Blessed are the peacemakers

Simon Smart reflects on the recent escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and whether peace and friendship across the divide is possible.

A few years ago, some of us at CPX led three historical tours of Israel. We got to know and become friends with two guides. One was an Israeli philosopher who had once gone to prison as a conscientious objector, refusing to be posted in the occupied territories as part of national service. The other guide was a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem who looked after us once we entered the West Bank.

Whenever rockets and missiles start flying as we have seen this week, I find myself wondering how they are both faring.

Many people of good will have laboured over the Arab-Israeli conflict to help find a solution that remains out of reach.

Gary Burge, who has travelled to, and written about the region for 30 years, describes the understandable insecurity on the Israeli side, and the deep sense of dislocation on the Palestinian side. Burge says when you have a people without hope they will inevitably turn to extreme solutions.

I will never forget the anguish of our Palestinian guide describing his life of limitation, poverty, suffocation. “Why do my kids not deserve a good education?”, he would ask us. “Why can’t I use the airport, the roads, go to the beach?”

The Booker nominated novel, Apeirogon is based on the real-life friendship of two men from across the great divide: Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan. Both have lost daughters to violence, Bassam to a shooting by Israeli soldiers and Rami to a car bomb in the heart of Tel Aviv. Their shared grief has united them in working together to find a road to peace. Bassam has made it his life’s work to study the Holocaust, Rami is working against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Seeds of hope? Perhaps. “Blessed are the peacemakers”.