The Answer to the Crisis in the Middle East
by Ruth Oron
July 31, 2006
As an Israeli who loves my country I have been horrified by the escalating conflict in the Middle East. With all the suffering and despair at this time, it is emergent for people to know that there is an answer to the underlying cause of this crisis.
For decades, peace negotiations have failed for lack of this knowledge. It may be hard to look at, but the fact is that people have preferred to drop bombs, fire rockets and endure terror rather than grant full reality to other human beings. I learned what it means to do so from the philosophy Aesthetic Realism. In 1982, when Israel was at war with Lebanon, Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, asked me in a class if I would like to write a soliloquy about the hopes and fears of a representative Lebanese woman—someone I had grown up feeling was inevitably an enemy, whose people were out to crush mine. For the first time I tried honestly and truthfully to imagine and get within the feelings of a mother living in Beirut, fleeing from her home with her two young sons, terrified that her husband might be killed fighting the Israelis. As I wrote, I thought of myself—because I am also a mother of two sons. I felt ashamed of how little I had wanted to grant that the emotions of an Arab woman were as real as my own and LIKE my own.
I looked squarely at how ugly, how prejudiced my thoughts had been—how steep my contempt was for the Arab people, seeing them as less human than we Israelis were. I said to myself, “This does not represent me! It’s false! It’s not how I want to see people!” I felt liberated. I began to want justice for both Arabs and Israelis at once and I saw it was possible.
Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism, defined the unjust contempt that causes wars and explained its danger. Contempt is the “addition to self through the lessening of something else”—and this I had done. The evidence is throughout history that mutual contempt is the cause of the untold agony and destruction of war. Political differences, economic interests, disputes over land could never lead to war without contempt propelling people—rather than good will. Wrote Eli Siegel: “As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don’t want to see another person as having the fulness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person.” This is going on right now with Israelis, Lebanese, and Palestinians as the victims.
There is only one answer. Every other answer has failed and will keep on failing. That answer is the study of good will as explained by Aesthetic Realism. Good will begins with the desire to know, the belief that by being just to what is different from oneself we are taking care of ourselves. The present crisis has its differences from previous crises in the Middle East—but the underlying cause has not changed nor has the solution. In 1990, in the midst of another war, an ad was placed in The New York Times titled, “The Only Answer to the Mideast Crisis.” In it, Ellen Reiss wrote:
“For there not to be horror in the present world, people need to know they are studying good will, as taught by Aesthetic Realism: how a self is strong through being just to what is not itself.”
This crucial study needs to be engaged in by all people, including those in governments and in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. In 1990 the UN was asked to initiate this study. The fact that there was no such study is why, 16 years later, we have the current crisis.
I believe passionately that a Lebanese man, and a woman living in Gaza, if they were to honestly write a soliloquy about an Israeli (like me) would experience what I did: the same feeling of self-criticism and the desire to reconsider old ways of thinking. And of course, I recommend strongly that my countrymen and women write this, too. Then, we would have the beginning of mutual understanding and good will, instead of hate.
I once didn’t think there was an answer to the animosity and bloodshed between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Now I do.
As appeared in Palladium Times