By: Natti Ronel (Ph.D.)

Bob Shapell School of Social Work

Tel Aviv University




Being born in Israel - a land suffering from the continuing

Israeli-Arabic conflict - most

aspects of our life are under the shadow of this violent conflict and

its consequences. The

lives of so many have been destroyed by the chronic international

crisis and fighting keeps

on collecting its ever growing toll.

Recently, the wind of peace has started to blow here stronger than

ever, giving our

people a breath of fresh hope, but unfortunately in vain: terrorism

still takes its aggressive

share. And the same happens in Bosnia, Africa, and elsewhere. People

get tired of this

international violence, but yet, we are unable to stop it. We

honestly try, but blood is still

being shed, and human rights are still been trampled on in the name of

national security or

religious faith. Suffering is growing harder and more, and yet,

we are incapable of

stopping it. We are powerless over these international conflicts, even

though we dare not

admit it. We are powerless as individuals, we are powerless as groups,

we are powerless as

nations. Hostility is met by hostility; hostility leads towards

greater hostility, and we are left

powerless over this process. A continuing powerless from which we suffer

and suffer.

As a researcher and a practitioner who works with violent

populations, I have

many times witnessed powerlessness over one's violence and

aggression, or

powerlessness over one's domestic conflict. Although individuals and

their spouses suffer

from impulses of aggression and from the results of the violence, they

nevertheless keep on

living in the same old way. The conflict still plays its tune and takes

its toll.

Fortunately, however, I have also witnessed many individuals who

have succeeded in

converting themselves, by adopting different methods. People whose

lives were a

continuing violent fight have calmed down and succeeded to lead

quite serene lives. A

prominent method is to adopt the 12-Step ideology of Alcoholics Anonymous

(AA). Beginning

with a self declaration of one's powerlessness over his/her inner

impulses, which may have

pseudo-realistic excuses, people lead themselves towards freedom from

these impulses. A

pragmatic paradox! Furthermore, while accepting the spiritual life

principles of the 12-Step

program, the lives of individuals become manageable, and they harvest the

fruits of their


Is it possible to apply the knowledge that was gained by

individuals and groups

who practiced the 12-Step program to the case of international crisis?

After all, nations are

non-human and abstract structures which operate under very different

rules, and they

seem to be far away from individual logic. So how is it possible?

Here is the first known suggestion of bridging between the wisdom

of the 12-Step

program and issues of international policy. While pointing to the

spiritual approach, it may

serve at least as an ideal vision of a solution to such "earthy" matters

as politics. To recall a

piece of history, a meeting between two dreamers - an ex-drunkard and

a drunk one -

became the moment of birth of a large and very influential social

organization - Alcoholics

Anonymous. The extreme materialism of substance addiction does subside

to the spirituality

of the 12-Step program of AA, so why should the materialism of

politics not follow a parallel


To make the point clear - not every international conflict nor all

national responses

against foreign invaders fall under the category of powerlessness. Any

individual, group, or

nation has the right to self-protection from foreign invaders. However,

even situations that

began as controlled ones, may develop to the point of running out of


Another point which should be made clear - the powerlessness and

the losing of

control is not because the other side is stronger; this is absolutely

another case. The

powerlessness being described here is the complex situation where

strong emotions from all

sides of the conflict play their part, thus preventing or interfering

with any possible solution.

Powerlessness over foreign conflicts occurs when there are strong

inner forces from all sides

that press towards the continuation of the conflict, even though

suffering grows and grows.

Passing a certain point, it seems that the conflict has its own

living forces, and it does

everything to keep its dynamic alive.

One of the main characteristics of any such a conflict is the

salient division between

the "good ones" and the "bad ones": "We" and "they", "friends" and

"enemies", "right ones" and

"wrong ones". This division which exists in the national level, is

also in the group level, as

well as in the individual level. People label each other according

to this division, and

behave respectively. One's "belongingness" becomes a master status

and leads to

victimization. Just because they are labelled as "enemies",

innocents are slaughtered in

the name of the conflict. This labeling process serves also as a

neutralization mechanism for

the killers themselves, giving them "patriotic" excuses for such a

behavior. But who is wrong

and who is right here? Is there any excuse for everlasting hostility

towards the innocents?

Who is our real enemy - is it the one that was labeled so?

From the above it becomes clear that the enemy is never a whole

nation or a group

of people. The real enemy is no other than the conflict itself, this

self-sustaining process

which leads to greater violence and greater suffering for all sides. This

is a drastic shift in the

common point of view: the real enemy is not the other country or group,

but the inner forces

of the conflict which do anything to make the conflict itself survive

and rule! This is the only

enemy, and it finds us repeatedly unaware of its existence. We never look

in its direction to

search after our true enemy. Hence, we are caught not ready to fight

back and moreover,

powerless over its forces of destruction. The more we try to finish the

conflict by stronger arms

which we turn against our imagined enemies, the more we play into the

hands of the conflict

itself. Therefore, suffering is inevitable.

The above may be exemplified by the Israeli-Arabic conflict. This

conflict has lasted

over one hundred years and it has influenced almost all aspects of

the local life. Both

sides have tried to overcome it - by force and arming, by truce and

armistice or by peace

efforts - but yet, in vain. Blood is still being shed violently. We are

powerless over the conflict

itself, and we keep on suffering.

Another example may be American politics during the second

part of this century:

When America stood as a victor at the end of the Second World War,

the conflict did not

subside. Underneath the feeling of hope, the forces of the conflict

still subverted and led to

the period of McCarthyism, to the Cold War, to the Korean War and

finally to Vietnam.

Suffering grew worse and became unbearable. We stood once again

before a living

conflict over which we were powerless. Fortunately, the Soviet

Union has crashed, and

the conflict, as a self-sustaining entity, has subsided for a while.

However, there are still

some minor but extreme forces which serve the conflict and cause

troubles and suffering.

The above analysis gave us a diagnosis with a major shift in

national attitudes

toward the "real enemy" - it is the conflict itself that we should

fight, otherwise we find

ourselves in this stage of powerless over this conflict. This is the

problem. The next stage of

the diagnosis is to look for an optional solution. This is the task of

the spiritual 12-Step program

of Alcoholics Anonymous and many other organizations as well. It works

well with different

kinds of personal suffering when people are powerless. In the right

hands it may operate as

well with group or national powerlessness over international

conflict. It may be a living and

spiritual program for international conflict resolution.

Actually, spirituality in politics is not new. Mahatma Ghandi,

Martin Luther King and

former-president Carter are a few of distinct modern examples that prove

such a possibility,

each of them with his own way and exclusive contribution. One may

recall, for example,

president Woodrow Wilson at the end of the First World War. From

moral and spiritual

motivation, he suggested assisting Germany in its rehabilitation. This

advice was resisted by

more "realistic and logical" approach. The conflict kept its existence.

On the ground of

economical crisis in Germany, the Nazi monster arose to serve the

conflict greatly. What

would have happened if the Wilson way was accepted? However, the

forces of the conflict

itself worked hard to avoid it!

In its essence, the current suggestion is quite similar to the

path of Wilson and

those other political leaders who stand as spiritual monuments.

However, its uniqueness, as

well as the unique significance of Alcoholics Anonymous itself, is

that it gives us a modern

program which may be followed by anyone, regardless of his religious,

cultural, national or

personal background. An individual, a group or a country do not have to

be "spiritual" in order

to apply the wisdom of the 12-Step program. All that is needed is

willingness to follow some

pragmatic suggestions that are in accord with spiritual wisdom.

Will we learn from our

past experience? When powerless over international conflicts leads to

accumulated suffering -

how dare we not find in ourselves the needed willingness?


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