With the 50-day conflict now ended in a cease-fire, Palestinian and Israeli survivors can now breathe and begin the slow process of reconstruction. Observers wonder, what will it take to build lasting peace in the region?
A humble but articulate effort in the peacemaking process is the Palestinian-Israeli Literature Project, founded by Professor Philip Metres, who teaches English at the Jesuit-run John Carroll University in the United States.
“My desire was to make some of this work public and contribute to the larger conversation about how peace might happen,” he said.
An off-shoot of a course he teaches on Palestinian and Israeli literature, Metres works with students to create documentaries of artists and war survivors, aimed at educating people about the years-long conflict in the region through the words and experiences of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Metres describes the approach as a “contrapuntal practice.” From week to week, students consider the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from different points of view.
“It’s a kind of emotional and cognitive whiplash; my favorite way of teaching is through contraries”, he said.
When asked what he wants students to see in the literature, he said, “I am looking for moments when the other is humanized, when a Palestinian writes about an Israeli that demonstrates a sense of the sacred in the other and when an Israeli sees a Palestinian in a work of art, articulated as a full human being.”
“That’s what makes me teach the literature; it gives me a sense of hope. In the mind and imagination of great writers, [there is a] place somehow for our humanity to become embodied and to express itself.”
Metres is not just a silent observer of the words of the conflict. As a poet, Metres has added his own verses to the cause, contributing to and editing a compilation of peace poetry entitled Come Together: Imagine Peace.
Metres made no qualms about admitting the limits of literature. “It would be foolish to have delusions of grandeur about the power of literature. No poem has ever stopped a tank,” he said, alluding to similar words once spoken by Seamus Heaney.
Still, Metres affirms, “The great literature invites people to a metanoia, a change of heart.”
Summing up his motivation for the project, he said in concert with Martin Luther King Jr.: “I’m just trying to do my small part in a larger labor of bending the universe toward justice.”
For more on Philip Metres' work and his Palestinian-Israeli Literature Project, go to: http://philipmetres.com
Listen to the report by Andrew Summerson:
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