Peace Writ Small: Introduction

To skip this introduction and go directly to read Zachary Metz’s In-Depth Analysis, “Peace Writ Small: Reflections on  “Peacebuilding” in Iraq, Burma, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans and Beyond,” click here.

In today’s “in-depth post,” Zachary Metz, a veteran conflict resolution practitioner, reflects on his vast experience exploring the potential of “peacebuilding.” He notes that, in recent years, the concern among practitioners has turned away from the simple cessation of violence, toward “positive peace,” a term advocated by Johan Galtung, working for “peace writ large,” in which peace includes a focus on long term, large scale, social change. Metz appreciates this move and has applied it, but he also recognizes its limits. Conflict is embedded in everyday social practices, he notes, in the small interactions that lead toward or away from violence, which promote conflicts or understandings. He thus focuses this piece on what he calls “peace writ small.” After explaining how his close focus on interaction responds to problems of the day and problems among conflict resolution practitioners, and after he draws on relevant theoretical developments, Metz illuminates how his approach looks like in practice. He describes and analyzes a moving example of “peace writ small” in a group he led in Iraq in 2005. In Iraq in 2005!

I am first impressed by the bravery involved, but even more significant is that Metz clearly illuminates the type of work that needs to happen for the Iraqis to have any chance in the aftermath of this tragic war. In miniature, I think I see in Zach’s account the only way for an alternative to the again escalating strife in that long-suffering country. In the ten year anniversary post mortem of the war, reflections have all been writ large, too often repeating thread worn partisan positions. Metz shows how we see and can do much more when we pay attention to everyday experience and concerns, and respond accordingly.

P.S. As the author of The Politics of Small Things, from which Metz draws insight, I find his approach quite compelling. I believe it has broad significance. Thus, as I was reading and preparing this post for publication, I was trying to understand the remarkable success of President Obama’s trip to Israel. The response in Israel was surprising. In a country where the Obama magic had not played well, it has finally arrived. Even as Obama continued to push hard for a two state solution and said things that no Israeli leader dare say, about understanding the Palestinian experience and the righteousness of their claim for a state of their own, there is confidence in Obama across the political spectrum, and a sense that something fundamental has changed.

Palestinians were not thrilled with the speech. It got a decided two thumbs down in a piece in Al Jazeera, “Obama’s Israel visit is an insult to the Palestinians.” “Obama’s visit to Israel endorsed their narrative and was a slap in the face to Palestinians.” Yet, it is interesting to note that forceful leftist critics of the occupation and the Israeli right, including the governing coalition, saw in Obama’s visit a real basis for hope. Gideon Levy: “Barack Obama has a dream and we should listen.” Bradley Burston: “After Obama this year for Passover I am burning my cynicism.”

I think the Israeli enthusiasm was based upon the fact that Obama’s speech to Israeli people clearly spoke to their experience, and dared to link an understanding of their story and insecurities with an aspiration for a lasting peace with their Palestinian neighbors. It was the “peace writ small” dimension of his address that enabled him to move in a “writ large” direction.

In order to broker a deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis, Obama needed to have the Israeli people more or less behind him. They needed to trust that he understands their concerns. Now he has to do the same with the Palestinians. No small task, or should I say a small task just like Zach’s in Iraq.

To read Zachary Metz’s In-Depth Analysis, “Peace Writ Small: Reflections on “Peacebuilding” in Iraq, Burma, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans and Beyond,” click here.