Guest author: Oliver Fink, University of Basel

The last two days have shown again all too familiar pictures – burning tyres, demonstrations, outbreaks of violence and more people killed on a single day since the 2014 Gaza war. The shock, frustration and sadness on the Palestinian side are difficult to describe but very tangible in the conversations I’m having.

Are there ways to look beyond what is directly visible and understand it on a deeper level?

A popular German news agency described it fittingly “the events show again how deep the hatred is”, which leads us directly to the topic of emotions in intractable conflict. Not only regarding conflict events, even from a perspective of trying to solve things, emotions are essential. A Peace Activist recently told me “All peace proposals currently on the table are dictated by mutual fear”. Equally the respected PCSR polls show a tragic image of each side mirroring the other on mutual fear, distrust and suspected lack of desire to resolve things constructively.

While conflicts tend to erupt over real objective issues such as territories, natural resources or statehood, in their essence conflicts possess psychological features around symbols, values and emotions. These factors require thorough consideration if we want to understand as well as resolve and prevent conflicts in the future.

Why is that? Already the starting point is normally not a neutral issue that can be dealt with in a rational way but something that can be described as “sacred” not necessary in a religious way (although we obviously have a lot of this in the Holy Land), but as something meaningful linked to deep values and convictions. What makes it even more complicated, is the concept of “Group Emotions”. These are feelings that you don’t have as an individual but on behalf of a group that you belong to and that is important to you. Whoever cheered for “his” team at a football championship knows what I’m talking about and might begin to understand why something as distant or administrative for an individual as moving an embassy can cause intense reactions.

We are just in the process of finalizing a fascinating study about how events like during the last two days but also the much more “normal” ones like crossing a checkpoint or getting a permit refused impact individual and group emotions. Understanding these emotions could be the obvious way to not solving the contested issues directly, but in recognizing mutual grief, anger or hatred position yourself better to solve these issues eventually.

Even more interesting – sometimes there are emotional “outliers”, people from bereaved families or former hardcore combatants that don’t react with the usual emotions of anger and hatred but enter a path of reconciliation.

I’ve been told that a good blog entry ends with a call for action: in this sense, watch the TED talk of Gaza Doctor Izzeldin Abueleish or read his book “I shall not hate”, where he describes his heartbreaking story. You will learn which impressive reactions are possible in the face of tragic loss.

Challenge the one you want to hate… The biggest weapon of mass destruction is the hatred in our souls.