Are you for Israel or Palestine?

Dear Friends,

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

Author: robertaindia

In the world with a peaceful heart

9 thoughts on “Are you for Israel or Palestine?”

  1. Well, I’m overwhelmed by your compassion and determination and very proud of you. I always think of the nations like France and Germany that tried to exterminate each other… Many many more people died and suffered in those conflicts so maybe there is some hope….thank you for your blog and stay safe.




  2. I’m so touched by reading what you wrote yesterday. You’re there in the midst of extreme disconnection between lots of human beings and you’re demonstrating what could bring about connection at the heart level by being open to the humanity in the other. I believe that this is the only way people there (or anywhere) will find solutions to what seems like insurmountable differences.

    May your open heart be a key to opening other hearts and may the chain (heart) reaction continue.

    Blessings, Eliane


  3. I’m not even finished reading today’s post, but before I do, I need to share some of my deep emotional connection with your words and your heart-opening experiences. At least, they open my heart, which has been breaking for a long time but not yet opened wide. I couldn’t allow my own tears for my own private pain, but when I got to the part here where you were asked, “Do you want to meet a terrorist?” my tears welled up and flooded out and my grief started finally pouring out of me, sobbing out loud for my broken heart, because I suddenly didn’t feel alone any more. I felt I was standing right there with you, being asked along with you. And my heart yelled: Yes!

    What made me say “Yes!” were my nearly 40 years living in this country and hurting for all the misunderstanding and pain and fear that has brought us to this grief-filled and hope-filled human moment. It was because this ‘terrorist’ is my neighbor, the fruit salesman I bought from in Hebron years ago and would offer us stools to sit on while we were choosing and he was packing, and would bring us delicious coffee while we sat there and enjoyed the sunshine, the plenty of the market and the whole ambience of being in the parts of the country previously unknown to us before ’67, and feeling just like it must have been thousands of years ago at the same friendly marketplace. I remember being in awe and appreciation for just being accepted there so warmly, and imagining a new beginning for all of us to coexist this way, under this blue sky and the shade of the grapevines and fig trees.

    I’m crying for the pain of my son who was seriously wounded as a soldier years ago, and for the blaming and disconnecting all around instead of comforting one another and forgiving and finally sitting together for coffee.

    I lived in Hebron-Kiryat Arba for a few months back in 1971, long before the Intifada when we always shopped in Town (Hebron) and when the buildings going up for “us” were being built by Hebron Arab workers. I was one of the first tenants in the new buildings there with construction all around me, a husband and four children, on the 4th floor of the then elevator-less building. I knew nothing of the politics then, and I felt safe and connected.

    When I would shop at the new grocery opened in Kiryat Arba and start up the four flights to my apartment, Kayyit, one of the Arab building site workers would quietly appear and offer to take my bags up the stairs for me. He never looked at me strangely or any other way than respectfully, and would just smile and go back down — and appear again the next time I shopped.

    I’m crying because I’ll never forget Kayyit, his kind gentleness. And I wish he and his family knew how much his presence warmed my heart, not for the helping me, but for his friendliness and humanity.

    I’m crying because my distant cousin was captured by terrorists when he was a soldier, and he was murdered, and then armed forces killed the terrorist, and the soldier’s bereaved parents decided to create a meeting between them and the bereaved parents of the terrorist, and they started a movement of bereaved parents on both sides of the conflict, which was a place of healing. I’m crying because I don’t hear about that much anymore. What happened to that group and the extensive media coverage it got here then?? Where are all the bereaved and estranged parents now? Where are they able to take their grief and hopes?? I don’t see it anymore, not in the safety of ‘then’ and the respect it recieved back then.

    I’d like to go on. I have so many more memories like these, and have never succeeded in getting them down on paper. I also have my own personal family traumas I want recorded and fail to find the strength to sit with the pain the writing brings up. I wasn’t able to cry, but now, as I cry, I can write, because I dont feel so alone with my pain, i feel it’s shared by you who are reading this now.

    Thanks from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your experiences, so that I could connect with mine.



  4. Dear Roberta
    I am so impressed and engaged by your careful observations and moment to moment thinking/feeling. All of your posts have been like dharma talks. This situation is so difficult. And I find it so difficult to maintain an open attitude. My heart is open to all but I do not understand the wisdomor effectiveness of brutality against olive groves, camps where people cannot have access to education and freedom, and occupation of one by another– occupation without rehabilitation and re-entry in the focus. It is essential to be able to offer hope when the power balance is so unequal.

    Your work is so important and the interactions you initiate are courageous. Are the Israeli’s you encounter supporting your work financially? I wish you all success and continued deep growth. No mud, no lotus. I send you lots of lotus flowers


  5. Dear Roberta,
    I am very moved by your determination to be a witness to the entire reality tat you encounter. I am especially leaving a comment because I have been thinking about the Sh’ma, and our tradition’s understanding that it is our aspiration to be witnesses to the one-ness of YHVH, Life Unfolding, and therefore be able to recognize the underlying unity of all creation. The only way we can be witnesses to unity is to be able to look through eyes that are loving and non-judgmental. I think you are fulfilling the instruction to be a witness to the possibility of unity on our world.
    Rabbi Jonathan





  7. Roberta,

    U r an amazing person and I feel very privileged to know someone that is not only so dedicated to a wonderful and worthwhile goal, but also someone who walks the talk.

    Your empathy skills are phenomenal. I am so glad u r there for all of us. I couldn’t think of a better person. I want u to know you have my support, as well as my admiration.

    We had a snow storm here (again) in Woodstock and we had to cancel our Synagogue plans for celebrating the New Year of the Trees. On Friday night, Rabbi Jonathan gave us a brief talk about the meaning of the holiday. And, after your blog, it means even more to me.

    Back in Woodstock, we r having a winter cold snap, but David and I r making the most of it with our x-country skiing. Our country is responding to the shooting of Rep. Gifford’s in a positive way, I feel. Thinking of u, CJ


  8. Dear Roberta,

    A friend forwarded your blog to me, as he knows I am very concerned about Israel/Palestine. This was my reply to him:

    Thank you for this forward. I found it very interesting–for what it seems to tell about someone who longs for peace with all her heart–at least all of her heart that she is aware of. What I find strikingly absent from both of these posts is any willingness to question her own basic assumptions: i.e. that Jewish occupation of Palestine is legitimate. She observes the destruction of Palestinian olive trees, and then is willing to accept the lame excuse of the IDF officer that there are crazy teenagers everywhere. How come none of these crazy teenagers are never arrested?

    History matters. It can’t simply be denied. The historic reality is that European Jews with the initial backing of the British and now of America, have flat out stolen the land of the Palestinians. The Palestinians, by the way, are probably the descendants of the Jews who lived on the land 2000 years ago, and who then subsequently converted to Islam. It is widely thought that the Ashkenazi Jews who founded the current state of Israel were a tribe closely related to modern day Kurds who probably converted to Judaism about a thousand years ago. But, no one really knows.

    The Torah says, “Thou shalt not steal.” Either these words have meaning or they don’t. Just because Harry Truman, looking for re-election and needing therefore the support of US Jews, pressured the UN–where especially in 1947 the word of the US was virtually law–to rule it legal for the Jews to have 54% of the land of Palestine, and just because after a year of war the UN negotiated settlement gave them 73% (I think), this does not make Jewish possession of the land moral or just. Moreover, the UN has also resolved that all Palestinians who lived in Israeli territory should be allowed to return or be compensated for the land they lost. This has never been done. The Geneva Conventions also say that all settlements on occupied land are illegal. Israeli settlements on the West Bank are therefore all illegal. These are all facts, not feelings. Facts give rise to feelings, but dealing with your feelings does not change the facts.

    As much as Ms. Wall may long for peace, the truth is that there can never be peace with out justice. Justice is not a matter of feeling, but of fact.

    Pax, Shalom, Salam,


  9. Thomas is crying out for justice and he is right that without justice there can be no peace. But I don’t think the option of eliminating Israel as a state is a useful starting point for our discussions and working for peace.

    BTW- Jews in 1948 were not about to vote Republican and there is the small matter of the HOLOCAUST that did bear on the situation.

    Also, Thomas may be familiar with Arthur Koestler and Shlomo Sand and their work about most Jew being descended from the Khazars of central Asia. I am very familiar with their work and to say that their theories are “widely thought” to be correct I believe is an error–many genetic studies and historical research question them and I believe other than within ardent anti-Israel circles thay are regarded as fringe theorists. Shlomo Sand’s work (a fascinating read-“The Invention of the Jewish People”) has been thoroughly critiqued by historians.

    The sorrows and continued injustices visited on innocent Palestinians and the fact that for many reasons-some quite complicated and tragic- many Israelis ignore these- are being addressed by righteous Jews and others but it is a slow and difficult process. What Roberta and her colleagues are doing is important- building trust and communication one person at a time.

    Thomas- you may want to read Michael Lerner’s book- “Healing Israel-Palestine” for what I think is a pretty balanced history and appreciation of the suffering and hopes of BOTH sides…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.