Models of Restorative Justice for Peace-Building and Transformative Societal Change In Palestine-Israel

Donna Nassor, JD

NJ City University

I come in peace with the intension of enhancing relationships, engaging in dialogue, creating alliances, building bridges and actively being a more effective agent of social change.  None of that can be done by avoiding the truth.  We can only move toward peace with justice if we collectively are willing to do what needs to be done.  I am a third generation Lebanese/Syrian American, raised as an Orthodox Christian.  Until I was 16 , I thought that all Arabs were either Syrian or Lebanese and that all were Orthodox Christians.  I have a strong background in the world of business.  At the age of  36, I graduated from law school and practiced law for many years, mostly representing adults and juveniles accused of crimes as a public defender and as private counsel.  I became a lawyer because I thought I would acquire the tools to be a more effective agent of social change.  I was wrong.  Thankfully, I am now retired from the practice of law. I eventually had to admit I was almost powerless over the very broken criminal (justice) system in which I found myself working.

After helping to move mass quantities of human beings through the criminal system, in a small rural county in Pennsylvania, utilizing the punitive model, I discovered the concept of “restorative justice” (RJ)–    an effective and holistic alternative to the punitive system being used by people around world.

My experiences told me clearly that punishment was not effective in adjusting the behavior of the same people who kept coming through the justice system.  The indigenous practices of community, healing, and reconciliation had the potential to be transformative.  RJ recognizes that harm to an individual also has other layers and dimensions.  Not only is the individual affected by the harm, the community, the families of the victim and offender and the offender are also affected.

The punitive system often dehumanizes both the offender and the victim.  The offender never recognizes how he or she has harmed another.  A person offended against is not  real, only a concept – referred to throughout the process as simply the victim.  The victim has little ability to heal without answers and the possibility of a human connection to the offender.  The punitive system offers the victim no opportunity to ask direct questions, or look into the eyes of the offender who has caused the harm to even imagine the humanity in that person.  The community and the family of the offender and the person harmed have few answers to their questions and little or no closure.

There are many restorative methods, including victim – offender dialogue, restitution, conferencing, and circles.  RJ is victim centered.  The offender must take responsibility for his or her actions.  All parties are offered the process, but are not required to participate.  Facilitators prepare the participants involved in an effort to create a safe environment for all.  RJ promotes healing, reconciliation, and allows the offender to gain knowledge with insight and encouragement to make better decisions in the future.

Restorative practices (RP) is a field of study that integrates developments from a range of disciplines and fields, which include education, psychology, social work, criminology, sociology and organizational development (Wachtel, 1999).  RP supports building healthier communities, the repair of harm, and restoration of  relationships.  Healing circles, peace-making circles, community conferencing, nonviolent communication, and active/compassionate listening all can be used to transform the harm into healing, changed behaviors, closure, and better decision making for all involved. Instead of throwing offenders away, the community embraces them, encourages and assists transformative behavioral change, and the offenders take responsibility for their actions.

After too many years of standing next to clients wondering how they got to the point in their lives where they were facing the chance of losing their freedom, realizing that the punitive system was not helping them, trying to get the system to change by embracing RJ and RP as an alternative or complement to the punitive model, and finally surviving cancer, I quit my job as the Chief Public Defender, closed my law office and moved back to New Jersey.  After a bit of contemplation about what to do with the rest of my life, I began my doctoral studies at Saybrook University.  Additionally, for the past 12 years I have also been an adjunct at NJ City University teaching “Human and Intercultural Relations” a course that addresses how we treat each other as human beings.

My life experiences and work have influenced my research interests, which include:  Restorative justice and practices, nonviolent conflict resolution, forgiveness, healing, peace, global and local transformative social change. As part of my studies, approximately 10  years after the end of Apartheid in South Africa, I participated in a peace studies delegation to study the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), restorative practices, and the residual effects of Apartheid.  I learned a lot about how people were affected by the Apartheid system and how they continue to be affected even after the system of separation and oppression ended.

I was amazed by how the indigenous people who had been harmed were embracing the importance of forgiveness and believed it was essential to their own healing.  Time after time I met with individuals who had been through extreme hardship and trauma, who now were intent on moving forward in their own lives and knew that forgiveness was the first step to accomplish that goal.  I learned that the concept of justice was fluid and that there were ongoing studies  to address the more current needs of the people.

The TRC in South Africa was certainly a flawed process.  It did not accomplish all it was intended to. That said, even though social and economic challenges continue along with some current questionable leadership there, I came away understanding that we have valuable lessons to be learned from people’s experiences.  We do not  have to be concerned with revenge and retribution first.  We need to be focused on the holistic needs of the community.  Clearly there are more transformative, loving, peaceful, healing and effective ways to deal with harm.

I came away from the experience feeling inspired, amazed at the power of forgiveness and filled with hope. Soon after my South Africa trip I went to Palestine/Israel and Jordan with the Fellowship of Reconciliation on a peace-builders delegation.  The leaders of that trip are now part of Interfaith Peace Builders (IFPB).  We had Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, Buddhists, those who were spiritual in their own unique ways, and some who just wanted to see for themselves what was going on.  The experience changed my life and I continue to be committed to advocate for a peaceful, just, and sustainable resolution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

It was a shocking experience. I had been aware of the situation and very active in working for a peaceful and just end to the conflict since well before the first Intifada.  I have personally engaged in non-violent direct actions, was a member of the board of the National Association of Arab Americans, have researched and studied the conflict, taught about it, been involved in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and a variety of other activities.   I thought I understood the state of affairs.  Even though I suspected my trip would be emotional and challenging, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

I had every intention of coming back from the delegation to begin working on RJ programs for Palestinians and Israelis to begin addressing the need for healing.  By day two of that trip I was traumatized to the point of believing my plans had been ridiculous and extremely naive.   Each day was filled with emotional realizations of how incredibly overwhelming the situation was.

I visited refugee camps, spent time in the Negev with Bedouins, met with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and advocates.  I stood at the checkpoints and looked into the eyes of people who were being treated like animals in a cage.   I cried the first time I saw the separation wall and how it affects the lives of Palestinians trying to get to school, work, doctors, and to their land to tend their crops.  I visited Birzeit University, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the settlements, Hebron and Tel Aviv.  I spoke with Israeli and Palestinian students, settlers, activists, and others.  I observed with my own eyes a system that clearly appeared to intentionally destroy the self-esteem and self-worth of the powerless in society.

After what I saw and heard I wondered how I could expect anyone to begin healing when they continue to be traumatized on a daily basis.  I returned home with a broken heart.  I was angry, disappointed and filled with despair, yet I had to do something.  I bought a projector and began offering my pictures and eye witness description of what I had seen to anyone willing to listen.  The one positive result was I finally felt empowered to speak out loud about the situation.  Plus, I needed to process what I had observed by talking about it.

Although it took a bit of time, my hopelessness eventually turned into determination.  I recognized that IT WAS THE RIGHT TIME to take a more proactive and visionary approach to promoting and participating in nonviolent peaceful conflict resolution and do something to help build the foundations for healing and restorative justice in the future.

Occupation, War  and Conflict Affect All Parties Involved

It is clear the ongoing situation continues to harm Palestinians and Israelis in countless ways.  Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) suicides, fratricide and accidents are top causes of soldiers’ deaths (Blumenthal, 2011).  Even though some IDF soldiers are now breaking the silence as to what they are expected to do in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) as part of their military service, the personal residual effects of their actions will remain with them throughout life.

The book Narratives of Despair by Nadia Taysir Dabbagh (2005) is an anthropological study of suicide in the Arab world today.  The author specifically discusses the effects of life under Israeli occupation on the mental health of young Palestinians, using case studies of men and women who have attempted suicide in the West Bank.  It directly addresses the ripple effects of living under occupation.

Trauma of Palestinian children is increasing.  According to Medecins San Frontieres (MSF), an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, the number of Palestinian children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders has increased.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Jerusalem has documented violations of children’s rights including patterns of killing and injuries, arrest and detention, ill-treatment and torture, displacement and denial of access to health and education services.  Often the layers of trauma are increased by multiple traumatic events and by the effects of trauma on their caregivers.

In an attempt to meet the growing needs, MSF has recently increased the number of clinics and training in developmental psychology. In Gaza, 54%  of the mental health patients at MSF clinics were under the age of 12 in 2010.  MSF reports that over a third of the treated  cases in Gaza and over half in Nablus in the West Bank are severe to the point of affecting the day to day functioning of the patients (Global Indigo, 2011).

There are numerous recent studies out of Birzeit University on the personal and family issues Palestinians are experiencing as a direct result of the occupation.  Full text articles are available  on the Institute of Community and Public Health web page on a variety of research results on topics such as:  The Drawings and Wishes of Palestinian Teenagers;  Shedding Light on the Challenges Faced by Palestinian Maternal Health-Care Providers;  Mental Health, Social Distress and Political Oppression in the Occupied Palestinian Territories;  Humanitarian Crisis and Social Suffering in Gaza Strip;  Domestic and Political Violence:  The Palestinian Predicament;  Women in Labor and Midwives during Israeli Assault on Gaza Strip;  and on and on.

You do not have to visit Hebron and elsewhere to understand what the settlers are doing.  There are videos available on the Internet showing us the painful and shocking ways in which the hatred and abuse have become institutionalized in the settler communities.  The Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem (2011) and Christian Peacemakers Team (2011) are documenting the situation.  During my visits, Hebron was the one place I felt unsafe.  The blatant bigotry and abuse is right there for anyone interested to see.

According to research done by Natal (2011)– Israel’s Trauma Center for Victims of Terror ‑the residents of Sderot, an Israeli town close to the Gaza border, are experiencing a rate of PTSD more than three times higher than the national average.  The frequency of psychiatric symptoms, their severity and resulting functional difficulties were found to be much higher than in the control group.  The intensive utilization of medication and other medical services is almost three times higher than in the control group.  Additionally, the rate of psychological and spiritual services being utilized is three times higher than the control group

Intermittent talk of peace negotiations, building up hope after Oslo, the Camp David agreements in addition to 63 years of waiting for a return to normalcy, has further damaged the self-esteem, self-worth, hopes, and dreams of Palestinians.  Whether they are in refugee camps, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or elsewhere for the most part, each generation of Palestinians remain connected to their culture and homeland.

The bottom line is that no one involved is unaffected by the occupation.  As psychologists we understand the long-term and cumulative results of living surrounded by uncertainty, violence, bigotry, and oppression.  As professionals and citizens of the world, it is imperative that we are actively involved through direct actions, local and long distance partnerships.

Resolution:  Arrangements, policies and practices, including the role of third parties, which are needed to move toward ending the conflict.

The quest for peace and justice lies with us first as individuals.  We have an urgent responsibility to seek truth.  If we ignore that duty we have only ourselves to blame for the resulting turmoil in our lives and communities. Yes, sometimes it can be difficult to weed through the propaganda and corporate media reports to find accurate information, but it is not impossible if you are willing to make the effort.

I recommend reading The Hour of Sunlight:  One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker by Sami Al Jundi (2010).  As a Palestinian teenager living in Jerusalem, Al Jundi only wanted to overthrow the Israeli occupation.  He and two young friends built a bomb to use against the police.  The bomb exploded prematurely, killing one of his friends.  Consequently, Al Jundi was sentenced to ten years in an Israeli prison.  It is in that prison that Al Jundi’s transformation toward nonviolence began.  When he left prison, he was determined to fight for Palestinian rights, but with a different notion of how to undertake the struggle.  Eventually, he cofounded a program in Jerusalem that has brought together hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli youth.  For the last 20  years, Al Jundi’s work has been marked by honesty and compassion for Palestinians and Israelis alike as he maintains an ongoing struggle for peace.

Richard Forer’s (2010) courage and determination to discover the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is illustrated in his recent book, Breakthrough:  Transforming Fear into Compassion. After several of his trusted friends rejected Forer’s views on Israel, he engaged in an intensive study of the history and more current situation.  He forced himself to go beyond what he original intended and ended up challenging his own identity as a Jewish American, supporter of Israel and a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  He discovered that his attachment to Israel had blinded him to the human element of the conflict and led him to reject “the other” in a way in which he was now uncomfortable.

Forer (2010, p. 3) openly shares his journey and personal responsibility in search of truth.  He tells us, “Until we come to a hard earned understanding of the causes of a particular conflict and the lessons its history contains, peace will remain a distant fantasy.”  He encouragingly admits, “If we honestly commit ourselves to real peace, a new understanding will reveal itself.  We shall see that in truth we have much in common with our so-called enemy.”

First and foremost we must take an honest look at and fearlessly address in a loving and holistic way the ongoing traumatization of new generations of Israelis and Jews as it pertains to the Holocaust. Recognizing that there has been much work in this area, it is apparent that much more remains to be done.  In Daniela Karlin’s (2010) thesis, Righteous Victims: The Role of Competing Victim Identities in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict:  A Social Psychological Paradigm, the researcher tells us it is critical to understand the deep psychological issues underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the most fundamental of which is the concept of victimhood.  The thesis analyzes the role of victim identity and victim psychology in the continuance of the conflict.  The psychological barriers are inflamed by a lack of basic understanding of each group’s physical and emotional needs and desire, which are reflected in the behavior choices they make.

As long as some Israeli and American Jews see through the lens of victimhood, resolving the conflict will remain more of a challenge.  The intergenerational transmission of trauma has never been effectively addressed as noted in Parens’ (2004) book Renewal of life:  Healing from the Holocaust and Epstein’s (1979) book Children of the Holocaust.  Additionally, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center has been asking the questions:  How can the Jewish people move beyond Holocaust-related PTSD?  How can the Palestinians move beyond Nakba-related PTSD?

Waskow (year) offers a continuing conversation between artists, mediators, psychotherapists, spiritual directors, and social activists addressing these questions on his web site www.theshalomcenter/org.  His article is titled  Transcending the Trauma of the Holocaust.  We as psychologists have a responsibility as healers to make this a priority and work cooperatively with others to assist in the processing of the trauma, reconciliation and healing with the utmost respect and sensitivity.

Empathy building with Israelis and Palestinians is crucial.  The dehumanization process must end and more programs developed to embrace the history of both groups by the other.  Being able to identify with another’s feelings is to show empathy.  McMahon (2011)  tells us that empathy is a noble trait.  Attaching political complexities to it by designating one person worthy of empathy and another unworthy will not work, as it is the equivalent of switching empathy on or off.  How do we stop that practice?  This is something that needs to be addressed by all of us.  Dr. Douglas LaBier (2010) came up with the term “Empathy Deficit Disorder.”  Such a condition can have profound consequences for the mental health of individuals and society.

Compassion comes when empathy becomes an integral part of our commitment to real peace.  It will become crystal clear that embracing the truth brings us closer to the reality that absent the hype and propaganda, we have much in common with our so-called enemy.  All of us are the same as products of our life experiences, history, pain, and confusion.  We all yearn to live our lives in peace without pain, suffering or sorrow.  When we allow ourselves to be open to that reality, compassion is the natural result for human beings.

Karen Armstrong’s (2011) Charter for Compassion tells us that compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions and that is necessary to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain.  She calls upon all of us to restore compassion to the center of our intentions by cultivating an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies.  Compassion has the power to break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries.  It is essential to all human relationships and attached to our interdependence as part of humanity–all of which will lead us to a peaceful global community.

It is difficult to generate empathy for someone you perceive as “the Other.”  We have to work on eliminating stereotypes, assumptions and socially constructed labels.  What would it be like if we were all open to seeing ourselves through the eyes of the person or group that we dislike?  We can practice by observing without judgment while at the same time engaging in self-reflection.

Citizen diplomacy is another useful tool that continues to be more and more available to us though social networking.  I spend a part of each day sharing information, in dialogue and communicating with people around the world.  It helps to see beyond assumptions and bias.  Engaging in citizen diplomacy is an important and effective tool to stop governments and biased media outlets from influencing our opinions with misinformation.

Partnering with mental health workers and facilities in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel is another way for psychologists to actively be part of the paradigm shift.  The Gaza Mental Health Foundation offers a program that provides mental health support to communities in the Gaza.  With the ongoing siege of Gaza, it has become difficult to gain entry in order to assist the population there.  That said, it is not impossible to do so if connected to the appropriate agencies.  On the foundation’s website  (  you can find research and papers that were presented at conferences held before the siege began.

Distinguished psychiatrist James S. Gordon, who heads the Washington, D.C. based Center for Mind-Body Medicine, has worked intensively with the traumatized population of Gaza and Israel separately and jointly.  He led an international team of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish mental health professionals.  They have trained 300 Israeli professionals and 90 in Gaza to develop comprehensive, scientifically based programs that are utilized to treat PTSD, major depression, anxiety, violence, and despair.  Mind-body techniques used include meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and yoga with self-expression in words, drawings, and movement in supportive small group settings.  This work supports individuals that otherwise would not have the opportunity for appropriate interventions.

In Israel near Tel Aviv there is an extraordinary group of psychologists and social workers in the organization called PsychoActive, which identifies itself as mental health professionals for human rights.  This group uses a psychosocial support model that fosters resilience of communities and individuals who have been victims of disaster, catastrophe or violence.  That model aims at working to resume a normal life, facilitate affected people to participate in their convalescence and assist in preventing pathological consequences of potentially traumatic situations (Wikipedia, 2011).

PsychoActive engages in partnerships with Palestinians mental health professionals in a variety of projects.  Some of those projects include:  Hebron Project; Supporting B’tselem’s shooting back program; Promoting the treatment of autism in the occupied territories; Trauma study group; Israeli Jews and Palestinians peer group; Psychosocial work after home demolitions; Child detention and torture project;  et al.  The group acknowledges the occupation affects everyone, parties are never neutral, self-knowledge is crucial, all partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians must be on equal terms, and small goals can equal big changes.  I have met with their representatives who are actively looking for partners in the U.S. to work with them on these projects.

The use of Participatory Action Research projects to create effective programing in Palestine/Israel is also important and will help lay the foundations for healing and transformative social change.  Psychologists and others can focus on allowing those in need of intervention to be invested in the process and the outcome using this methodology.  It is not about what we believe Israelis and Palestinians need.  We must actively and intentionally allow those we are trying to help determine their specific and unique requirements.

Palestinians are also attempting to help themselves by creating programs and engaging in psychological research.  I was contacted by Issam Sahouri, a young teacher who with a small group of professionals in Palestine who are creating curriculum utilizing the arts to address the ongoing daily violence students and their families must deal with.  If you are interested in this project, please email me.

Israeli-Palestinian team teaching is another way in which we can offer students a balanced and realistic view of the conflict and possibilities for a peaceful and just solution.  I am aware of one such course titled Conflict Resolution:  The Israeli Palestinian Experiment at the University of Maryland has been taught by a Palestinian and an Israeli professor.  It allows for their voices to be heard equally and with the intention of creating a change in the paradigm.  The focus is not on who is right or wrong, but rather about offering unfiltered truth, letting go of the myths, engaging in dialogue, active/compassionate listening, and humanization of the other.  If you are interested in this I have a link to the syllabus being used.

Peace-Building:  Moving Toward Reconciliation, Healing, and Sustainable Peace:

Models for Restorative Justice and Practices

Peace-building can be encouraged through reconciliation.  Kriesberg (1998, p. 184) defines reconciliation as a “process of developing a mutual conciliatory accommodation between antagonistic or formerly antagonistic persons or groups.”  He further describes it as “a relatively amicable relationship, typically established after a rupture in the relationship involving one-sided or mutual infliction of extreme injury.”

Karlin (2010) tells us that in order to effectively address the issues of the conflict to create a sustainable peace, “it is imperative that the psychological elements receive as much attention as the political elements…” (p. 4).  As long as both sides believe themselves to be the victims of the conflict, victimhood will remain pervasive.  “This psychology of victimhood has resulted in impaired empathy, paranoid mistrust, and a sense of righteous victimhood,” (p. 16) which continues to justify overly aggressive actions.  Those overly aggressive actions maintain the cycle of hatred, violence, and never-ending aggression by the perpetrators who see their actions as defensive.

According to Montville (1993), the process of accommodations involves the formula of acknowledgement and contrition from the perpetrators and forgiveness from the victims.  Each of those elements is necessary for those seeing themselves as victims to be reassured that they will not suffer additional abuses in the future.  Only then can the relationship move beyond a cycle of revenge and retaliation to something more positive.  Montville further sees reconciliation occurring when participants in workshops from both sides feel secure enough to allow a trained neutral third party conduct exercises offering personal narratives. Those narratives give all participants the opportunity to be heard by anyone actively listening with an open heart and mind.  RJ and RP involve such dialogue in many of the forms previously mentioned.

New perceptions on intergroup relations, according to Lederach (1997), can be expanded by group members, which will change and improve so that actors who no longer feel the same will adjust and change their previous reactions and actions.  They become better equipped to deal with the legacy of conflict.  Forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and transformative social change can then naturally follow.

We can learn a lot from what has and has not worked in South Africa, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.  I recommend Watkins and Shulman’s (2008) book Toward Psychologies of Liberation, which addresses critical theory and practice in psychology and the human sciences as a way to respond to collective traumas inflicted by colonialism.  The book offers specific theoretical foundation and participatory methodologies to work toward creating individual and community well-being.  Examples used include the work of liberation arts, critical participatory action research, public dialogue, and reconciliation giving hope and direction on how to move toward reconciliation, healing, and a sustainable peace.

God Sleeps in Rwanda, Joseph Sebarenzi’s (2009) book is useful in envisioning the possibilities for survival and reconciliation after collective trauma and genocide.  The author offers lessons on how after tragedy groups in conflict can move toward reconciliation with healing.  The author is an example of how one can choose to live a life of love, compassion and forgiveness.  I am inspired and encouraged by such actions.

The restorative Palestinian peacemaking process of Sulha can be employed as a technique for addressing the right to dignity and honor as part of conflict resolution and peace-building in Palestine-Israel.  It is a community based process that could contribute to the overall resolution of the conflict and at the local level.  The result of using Sulha would offer another tool to create a sustainable nonviolent coexistence that we all hope for (Gellman &Vuinovich, 2008).

For the purpose of this presentation, Sulha is referred to as a “ritualized process of restorative justice and peacemaking and to the actual outcome or condition sealed by that process” (Irani& Funk, 1998, p.52).  The conflict management and reconciliation practice of Sulha exemplifies “ideals of cooperation, negotiation, honor, and compromise” with strategies that influence the community through “indigenous sociopolitical interaction” (Lang, 2002, p. 53).

Zoughbi Zoughbi, Director and founder of Wi’am the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center located in Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank has been addressing issues of conflict within the Palestinian community since 1994 using Sulha.  The occupation, border closures, the check points and strict monitoring of people’s movements have affected the already bad economic situation.  This absence of freedom limits the opportunities to earn a living, which in turn creates economic hardships that give rise to conflicts between family members, neighbors, and employees.

Zoughbi’s (2011) work has helped to preserve the integrity of human relationships.  It helps Palestinian society by retaining the individuals’ faith in nonviolent possibilities.  It discourages susceptibility to the appeals of extremist movements, preserves institutional and social self-confidence, and helps cultivate a constructive atmosphere in which Palestinians take productive measures regarding matters that affect their daily lives.

Dr. Mubarek Awad’s nephew, Sami Awad, is also doing remarkable work at the Holy Land Trust located in Bethlehem, West Bank by creating and maintaining nonviolence programs to support the Palestinian people as they confront political, social, and economic hardship.  It is possible to work in partnership by volunteering in Palestine/Israel with this organization.  If you are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the situation you can sign up for a travel and encounter program where you will engage in cross cultural and experiential learning opportunities in Palestine and Israel.

Once the conflict has ended we need to be ready to engage in a variety of transitional, restorative and reparative justice programming.  Now is the time to build the foundations, do the research, begin the preparation and commit ourselves to a sustainable peace with justice and for the future for all Israelis and Palestinians.

Current Research:  How will our work in psychology aid peace builders in arriving at a means toward reconciliation, healing, and sustainable peace?

Currently, I am involved in a pilot study consisting of interviews asking the question, what do Palestinians want?  My participants are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship living in diaspora, more specifically in New Jersey.  They are Christian, Muslim, and Druze.  They are all professionals, a retired pharmaceutical researcher, a retired physician and researcher and a university professor.  Two were born before 1948 in Palestine and the other was born two years after May of 1948.  They all lived in Palestine/Israel and left as adults.  All three are living in the U.S. because for a variety of reasons each one understood that they could not be successful in their respective professions if they remained in their homeland.

Each one of them believes that a secular one-state solution with equal rights for all regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender or any other socially constructed divisions would be the most just and sustainable solution.  That said, they all are reluctant to trust that such a change will come in their lifetime.  They all claim to have hope, but want to be realistic and conservative in their belief that things will get better in Israel Palestine.  When asked what they want for Palestinian refugees, they all agree that the refugees must be permitted to return to their homeland and or be compensated for their losses.   They all support unity between Palestinians.   Each of them appears to understand the complexities of the situation and recognize that compromise by all parties is absolutely essential.

The issue of beginning the healing process for them was a difficult one to discuss.  It appeared that they could not allow themselves to think about it.  They each had a consistent need for acknowledgement by Israelis of what has been done to the Palestinians. When asked what they want others to know about them as a Palestinian living in diaspora, PW 1, a retired pharmaceutical researcher responded, “I specifically want the Jewish people to know the truth about what happened in Palestine in 1947, 48, 50 and 51, especially those that are survivors of the Holocaust.  They should know the truth because I believe that such people who survived crimes by the Nazis will not accept that their own people would commit similar crimes against another people.”

PW #2, a retired physician responded, “I want them to know that I am living in the United States as a law abiding citizen.  My heart and soul are still in Palestine.  I want my country liberated.  I want my people to have the choice and the ability to go back to their roots and their country.  That is what I want people to know.  I will continue to be a law abiding citizen and I will continue to raise my children as American, but at the same time, my children know they are Palestinian.  There remain aspirations for the Palestinian people in each and every one of their souls.”

PW 3, a university professor responded, “Yes, I want to share with other people and for them to acknowledge my heritage as a Palestinian which goes back to the Arab heritage as to their contribution to the human civilization, which has been ignored in western countries… The other thing specifically  I want to share my own experiences under what is called the Israeli Democracy and the harsh memories I have from living and continue to have through my family or whenever I go there and I encounter those issues.  As a Palestinian who grew up in Israel, what kind of experiences did I have there?  What kind of treatment?  What kind of rights did I have there?  I was mostly deprived of my rights.  I have achieved much more living as an immigrant in the United States than I ever achieved in the 44 years that I lived in Israel, which is ironic… My country of birth did not give me  anywhere near as much opportunity as the United States gave me as an immigrant living in an open society that treats people somehow in a fair manner, generally speaking. “

Future Research

My dissertation will ask the question:  What would justice look like through the eyes of Palestinians?  I will be interviewing Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.  I am hoping I can arrange to enter Gaza to speak directly to Palestinians still under siege.  During each of my trips to Israel/Palestine I was told over and over by Palestinians that no one is listening to them.  They feel like the world has turned its collective back on their condition.  That is whyI dedicate my work and research to all those individuals as a vehicle for Palestinian voices to be heard without filters.


None of us can do any of this alone.  We have to change ourselves from believing that there are no answers, that nothing we do can change what is happening, and that the conflict will never end.  It will end.

Oppression is not sustainable.  We have seen throughout the Arab world that changes continue to come from the bottom up.  We have witnessed around the world an end to conflicts in other countries.  It can happen and it will happen in Israel Palestine.

As healers, we need to focus on ending the oppression and imbalance of power.  We need to assist in the healing by not being part of the system that maintains the status quo.  Let us open our collective eyes as visionaries so that we can see the possibilities and there are many.  No more excuses.  No more justification for digging our heels in.  No more putting off what needs to be done right now.   Let us inspire each other to push beyond what we thought was possible with ourselves, and with Israelis and Palestinians.

I say to you all that we will not eliminate conflict until we start by ridding ourselves of fear and hatred.  We have to be willing to examine why we have these feelings that allow us to project such a negative reaction onto “The Other.”  When we are able to move beyond the socially constructed divisions and barriers meant to divide us, we shall see clearly and our hearts will be open, filled with love and compassion.

Please allow me to end with a quote from Jimmy Carter’s 2002 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  “We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.  The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices… We can choose to alleviate suffering.  We can choose to work together for peace.  We can make these changes—and we must.”


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