Last Monday, January 29, I was privileged to attend the founding meeting of an organization to promote Nonviolent Communication in Palestine. After much discussion, the Palestinian Nonviolent Communication community decided to try out the name Mideast NVC-Palestine.
About 15 people participated in the meeting in the beautiful meditation/workshop room of Holy Land Trust (HLT) in Bethlehem. HLT has been a host and partner to Nonviolent Communication trainings in the West Bank for 6 or more years. Many of the people in the room had attended the first Nonviolent Communication training there 6 years ago, and have since attended numerous 9 day residential trainings, classes and weekends. Several are actively involved in offering Nonviolent Communication trainings and classes in schools, women’s groups, government agencies, peace organizations, universities and other venues in the West Bank, Jordan and Jerusalem. Several have attended Train the Trainer sessions over the years with visiting international Nonviolent Communication trainers (including me).
Palestinian trainer Amal Hadweh from Beit Jala opened the gathering with a “remembering”. Amal shared that she was inspired by Nonviolent Communication founder Marshall Rosenberg to begin trainings with a poem or song or other reading that opens hearts and reminds people of what they are yearning for in coming to Nonviolent Communication. Amal accompanied Marshall through Palestine in the 1990’s.
She said, “I want to begin by reading a poem Marshall shared with us in the ’90’s, called Words are Windows (Or They’re Walls). This is the first time we have this poem in Arabic and its important so we can be part of the Nonviolent Communication family.”
Here is the poem in English:
Words are Windows (Or They’re Walls), a poem by Ruth Bebermeyer
I feel so sentenced by your words I feel so judged and sent away Before I go I got to know Is that what you mean to say?
Before I rise to my defense, Before I speak in hurt or fear, Before I build that wall of words, Tell me, did I really hear?
Words are windows, or they’re walls, They sentence us, or set us free. When I speak and when I hear, Let the love light shine through me.
There are things I need to say, Things that mean so much to me, If my words don’t make me clear, Will you help me to be free?
If I seemed to put you down, If you felt I didn’t care, Try to listen through my words To the feelings that we share.
(from the book Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life)
After the reading, Amal asked for reflections and feedback.
“Truly,” Fowzie from the hills south of Hebron said, “we need this language of the heart because we are so much in our thinking; we feel so much at ease when we start speaking this language of the heart. “ and he closed by saying, “ when we are spoken to with this language of the heart we feel human.”
How can we be a Palestinian Nonviolent Communication family?
Amal guided the meeting by asking, as the Palestinian family of Nonviolent Communication, how can we work together more? What would it mean for us to support each other to be a Palestinian Nonviolent Communication family? It would be a contribution to our society if it is known we are organized in such a way, that such things are possible here.
Amal told a story of when she was in Germany at a conference on ending violence against women. She mentioned to a German participant that she was giving Nonviolent Communication trainings in Palestine and he responded, sounding shocked, you have that there? She felt so hurt to imagine that the world would be shocked that in Palestine there is a Nonviolent Communication movement, as there is all over the world.
How, she asked, can we build a family of Nonviolent Communication, so that in our ideas and thoughts we are a family?
Some people advocated for prioritizing getting international affiliation and funding to create an organization. Others advocated for deepening their Nonviolent Communication training before seeking funding and forming an organization. Others emphasized looking more deeply together at what challenges are in the society and among the Nonviolent Communication core group itself to moving forward.
Some of the societal challenges spoken to:
-In certain localities, anything with the word “nonviolence” in it will be labeled normalizer ( normalizing the Israeli Occupation). How do I communicate that I am here for you, for us, to strengthen our society, not to connect with Israelis?
-In the structure of Palestinian society, you can’t just go into schools and communities on your own; you need to be part of an umbrella organization.
-much of the violence in society (what are called “crimes of honor”) are kept private; how can we make nonviolence a part of our culture?
– how do we build and work as a team when we are from disparate parties, clans, localities and groups, in a society where people usually function within one of these?
“We Palestinians are preparing to be a state. Our heroes are no longer those who throw stones and commit violence. Our heroes are those who stand up and speak for our rights; who can talk to the Israelis; who can express our needs as people. Working together as an NVC team is a training for working together as a nation.”
Strategies to Address the Challenges
-As Nonviolent Communication trainers, we want Nonviolent Communication to be inside us and to work together.
-We are teaching communication skills that are much more than “nonviolent”; the word nonviolent connotes criticism of our resistance to Occupation ( this is what people in the Deheisha refugee camp told Marshall in 1996 when he came after the first intifada)(Palestinian uprising).
-The word nonviolent connotes weakness in our society. The terms “nonviolence” is a distraction-right away people think you are talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it placves you in a particular camp. Let’s call it the Language of the Heart.
– Let’s call it “Raheem”- Compassionate Communication, a term that is accepted in our society and more fully conveys what it is about.
-And, as international affiliation is important to us- being part of the Nonviolent Communication family, having an umbrella organization to be part of- our international face can use “NVC.”
-Building a team to bring Nonviolent Communication into schools. There is violence in the schools and we want training to build a team of people who care about violence in the schools. We need an organization that helps us develop more so we can launch this into our society. We need financial support to do this.
Birth of Mideast NVC Palestine
“As a school Principal ( in Palestine), when my teachers ask me, how did you learn to speak to us, to the children, to the parents this way, I am proud to say, I learn from NVC. I want to know what’s going on in Nonviolent Communication in India, Pakistan, everywhere.
We want to be recognized by the global NVC community as part of you.
Consensus: We are a body, everyone present here today is part of the administrative committee, and we have a hope and request to be recognized by CNVC ( the international Center for Nonviolent Communication, founded by Marshal
Rosenberg) as part of the family.