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The way to overcoming the collective memory in the Arab-Israeli conflict is through dual narrative

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The Arab-Israeli conflict has been fueled by events and changes over the past century, but its roots go much deeper. Each decade of the past hundred or so years has added its share of political, civil, and personal complexities to the situation, but beyond these events, the conflict on both sides has been influenced by struggles, changes, and circumstances that have built up two separate histories over the centuries. Each side has a collective history, legacy, and memory that drive the conflict and simultaneously widen the gap between the opposed forces. The dual narrative approach to closing this gap can encourage younger generations to nurture values of open-mindedness, empathy, and cooperation in their future decisions and actions, furthering efforts towards mutual understanding and peace. Briding the divide may be challenging and frustrating for those involved in the conflict and those involved in resolving it. Nonetheless, with every challenge confronted in the process, there is an opportunity for students to try and view the situation from a different point of view and consider, in many cases for the first time, that their reality may not be the only one there.

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The dual narrative as a tool in conflict resolution can create a clearer picture of the forces influencing the conflict. Not only does it provide two sides to the same story, but it provides two completely different stories. Before considering this approach as a tool in finding resolution, there are key concerns that arise in the process of encountering this inherent duality. In reading each side of the dual narrative, it can at times feel like reading two histories that never converge or even took place around the same time or with the same parties; on one side of the page, they’re describing violent riots and death tolls while on the other side, they’re explaining political mandates and declarations. Even with this inherent confusion, the dual narrative, in essence, captures the confounding truth of the situation as a whole, which is that two divergent realities can and do exist in the face of one another. This duality contributes to the struggles of both those involved in the conflict and those trying to resolve the conflict. For those involved in either side of the conflict, the existing duality perpetuates this sense of being denied one’s own truth: how can their story be true without denying the truth of our own? For those working to promote peace and mitigate the conflict, the two divergent stories can create an overwhelming sense of intractability: how can we find the middle-ground in a conflict when the two sides continue to deny the other’s truth? Even as a third party, it’s difficult to hold both perspectives in my head at the same time. How then can someone directly affected by the conflict find a way to empathize and understand the others’ point of view?

While the concerns that arise in acknowledging this duality are valid, the dual narrative approach to learning and teaching about the Arab-Israeli Conflict remains a key tool in beginning to resolve the conflict. It provides an opportunity for people to step back from the conflict at hand and consider the history and events that have taken place through someone else’s eyes. I know that when I read the dual narrative, it’s a different experience compared to Israeli and Palestinian students who may have grown up constantly being told just one history, whereas I am learning both of them for the first time at the same time. Reading about someone else’s perspective of the same events can conjure up good and bad emotions. If the history reveals that the group opposite of you, your family, and your friends has experienced similar struggles or defeats as you have, you could either react with anger and frustration, feeling that the history has been twisted or the other group is being portrayed as innocent when you believe that they’re not, or you could react with empathy and understanding by realizing that there are commonalities that exist between the dual narratives that cannot be denied, that their reality is as true as your own.

Mediating between these two responses to the dual narrative can be as complicated and unpredictable as mediating the conflict itself. Each student holds a collection of beliefs shaped and nurtured by the influences around them, whether it be family, education, or culture; sometimes those beliefs or perceptions can stand in the way of understanding the other perspective. Nonetheless, it would be counterintuitive to any goal of positive change to not encourage a nurturing of empathy and understanding in place of the static one-sided perspectives that cloud our view. By providing an opportunity for students to consider reshaping their own perspectives and listening to the other side sincerely and open-mindedly, the dual narrative becomes a key tool in setting the stage for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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