Nicosia without northern - Turkish region
Map of Nicosia - including north and south
It's true, I was only in Cyprus, more specifically Nicosia, for only three days last week. To claim to be any kind of expert would be more than chutzpa. But the little that I learned about the conflict on the island (beyond what I had learned before I had ever visited), got me thinking about our conflict here, between Israelis and Palestinians. Each conflict is different, of course: different history/ies, different background, different cultures, different peoples, different languages. However, the conflicts also share commonalities: past rule by the Ottomans and the British, both in the Mediterranean region, refusal to legitimate the other side, intransigence in negotiating points, refugees - with people living in the others' homes, use of terminology ('settlers' - from Turkey, from Israel), a green line...
Though I was only on that island for a few days, I could not help but think about our conflict here, an easy one hour plane ride away.
In Cyprus, they have co-created a negative peace. There is no violence, the two countries (can that word be used in this case?) live side by side and life is more or less, "normal." The Greek-Cypriots live their lives in the south and the Turkish-Cypriots live theirs in the north. In Nicosia, one can cross the border easily enough - you bring your passport and fill out a quarter page white piece of paper - visa -? - that asks for your name, passport number and nationality. One stamp going in, one stamp goiong out. No searches, no questions, length of lines depending on time of day and number of visitors. Each side of the city has its treasures and beauty, each side worth exploring.
We - a group of Palestinian, Israeli and American researchers who met in Nicosia to discuss joint research with Cypriot colleagues - were given a short tour of the city. We were told about its history and current day life. We were shown the maps of Nicosia - one published by the Greek side, that includes only the southern part of the city, and one by the Turkish (that includes the entire area). (See photos at the top)
There is a cold co-existence, and no killing or harm. It would sound good, if it were not so sad. Thirty-five years of a negative peace. No killing, this is true. Yet no talk, no acknowledgment, no partnerships, no sharing. Division, de-legitimation, and the firmest belief, on each side, that THE truth lies with their side.
Then there's our Israeli-Palestinian conflict: lots of violence, lots of fear, lots of hatred, and yet we talk to one another. We may do our best to harm one another, yet we talk. Most Israelis say the name "Palestine" and most Palestinians say "Israel." We believe that our (each side's historical claims) are THE right ones, are the facts, yet we are able (if we are willing to take the time), to learn the history of the other. We speak different languages, yet many of us know at least a few words of the other's. Our religions are different, but they come from the same source. And our cultures are sometimes very different, yet at other times, very close and familiar.
Do I prefere a negative peace or a violent war? The answer is simple: a negative peace is head and shoulders above war. However, negative peaces are temporary, and can too easily transform into violence, because the fear, hatred and illegitimacy foments from below, since the sources are left to fester. If the two sides do not talk to one another, do not co-create endeavors that benefit all peoples, do not deal with the past in a way that makes it possible to move together to a joint future, it is only a matter of time before the negative peace erodes again into war.
There most likely are people who believe that our first steps here should be geared toward achieving a negative peace. But my experiences and work and life here in Israel have taught me that we need to work toward the positive peace to really make a long-lasting difference. On many levels, achieving a negative peace is easier than working for a positive peace, but what might be gained in the short term, can easily be lost over time.
There is a lot of hatred and non-acceptance on both sides. This is what we first need to combat. Examples of this hatred can be found in the two following documents (I am a bit wary of publicizing them here, but knowing what people/organizations/movements say publicly is important knowledge). The first is the Hamas charter, which leaves no space for peaceful resolution of the conflict:
http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/www.thejerusalemfund.org/carryover/documents/charter.html and the second is the website of Im Tizru (If you will it) which believes that (Greater) Israel is only for the Jews, and no place for the Palestinians - http://www.imti.org.il/en/
We cannot let the sowers of hate and fear deter us from our work of positive peace. Not in Israel-Palestine, not in Cyprus, not anywhere. Instead of being negative - and doing without - we can join together to be positive - doing with one another, and gaining so much not only in the outcome, but in the process as well.