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Reflecting on violence, conflict, and the path to peace: a personal note

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By Anders Pettersson

· 3 min read

Dear colleagues,

Over the past two weeks, we all witnessed the news and watched in horror as large-scale violence once again erupted in Israel and Palestine. War and conflict are, first and foremost, human failures. Whether we talk about the coup in Myanmar, the civil war in northern Ethiopia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, or, in this case, the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Israel and Gaza, the people least responsible for a conflict are always the ones affected the most.

I am sick and tired of violence. I have seen it up close, and I abhor it.

Back in 1991, it was, in fact, the conflict in the Middle East that set me on the path to work for peace, security, democracy, and human rights. I spent almost a year in the region, in South Lebanon, where I encountered the Israeli militia as well as supporters of Hezbollah. I traveled in Israel, where I met members of the IDF and conservative Jewish groups, and in the occupied Palestinian territories’ West Bank, where I met unemployed and very angry youth.

This period in my life was transformative and made me realize that I needed to understand much more because I could not fathom the deep-seated hate that young men and women my age felt toward another country and its population – other human beings. That period made me pursue academic studies and combine them with other peacekeeping missions, including those in former Yugoslavia – a region where also conflict had seemingly become hereditary.

Acts of terrorism are terrorism and should be condemned, but history has proven time and time again that terror is never successful in achieving its goals. Neither has nationalism founded on religion ever evolved into peaceful and fully democratic societies. In 2006, I was in Amman with UNICEF during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, and I realized that nothing had changed. The discourse was still war, and the policy was still hate, through which lens, we are unable to see others as fellow human beings. The purpose of propaganda is to dehumanize individuals. It now works towards dehumanizing both Israelis and Gazans.

Propaganda is pervasive, and its influence gradually seeps into our minds. Its aim is to hinder our ability to empathize, causing us to rationalize away from our natural human response when witnessing violence. I despise it.

Though similarly destructive, natural disasters are unavoidable; they come unannounced and often undetected, like the earthquake in Afghanistan, also over the weekend, where more than 2,000 people have lost their lives. We assess the damage done by these floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes after they run their course – in retrospect, we repair the destruction.

War, however, is a creation of man. Humans are the ones who forecast the impending disaster; we are the makers of death. We are directly responsible for the inevitable destruction, and yet we repeatedly fail to take the preventative measures necessary to avoid it. The dignity of all human beings is inviolable, but in the end, only a just peace in which everyone’s human rights are respected, and duty-bearers are held accountable can truly ensure that.

Sharing this with you is not about taking sides.

I just hate violence.


This letter is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Anders L. Pettersson is Executive Director of Civil Rights Defenders, an independent and international human rights organisation with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden

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