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Great interview with Séverine Autesserre | Let us not despair, peace remains possible

The toll of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more shocking every day. The situation in Gaza has been described as carnage at the UN and is causing more and more indignation around the world every day.

And this is not the only armed conflict that currently seems insoluble to us. The world is going through dark times right now.

Are you looking for reasons to hope?

To tell you the truth, that was my case.

This is why I contacted Séverine Autesserre, a Franco-American specialist in peacebuilding. And I got what I was looking for.

Séverine Autesserre is director of the political science department at Barnard Faculty at Columbia University (in New York). But she is also a researcher who has solid experience in the field. And not just any terrain: she has worked in a dozen conflict zones.

However, she is not the type to be discouraged.

For example, I asked her if she remained hopeful about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His answer ?



An Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip on Sunday as part of the fighting between Israel and Hamas

“Of course I remain hopeful. And I want to remain hopeful, because I think it’s important to keep in mind that there is hope even in the worst of violence. Even in situations like the one we are currently experiencing. »

Séverine Autesserre has just published a book on this subject, entitled On the fronts of peace. It is based on the work she has done, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories – among others.

She explains in this essay that there are “seeds of hope hidden in the mud of war, seeds that we could perhaps learn to germinate all over the planet.”

“It’s a book which shows that there are reasons for hope, that there are successes in all war zones, that we can build peace,” she told me.

Thinking about peace during war



Israeli soldiers deploying near the border between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip on Monday

Is it possible to think of peace while war rages in Gaza? In fact, even though it may seem counterintuitive, we would do well to consider building peace now.

This is what some experts, including Séverine Autesserre, are already arguing for.

“We can absolutely and, above all, we must think of peace even in the worst of violence and in the worst of conflicts,” she told me.

“This idea that there is a dichotomy between war and peace, and then a key moment before which we cannot think about peace and after which we will think about peace, it is an idea which is completely outdated,” adds the political scientist.

I would like to point out here that Séverine Autesserre’s message is not just a call for peace.

She also maintains – and this is at the heart of her approach – that to build peace, we must stop doing what international leaders and various governments, organizations and institutions have accustomed us to.

In his opinion, “we need to completely change our outlook on peace and the ways to achieve it.”



A man carrying an injured child during an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Monday. The situation in Gaza has been described as carnage at the UN and is causing outrage around the world.

The horror we see today in Israel and the Palestinian territories is further proof that our classic approach to peacebuilding is not working at all.

Séverine Autesserre, political scientist

The classic approach she speaks of is the way of working “from the top down”, working primarily with governments and other “national elites” of a country in crisis. And by not giving enough importance to the opinions of “ordinary citizens” who live in conflict zones.

It is the opposite that must be done, insists Séverine Autesserre.

“We cannot arrive on conquered territory as we usually do, thinking that we know everything better (to do) because we come from the United States, Canada, France, and we are going to learn to people – to Palestinians and Israelis, for example – how to build peace at home. »

In short, thinking that we “are going to save the world for them and that we are going to leave after three days there” doesn’t work.

Bringing firefighters and arsonists together

I did not discuss the future of the two-state solution or other details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Séverine Autesserre. She warned me that she would not comment on this subject.

What she maintains, moreover, is that there are “as many ways of building peace as there are local and individual circumstances and that the recipes for success are context specific”.

What she did not hesitate to offer me were the essential ingredients of these recipes.

Residents achieve peace through grassroots initiatives. Local initiatives and initiatives where everyone is included. Including the poorest, least powerful members of the community, ordinary citizens. And the fighters.

Séverine Autesserre, political scientist

She reports on this subject what she was told in the Democratic Republic of Congo: “We include firefighters and arsonists. »



Congolese soldiers jump into a moving vehicle. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, “we include firefighters and arsonists” in the peace process, explains Séverine Autesserre.

The idea is therefore to work from the bottom up. And also to acquire a detailed knowledge of “specific histories, policies, beliefs and customs, unique to the locality or country where we want to build peace” and to use it for this purpose.

Among the examples of success from which we can draw inspiration, the researcher cites in particular the village of Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom (whose story Rima Elkouri recently told), in Israel. Proof, according to her, that peace is possible in this country⁠1.

It is “the only village in the world that was created to prove that two enemy groups can live together, so it is a village that is binational, bilingual, bicultural.” And it worked!

After the worst, peace

I learned about Séverine Autesserre’s research while speaking with Marie Lamensch, coordinator of the Montreal Institute for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Concordia University.

She did her master’s degree on Rwanda a dozen years ago and used, at the time, the work of the expert from Columbia University.

I do not want to idealize the current situation in Rwanda, ravaged less than 30 years ago by a monstrous genocide.

But the fact remains that the country is “proof that the human spirit can heal from the deepest wounds and that a more resilient society can emerge from the darkest tragedies”, the UN Secretary General said last year. , Antonio Guterres.



Photos of victims on display at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Rwanda. The country is “proof that the human spirit can heal from the deepest wounds and that a more resilient society can emerge from the darkest tragedies,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said last year.

It confirms to me that there are indeed seeds of hope hidden everywhere. And that peace can emerge even from the worst circumstances.

Of course, there will surely be people, in light of what is happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories, who will doubt the possibilities of one day building lasting peace there.

To which Séverine Autesserre responds with another quote that she really likes.

“Those who think it is impossible are requested not to disturb those who are trying. »

Gn world Fr

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