When I received the request to address the theme "Israelis and Palestinians : is Peace Possible", I immediately thought of the famous words of the visionary of the modern state of the Jewish nation, Theodore Herzl, who declared "if you will it, it is no dream".
Pease is not only possible and desirable, it is natural.
It is the absence of peace that begs the question. Why do we not have peace?
This question, that is asked about many conflicts in the world, seems particularly acute in relation to Israelis and Palestinians, as peace has felt almost tangibly close on a number of occasions in the past.
Why do we not have peace? Because we are afraid. Because we are suspicious. Because there is not trust.
But, we know the famous witticism:- "Just because I am paranoid, does not mean that they are not trying to kill me".
Both Israelis and Palestinians have their good reasons to feel paranoid.
In our part of the world, everyone feels that they are the victim and vulnerable; we just see ourselves in different paradigms.
Palestinians see themselves as vulnerable in relation to Israeli power and military control.
We Israelis see ourselves as surrounded by a sea of Arab hostility, denial and violence, of which all too often Palestinians are part and parcel.
And the Arab world sees itself as the historic victim of Western power, of the Crusades, of imperialism and colonialism; and to day, of consumerism and globalization.
Everybody in our part of the world believes that if they are in any trouble, it is someone else's fault – and of course this is a universal human tendency.
However our region suffers from its own traumas – Palestinians and Israelis in particular- and often these traumas are compounded by deep historical wounds, in addition to the effects of the conflict.
In fact what prevents peace, or at least prevents us taking risks for peace, are our traumas.
How does one overcome trauma? Through therapy! Israelis and Palestinians need a therapeutic response.
There are different ways to address trauma and fear, but what is always needed by the victim in order to move out of the trauma vortex is a sense of being valued.
In addition one who is the victim of pain, needs to have that pain heard and listened to, and ideally understood.
There is a famous Hassidic story about one of the masters who claimed that he learnt the real meaning of the commandment in the book of Leviticus (19v.18) "Love your neighbor as yourself" from two peasants:
The one said "Ivan do you love me?"
and the other replied: "Of course I love you Boris".
The first said "Ivan, do you know what causes me pain?"
and the other replied "Boris, how can I know what cause you pain?"
And the first responded "Ivan, if you do not know what causes me pain, how can you truly love me?"
The insight is profound. However, when one is oneself caught up in one's own pain and fear – the capacity to even listen to, let alone understand, let alone empathize with the other's pain and fear, is very difficult if not impossible.
As in any case of conflict and trauma, the role of the "third party" counselor is critical. And if the third party counselor is to be successful, he/she must be seen as empathic to both sides.
Part of the problem in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (as indeed in most conflicts) is that those who care for one party seem to think that empathizing with the aspirations of the other party (for security, for wellbeing, for dignity, for justice, for peace) is to the disadvantage of the party they care for most.
This of course is termed a zero-sum game.
However the fact is that only a win-win game will bring a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Only when Palestinians achieve their struggle for national self determination will Israel be able to enjoy real security; and only when Israel truly enjoys security, will Palestinians succeed in achieving national self-determination.
Those who genuinely want to help us, Palestinians and Israelis, achieve lasting peace; need to show empathy to both sides; need to listen to the narratives of each side; need to understand what gives us pain; need to love us.
Then we might be able to emerge from our trauma vortex and each of us, Israelis and Palestinians: listen and respect the narrative of the other; begin to appreciate what gives the other pain; to learn to actually love one another and live in peace.
The role of religion is crucial in this regard. For even though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious one but a territorial one; the identities of the peoples involved are inextricably bound up with religion.
Religion legitimates and delegitimates.
Interreligious dialogue therefore can play a critical role in enabling each side to hear and respect the narrative of the other.
It was for such purpose that we established the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land that consists of the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Waqf (Religious Affairs) and Shaaria courts; the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; and the spectrum of Christian leadership.
However the degree to which the Council can play such a role depends substantially on the degree to which political leadership permits and supports such; and so far there has been little active encouragement .
Nevertheless we continue to work and strive for such cooperation , out of the conviction that the support of religious leadership is critical for peace between Israelis and Palestinians with wide and profound ramifications for our region as a whole and even globally. Indeed while religion has been and is perverted for partisan and often violent ends, the constructive engagement of religion is crucial to ensure that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is truly a reality.
As our ancient sages declared, peace is the receptacle that The Almighty created to enable all the blessings of His world.