Guy and Heidi Burgess's Thoughts on Memorial Day and Louis Kriesberg on Seeing a Way Out of The Gaza War



Newsletter #240 — May 27, 2024



Subscribe to the Newsletter



This newsletter contains two separate, but not entirely unrelated, essays.  The first is by the Burgesses, reflecting on the meaning of the U.S. Memorial Day which is being celebrated on the day this post is being published.

The second is an essay written by our friend and colleague Lou Kriesberg on Israel and Gaza. It was Lou who first introduced us to the problem of "intractable conflict," and who also  coined the phrase "Constructive Conflict"  — a concept which has been foundational for much of the work that we have done with Beyond Intractability.  This essay originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus on May 16, 2024. We thank Lou for sharing it with us and FPIF for allowing us to repost it here. 


United States' Memorial Day

by Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess

May 22, 2024

In the United States, today (May 27, 2024) is Memorial Day — one of a handful of occasions that have been set aside for the purpose of remembering the many people who died or were otherwise deeply impacted in the United States' wars and other conflicts. This three-day weekend also marks the traditional beginning of summer. In our town, and in many across the country, it is a weekend of fun and festivities. Here, on Memorial Day, we run the "Boulder Boulder," a 10K race that draws about 50,000 contestants, including a great many of the world's most elite runners. While, traditionally, some time is set aside at the conclusion of this race to honor veterans and witness a military flyover and a parachute demonstration, the original and primary purpose of the holiday is largely lost on almost all of the  participants (except, of course, for the relatively isolated segment of the population that actually served and sacrificed in these various conflicts or lost someone close to them). For them, the many tragedies of war are still very, very real and the day takes on a very different, much more sober, meaning.

Memorial Day has also not traditionally been an occasion for reflection on the part of the conflict and peacebuilding field, which tends to think of the holiday as merely an occasion for celebrating the military — an institution that, in many ways, is seen as antithetical to the goals of peacebuilding. We think that is a mistake With this short essay, we would like to argue that this event (and countless similar holidays held in other countries around the world) should be a time to reflect on the successes and failures of efforts to make and keep the peace, while also defending fundamental human rights and freedoms against the forces of tyranny and oppression. It should be a time to remember that each one of the events being memorialized today represents the failure to resolve a conflict nonviolently.  We think we should embrace this holiday as an occasion to recommit ourselves to the goal of eliminating the kind of events that will later be seen as deserving of remembrance on future Memorial Days.

We should also recognize the common cause that exists between the efforts of our field and the efforts of others who have committed themselves to preventing such future tragedies. We should do this with a sense of deep humility and explicit recognition that we do not have close to all the answers, and we have much to learn from people who approach efforts to prevent war from other perspectives, including military perspectives.

The problem is not (as some assert) that insufficient numbers of people have listened to the advice of the peacebuilders or that our "marketing" hasn't been good enough. Rather, the problem is that insufficient numbers of people find our advice persuasive enough to gamble their lives on its effectiveness. The truth is that we have yet to build a compelling track record of past success. We need to continue to work to find better ways of dealing with the problems of scale, complexity, and intractability that lie at the core of so many violent conflicts. 

While this has always been important, it is seeming especially so now, when conflicts are spiraling out of control in so many different parts of the world simultaneously and when widespread hyper-polarization is tearing apart so many democratic societies.  On October 6, 2023, few people in Israel or Gaza had any idea about the catastrophe that was about to befall them. Though Russia had been saber rattling for awhile, few people in Russia or Ukraine probably knew what was about to befall them in February 2022.  Are we about to witness similar catastrophes in Sudan? Taiwan? South Korea? Europe? The U.S.?  Peacebuilders (using that term broadly to include anyone who works for peace, whether they call themselves  "peacebuilders" or not) must greatly accelerate their efforts to bring peace to the warring regions and conflict transformation, reconciliation, and violence prevention to places that are teetering, including the U.S.

This means that we have to work together to find better answers to a lot of very difficult questions. For example, we need to do a much better job of figuring out how to defuse the hyper-polarized conflict between the  right and the woke left — a conflict that is leading to open talk of a U.S. civil war and more immediate claims to authoritarian power. We also need to figure out how to defuse the new Cold War that is emerging between Western democracies and Russia and China (as well as more minor, but still dangerous, powers like Iran and North Korea). We are already engaged in a wide range of serious "gray zone" skirmishes that involve most everything short of large-scale "kinetic" violence, plus a rapidly accelerating arms race focused on assembling a terrifying array of new 21st-century weapons. We also need to figure out how to better respond to threats like Hamas — a belligerent that has no interest in making peace because war is their raison d'etre. it is the only way of life they know and it brings them joy, honor, and purpose in life, while at the same time bringing death, destruction, and despair to so many others, including many "on their own side." In short, the relative peace and calm which many of us still cling to is not something that we should take for granted.  If we don't take today's threats much more seriously, we could easily unleash more of the kinds of tragedies that memorial days around the world urge us to never forget.

In addition to making basic conflict and peacebuilding-related information more readily accessible, BI is trying to encourage those already in the field to work harder on developing ways to get beyond the limits of our current approaches so we can better address these rapidly escalating threats. We invite all our readers to contribute your thoughts on how peacebuilding can "up its game" in ways that allow us to more effectively guide societies away from war, authoritarianism, and injustice   We begin with an article that Lou Kriesberg has shared with us, outlining a strategy for ending the war in Gaza  We hope to receive many more ideas from our readers in coming weeks and months, addressing not just Israel/Gaza, but all the other challenges we face, including hyper-polarization and associated threats in the United States and other developed democracies.  We are eager to share your ideas in future newsletters!

Contact Us


Seeing a Way Out of The Gaza War

Each of the possible changes in the current conflict in Gaza looks improbable, until steps are taken to make it happen.


May 27, 2024, originally published May 16, 2024

In the face of an increasingly terrible conflict, political leaders, academic scholars, engaged officials, and media experts tend to explain how the conflict arose and is escalating badly. This has the effect of making the conflict appear inevitable and insurmountable short of totally defeating the adversary. Such thinking is evident in many of the current disorders in the United States and in many other countries. Such tendencies unfortunately fuel the intensity and gravity of the Israeli-Hamas war. Less attention tends to be given to constructive alternatives.

Fortunately, there are alternative approaches, deeds. and consequences. Attention might be given to what various actors might have done or failed to do to avert or transform tragic conflicts. These alternatives can point to ways of averting escalation and transforming the conflict constructively. In this way, some officials, non-governmental intermediaries, critics, and conflict resolution workers can eventually succeed in transforming tragic conflicts.

For example, consider the transformation of the Israeli-Egyptian conflict. In 1970, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser died, and Vice President Anwar El Sadat became president. In 1973, Sadat led Arab nations to another defeat in a war against Israel. Consequently, Israel took control of the Sinai peninsula. Sadat began to envision a different path to retrieving the Sinai. He reduced his dependence on the Soviet Union and improved his ties with the United States. In 1974, Yitzhak Rabin succeeded Golda Meier as the Israeli prime minister. Then in June 1977, Menachem Begin became the newly elected Israeli prime minister.

In a surprising gesture, Sadat flew to Jerusalem and spoke to the Israeli Knesset in November 1977.  Despite thisIsraeli-Egyptian negotiations regarding an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai failed again and again, including Jimmy Carter’s efforts in 1978 at Camp David. Finally, during Carter’s presidency, Henry Kissinger undertook mediation between the Egyptian and Israeli governments. Three agreements were reached for partial Israeli withdrawals from the Sinai, with UN monitoring. In March 1979, Egyptian and Israeli leaders signed a Treaty of Peace that endures. Egypt regained the Sinai, and Israel is secure from Egyptian military attack.

Presently, in regard to the Hamas-Israeli war, a succession of similarly incremental changes could open a path to the constructive transformation of the war. One possible change is being negotiated right now: a ceasefire that includes the exchange of Hamas-held hostages for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners.  Another imaginable change is a restructuring of the Palestinian Authority to play a major role in the governance of Gaza and the West bank, aided by the United Nations and a few Arab nations. A third possible change is a new Israeli government recognizing the security and other benefits of a Palestinian state.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and a few other Arab states might then openly proclaim their readiness to work with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to govern and rebuild Gaza. Finally, the political wing of Hamas might become dominant, recognize Israel, and foreswear violent attacks against it.

Any one of these changes would be more likely if it were understood to be met by the adversary’s move toward a constructive transformation. Many different non-governmental organizations, engaged citizens, government officials, and political leaders can act to make this change happen.

Not possible, you say? The same was said of the Israeli-Egyptian détente, until it happened. Each of the possible changes in the current conflict in Gaza looks improbable, until steps are taken to make it happen.

Lead Graphic Credit: Arlington National Cemetery:,_Arlington,_Virginia_on_March_12,_2024_-_19.jpg; By: Arlington National Cemetery; Permission:  Public Domain;  Date Acquired: May 25, 2024.


Please Contribute Your Ideas To This Discussion!

In order to prevent bots, spammers, and other malicious content, we are asking contributors to send their contributions to us directly. If your idea is short, with simple formatting, you can put it directly in the contact box. However, the contact form does not allow attachments.  So if you are contributing a longer article, with formatting beyond simple paragraphs, just send us a note using the contact box, and we'll respond via an email to which you can reply with your attachment.  This is a bit of a hassle, we know, but it has kept our site (and our inbox) clean. And if you are wondering, we do publish essays that disagree with or are critical of us. We want a robust exchange of views.

Contact Us

About the MBI Newsletters

Once a week or so, we, the BI Directors, share some thoughts, along with new posts from the Hyper-polarization Blog and and useful links from other sources.  We used to put this all together in one newsletter which went out once or twice a week. We are now experimenting with breaking the Newsletter up into several shorter newsletters. Each Newsletter will be posted on BI, and sent out by email through Substack to subscribers. You can sign up to receive your copy here and find the latest newsletter here or on our BI Newsletter page, which also provides access to all the past newsletters, going back to 2017.

NOTE! If you signed up for this Newsletter and don't see it in your inbox, it might be going to one of your other emails folder (such as promotions, social, or spam).  Check there or search for and if you still can't find it, first go to our Substack help page, and if that doesn't help, please contact us

If you like what you read here, please ....

Subscribe to the Newsletter