1 Background: Concern with the Growing Disintegration of our Multicultural Israeli Society
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead)
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” (Anne Frank)
The initial force for the development of the “Jerusalem Project” was the concern with the scaring manifold of growing disturbances in our Israeli/Palestinian society. Nearly every day the media report a sixteen-year-old youngster killing another with a knife just for nothing. Drugs, violence and sex rule their lives and news about killing and violent acts against our fellow men have become normalities of our day-to-day experience. While not long ago Israeli students have been amongst the leading ones in the world, nowadays interests and achievements in schools are found on a downward slope. Thus we face a general disorientation in our young generation, mirroring the lack of meaning of our adults.
Moral decline, lack of self-esteem and orientation, emotional disorders, the lack of experience in building and ruling a country, religious fanatism, animosities between different fractions of society, drifting apart of different ethnic and social groups, century old hostility between neighboring nations bringing about permanent threat and insecurity, an increasing gap between religious and secular people – Jews and Arabs alike – being results of decades of war and terror as well as of unsolved Traumas from Holocaust, characterize our life in Israel. Neither parents nor children feel save and oriented. Two peoples without real access to their roots struggle with and against each other for survival and predominance in the midst of growing global economic, ideological and political pressure and international competition. As a long-term scattered people without national identity and a lack of independence in the midst of vast Muslim nations, not wanting to tolerate the existence of a Jewish “entity” (Israel as a Jewish State), we have to learn new ways of thinking and dealing with this insecure and hostile situation. Mere rationalizing these facts by explaining them does not help. The old ways of revenge and permanent wars have proved to be wrong and inadequate means to resolve this hopeless situation. More even, many agree that we have reached a crucial point for survival – either we will achieve a real change in our ways of thinking and attempts of problem resolution or Israel will cease to exist. We – that means every one of us – have to make such a profound change in looking at life and humanity. If we are not willing to face this challenge with a fundamental change in our personal as well as our political attitude towards solving some of the key problems in education, economy, our personal, national and international relations, as well as in spirituality and religion, we will not be able to survive.
To show just one example in figures, I want to present a short excerpt of a comprehensive study about aggression in Israeli schools done by Prof. Rami Benbenisti from the Hebrew University printed in Ma’ariv newspaper dated Feb. 23 rd 2006:
Headmasters reports on violence of students against fellow students:
- Verbal violence was reported in 96.4% of schools,
- Physical violence was reported in 52.4% of schools;
Headmasters reports on violence of students and parents against teachers:
- 20.1% of school had parents threat the teachers,
- 15.5% had students threat the teachers;
Headmasters reports on violence of teachers against students:
45% of headmasters reported verbal violence,
13.4% reported physical violence;
Unfortunately, most violence between teachers and students in the Arab society, like Mount of Olives, is not reported because it is considered a legitimate way of disciplining.
The cause of aggression in young people often can be seen in a deep lack of confidence, meaning and orientation, but often also in misguiding religious and political ideologies – which is no contradiction. People need a visible perspective, which is not in the clouds but at hand in our lives. And it is education – at home as well as in schools –, which should grant the building of such a foundation in our youth. Along with the results of Prof. Benbenisti’s study about violence in schools we also remember the shock we had, when the OECD published its “PISA-report” based on investigations amongst 300 000 children in 41 countries about their abilities in reading, maths and natural science whose results placed Israel in the lowest third, abruptly destroying the traditional image of the Jews as an outstanding intellectual people. All these figures can be taken as indices for the above stated situation. Hoping for survival and even for a more life-worthy future, we have to take decisive steps to overcome thinking in patterns of tribes or nations, revenge and mutual punishment, and to learn new ways of cooperation and coexistence on the basis of mutual respect and acceptance. The enemy is not the Palestinian or the Jew, but a wrong attitude, no matter on which side. Our enemy is inside of us. We have to overcome our mutual superiority complexes and to cooperate with those of good will and constructive attitudes and believes – independent of faith, gender, tribal or national belonging. We need to learn to support each other on a ground of mutual agreements with those who want to commit to peace and cooperation. Those who are not surrendering to reason, human respect and acknowledgement of human rights and dignity shall no more be fought and sought to be destroyed, but conquered by the persistence of higher ethical standards and inner strength.
To say it in general terms: The roots and origins of all these problems are of two kinds: internal and external to our human nature; while the internal factors are spiritual, psychological and mental, the external ones are economic, social, cultural and political. Despite the fact that the main common root of all human problems is a lack of spiritual awareness, skill and know-how of handling social, psychological and mental obstacles, striving to remove them we nevertheless have to deal with all factors – internal and external alike – at the same time. We all agree that we have to bring about a comprehensive change in all areas and on all levels of our human existence, but we have not yet started to achieve any progress towards our goal of peaceful co-existence and collective well-being.
Until now many different attempts have been made, but they all have failed. We have wide-ranging agreements in the diagnosis, but not yet a workable therapy. The reason for this situation is a lack of holistic vision and acceptance of the fundamental cosmic-moral laws involved in our individual and collective lives, a lack an all-encompassing approach as well as of profound applicable tools and last not least the lack of unified efforts in a field of presently dispersed and scattered undertakings and trials.
In order to work out more profound, effective and organizational structured approaches for the attainment of peace and welfare, we have taken account to all of these issues right from the beginning.
In terms of politics and social development, these principles have to be applied in a professional and organized way. The statement is not enough. Nor can we rely on individual activities. We need to make it an organized and well-structured effort, being carried by associations of qualified professionals.
2 Proposed Approaches and Means Towards Conflict Resolution, Social Improvement, Change and Well-being in general and for Israel in particular
2. 1 Principles
Recently we have faced the fact that even a hardliner like Ariel Sharon was able to make a turn of 180 degrees. After nourishing endless circles of acts of mutual blaming, revenge and destruction, he surrendered to reason, saying: “I think the idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3. 5 million Palestinians under occupation – yes it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation – is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy. Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever. You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?“ (Ariel Sharon, May 26, 2003)
Developing strategies for a change, we have to start with ourselves. We cannot change the world outside, but we have the power to change ourselves. I as a Jew or as a Palestinian have to do the first step. As it is a known rule: What you expect the others to do or not to do towards you, that is what you shall do or not do to them. A change in the world starts within. It was Gandhi who has put this law into the words: „Be the change you wish to see in the world.“ This motto we have to put into a practical, professionally organized form.
As a Jew I have to get to the root of my problem and as a Palestinian I have to get to the root of mine. The first need is to envision our own nation as being reborn from impartial self-enquiry and humble commitment to the universal and untouchable value of life and human dignity. Nevertheless we cannot succeed by isolated self-concerned acts, but only in interaction with “the other”, on levels of personal, national and international relations.
While only a minority of Israeli Jews is born in the country the majority has returned and still is returning from more than 150 nations after an exile for nearly 2000 years. Most of them have either oriental or European roots as well as cultural bonds. The Mediterranean Europe and the US are the most relevant focuses of Israeli Jewish culture, while the majority of the Palestinians by history, culture and religion is a rather integral part of the Muslim Arab World and their mental attitudes and values. Only a minority of the Christian Palestinians has a different outlook towards life and humanity and some more relevant bonds to the Christian Occident. This shows that both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis despite being of semitic decent, have a different mental and cultural structure and sense of belonging.
Geographically the Israeli Jews are part of the Middle East, whereas their cultural, economical and political bonds and affinities are much more linked with the West and the US respectively. Alone the fact of different affinity and cultural belonging – here to the West there to the Muslim Arab World – gives a rough picture about the different forces and tendencies, which keep our split society moving. As Jews we have to face the reality of our immediate Muslim neighborhood as well as the historically grown relation to culture and politics of Europe and the Western World. Both – Palestinians and Jews – in order to find their true identity need to find an independent self-esteem and stand.
The problem has many faces and dimensions. In his talk on “Trialogue of Cultures in the Age of Globalization" the Israeli industrialist Steff Wertheimer made the following statement. He quests: “Is there a tougher problem than the Arab-Israeli conflict?” … “What makes peace?” … “ … what exactly is (peace) in practical terms? Peace is about creating common interests, reducing jealousy and fostering economic success. In a simple way, the formula could be presented as follows:
Common interests plus economic success minus jealousy and hostility equals peace.
The alternative to peace is conflict on religious grounds, conflict on political grounds, and conflict against a background of economic interests. When there are no common interests and no economic growth, then each side tries to demonstrate who has more power. (Implying this formula just to the Muslim Arab World we see that the lowest rate of terror and violence is found in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia amongst all those who are able to participate in the benefits of the establishment. Where there are jobs and good income, there is no interest in creating trouble.)
Reducing jealousy and hostility is a task set before political leaders and educators. It is also connected to economic issues: a person with a full stomach feels less need to observe what his neighbor has on his plate.
For this reason I want to concentrate on the other two elements: creating common interests and economic growth as ways of increasing the chance of peace.”
No doubt this is a quite noble stand. Nevertheless this very practical and necessary approach does not meet the most essential causes of conflict, terror and disintegration, which are agonizing our society, but just the economic and social imbalance, while others factors stay still unobserved. In order to really achieve a long-term grounded and comprehensive peace we also have to deal with the above mentioned more sublime causes being rooted inside our human soul.
Analyzing the main factors of conflict and terror we find the following: unequal living conditions (like social injustice or economic or psychological exploitation), decline of respect of life and ethical value, psychological disintegration, claiming for political, economic and/or social power and – last not least – national and religious fanatism or fundamentalism.
Accordingly the main factors of conflict resolution, reconciliation and peace building can be seen in education, value-awareness, psychological integration, common economic and social interests and a spiritual understanding of religion.
Basically we have to do everything possible in our human reach to create an atmosphere and culture of non-violence and self-improvement rising from wake self-awareness and real meaning. A person who has found meaning and a positive perspective in life, will never be a threat to society and civilization – rather opposite: he will be a creative factor protecting and securing these conditions for his neighbor as well as for himself. His intention will be drawn to inner growth and economic, social and cultural progress.
Hence the areas involved in peace building are: ethics, education, personal development (self-awareness), economy, political diplomacy and leadership, social justice and religion.
Consequently these are the fields in which we have established our approach and project.
Therefore the project embraces three types of activities, namely
- Scientific Research in Human Resources (including Study, Development, Innovation),
- Education, Trainings, Teaching, and
- Conferences, Encounters and Public Events;
covering five fields (areas) of subjects
- Pedagogy, Curriculum development,
- Personal development (Self-Realization),
- Social Psychology
- Spirituality and Religion
- Political Diplomacy
being realized by all different kinds of programs and instruments as there are:
- study groups, research and development departments, lectures, seminaries, workshops, encounters, panel discussions, conferences, art exhibitions, cultural (music and dance) performances and events etc.
All these activities and projects shall be sheltered under one roof – the JAEP.
2. 2 Practical Approach: The Jerusalem Center
Quite since its reintegration into the young State of Israel in 1967, Jerusalem is the main focus of international attention. As the heart of the “Jewish State”, the desired capital of the Palestinians, metropole of three world religions, the main subject of divine revelations and one of the main centers of controversial claims and conflicts in the world, it also has become the hottest subject of international diplomacy and negotiations. Since the ratification of the Oslo accords it also has become the key issue in settling a solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Not only national and international politicians try their diplomatic abilities in it, but also many well-intending laypeople have started all kinds of activities and efforts to work out and bring about a solution that would include and be acceptable to all parties involved.
Since more then ten years Jerusalem has become the subject and abode of many inter-faith and peace talks. Several organizations have been established here and abroad to foster peace and mutual understanding. They organize lectures and conferences and have prepared some ground for growing tolerance and mutual respect in some circles, but by nature have not been able to bringing about any relevant, encompassing and lasting resolution of conflict and terror in the area. Real change and transformation in our society and politics cannot be achieved by mere talks and conferences between scholars, politicians and religious leaders, but only by balancing economic conditions and the guided involvement of masses of people on the grass-root level of our society.
For bringing about a real and profound change for the better we need three things. They are
1) The initiation and fostering of supervised face-to-face encounters including mediated emotional sharing, psychological relief and clarification between members of the different confliction ethnic, national or religious fractions of our society, which usually meet each other in an attitude of hostility and even hatred.
2) New, spiritual approaches towards the understanding and observance of our abrahamic faiths on the grounds of a sound intra- and inter-religious understanding of our different God-given revelations and spiritual teachings. Such can be provided only on a basis of authentic personal spiritual experience and the acceptance of the common binding human values (and all-embracing universal principles of spiritual achievement as being the common essence, core and ground of all religious revelations and traditions) in order to correct our distorted concepts and presumptions about the true purpose and intention of religion altogether.
3) The development and negotiation of practical diplomatic steps, peace policies and political solutions for our region with national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
While all three issues are indispensable, the first one is the foremost and crucial. It is by inner work and experience only that a relief of fear, pain and prejustice, even hatred and desires for the others annihilation is possible. Since such attitudes are conditional/conditioned, they can be overcome and transformed. But this can be achieved only on a basis of the set-up of a protected space and guided meetings creating the opportunity to make new experiences with each other and ourselves.
Such new experiences can grow through and in supervised encounters between people (usually regarding each others as enemies or oppressors), mediated mutual sharing of pains and negative experiences between them and letting-go of our fears, pains and sometimes life-long humiliations and pre-occupied judgments with an attitude of mutual respect and by refraining from all kinds of blaming. Only by letting go of our negative image of “the other”, by healing of our psychic wounds, the readiness for new experience with each other, a relief of fears and pains as well as of our fixed and generalized (distorted) images of each other, of our own as well as of each others religion is possible. Only on the ground of honesty and the gaining of a new and positive outlook for each other, reconciliation, peace building and productive co-existence can be achieved. And this needs mediated encounters en masse. For these we need to provide teams of qualified professionals, the mastery of the relevant tools and the availability of forums (facilities).
Usually we do not realize the value of such kind of work or we do not trust in the possibility of inner change and transformation because of lack of experience and outer visibility. But as we have pioneers in the fields of science, technology and economy, we also have outstanding professionals, who have developed and most effectively applied profound and effective socio-psychological tools initiating, fostering and guiding processes of psychological and social change. Two of these tools are the models of “nonviolent communication® and “TRT” (Trust and Reflect), developed by our partners Marshall Rosenberg, Dan Bar-On and Sami Adwan of international reputation. Mostly the work and achievements of “mediators” and “consultants” are under-estimated, because their results are not visible for the physical eve as machines and industrial products are. But in order to bringing about a lasting relief and solution to our life-threatening problems, their service has presently to be at least as highly respected and recognized as that of teachers, surgeons or entrepreneurs. I fact the services of educators and mediators have to be acknowledged as of crucial value and relevance for lasting conflict resolution and in creating worthy living conditions, welfare and well-being in our country (as well as in the rest of the world). Thus the investment in education and mediation is to be considered as one of the most effective ones into a better or even flowering future.