NSL is often seen as a program that creates contacts between enemies to humanize the other and make relationships that can be the platform for future cooperation. That is the traditional model and in post- conflict zones, it can be extremely effective.
But over 9 years, NSL has learned the hard way that the contact theory does not necessarily apply to a war zone. How do you make friends with someone who might go home and be forced by a military system to grab a knife or fly a plane to kill you. How do you create a business together when you know that with one economy on subsistence and the other a world powerhouse, that any business will reproduce an exploitative inequality.
NSL began after the 2008 war, and has seen off two more, in 2012 and 2014. It is a harsh environment to be running this program.
Israel and Palestine is not post-conflict and unlike Northern Ireland or South Africa, there has not yet even been a ceasefire or a negotiated agreement about how to end the bloodshed. Everyone is talking peace, while no one is first demanding, End the violence. And so it continues.
The Israeli Army’s rule of engagement only makes sense if for them, this is war. Same goes for their assassination policy. And the resistance of an occupied people that is deemed terrorism is also symptomatic of a people under siege or invasion and who know that bombardment, military detention and torture- even of children, is normal. To expect them not to resist is crazy.
NSL believes that change does not happen unless we deal with the question of power and systems of institutionalized inequality and violence. Unless we factor in to our understanding that we are dealing with two generations denied any choice about what kind of future they desire, we will get into the blame game too.
Can you blame an Israeli 18 year old high school graduate conscripted into the army. Of course she is taught that it is her duty to defend their nation, but as Governor Mike Huckabee says, “Armies are only good at two things, to kill people and break things.” We remember writing these notes a few years back and one fellow, an IDF training officer feeling it was disgraceful to accuse soldiers that way. His army was the most moral, committed to peace… and perhaps to distribute flowers!
You only have to get on a crowded tram in Jerusalem and be accidently jabbed by a AK 47 that a kid in IDF uniform has sticking out his back to realize how abnormal this is, and scary.
Can you blame an 18 year old Palestinian living in Gaza, under siege, enduring regular bombardment and unable to move freely, for being angry and wanting to get out or get revenge? Sometimes our NSL family are shocked that Palestinians come across as angry. But when you place yourself in their shoes, how can anyone be surprised? This is war. No one should be happy. If people are not angry, they are missing something.
Change can only happen when power is confronted by power. That means NSL fellows are in the business of growing power and influence to effect change. They come not to make friends but allies. They come to speak their stories not because they want sympathy but stories create power. They come to network to recruit new audiences to their story of possibility. They enact their Project for Change to contradict the story of helplessness and hopelessness.
Those who have power have no incentive to change. And these NSL change makers, though they want change, have to learn the tools that will shift the levers of this killing machine that so dominates all their lives and their futures.