Spring days in Bethlehem

by Toine Van Teeffelen, Arab Educational Institute

The taxi driver is obviously nervous and suddenly brakes when a car passes by he doesn’t see. Throughout the journey he keeps talking. “It’s state terrorism,” he says about the killing of Ahmed Manasrah the previous night by the Israeli army. “It is the elections in Israel. They want to show who is the ruler here.” And: “Unbelievable, the racist treatment of taxi drivers near Battir and Wad Foukin.”

Thursday is strike day due to Manasrah’s death as well as of several other Palestinians in the West Bank killed earlier in the week.

All shops and companies are closed. It is the first day of spring, Mother’s Day, a big day here. Good weather day, too.

I realize once again that one unfortunately gets used to the killings – though never completely. However, the driver’s nervousness compels me to closely read the accounts of the killing near Bethlehem in the news agencies and papers.

The Israeli army says there was friction between Palestinians and rocks were thrown at cars. Soldiers intervened, shot Manasrah dead and seriously injured another Palestinian.

Family members of Manasrah have a totally different account. First there was a car accident. Somebody left the car that was hit in the accident to see what had happened to his car. He was shot from a military watchtower. Then Manasrah came out of his car and brought the injured man to a nearby hospital. After this he came back to bring the family members of the injured man home. When reaching the scene he himself was shot and killed. Manasrah’s family members say it was “beyond bizarre” to think he was throwing stones. It all happened near Road 60 between Hebron and Bethlehem, at the entrance of Bethlehem to the south.

Two more were earlier in the week killed after throwing explosives to a group of soldiers in Nablous, according to the army, though again not according to bystanders.

This morning Amira Hass writes in Haaretz that on March 4, some weeks ago, two Palestinians were killed west of Ramallah after they had rammed their car into a group of soliders and seriously injured one. While Israeli media reports afterwards suggested that the killing by soldiers was in self-defense, a video collected by Btselem, the Israeli human rights organization, indicated that 9 of the 10 bullets were shot 4,5 minutes after the crash – proof of a wanton killing.

The incidents were or are undoubtedly ‘investigated’.

On Friday it is Marathon Day. The strike is over, and people are allowed to move again, and move long and well. Music along the roads is on, runners and walkers are cheered or given the high five. Life goes on. There are over 8000 participants – more than in previous years. Mary shows me a video on Facebook how near Rachel’s Tomb some people shout “free, free Palestine” under the military watchtower.

Mary and I tell each other to finally join next year’s marathon.


Photo: Hundreds of Palestinians gathered on Thursday at Ahmed Manasrah’s funeral in the southern occupied West Bank (MEE/Akram al-Waara)


Peace, Peace Spirituality

Ancient time, ordinary time, disrupted time

by Toine Van Teeffelen
Arab Educational Institute

During a quiet morning a few weeks ago, I waited for a mass by Armenian priests in the Nativity Grotto to end. Together with guests I sat for an hour on the entrance stairs. We experienced the timelessness of Christmas through the slow, rhythmic singing of the priests.

Yesterday, at the occasion of Mary’s birthday, Mary and I visited a mass in the small chapel of the Bridgettines Sisters near Nativity Square. It is beautifully located in the maze of old small streets that is part of overlooked Bethlehem. The silence and sounds of bells and the inaudible footsteps of the sisters too remind of the ancient rhythm of the town.

Afterwards we rushed back into the ordinary sense of time. We have all kinds of sign posts that punctuate the normal days. Does the kaek man come in time so we can buy his bread with sesam before Mary leaves to Bethlehem University? Yes, there we hear his distant cry in the morning silence. Or we hear the shouts of school children going to school and know how late it is, or sense the quick steps of students going to their exams at university, studying from books they sometimes read while walking.

Yet there is always an unwelcome third rhythm: that of occupation. It interferes with the other rhythms. Full of uncertainty and threat, it puts people on their nerves. Last week, after a number of attacks against settlers and oppressive actions by the Israeli army, I noticed through Facebook that people in Bethlehem and Ramallah opened their doors for stranded travellers. They offer accommodation to those who do not dare to go out in the evening on the highways because their cars may be stoned by settlers. This happened for instance on the Wadi Nar road, the circling road to the east of Jerusalem which connects Bethlehem and Ramallah. According to an Israeli human rights organization there were last week within 24 hours after an attack against settlers “dozens if not hundreds” stone throwing attacks against Palestinian cars.

Travelling requires daily planning which is here always under threat of being disrupted by unplanned events. Such event can be a sudden mobile checkpoint but also (in my case) the shock of what you see while traveling normally. Along the Ramallah-Nablous road there are quite a number of posters put up by settlers in which the eyes of Mahmoud Abbas, the PNA’s president, are in the center of concentric circles. It is a call for assassination.

Sometimes there is positive traveling news, or whatever we for the moment regard as positive. Lately Mary got a permit to go and fly through Tel Aviv airport. Happy to get a permit to travel in your own country. And this time the permit did not come the day before or after traveling, so she is able to plan her trip well.

The rhythm of politics also interferes with the ancient rhythms of religion. This is not just about traveling or entrance problems when visiting mosques and churches, but about something as simple as sending a Christmas card. I tell people abroad that Christmas cards sent to Bethlehem arrive standard in February. Security.

But post can also take longer. In October it happened that 10 ton of post packages arrived in Jericho. They were held up for no less than 6 years at the Allenby Bridge after being classified as suspicious. Because of some kind of new arrangement between the occupational authorities and the Palestinian Communication Ministry the packages were now released. A favor.

I actually do believe that some Israeli army officials think it is not a humiliation but a confidence building measure — so all pervasive is the delusion of arbitrary power that keeps the occupation in place. Within days the packages were brought by the Palestinian post service to their real destination. Imagine, to receive a Christmas present after 6 years. What kind of time rhythm is that?


A wall without a future: Israelis and Palestinians live in two different worlds

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

The border wall between Israel and the West Bank is among the most forbidding and hostile in the world. Viewed from up close, whichever side you find yourself on, it rears up from the ground, overwhelming and dominating you. It is dispiriting, intimidating, oppressive, and otherworldly. On each side of the wall lives a different people. It is a monument to one of the world’s most intractable disputes.

I have been following the Israeli – Palestinian conflict since 1981. The conflict became increasingly complicated and, above all, unworthy. However, I could never believe that from 2002 on (during the Second Intifada) a wall would be built by Israel between the two communities. Since then I have been able to follow the construction of the wall, which has recently been completed and built on Palestinian territory. The divisions between Israel and Palestine are well established. You have to cross checkpoints in order to get in the other community, if you are allowed to do so. I regret that some visitors of the Holy Land look at the wall as “conflict tourists.”

Gaza and nonviolence resistance

The situation in Gaza can explode any minute. The Gazans are left behind and have to deal with their own suffering. The circumstances can have repercussions outside of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is not only a humanitarian problem (the water is unclean; more than 60 % of the youth is unemployed; only three hours electricity a day). It is politically a hot potato. No solution has been found between Hamas and Fatah to transfer all authority over Gaza back to Ramallah.

Israel built a security barrier on the border with Gaza, begun in 1994; it is nearly 40 miles long. In addition, a 152-mile-long fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border was completed in 2013 and has halted illegal immigration from a variety of African countries (Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia). In 2016, Israel announced a plan to build an underground wall, more than a hundred feet deep, to prevent armed groups from emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli border towns. In Israel, the protection of the citizens comes first.

The Israeli blockade against the Strip is cruel, inhumane and a violation of civilizational standards. When can Palestinians return to their human dignity and their right to self-determination? The political problem is that Hamas controls everything in Gaza, dominating all aspects of life. They established a network of social welfare and educational systems around the local mosques that endeared the movement’s leaders to the people. There seems no political space for alternatives. Since 2008, I have visited Gaza several times. Complicated to get in! You need a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza. The small territory is isolated from the rest of the world by fences and barriers. It is an open prison! The small Christian community, numbering perhaps fewer than three thousand people, feels under pressure, and many are trying to leave.

Gaza is home to almost two million Palestinians, the majority of whom are long-term refugees (a further 3.25 million Palestinians live in the West Bank). Hamas has run Gaza since the elections in 2007. Hamas is a radical ideological movement that is deeply anti-Israel. Israel, the USA and the EU among others designate the group as a terrorist organisation. The question is: do you talk with Hamas or not? Some say “yes” you have to maintain contacts, talk, and others certainly say “no”: you never talk to a terrorist association.

On 30 March 2018, a “March of Return” started as a Gazan civil society initiative expressing people’s desire to live with dignity and with hope of a better future. The plan was to hold every Friday a peace march until the 15th of May, Nakba Day. The weekly demonstrations along the Israeli-Gaza border have increased their intensity in numbers, locations and frequency. Despite the nonviolent character of the March, IDF snipers have killed more than 240 (young) Palestinians. Critics said the Israeli forces sometimes opened fire even when two crucial conditions of international law for using lethal force were absent: the targeted individual posed a danger and the threat was immediate. The Gazans asked for the end of the Israeli-Egyptian siege on Gaza. It is about putting an end to the totally unacceptable cage that Gaza has become over the past 10 years.

West Bank

Palestine has de facto two separate entities. The distance between them is not the issue. If all sides could agree, the 25 miles of intervening Israeli territory could be overcome with a highway bridge or tunnel. However, the two regions remain separated not just by geography, but also by politics and ideology. Fatah officially accepts the concept of “two states for two peoples”. They expect the same policy from the other partner Israel. Hamas rejects, at least formally, any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. All parties in the conflict should recognize each other’s existence.

Behind the great security barrier live 2.5 million Palestinians. Life in West Bank is hard, but easier than in Gaza. The health care is of a low standard and that is why thousands are treated in Israeli hospitals. Work permits are hard to obtain. Palestine is hardly an open society. The Palestinian leadership is in a deep crisis. The political leadership and the political apparatus urgently need renewal, rejuvenation and transparency. Palestine will remain a house divided.

Political process

There is no real political peace process between Israel and Palestine. It has been tried several times already: Oslo in 1993; Camp David in 2000; Taba in 2001; the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002; the Roadmap for peace in 2003; Annapolis in 2007-2008; and the efforts of former US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014-2015. All attempts have failed because of a lack of political will. The involvement of the international community is essential and that is lacking as well. It needs more vigour and teeth to bring pressure.

Israel has no real desire to unify the Palestinian people and to negotiate a peace treaty with them that would cost Israel the need to withdraw from territory in the West Bank and allow Palestinians in Gaza to enjoy a normal life of freedom and a chance of hope for a better future.

Political life in Israel

It is expected that in 2019 new national elections will take place in Israel. Israeli governments are always formed by coalitions. All Israelis want their country to be strong, stable, democratic, safe and at peace with its neighbours. The sense of unity is high among the Israelis (especially when war comes) although major differences occur on the relations between the state and the role of religion as well as on the position of the Israeli Arab citizens (a fifth of the population). Israel keeps conquering land from the Palestinians illegally. The issue of the settlements divides Israeli public opinion; the wisdom, legality and morality of their existence are always fiercely debated. Gaps between different groups in Israel are widening and poverty is growing. Differences within society also affect the political sphere. Most in the secular category see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second. Most Orthodox sees themselves as Jewish first and then Israeli. Religious political parties are almost components in coalition governments. Religious parties tend to dominate matters of education and religion. In recent years, the political and democratic space for NGOs, journalists and writers has shrunk.


Walls are containing the violence. Walls should be temporary. That temporality is long gone. For that to happen an agreement will be needed not only between the two sides, but also within them. New leaders should be chosen who would invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. To ever renew negotiations between Israel and Palestine, it is necessary to believe that there are partners for peace on the other side.

Many believe that the only viable way of finding a way out is the Two-State Solution fulfilling the aspirations for peaceful coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. This option must be repeated on a regular basis what the Holy See for instance is doing.


Knife into society

by Toine van Teeffelen
Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem

This Tuesday the mayor of Bethlehem, Anton Salman, was attacked with a knife. He got a deep wound in his right cheek that had to be stitched. It could have been even worse if the knife had landed higher or lower. The attacker was somebody from the Hebron area apparently motivated by revenge, as he did not receive a permit to sell corncobs on the street. After fleeing he was caught by Palestinian police in Hebron. In the evening a public demonstration was held in front of the Church of Nativity to express solidarity with the mayor and his family and protest against the lack of law and order. “An attack on the mayor is an attack on all of us.” In the aftermath people emphasized that decisions are needed, not rhetoric.

Among the issues coming up in the discussions at home and at work are the following.

First, it seems that the police are sometimes reluctant to enforce – or delay enforcing – the law, and arrest lawbreakers. The police are the representatives of the Palestinian National Authority on the street and have a credibility problem due to among other things the ongoing inter-party struggles in Palestinian politics. Due to the overall situation citizens are emotionally on the edge, and an arrest can easily lead to a quarrel or clash. When the municipality decided to regulate the bastaat (sales on the street), such as in the area in front of the Church, the attack took place.

Don’t forget here the broader context of occupation. In area C, over 60% of the West Bank, but also in area B where the Israeli army is supposed to keep law and order, there is actually no law and order agenda – rather the opposite. It is the “Wild East” where settlers supported by the army can make use of Israeli laws and army regulations to instigate a climate of fear and where properties and livelihood are at continuous risk. Palestinian criminals can take refuge there, crimes ranging from aggressive behaviour to chemicals dumping.

Next, there is the general question of how to control and develop public space. The authorities sometimes face insurmountable difficulties. The issue of traffic is a good example. In Bethlehem, like in other Palestinian places, we see from year to year a significant increase in the number of cars. It seems many households have actually two cars, new or old, bought or on a loan. Most car rides do not go beyond the urban conglomeration of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Car owners do not have permits to go to neighboring Jerusalem. So it is quite common now to stand in a queue in what was formerly a free road. As everywhere in the world, this increases irritation levels.

But it is extremely difficult for governing bodies in the present situation in the West Bank to identify public space solutions in the cities, and this too affects the credibility of public bodies. Besides the need to preserve the ancient buildings and homes, spatial planning requires a local-regional master plan. However, municipalities or other Palestinian authorities are not able to plan and implement public works near, let alone over the traditional boundaries of town. Tunnels and viaducts are not to be decided by the municipality or the PNA when they are in or next to areas B or C. Nor are there structural budgets for the implementation of larger public works beyond patching holes in assfalt roads. Which means that the Palestinian traffic network and public works in general remain hugely underdeveloped. If they can, Palestinian cars make use of the modern highways between the Israeli settlements and the settlements and Jerusalem.

There is a different factor which further affects the authority of the Palestinian public authorities. Given the fact that the Palestinian political system has been stuck now for quite a number of years, we see that other social structures than official governance bodies are becoming stronger, such as tribalism or expressions of religious identity. After the attack on the mayor, tribal leaders from the Hebron area wanted to come over to Bethlehem to arrange a reconciliation. This was refused, because it would only further weaken existing authority structures.

Largely due to occupation and a stagnant economy, there are huge levels of unemployment, especially under youth (not like in Gaza, but I believe youth unemployment levels here in the West Bank reach 40-50%). At the same time people see that some do actually profit from the occupation – or from international subsidies going to local or international NGOs. This is a criticism often heard. The ‘greed is good’ capitalism is certainly here present too. Many teachers or nurses and others working against low salaries are barely able to take care of their (extended) families. It is logical then that the inequality in economic chances eats into the vitals of society.

Is the situation hopeless? Of course not, but given the lack of any perspective on a just peace, Palestinian society is wounded and under considerable stress. Sumud or steadfastness is still there – in the humour against the odds, in the survival tactics, in the history and memories of social resistance, and in the political awareness as you see it during a public meeting as organized in front of the Church spontaneously after the attack. Still people are struggling to develop values of citizenship, to demand an independent judiciary and executive, create a sense of inclusive national identity, and so on. Yet it is a hard struggle.


Deep concern about Jewish Nation-State Law

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Recent historic events such as the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel as well as the 70 years of “catastrophe” (or Nakba) for the Palestinians of mid-May 2018, have politically put nothing in motion. On the contrary, the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians are deeper than ever. The two communities have been further polarized and their political leaders have not been able to take any initiative at all to find a possible solution to the decades-long conflict. The international community looks at it but does not undertake anything significant. The divisions are structural, fundamental and marked by the occupation of the Palestinian territory for more than 50 years. Moreover, the divisions between the Palestinian factions (Hamas/Gaza and Fatah/West Bank) are further enflamed and politically abused. Recent political developments in Israel make dialogue between Israel and Palestine almost impossible.

Basic Nation State Law

The latest drastic decision is the “Basic Nation State Law” taken by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. That law was adopted by the Knesset 62 in favour, 55 against and 2 abstentions on 19 July 2018. The law defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It has been met with worldwide criticism, including from within the Jewish diaspora.

This new legislation is of great concern and violates democratic principles such as the equality of all citizens. Civil rights should be equal rights. The law fails to provide any constitutional guarantees for the rights of the indigenous and other minorities living in the country. Arabic citizens of Israel, constituting 20%, are flagrantly excluded from the law – such as Arabic/Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Druze, Bedouin residents, etc. We are talking about 1.5 million citizens of Israel who identify themselves as Arab Israeli.

The measure ignores an entire segment of the population as if its members and citizens never existed. It seems non-Jewish people are no longer welcome in Israel. And what then is the position of the many inhabitants in Israel who belong to the Jewish people but do not profess the Jewish religion? The law discriminates among peoples, which means that the dignity of each individual citizen is not respected. The political impact of Jewish religion on Israeli society is more than ever now a reality.

Defining the character of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state weakens the democratic ethos which is supposed to be a key element of Israeli society. The Jewish identity in Israel is increasingly characterised by the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities, for whom ethnic and religious pluralism in “their land” is intolerable. That will result in further fragmentation of their society.

Law encourages further settlement building

The Arabic language has been downgraded from a second official language to a language with “a special status”. The law also declares that the State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation of such settlements. This strengthens the hand of settlement groups seeking to seize properties from Palestinians and from Christian church properties as well. The existence and further development of settlements in the Occupied Territories is against international law and in contradiction of all related United Nations resolutions. The further intended construction of Jewish settlements is a bridge too far.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity exist in the Holy Land

What will be the impact of the Basic Law for the other religions, including Islam and Christianity? Together with Judaism these two religions form the profile and identity of the Holy Land. One cannot do without the other. They exist and form one important section of the country that is inspired by these three religions. That means that the Holy Land and all the holy places are part of the three religious traditions and cultures. Jerusalem, as holy and eternal city of the three religions, must be shared. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the others. We keep talking of Jerusalem as a city of three religions and two peoples.

Law is exclusive rather than inclusive

The main conclusion is that the Basic Law is rather exclusive than inclusive. It strengthens the institutionalization of racism and dispels hopes of equality. Any state with large minorities ought to recognize the collective rights of minorities and guarantee the preservation of their collective identity, including their religious, ethnic and social traditions. Freedom of religion and religious identity, which are supposed to be guaranteed for all Israeli citizens, is at stake.

Critical opinions are not welcome

In today’s Israel, any criticism of Israeli governmental decisions is labeled as anti-Israeli. Critics are prevented from entering Israel, regardless of their nationality and religion, including Jews. Both Israeli citizens inside the country and Jews and non-Israelis from outside who make critical and constructive remarks against certain measures of this Israeli government are considered anti-Zionist and especially anti-Semitic. We all know someone, a colleague or a friend, who is not allowed to enter the country of Israel because of critical remarks about government policy. This is the tactic of enforcing silence! We all should refuse to surrender the right to speak or fall into the collective complacency of silence. A critical look at political decision-making only benefits the quality of a democracy.

Break the spiral of silence!

As matters now stand, it is the Israeli state that dominates the entire land – exploiting it as its own, and privileging the Israeli Jewish citizens. It seems that Israel does whatever it wants in the West Bank and in Gaza, and they get away with it. Israel no longer even says “sorry” for certain negative impacts of measures taken on Palestinian citizens. Financial support to the Palestinian Authority has been reduced, bringing it dangerously close to bankruptcy. The UNRWA, the UN agency which takes care of the Palestinian refugees, feels the financial crisis. The result is less care and facilities for citizens, in particularly the refugees. The unbearable consequences are that almost no one in Israel, or around the world, lifts a finger or shows sign of even caring.

Without inside and outside pressure allied with fresh thinking, we are unlikely to get any closer towards finding an equitable way to share the land for both Israelis as well as Palestinians.

We all need to keep the struggle high in achieving peace between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people in their independent state, as well as between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. There is no real choice or alternative for the State of Israel to reach peace with Palestinians and its broader neighbourhood as to integrate into the geographical and political region in which it is located. The mission continues!


Emotions dominate people and world events

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Besides being a century of migration and globalisation, our 21st century has also become a century of nationalism and of a renewed search for identity. The ideological battle of the 20th century and of the Cold War especially (1945-1989) has become an identity battle. We live in a time in which we carry out our “identity”, both as an individual and as a nation. We demand the right to be unique, to be different. Some are even prepared to “battle” in order to make others acknowledge them in their existence.


Emotions or passions are part of our human feelings. One needs a certain passion in order to come across convincingly. All of us are driven by emotions, but because these differ in most cases – at times are even opposed to each other – these divide us rather than unite us. And by definition our emotions are selective since they are mostly subjective. Some selective emotions, for instance the extreme egoism of my own country first (America First or Mother Russia First), are more dangerous to the world than universal cynicism and the complete absence of emotions. By nature, emotions are variable and diverse and at times even contradictory. But that one emotion that has been driving us the last couple of years is fear, in various forms. Some speak of an actual culture of fear.

We cannot understand the world in which we live without taking the role of feelings in world geopolitics into account. It is important to put our emotions into perspective in order to rise above them and not to get hung up on them, but mostly to just understand the “other”. The message therefore is to put feelings into perspective so as not to be dominated by them. Emotions reflect the level of confidence of a society. And it is that measure of confidence that determines whether a society is able to recover from crises, whether it can take up challenges and whether it can conform to changing circumstances.


Primarily, there are three types of emotions: fear, hope and humiliation. Obviously, there are other emotions too, like anger, indignation, hate, pain, sorrow, love, honour or solidarity. The emotions fear, hope and humiliation are, however, most applicable to the concept of trust between people as well as between peoples/nations. One of the main causes of rivalry, distrust and “own people/nation first”-thoughts is a lack of trust. It is like a downward spiral and this can lead to possible (armed) conflicts. Trust is as important to nations and civilisations as it is to individuals. Trust is a significant indicator of the (healthy) state of our world. This is why, in politics too, we speak of taking “confidence-building measures” in order to mitigate or resolve areas of tension or conflict in, for instance, the Ukraine or with North Korea.

Identity is closely related to trust, and trust (or lack thereof) is expressed in emotions – especially in feelings of fear, hope and humiliation.


Throughout the years, fear has deepened, expanded and diversified. When people(s) feel humiliated, fear lashes out. It is an emotional reaction to potential danger or insecurity. Sometimes people are afraid because they do not know what to expect. By a constant focus in our society on problems related to migration and security, a culture of fear is being created. There is a fear of the other, of foreigners who pour into our countries, who threaten our identity and steal our jobs. There is a fear of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; of economic insecurity or collapse. There is a fear of disease and natural catastrophes. It concerns fear of the unknown and of a threatening future, on which humankind can exert little or no influence. Such fears are found worldwide and have globalised through, among others, the relocation of activities abroad, job loss and “unfair” instead of “free” trade. Although one should treat (feelings of) fear seriously, they should also be put into perspective. Fear can give way to hope.


Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of human beings through the liberation from sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair in life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to be interactive with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to come close to other people, to accept their differences from us without fear.


Humiliation is powerlessness. Humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost their hope for the future. We often consider our lack of hope to be caused by others, as those who have treated us badly in the past. One experiences humiliation when one is not in control over one’s own life, whether as an individual or as a people/nation. The feeling is that someone else completely dominates you and has made you dependant. You have lost power and control over the present and especially over the future. The feeling of humiliation is present in all cultures and civilisations. Humiliation itself is quite useless and we shall try to turn it into hope, else it leads to despair and to having feelings of hate or revenge, which can easily turn into a desire to destroy.


With the end of the Cold War in November 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall – the beginning of a culture of hope) came the breakthrough of the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation is a dynamic process, consisting among others in the integration of markets, nation-states and technologies. It enables individuals, societies and nations to act quicker than ever in order to “command” the world. In the period of globalisation, the relationship with the other has become more fundamental than ever. We live in uncertain times and the first one we look upon negatively is the other, he or she that comes from far away, mostly from the South. That insecurity begins with fear for the other.

Israel and Palestine

How are two peoples with different emotional “landscapes” to be reconciled? The exodus of a large number of Jewish people to Palestine was like a miracle of rebirth, a new home. That same event is called the “Nakba” by the Palestinians and for them is a synonym for a disastrous defeat and repression. Driven from their homes!

Israelis consider their state to be legitimate and a necessary manifestation of their existence as a nation. The Palestinians, just as the Arabs, experienced it as an anachronistic display of Western imperialism. This clash of two peoples is related to humiliation and fear. An absolute and unique tragedy, such as the Shoah, gave birth to a nation; and a different people has been crushed and repressed by a victim that has largely grown blind to the suffering of others. This tragic and lasting confrontation is an especially emotional event that impacts our global society.

Israel’s central and “emotional” location, in the midst of the Arab and Muslim world, has led Arabs to experience the existence of the state Israel as “stolen territory”. What a humiliation! Arabs consider this territory to be their own land, including Jerusalem and its Dome of the Rock, one of the three most holy places of Islam.

The only real solution to the conflict is that all parties recognise both the state of Israel and a to-be-built state of Palestine as full, equal and with hope for the future. It remains problematic and a reason for further conflict to continue humiliating both peoples by not or inadequately recognising them.

If there is one large community that has been humiliated during many years, it is the Arab population — especially after the subdivision of the Ottoman Empire into British and French mandates about a hundred years ago and especially through the post-1945 politics of the USA that have been characterised by political interventions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things. The West has humiliated the Arab world.

On the other hand, the Arab community itself should set things right by reworking the differences between Sunnis and Shiites into a workable and constructive tension which enables all people and all communities to enjoy their basic rights. It is not an option to continue humiliating, or even destroying, each other!

In conclusion

Ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand. Peace and reconciliation are only possible for people and communities that know and accept one another. Recognise each other’s existence! Despite the fact that we live in an age of information, we do not understand other people or different communities any better than we did in the past, rather the opposite seems to be true.

It seems that in our complex world, cultures, nations and even individuals are getting more and more obsessed by their own identities. This obsession can only further increase the significance of emotions in international relations. But perhaps everything first starts with self-knowledge. Only people and communities that are at peace with themselves, that know who they are and what they represent, can come to terms with others.

* Photo courtesy of National Public Radio at