Making Peace with Your Enemy

  • What kind of transformation is necessary to be able to make peace with your enemy?
  • How does our mental formulation of “the enemy” impact our ability to make peace?

These two questions arose for me from my recent organizing of speaking events for two peacemakers from Israel and Palestine, who are members of Combatants for Peace. The Combatants are Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters who have decided to work together to pursue non-violent approaches to resolving the conflict. Two representatives have come to the U.S. to receive a Courage of Conscience award at the Peace Abbey in Sherborn on March 13, 2009.

The Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, lost his daughter when she was shot by an Israeli soldier on her way home from school.  He explains that taking a stance of revenge would be the easy thing to do; the harder avenue is to adhere to non-violence, which is the path that he has chosen.  Bassam was held in an Israeli prison for 7 years, from the age of 19-26.  He recounts the dialogue that he had with his jailer, in which he learns about the Holocaust and the fears of the Israelis.  At the same time, the jailer came to see Bassam as a freedom fighter, rather than a terrorist.

Yaniv Reshef,  the Israeli,  talks about his experiences serving in the army.  He and his unit, heavily armed from the war in Lebanon, were transferred to Gaza, a densely-populated civilian area where their military equipment was inappropriate.  They infiltrated houses in the middle of the night, waking up families and interrogating them.   One night, Yaniv’s unit gathered up a family in one room, and as they were questioning the family, they heard scratching noises from a nearby cabinet.  Alarmed, Yaniv pointed his M15’s towards the cabinet, ready to shoot the terrorist who’s hiding there.  When the father opened the cabinet door, Yaniv found himself targeting a family of rabbits that the family was raising for food.

As I listened to their testimony and how they explained their transformation from fighter to peace-maker, I was reminded of the work of Bob Kegan, professor of Adult development, and of Herbert Kelman, professor of International Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  According to Kegan’s model of human development, in the earlier stages, people blame others for their problems; they believe the source of the problem is outside of themselves. As they begin to look inside themselves, they often discover that the problem is related to their mental formulation of the problem and their attribution (or mis-attribution) of causality.

Kegan explains the transformation in one’s thinking from stage 4 to 5 (moving from the “self-authoring” to the “self-transforming form of mind”) , which relates to the nature and resolution of conflict.  In stage 4, two parties in conflict see each other as the source of the conflict, and each one believes that if the other party just went away, the problem would be solved. Inherent in that is that they don’t need each other as part of their lives.  The transition to stage 5 requires that they realize that their lives are inextricably linked, and that each one represents something important to the other – and most importantly, if one party goes away, the problem will not be resolved.  This fifth stage suggests a “kind of conflict resolution in which the Palestinian discovers her own Israeli-ness, the rich man discovers his poverty, the woman discovers the man insider her.”  (In Over our Heads, Kegan, in reference to Kelman’s work.)

Here are some examples of what they may represent for each other. For Israelis, Palestinians are place-holders for Israelis to avoid confronting the internal divides in their own society, for example:

  • between settlers and those who don’t approve of settlements;
  • between soldiers from “Breaking the Silence” who confront Israeli society with testimonies of their actions in the West Bank and Gaza – and the society that refuses to acknowledge or deal with that reality;
  • between the religious and non-religious parts of society, who have animosity towards each other.

If the Palestinians went away, the Israelis would have to deal with their internal conflict, which they are loathe to do.  Having an external enemy makes life easier.

For the Palestinians, Israelis may represent what they aspire to – an oppressed people who had the moral right on their side, who were able to fulfill their vision of self-determination.  As well, it’s possible that focusing on the external enemy of Israel may relieve the need for Palestinians to resolve internal conflicts within their own society.

To me, these Combatants for Peace are working in stage 5 – they seem to need one another in order to make sense of their experiences, in a way that they understand better than their audiences who haven’t been fighters in that conflict.   They make jokes within the context of the Occupation, and of being in prison, that only they can understand.  Having spent a lot of time with them, I get to see the intimacy between them and see how they feed off one another.   They also seem to protect each other when responding to audience questions.  Yaniv is often protective of Bassam, keenly aware of the pain of the loss of his daughter, even if it’s not visible during these talks.   These speakers present a powerful example of recognizing  “the other” after a personal crisis of conscience.  They exemplify the interdependence that Kegan speaks about: the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to recognize your interdependence , which are preconditions to resolving conflict.



  1. Hello Friend,

    Very thoughtfully written and a valuable commentary…great linkage between the relationship and common vision of these two men and their “real-time” demonstration (without realizing it, I’m sure) of Kegan’s model.

    Thank you for posting this!

  2. A remarkable story, Abby, wonderfully illustrating the courage that conscience can take. And an illuminating link to Kegan’s framework.

    I hadn’t hear of Combatants for Peace. Good work. Thanks for doing it,and for this reflection.

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