„Divided and Entrenched“ – Online Reconciliation for the Palestinians

Interview von Sevinç Lenglachner

Sevinç Lenglachner: Rawan Tahboub, let us start with getting a better understanding of the Palestinian people and society. Can you describe what daily life looks like for Palestinians nowadays?

Rawan Tahboub: That’s not an easy question because we say “the Palestinian society”, but it’s really divided and entrenched all over the world. You have Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza – which is sieged, so there is no direct interaction between West Bank and Gaza. Then we have “Arab 48”, the Palestinians who were in the historical Palestine before the war of 1948. They left their villages, but they stayed inside the historical Palestine. Further, we have refugees living either in refugee camps in Gaza, West Bank or in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Additionally, in the rest of the world former refugees live abroad as migrants. Lastly, there are the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, who are neither identified as Arab48, nor as residents of the West Bank. And there are also more obstacles, because of the different rules and regulations. For example, in Gaza, more of the rules and regulations and the daily life are connected to Egyptian culture and politics. In the West Bank, the rules and regulations are connected to the ones that were established during the Ottoman Empire, followed by the British mandate. Later, Jordan ruled over the West Bank, and now it’s becoming a Palestinian-Israeli combination. The people living in East Jerusalem and in historical Palestine are also under the Israeli laws and regulations. They are still identified as Palestinian. They have either the citizenship of Israel or they have a blue ID. The Palestinian ID is also differentiated based on the color. This also causes differences for them and how they live their life. In terms of culture and daily life, there are a lot of movement restrictions. This is one of the reasons why we want to bring them together in a digital format.

Can you give us some insight into the differences or similarities regarding the hopes and concerns of the Palestinian people? What is moving them nowadays?

There are so many layers to this. There is the political level – what we call the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that’s the main issue that is moving all the Palestinians wherever they are. The intra-Palestinian political division, mainly between Fatah and Hamas, the two dominant parties, is also an important issue for them. There is one important issue, Arab48 who are also called “the forgotten Palestinians”, a phrase that has been used by Ilan Pappé, have not been addressed in any of the agreements and conventions. Nobody talks about their rights; they are not fully integrated into the Israeli state and are being discriminated. Thus, Arab48 feel that they‘re neglected or forgotten. Ultimately there are migrants and asylum seekers who are in the diaspora and longing to come back. They still have the keys to their houses, the houses of their grand-grand- grand-parents who were forced to leave during the war. Their houses are now occupied by the state of Israel. In the context of international humanitarian law, the right to return has been discussed, and addressed in the UN convention 194, but has not been implemented by the state of Israel. Palestinian political and intersocietal talks still do not include the whole spectrum of the Palestinians scattered all over the world.

You write in your project description that “reconciliation among the parties‘ leaders undermined the effects and power of civil society to ignite the spark of the aspired change of a perpetual internal calmness and serenity”. Can you explain that? Why did the party‘s leaders‘ reconciliation undermine that?

Because they never look at the society itself. It‘s only between the parties’ leaders. There were so many initiatives from different actors to try to engage civil society, but the leaders never accepted engaging the civil society. Since 2005/2006, there have been many attempts for reconciliation, the latest in 2021 where Fatah and Hamas wanted to hold an election. All the talks for reconciliation between them took place only on a political level between the parties leaders. They always ended up in fights about their shares and then everything collapsed again. In all of that, none of the civil society’s actors were involved. My vision is that we have a bottom-up, instead of top-down approach. Because many Palestinians are not affiliated with the existing parties and movements. If the civil society wants to reconcile, they will start pushing on the leadership of the movements.

How do you define reconciliation?

I look at it from the Jena approach. The Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies (JCRS) uses an approach developed by Prof. Dr. Martin Leiner called the Hölderlin Perspective. In this perspective reconciliation takes place in the middle of the conflict. One looks for people/groups – also from the minorities – who are willing to initiate an idea of reconciliation. They will be encouraged to address the problems and will be looking for a common understanding of it. A simple understanding of reconciliation would be about finding a way of dealing with the issues that divide in a creative and viable manner. It entails a process of learning to live together, serious talks, in-depth listening and a willingness to enact a new way of living together in which a society can productively work the most stubborn problems, practices and behaviors of the past.

Do you have any examples of reconciliation processes to draw from?

We looked at different case studies to understand how reconciliation can be used as a process. We looked at the South African reconciliation, normalization of the German-French relationship, and the German-German society – how the established stability is somehow disturbed by the rise of the far right. So, we explore how to reach a state of neutralization of conflicts. That doesn‘t mean that there‘s no conflict, but it means that we still have the intention to prevent any escalations of the conflict that might affect or cause future damages. Thus, reconciliation is not linear.

Could you elaborate on the theoretical background of your approach? You speak about the Kantian Perpetual Peace. Can you explain this concept for us?

Kant wanted a Perpetual Peace globally, between countries. He built his analysis on the need of all states for each other. According to him, the more republican a state is, the less hostile it is towards other states, and the more republican states we have, the more stability on a global level. I want to take this approach and see how I can use it on a social level. What I also like is how Kant talks about the society and its need to live together as a forest: trees decide to grow vertically and not horizontally. If they start entrenching their branches and their leaves horizontally, they prevent smaller and weaker trees from living. Instead of dominating the environment, trees decide to grow vertically sharing sun and air. In this way they live in harmony together. That kind of harmony would create the Perpetual Peace which we‘re talking about. Kant says this is something every tree in the forest needs to learn while growing up.

Are you going to bring just the subgroups together or all Palestinians?

I will bring them all together and I will try to find the similarities and differences. For example, take someone from the refugee camp, Fawwar, in the West Bank. Another refugee from a camp in Syria and a former asylum seeker in the U.S. who now holds U.S. citizenship. All of them have similar, but also really different experiences. The one in the U.S. now has a lot of privileges over the one in Palestine, but the one in Palestine still has more leverage over the one in Syria. Understanding these differences and seeing also the shared experience of being an asylum seeker or refugee, is the key to integrate them into a common vision.

You want to reach “digital transformation towards a reconciliation process”. What do you mean by that?

The virtual exchange is the main medium and tool to get people together. My team and I are going to create a program, in which participants aged 18 to 30 meet on a weekly basis over a period of 8-10 weeks and explore different topics under a general theme. In these virtual exchanges the participants are also encouraged to develop skills like empathy, critical thinking, understanding and active listening. If you look at the debates in the student senates at the universities, each group vilifies the other group without leaving any space for dialogue. We hope that challenging stereotypes will give youth an opportunity to understand the differences and use the diversity as a resource of synergy rather than as an element to separate them. I know that‘s really ambitious…

Which is a good thing.


What shall happen after these discussions?

The participants are encouraged to create their own small initiatives in which they also engage their community. And they are encouraged to use digital tools to do so. They can engage anybody in the community if they‘re not minors, e.g., their parents, grandparents, lecturers at the university, people they work with. In this sense they‘re also bringing the attention of the community to some initiatives. What is your wish for this project? Ultimately, I am hoping that by identifying the different affiliations and finding similarities between the different groups, that we can also get them together to find harmony and a shared vision for them. That is, we all can live together, no matter how entrenched or divided we are. This project is a pilot project for a bigger social initiative hope to launch in the near future.

Thank you so much for your time and all the best for your research project.

Rawan ´Mohammad Haydar´ Tahboub is a doctoral researcher at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. She talks about her research project on Virtual Exchange as a Mechanism for Digital Education in the Reconciliation Process. She explains how Kant, Hölderlin and virtual exchange could offer an opportunity for social reconciliation among Palestinians.

Das Interview wurde von Sevinç Lenglachner via Zoom am 13.07.2022 durchgeführt.

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