For there to be any resolution to the Israel-Hamas war, consensus-building between Israelis and Palestinians is critical – but it’s becoming further out of reach as the conflict persists and extremism prevails, said a panel of peace activists during a discussion on May 9 moderated by Stanford Law School (SLS) senior lecturer Allen Weiner.

The speakers, consisting of two Israelis and two Palestinians – one from the West Bank and another from Gaza – reflected on their efforts in seeking common ground in a conflict that has raged for over 75 years.

Each speaker brought a unique perspective to the discussion, but all shared the same belief: The conflict must end.

“There’s a view of a future for the Israeli and Palestinian people that rejects the notion that the conflict is inevitable,” Weiner said in his opening remarks. “Our panelists today, through their beliefs, and through their actions and work, are committed to the view that a peaceful future for the Israeli and Palestinian people, two peoples living side by side, in two states, is possible.”

Confronting extremism

The conversation, titled “Getting Beyond Us vs. Them: Concrete Solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and hosted by the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation at SLS, examined both the portrayals and perceptions of the conflict.

“This conflict is not about Israeli people versus Palestinian people,” said panelist Guy Etgar, a social and political activist, who emphasized that the real issue is extremism on both sides.

Etgar, who is Israeli and works with the nonpartisan civil society organization Darkenu, is engaged in a number of projects to counter extreme ideologies that he contends are disconnected from what a majority of Israelis support.

One way to weaken extremists is to strengthen moderates, Etgar said. Etgar shared some of his work at Darkenu, particularly the organization’s efforts to foster an Israeli identity rooted in democratic values and beliefs.

Etgar sees the current moment as an opportunity to catalyze change across the Middle East and discussed potential normalization and peace agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries as ways to counteract the influence of countries like Iran, which supports Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Extremism was a recurrent theme among the panelists, who each highlighted its threat to regional stability.

Hamze Awawde and Ezzeldeen Masri both underscored that enduring peace is unachievable so long as extremism dominates. Awawde works for the nonprofit organization Hands of Peace, and several of the panelists, including Masri, are also involved with the OneVoice Movement, a grassroots group pushing for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Personal stories about the conflict

Throughout the discussion, each panelist shared their own personal stories that led them into advocacy work.

Masri detailed his experiences growing up in Gaza under a military occupation. “A military occupation robs you of your dignity,” Masri said.

Masri also talked about his father, a teacher who took a job in a refugee camp and brought Masri to school with him. There, Masri learned alongside the children of refugees. These experiences changed his worldview and deepened his understanding of the varied perspectives that Palestinians of different backgrounds hold.

Masua Sagiv, a visiting assistant professor at Berkeley Law who identifies as Israeli, Jewish, Zionist, and pro-Palestinian, lamented the polarizing nature of current discourse about the war that forces people into opposing camps.

Sagiv stressed the importance of deep empathy for one another, particularly around the generational trauma each side has encountered – Sagiv herself comes from a family of Holocaust survivors.

“It’s important to understand the depths of trauma in order to understand the complicated situation that we need to bridge and we need to move through,” Sagiv said.

The stakes could not be higher, she noted.

Paths to peace

Etgar acknowledged how it seems unrealistic, naive even, to talk about peace and a two-state solution when there is so much death, destruction, and devastation in Gaza right now.

The people there are focused solely on surviving, Awawde said.

Sagiv highlighted the urgent need for safety guarantees for all involved.

“We have two people that are inextricable,” Sagiv said. “No one is going anywhere. Neither Palestinians, neither Israel. If no one is going anywhere, that means that both people are responsible for the safety of the other.”

Finding forgiveness

Discussions about the historical roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be challenging, often evoking intense feelings and sharply contested narratives.

Awawde, who is from the West Bank and has lost family members in the conflict, emphasized the importance of focusing on the future rather than the past.

During the Q&A portion of the event, Awawde advocated for letting go of historical grievances. To halt the cycle of conflict, he said, forgiveness is critical.

“You have to really let go of the past and forgive, not because you’re a nice person but because you deserve to live [and have] aspirations about the future,” Awawde said.

For more information

About the moderator and speakers:

Allen Weiner is a senior lecturer in law and director of the Stanford Program on International and Comparative Law. He also serves as the director of the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation.

Hamze Awawde is a peacebuilder and leader committed to inspiring and empowering youth to create change. He serves as regional manager of the Palestinian delegation at Hands of Peace.

Guy Etgar is a dedicated social and political activist seeking to shape effective strategies and policies for the benefit of Israeli society. He is vice president of policy at Darkenu.

Ezzeldeen Masri, who was born in Gaza City, opened the OneVoice office in Gaza in 2006. He currently serves as the chief field officer for PeaceWorks and the OneVoice Movement.

Masua Sagiv is a scholar who focuses on the development of contemporary Judaism in Israel, as a culture, religion, nationality, and part of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. She is the Koret Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish and Israel Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.