Jack Berriault: A New Approach to the Relationship between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Israelis!


In his second post on the TIPP Blog, Jack Berriault, TIPP's founder, presents his thoughts on a new approach to the context and subject of TIPP's work in the world: the relationship between the Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Israelis.

This approach, based on the power of "story", is the touchstone of TIPP's book A Common Historical Narrative, about to be published, and a program of workshops, now under development, that will generate the possibility of a transformed future for Palestine and Israel.

Click HERE to read Jack's essay!

A New Approach to the Relationship of the Palestinian Arabs and the Jewish Israelis

This essay will examine the 130+year relationship between Jewish Zionists and Arab Palestinians, to uncover this relationship’s source -“hidden in plain sight.” Three fundamental aspects of human experience will provide the context for this investigation.

  • Tribalism and nationalism
  • Story and its relationship to the future
  • The past as fact and its relationship to the future

As long as there have been groups of human beings there has been a strong tendency for the group to relate to others outside the group from “us and them”- “us” as the familial and familiar, “them” as the outliers with the capacity to inflict harm on the group. Simultaneously, and arising non-causally by “us and them,” is myth and story. These provide the ethos for the group that allows and directs a future of cohesive and concerted action, both internally and externally.

The formation of nations required this phenomenon, so that for there to be a Germany or Italy required story and myth as the generators of nation building. Even a casual look at present day nations will show both myth and story are present. What it means to be American or French is illustrative of this. The stories of nations are called "National Historical Narratives" by sociologists.

This phenomenon occurs on the level of the individual as well. Each of us has a life story.

In the course of our experience of life, events happen. Some we like, and others we don’t like. The ones that have a lasting impact on us are the ones we incorporate as story items. These are not facts, but rather are interpretations of the facts. These story items that are not factual provide an orientation in our lives - a kind of constrained freedom and direction. The stories provide explanation, emotional color and justification for consequent behavior and viewpoints, a condition that is self-reinforcing and thus lives beyond the present and into the future where they provide the context for certain relationships. This, by the way, is not to be an in-depth psychological study, only to be illustrative of the power of story on us individually as well as culturally.

Here is a personal example: Until the age of 9, I basked in the warmth of my father’s love. I could climb into his lap at any time and he would regale me with animal stories and aphorisms in his kindly voice.

One Sunday morning in my 9th year, I went out into the backyard. Seeing my father assembling something, I ran up to him to help. I was met with an angry, loud, accusing voice “Now see what you made me do!” The assembly he was working on had collapsed. I was devastated; never had my father been that way with me. I turned and ran away. At that moment I decided that he no longer loved me and he could turn against me at any moment. I lived my life with my father out of that “truth” until at the age of 50 when I forgave him. What is important here is that to forgive him I needed to see the past as a determinant of the future with him. For 41 years I had lived in the story of being unloved, which had me resenting him. I had to confront the past as my story of what had happened - before I could alter the future with him.

Another example is the child who has the story about her father of being abandoned. The fact is that the father moved to another city. “I was abandoned” is a story about what happened and will shape this person’s entire life, unless and until she sees her story as a story.

In each case, what is present is a future determined by the past, a story, an occurring, that we don’t see as an occurring but rather as the “truth.”

In this condition, fact has no relationship to the future other than historical markers of events to hang the story on, which quickly ceases to have any relation to fact.

One of the important American negotiators once said that when Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meet, the Palestinians say “you drove us out” to which the Israelis say, “no, you left on your own accord.” Both are true, though not in the same degree.

Early in the civil war between the two communities prior to the 1948 war, the elites of some major Arab cities left to escape the danger of the conflict, planning to return when the conflict was over. This had a demoralizing impact on the remaining Arab people, and made leaving an attractive option. Sometime later, a massacre by Jewish militant groups of the population of a village named Deir Yassin, caused great fear of the Jews and many people fled their villages in terror of advancing Jewish forces. In other cases the Jewish commanders had whole villages emptied as they drove the people out, to secure behind their lines, and which became a political move by the leadership - a kind of ethnic “cleansing,” as it was termed at the time.

The Jewish national narrative began at the end of the 19th century when waves of nationalism swept Europe, resulting in the unification of Germany and Italy from the previous situation of Duchies, Principalities and City States. The Jews were facing pogroms (intense persecutions) in Eastern Europe and some Jews decided that they should create their own nation where they would be masters of their destiny. A further impetus was the doctrine at the time that you could not have a national minority within an otherwise homogeneous state – a doctrine that was to have a fateful influence in the formation and consolidation of the State of Israel. In these terms, the Jews were excluded within European nations. Zionism was born.

Skipping ahead a bit, the Ottoman province that included what became known as Palestine, under the 1923 British Mandate granted by the League of Nations, was a favorite location for establishment of a Zionist community, especially with the early Jewish civilization there, and in 1882 the first East European Zionists immigrated to that area.

At first, due to the small numbers and the purchase of relatively small areas of land, there was little opposition from the indigenous Arab population, but as immigration continued and larger areas of land were purchased, tensions grew. Arabs were driven from land that they had farmed for hundreds of years under the prevailing relationships between mostly tenant farmers and owners of the land on which they worked. Anger and hostility toward Jews among the dispossessed became common. At the same time, Intellectuals in the urban areas began an opposition to the Jewish influx, seeing this as the latest European colonization attempt and a threat to their culture and way of life.

Both Jews and Arabs developed their own separate and exclusive narratives that supported their respective national aspirations. They were opposite and contradictory in almost every detail, each side justifying their actions on behalf of their stories.This process continued over the years gaining weight and complexity, and this process continues to this day. Each side wants the land for their own national development and each side’s narrative is a complete and self-reinforcing justification for their thinking and acting.

The separate narratives don’t live in a chronological and complete form among the populations, such as a historian would create. Rather they live in fragmented forms that arise whenever “the other” occurs in thought or in presence. The other’s narrative is almost completely unknown and their own narrative lives for people as the “truth”.

The history as factual, is one of much brutality and terrorizing of the other, including murder and mass killing. This is only seen within one’s own narrative as the other as perpetrators. Deeds that might earn the appellation of one’s own “crimes” are justified as necessity, or have fallen into a memory “black hole.”

This is the ground upon which negotiators for resolution stand; no wonder there has not been progress toward a peaceful outcome to the conflict!

Only through confronting the past and acknowledging one’s own part in the past and current situation and seeing the other’s narrative as the source of their actions rather than evil intent, can there be the compassion for one’s self and the other necessary to bring about an equitable and enduring peace. I submit that any political solution without this transformation of the source, (the confronting of the past and the recognition of one’s own side in the conflict and the recognition of the other side’s narrative), will be a “pasting over” of the untransformed source of the relationship and will result in periodic episodes of violence between Jews and Arabs. Even simple forgiveness, on top of, and in ignorance of the underlying source, will be forgiveness that can be displaced by those who will use the power of the untransformed stories to justify aggression against the other.

The Israel Palestine Project has produced A Common Historical Narrative of the Arab Palestinian and the Jewish Israeli Peoples in English, Arabic and Hebrew and is proceeding to publish in the three languages and make it available to both populations. A forward has been written by Rchard Forer, author of BREAKTHROUGH: Transforming Fear Into Compassion. The common narrative was inspired by the work of Uri Avnery, author of Truth Against Truth and the founder of Gush Shalom in Tel Aviv, Israel.

We are also designing a workshop which will enable participants who have read A Common Narrative to be freed from the powerful hold of the past and to see the narratives as information only, bereft of the power to cause the future. This will be the generator of the freedom from the past and a movement for an equitable and enduring peace. The intention of the workshop is that it will produce new leaders, powerful and charismatic, who will have the power to cause a movement for resolution, based on the transformation (that is, a profound shift of perspective and closure, as in “the past is perfect the way it is and the way it is not”) of the source of the present relationship.

The Israel Palestine Project is committed to providing the means for transforming the source - the opposite narratives - such that the issues between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians will be resolved in the process of life itself, in an environment in which the two peoples can express their respect and love for each other.