Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation in The Hague

Guest Blog by Joël Groeneveld, Office Manager/Program Officer:

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation

Unresolved historical claims can, when misunderstood or manipulated, create and reaffirm prejudice and hatred among populations, thus fueling ethnic and nationalistic violence and conflict. Therefore, in order to promote tolerance and reconciliation, there is oftentimes the need to overcome these distortions of historical reality. The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation seeks to contribute to this goal through helping scholars from different sides of a conflict work together to research and write narratives that can be shared among communities or peoples in conflict. Through this process of shared work, a better understanding of “the other” is gained by both sides. The process seeks to dispel public myths around disputed historical legacies through the use of shared narrative and to develop networks of engaged citizens who can debate, confront and change those disputed and confrontational historical legacies.

What does this mean in the practice? How can historical accounts help understand the position of ‘the other’? A good example is the most current book published by IHJR, Two Sides of the Coin: Independence and Nakba 1948, Two Narratives of the 1948 War and its Outcome. In this unique joint enterprise, a Palestinian and an Israeli, both historians, worked together to offer multi-perspective narratives on the War of 1948. Their task was not easy, as they explain: ‘the attempt to formulate one text consisting of two different and often contradictory stories was emotionally challenging for both of us, as it required each of us to take part in formulating a narrative that was contradictory to our own respective experiences and education and that often challenged our respective identities”. And yet, the fact that his book has come to light goes to show that the narrative of ’the other‘ can be understood and respected, even when in some cases it is not shared.

IHJR has worked extensively to tackle the historical claims in the Israel-Palestine conflict, through different historical approximations. For example the book Zoom In: Palestinian Refugees of 1948, Remembrances, presents pictures and individual students reactions to them. This approach showcases not only that there is still a need for understanding, but also how deeply ingrained perceptions of ‘the other’ are in this conflict. The Sacred Sites in the Holy Land: Historical and Religious perspectives publication seeks instead to familiarize both sides with the narrative of ‘the other’ regarding holy places, while working towards a common narrative of their religious significance.

Yet the issues of unresolved historical claims are not particular to one region; that is why IHJR is also involved in other areas of the world, such as the Former Yugoslavia and its successor states. The facilitation offered by IHJR was pivotal for the publication of Political Myths in the Former Yugoslavia and Successor States. A Shared Narrative, a book which attempts to dispel political myths that fueled the Balkan conflict. There is currently active work as well in the Armenia-Turkey area, and research is being done on the Roma population in areas of Eastern Europe where conflict is most acute and violence against this population is on the rise.

IHJR hopes that others are inspired by the institute’s approach and that they begin using history as a means for fostering peace-building efforts. It continues to disseminate shared narratives through various media, such as publications, documentaries and photo exhibitions, as well as through engaging civil society and educators. For more information, please visit the website at www.historyandreconciliation.org or write an email to info@ihjr.org.

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