I almost feel too overwhelmed by some of what I have seen and observed this week to write about it. And, as I have said before, I want my words to water the seeds of peace and understanding in everyone who reads them. I’m not feeling confident about this because I realize that some of what I have heard and witnessed doesn’t water the seeds of peace in me; sometimes I see things that water the seeds of despair and anger. And it takes a lot of inner work for me to transform the despair and anger into something that at least restores me to a place where openness and connection and understanding are possible.
So my request to you, dear reader, is that if you are reading this, or watching some of the links, and notice that you are feeling angry, hopeless, or thinking thoughts about people being “bad” or “victims”- my request is that you stop and breathe and feel your emotions and stay with that until you can ask yourself what would be a way of responding to this that will be more likely to bring peace and understanding into the world.
That is what I am doing here, over and over.
Last night I celebrated Tu B’ shvat, the New Years of the Trees, with a group of religious Jewish women in the Old City where I am living. We shared an amazing array of fruits of the trees,blessing each one, dragon fruit , guavas, coconut, olives, dates and figs. We read from Jewish texts about the healing of our relationship to trees being part of the healing of the world that we are here to do. We drank and ate and sang.
Then, today, on the day of Tu B’shvat, I went with a group of Jews organized by Rabbis for Human Rights to plant olive trees in the West Bank, in an area close to Jerusalem that is under Israeli military control. We walked from the bus through a rocky field. The soil was a beautiful rich dark red brown, amazing to see in the middle of this dry stark landscape. After a few moments, I realized we were walking through a cemetery of olive trees- only a few feet of the graceful trunks remained. The rest had been cutoff in the night by residents of a nearby Jewish settlement. About 200 hundred of us, Palestinian and Jewish, planted 5o trees, each with a Jewish prayer for peace tied around tender new trunks.
Through a translator, I spoke with the Palestinian man who supervised my tree planting. I asked him if there was ever any dialogue between the people in the settlement and the village. No. I thought of the women I met in Bethlehem last year who told me they wanted to learn Hebrew so they would talk to the Israeli women and make peace. I asked an Israeli man I was referred to in the olive grove if he knew of anyone who would be willing to travel to Bethlehem to teach these women Hebrew. He said yes, he had just this week heard about people set up to do this. When I arrived home, this man had sent me an email with information about a program that is getting together Israelis learning Arabic and Palestinians learning Hebrew. He also sent me a link to an article about him. Buma Inbar lost his son in Lebanon and is dedicating his life to peace.
As we walked back to the bus, I stopped to talk to the Israeli army members who were standing by. I asked the officer who appeared to be in charge, why did they do this. He said, look, there are crazy people everywhere. It was teenagers from the settlement. I asked if anyone has brought together the settlers and the villagers to talk about this- I felt relief to hear it wasn’t something organized by the policy makers of the settlement; I imagined that at least some of the residents of the settlement would recognize that this cutting of trees is not in anyone’s interest or in alignment with the Jewish teachings, which say, even in the case of war,
When in your war against a city, you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into a besieged city? Deuteronomy 20:19.
When using a battering ram to break down the walls to a city, a Jewish army should use wood from a non fruit-bearing tree to build the battering ram. Since only wood is needed (not fruit) to build the battering ram, it is wasteful to destroy a fruit-bearing tree.
Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced. Deuteronomy 20:20
Now I’m dreaming of how we could get the villagers and the settlers together in an NVC (Nonviolent Communication) dialogue- to explore what we can do to find ways of protecting each others’ safety and well being.
This brings me closer to the title of this article.
On a visit to Jenin earlier this week, I was asked, “Are you for Israel or Palestine?” That was the question Juliano Mer Khamis asked me at the Jenin Freedom Theater in the Jenin refugee camp, after we spray painted a sign together wishing a 7o year old American supporter a happy birthday.
I answered, both. I want to make room in my heart for both. He said, your heart must be awfully big. I thought about it, and then I said, if we can’t make our hearts big enough to hold both, how can we ever expect peace, how can we expect to live peacefully together unless we can do that in our hearts.
“Are you for or against the Occupation?” That is the question the pharmacist in Jenin asked me after we chatted about his life- he and his wife lived in India for 4 or 5 years studying pharmacology, then returned to Jenin to raise their two lovely boys who were with us in the store. (I was in a pharmacy in Jenin because earlier that morning I was toasting, with scalding hot coffee, two young Palestinian men with very amazing haircuts, law students at American University in Jenin, and I spilled the delicious fresh Arab coffee on my arm.)
I didn’t know how to answer the question. I feel clarity that my heart breaks when I see and hear about trees being uprooted, and walls being built around people’s houses, and people not allowed to travel freely and have the resources to educate their children and live normal lives- just a normal life where you don’t have to worry about the military knocking on your door at midnight or taking away your kids because they throw rocks or a million other things that are every day occurrences. And I feel particularly despairing because it is in the name of Jews that a lot of this is being done. As a Jew,I have a dream that somehow a Jewish country will be better; will be in the forefront of creating systems and cultures of peace and sustainability, breaking new ground in advancing humanity. And what I see and hear on the west bank and in the Palestinian sections of Jerusalem is very far from this.
Yet I resist saying I am for or against anything. I am yearning for a new way to express my values and dreams in the public political forums. Not for or against. Not slogans. Not labels.
And I feel so frustrated because I suspected that in my stumbling around to avoid saying I am for or against the Occupation, I was losing the trust and connection we had built. I knew his needs for authenticity, trust and being understood weren’t being met. Neither were mine.
I went back to the Jenin Cinema guesthouse where I was staying and called Hagit, my Israeli NVC buddy. She listened to me, and said, I hear how much you want to know what you could say that would contribute to peace and connection.
Yes. I want my words to contribute to peace, trust and connection.
I went out again, to the Jenin Freedom Theater. Juliano asked me, do you want to meet a terrorist? He said it tongue in cheek, which I appreciated, especially as I have been in workshops where we have done work to break down the image of “terrorist.” And he introduced us to Zakaria.
Enemy Image Work
First, to give you some understanding of how I heard this question–Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication, explains that anytime we think of someone as “a something”- , e.g., a terrorist, a bad person, a gossip, a troublemaker, pushy, controlling, long winded… anytime we fossilize our actual experience with someone into a fixed image of them, we are essentially committing violence toward them by cutting off their humanity; by encountering our idea of them, our judgment of them, our limiting view of them; not who they are in this lviing moment.
So when I was asked, do you want to meet a terrorist, I re translated that in my own mind into, do I want to meet someone who has been labelled a terrorist. My response then is, yes, I feel very curious to meet someone who has been labelled a terrorist.
A few moments later, a tall young man with noticeable darkened markings on his face came up and introduced himself. To me, his demeanor was quiet and gentle. and he looked a bit familiar I remembered he was one of the Palestinian children in the Film Arna’s Children, about the Jenin Freedom Theater. After horrendous violence and suffering, Zakaria has renounced violence for cultural resistance. I asked, how are you? He said, terrible. I have three children and I am raising them under occupation. The sadness in his eyes was unbearable.
I feel scared writing about this because I can imagine people reading this and feeling such pain, anger, despair, over the acts that Zakaria has taken responsibility for. I say to myself, I want to know the words to write that water the seeds of hope, peace and understanding, Of reconciliation.
When I encounter this man right now, when I listen to him right now, talking about the despair he feels for the limitations his children are growing up under, my heart is open and connected. I know that if I were to engage with him through the lens of “terrorist”, I would not encounter the person standing right in front of me. I have a sense that this is peacemaking, how we are standing right now, talking to each other.
I will post photos of these trips on facebook , unless I figure out how to do it in this blog ( does anyone know)?
Shabbat shalom, Roberta