"What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it's what we know for sure that just ain’t so." – Mark Twain
Rabbi Michael Lerner agrees. Lerner is the leader of one of the largest Jewish organizations in the United States (Tikkun). He has devoted his life to social transformation. He says in his book Healing Israel/Palestine - a Path to Peace and Reconciliation, “As long as each side clings to its own story, and is unable to acknowledge what is plausible in the story of the other side, peace will remain a distant hope.”
Jack Berriault (founder of The Israel Palestine Project) and key leaders in this area of communication and history realize that such attempts are “flying in the face” of media, consensus reality, and stories held by the two sides. Outcomes of the opposing national historical narratives are suspicion, hatred, cynicism, resignation and ongoing military conflict.
Two Opposite and Contradictory National Narratives
Within the last ten years there has been considerable work at distinguishing the separate Palestinian and Israeli narratives. This in itself is a momentous step in that people can actually see that there is a narrative other than their own. As one example, the newspaper Ha’aretz (the "New York Times" of Israel), published the two narratives side-by-side in weekly installments.
Additionally, the educational organization PRIME is publishing booklets for the schools in Israel that show the two narratives side by side with a space in between for comments and reactions from students. PRIME published their first booklet covering a particular historical period, and they are now working on subsequent booklets covering other periods. School children who are fortunate enough to see both narratives are amazed that another narrative exists. We assert that this exposure of the two narratives is the work that is necessary to set the stage for the acceptance of a common historical narrative.
While all of these developments are important, as long as there are two narratives, the choice remains for choosing one narrative over the other. For people living in the stress of this conflict, as well as for other concerned people, the natural human tendency is to support one narrative against the other, thus perpetuating the conflict.
Additional Historical Work
In addition to the ongoing dual narrative work described above, there is a group of Israeli and Palestinian academics (PALISAD) who have met monthly for several years, presenting papers illuminating critical historical events in Israel and Palestine. These papers serve as a credible demystification of the conflict. Because of Jack Berriault’s work with TIPP, he was requested to join them in supporting their efforts.
A group of Israeli historians (sometimes referred to as the “New Historians”) have been rectifying the written history in Israel, among them Shlomo Ben-Ami, Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappé. With the exception of Ben-Ami, these historians and their work have been marginalized by the Israeli academic community. Nonetheless, their work is thoroughly documented from reliable sources. The marginalization of this academic work is in itself an indication of the enormous influence which the Israeli narrative has on establishment thinking and national discourse.
Turning Point: A Common Historical Narrative
It is our assertion, also spoken by leaders in Israel and Palestine, that the source of the ongoing conflict since 1882 lies in the disparate narratives developed over time, and which inform the thinking and actions taken by both peoples. Up until now, there has not been a successful attempt to write, distribute and have accepted a common historical narrative. This is the unique and bold contribution of The Israel Palestine Project. A Common Historical Narrative blends the two separate narratives into a single narrative in such a way that each side is represented, thus honoring both peoples' versions of the history of this conflict.
A Common Historical Narrative provides the tool to make possible the transformation of the very source of the conflict. The Israel Palestine Project is committed to this transformation and to the possibility for a new future in Israel and Palestine.
Participants in a unique collaboration, which included participants on both sides of an active war, worked to create a common narrative in which both Palestinians and Israelis could be represented and honored. Over a period of several years, an international Writers Team held regular weekly conference calls across international time zones in which conversations were held to generate a common, mutually agreed upon set of historical events and interpretations.
At the core of this interactive process, the original texts were developed in dialogue between a Major in the Israeli Army and a Palestinian journalist, each representing their respective mainstream populations. This dialogue occurred over the space of a year as part of the weekly conference calls, recorded by a member of the Writers Team.
Created and edited out of the material developed in this process, A Common Historical Narrative has been reviewed and approved by two prominent historians, Israeli historian Moshe Ma’oz (Professor Emeritus in Middle East History and Islam at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) and Palestinian historian and author Philip Mattar (President of the Palestinian American Research Center in Washington D.C.).
A Common Historical Narrative supports programs, currently in development, in which participants can free themselves from the domination of the past, creating new ideas and actions, including emergence of new leadership for Israel and Palestine. The Narrative may also provide a framework for future peace talks, as well as a framework for an accurate, agreed-upon historical reference for both cultures and the world.
In 2002, Jack Berriault joined a Global Exchange Tour and spent two weeks in the West Bank, Gaza, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, interviewing leaders of peace and human rights organizations.
In 2003, Jack founded The Israel Palestine Project (TIPP).
Since 2003, Jack and his team:
- Set up TIPP as a non-profit organization and obtained worldwide endorsement of the project.
- Established a Board of Directors.
- Created a strong team for research, development and strategic planning.
- Began the work of creating and implementing initiatives.
- Created the team of representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints and an international support team, for the work of writing A Common Historical Narrative.
- Completed A Common Historical Narrative. Gained the approval of Palestinian and Israeli historians for historical accuracy and acceptability by their respective mainstream populations.
- Formed an Advisory Council, initially of fifteen prominent Israelis and Palestinians.
Jack Berriault, founder of the Israel Palestine Project and Editor of A Common Historical Narrative summarizes, "The authors, editors and I express our profound gratitude to all participants for the generosity of time and spirit that it has taken to complete this often painstaking process, to bring noted historians and active participants in the conflict to arrive to agree on this groundbreaking common narrative. From here, we can together build a new future, free of the past, for all of our grandchildren."
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