), but we thought their conversation was worth sharing, and they agreed that we could. Thanks, again!

And the third is a short note that Ashok circulated to his mailing list today which we thought was worth sharing with our readers as well.


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Examples of Shared Israeli-Palestinian Actions: The War is Terrible, But There Are Also Signs of a New Social Order Emerging

by Louis (Lou) Kriesberg

Reprinted from Foreign Policy in Focus

The terrible war initiated in October 2023 between Israel and Hamas was the result of the failure of leaders in both camps to construct a mutually acceptable peace. Yet, the horrors of this war can be an impetus to put an end to such violence. People from both sides must take shåared actions to fashion a mutual peace and thus experience shared security.

Fortunately, such efforts are growing. They include the work of organizations and institutions throughout Israel/Palestine.

Founded in 1970, Oasis for Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam has grown from a few tents into a bilingual village of more than 70 families, half-Jewish and half-Palestinian. Villagers govern together, attend school together, work together, and play together. It operates a School of Peace, which provides peace-building courses to hundreds of professionals in many fields.

The Parents Circle-Families Forum, also known as Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation, and Tolerance, was founded in 1995. Presently, it has Jewish Israelis and Palestinian members with relatives who were killed by persons of the other ethnicity. They engage in dialogue sessions and presentations to diverse groups “to prevent further bereavement, to create dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”

Starting with only 50 children in 1998, Hand in Hand now has six school campuses across Israel and over 2,000 students. Their mission is to “build a Hand in Hand school in every mixed Jewish-Arab city throughout the country, leveraging a shift from conflict to cooperation for all of Israeli society.”

The Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture, now in its twenty-ninth year, demonstrates that it is possible to work together with mutual respect and cooperation to conduct dialogue even on conflicting and sensitive matters.

Other organizations focus on mobilizing citizens from both communities. Combatants for Peace, founded in 2006, is an Israeli-Palestinian NGO committed to non-violent action against the Israeli occupation and all forms of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is “the only movement worldwide that was founded by former fighters on both sides of an active conflict.” Standing Together—founded in 2015 and with about 5,000 members—is a progressive grassroots movement mobilizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against the occupation and for peace, equality, and social justice.

Then there are organizations that strengthen links between progressives in the United States and in Israel, like Partners for Progressive Israel, which has worked since the early 1990s to strengthen human/civil rights in Israel and achieve a just peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors. The New Israel Fund, a U.S.-based non-profit NGO established in 1979, raises funds to support organizations in Israel to advance social justice and equality for all Israelis. Alliance for Peace in the Middle Eastheadquartered in Washington, DC, gathers funding to expand trust-building interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. It enhances the impact of its 160 member organizations and connects individuals and groups to create a critical mass that supports peace.

The events of Oct 7, 2023, and the ensuing war have not destroyed these organizations. Indeed, it has energized many of them.

The New Israel Fund, for example, supported its action arm, Shatil, which aids the Bedouins who also suffered from the Hamas attacks on October 7, some of whom aided the Jews who had been attacked. Furthermore, many organizations have raised more funds, helped by sympathetic individuals and non-governmental organizations in other countries.

Such organizations and institutions can help form a broad social movement that leads to a new social order that produces two independent states, Israel and Palestine. As shared understandings grow, other states and international institutions can assist establishing new policies. Shared actions can produce greater hope that a shared peace is possible.

Ashok Panikkar and Deborah Laufer on the Fascination with 'Decolonization'

This conversation started when Ashok circulated a New York Times opinion piece entitled "Restoring the Past Won't Liberate Palestine." by Lydia Polgreen. Polgreen explains that she has spent most of her "life and career living and working among formerly colonized peoples attempting to forge a path for themselves in the aftermath of empire." But she struggles to understand the decolonization narrative, she explains, when it is applied to Israel/Palestine. 

In theory, decolonization includes the disestablishment of the very idea of land as property, of modern notions like nationhood and citizenship. In theory, it is a chance to do it all over and replay history with the benefit of indigenous ideas and traditions to guide us. But history doesn’t work that way. People do bad things. Other people resist those bad things. Humans invent and discover; they create and destroy. There is no going backward to some mythic state. There is no restoration. The events that unfold over time shape the land and the people who live on it, and those people shape one another in manifold ways, some brutal and destructive, some generative and loving. But time and experience ensure that nothing can ever be the same as it was before the last thing that happened.

She then goes on to quote Iyad el-Baghdadi, a Palestinian writer and activist, who said in a conversation with Polgreen

Don’t take these people [ones calling for decolonization] seriously. …


They’re not really motivated by some kind of ideology. They’re really motivated by emotion. ...sometimes when he hears people talk about Palestinian liberation, it is almost as though they are expecting a literal reversal of 1948, what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, of their expulsion upon the founding of the state of Israel.


It is as if there will be this magical moment and all our villages are going to appear out of the earth. And then 75 years of settler colonialism is going to disappear,” he said. “But this romantic idea is really unmourned trauma."


Questions of indigeneity are simply a distraction, he said, from the real challenge of building Palestinian political power. “I don’t care if they’re settlers or not,” he said. “The solution is not to constantly try to moralize. The solution is to fix the power imbalance. The future needs to be rooted in the truth that all human beings are equal and that Jewish life is equivalent to Palestinian life and that we can together work on a future in which nobody is oppressed and we can address the inequities of the past.”

Commenting on the article, Ashok wrote:

A useful rule of thumb is to look at slogans and buzzwords with skepticism. When a mass of people start saying the same thing with great vehemence and passion it is useful to assume that they have no idea what it means.

Next time you hear terms like 'MAGA', 'Equity', 'Patriarchy' or 'Settler Colonization', ask people very politely to explain it to you and then keep asking Socratic questions until you learn something substantive - or they slink away. Either way you learn something — even if they don't.

Deborah added:

I have to think more about the phrase in this article “unmourned trauma”. Extremely interesting. I can see the truth of it. It is probably an important building block toward trauma healing/therapy and certainly a more successful pursuit than forever labeling individuals as victims. It would be rehabilitative. You need adequate dialogue. How few times after collective suffering of populations has this been done.


On the issue of agency, perhaps revisiting the work, and further development of the subject of Baruch Bush on the subject. He posted on LinkedIn some of his articles.


As an aside, the Hebrew language doesn’t have a word for history, only for memory. To say the word history it borrows from the “Roman” languages and created a modern Hebrew word “historia”. The traditional explanation is that history is to borrow others’ explanations and experiences of the past. Memory is our collective experience and identity.


And Ashok on the UK:

And finally, just a note about an email Ashok just now sent to his mailing list about the UK's response to Islamic threats against Parliament. "The power of Islamists in the UK is so strong," he wrote, "that they have effectively shut down the ability of Parliament to discuss issues honestly. He quoted Konstanti Kisin's tweet:

Yesterday, the British Parliament changed the way it operates because the Speaker was afraid that some parliamentarians would be murdered if they couldn't be seen to vote for a ceasefire in a war on the other side of the world. This isn't democracy. This is a country that is unwilling to live by its own rules in order to placate a violent mob. ... We have a problem with Islamist extremism that requires immediate and drastic action. Appeasement doesn't work. If intimidation and threats of violence produce results like the one we saw yesterday, this will only encourage more intimidation and threats of violence. The government, both the major parties, the police and the security services need to understand we no longer have the luxury of pretending this issue away. People who threaten violence should be arrested and locked up for a very long time.

Ashok then circulated a video of a MP (Member of Parliament)calling out his colleagues for their unwillingness to address this threat head on: https://twitter.com/i/status/1760656066742833547.

Guy and Heidi’s comment:

This reflects a larger and extremely worrying story. British Members of Parliament now have good reason to fear that their official actions may place them in physical danger (see thisthis, and this). Democracy cannot function under such circumstances.

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