Victimization, Empathy, and Breaking the Cycles of Violence in Israel and Palestine


Franke Wilmer


International Relations and Diplomacy


Victimization narratives arise out of the experience of historical and ongoing injury, and often intersect or, in part, constitute identity narratives. Unless transformed through reconciliation, these narratives can be used to mobilize violent behavior aimed at restoring justice or preventing further victimization. Victimization narratives arise from lived experiences, whether by contemporary generations, or through intergenerational narratives, charging the present generation with the task of ending present or preventing future injury. Those experiences, however, can be mythologized or distorted, particularly when appropriated in support of an ideological agenda. Cycles of violence, therefore, cannot be ended in a sustainable manner unless victimization narratives are transformed and cycles of violence disrupted. This is the work of conflict transformation and sustainable post-conflict democratic institution-building. Since the present global political landscape is made up of thousands of identity or communal groups living in just under two hundred states with complicated histories of intergroup conflict and historical injury, most, if not all states are to some degree post-conflict societies. This article examines both victimization experiences and narratives through the eyes of peace activists and leaders who work in a binational capacity with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Hundreds of peace organizations active in Israel and Palestine, this project focuses on those specifically directed toward opening and cultivating spaces for empathetic engagement across the lines of identity. These include, for example, the Abrahamic Reunion, Breaking the Silence (Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) Veterans offering witness testimony on the human rights violations under the occupation), the Bereaved Families Forum, and Combatants for Peace. This article reports preliminary findings from four of 26 interviews conducted with binational peace activists during the summer of 2016.



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