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No More Enemies #3

Deb Reich
August 29, 2012
by Deb Reich The next big thing in human rights is going to be the right not to be enemies. What is inadequate about the concept of “human rights,” as we now understand it, is that it is essentially static, mono-dimensional and self-oriented. It focuses on rights that accrue to me or my group, and to you and your group, but without any connection between us. This is no longer enough. In the emergent global reality, our shared pursuit of sustainable egalitarian societies will have to be more synchronously coordinated and more dynamic. Consider the right to the most basic necessities of survival – food, clothing, shelter – and to freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of mobility, of religion and of the press, freedom of conscience, freedom to earn a living, etc. These are about me and us (my group, or me and my family, etc.) and you and your group. Every person has the right to . . . Every group has the right to . . . And so forth. Of course, hundreds of millions of people around the world do not enjoy even the minimum of human rights today. There is still a long way to go to assure everyone the same minimum. So what am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that there is little or no dimension of interactivity in the way we have understood the notion of “human rights” thus far. In the way we have understood human rights until now, there is no connectedness, no inbuilt network, no co-evolving or co-being, in the Buddhist sense. The absence of that conceptual aspect may have been a factor in delaying us for so long in attaining the minimum spectrum of rights for so many millions on this planet. Maybe what we have traditionally understood as human rights can’t be more widely attained without introducing more interactivity into the transformative process of attaining them. Maybe it is not only about what I or we or you are entitled to, but what we are entitled to in relation to each other. The right not to be enemies is an interactive human right; it opens up a whole new dimension for us. It’s not just MY right to this or that, or even OUR right to this or that. It’s my right AND your right interactively not to be enemies. It’s our right not to hurt or abuse or make war on and slaughter one another; not to be forced into playing, each vis-à-vis the other, a zero-sum game, a win-lose game, where one side can live free and prosper, but only at the other’s expense. It’s our right to reject the idea that one must dominate and the other be dominated, that one must play the boot on the neck and the other must play the neck under the boot, with no other roles to choose from! No more! Time to reject that! I knew by the age of 16 that the world into which I was born was going to be unbearable because, no matter which way I looked at my choices, the world seemed to insist that I choose between two standard and polarized roles: bully or victim; oppressor or oppressed; advantaged or disadvantaged; privileged or disenfranchised. I have a vivid memory connected to this. One very hot summer day when everyone in the family was elsewhere, I retreated to my mother’s bedroom – the one room in our house with an air conditioner. I lay on the floor and cried because I did not want to live in that kind of world, though I wasn’t quite ready to check out of it, either. I spent the next four decades looking, more or less consciously, for some way out of that trap. I spent most of that time in Israel, where I had gone in search of my “ethnic roots.” When the “We refuse to be enemies” campaign was created by a mixed Jewish and Palestinian group of mostly women activists in Israel in the autumn of 2000, I was enthusiastic — but the deeper import of the campaign slogan did not sink in right away. My old quest – wasn’t there a third way? – had finally found its resolution, but the realization required another few years until it finally broke through into my active awareness. Suddenly, I understood. This refusal – the refusal to be enemies – this has to become the new floor under our notion of human rights. As articulated so brilliantly by Dr. Riane Eisler (founder of the Center for Partnership Studies) and others, we are meant to build partnerships on this earth, evolving and progressing toward greater cooperation and coordination and sharing. For me, one implication is that anyone and anything that tries to force us backward, into brutality and dominance, is violating our fundamental human right to refuse to be enemies. We cannot realize this right in isolation, but only together. How unsurprising that, in Israel at least, the articulation of this newly evolving understanding came from a feminist campaign, borne forward by both women and men but led, mainly, by women. Physicist Fritjof Capra (in The Turning Point, 1982) and many other visionary social commentators over the last half century have been suggesting that we have entered an era when women’s influence is going to come into its own. Apparently the world really needs women’s voices to speak out now for healing and reconciliation, for a new awareness, for our continued survival and a new shared prosperity. Many recent studies and policy initiatives have buttressed this idea, by demonstrating that peacemaking and development outcomes around the world have improved with broad participation by women, and by insisting that even greater participation by women will improve outcomes even further. (There is now extensive literature on this subject. See an online bibliography at under Women and Peace. Or enter “women + peacemaking” in any search engine and explore for yourself.) The Palestinian Arab and Jewish women of the Israel-based peace movement in October 2000 went one giant step beyond the existing modality of human rights and broke through into a new awareness, a new dimension: declaring their inalienable right to partnership by refusing to be enemies at the behest of their respective societies’ leaderships or anyone else. They said: We will not be enemies. We refuse. No more! No more enemies. Here at last is the brilliant breakthrough this sorry world has been waiting for: ordinary people – mostly women, yes, but ordinary women, not politicians or generals or princesses or queens, not divas or any kind of celebrities – saying: This far and no farther! Years, decades, centuries of conflict – for what?! No more! We refuse! We refuse to be enemies. Meanwhile, this iconic refusal has begun appearing elsewhere in Israel/Palestine and far beyond our borders here. Women’s determined peacemaking across religious and ethnic boundaries is spreading. (For example: An amazing film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, winner of multiple awards worldwide, was made about the Liberian women’s peace movement, which has embraced both Muslim and Christian Liberian women; learn more here). And the refusal to be enemies is being heard also in contexts where the leadership is not necessarily female–like Bil’in and Al-Walaja. (Bil’in and Walaja are two of the Palestinian villages on the West Bank with very strong grassroots movements for nonviolent protest at the continuing loss of their lands and freedom to Israel’s Separation Wall. Search online using the village names.) The images of partnership from October 2000 in Israel remain vivid to me, alongside images of the needless bloodshed, the rage and despair and fear that dominated the media images at that time and finally evoked that amazing partnership response. The tableau that I see in my mind’s eye today, as emblematic of this shifting paradigm, is the one from the autumn of 2000, with these women and men standing vigil along the highway through Wadi Ara. The demonstrators, many of them neighbors from nearby towns, were standing at the roadside along a few hundred meters of Route 65. This is the southernmost end of the ancient caravan route that leads inland from the port of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. The road itself winds northeast through the hills, past Megiddo and the plains it overlooks, which the Bible calls the Plains of Armageddon. It continues past Mount Tabor and reaches Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Finally, it leads you up into the mountains and, if you follow it long enough, on to Damascus. On the day of the vigil, the usual automobile traffic streamed by while the men and women stood together at the roadside, holding hands, Jews and Arabs united in solidarity, from Kufr Qar’e to Arara to the Wadi Ara police station and on toward Umm al Fahm, the largest Muslim town in the area. They were holding hands, they were holding signs, and they were holding a vision of a different future for humanity in their hearts. In Hebrew, Arabic, and English, the signs said: WE REFUSE TO BE ENEMIES. Deb Reich is an American-Israeli Jew who lived for several years in Muslim Arab Palestinian communities in Israel. She trained in cross-cultural mediation and group facilitation at Wahat al Salam-Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace), the shared Jewish/Arab village near Latrun founded in the 1970s. Deb has freelanced widely for civil society organizations in Israel, and was a staff translator with Haaretz-International Herald Tribune. When her book No More Enemies was published (2011), Deb was living in Jerusalem/Al Quds.