This excerpt ( below) from a talk by Israeli-born Zen teacher Eve Marko really touched me. I too felt startled, confused, upset and disturbed when I saw the zig zag of the Wall, especially around my friend Claire’s house in Bethlehem. Generations of Claire’s family have lived in the house and continue to live in the house, although it is now surrounded on three sides by the Wall, the military cameras point into their house ( my brother and I witnessed this when we visited her), the light and air is blocked, they have been caught in cross fire. Claire’s father in law and his sister inherited the land all around Rachael’s Tomb; the Wall now separates the family and prevents them from visiting each other, their lands have been confiscated wihout compensation, their business is destroyed and Claire fears for her children. Her daughter, a law student, told me she wants to leave Palestine because there is no future there for her. I feel so scared and disheartened by this- if there is no future for her, there is no future for us, as we are all in this together, we are all this, together.
When I look deeply at the Wall, I see myself, and I especially see myself in Israel. Every moment is a challenge to stay open, even as I feel myself closing. I may close to a Palestinian one moment- maybe the guide who comes up to me on the Temple Mount and wants to take me around- I watch my body tighten up – what is this fear or aversion, what happens that blocks the flow of trust and openness, of curiosity and interconnectedness? And then I close to a Jew; maybe the one who says, if an Arab takes my land I’ll kill them. What is the closing that blocks me from hearing her pain and fear. Her weariness over being expelled from Iraq, of losing everything and coming to Jerusalem and building a little shop in the Old City to support herself and her family. Can I stay open to her pain too? Why do I close over and over.This endless zig gag. I close to a secular Jew who fears losing her freedom to dress how she wans in her own neighborhood and sit in cafes at any hour, as more and more Orthodox move in. Why am I closing? Don’t I have and value that same freedom? Didn’t I sit in a cafe in Woodstock yesterday, sipping a latte, preparing for my NVC classes?
And then I watch myself close to an observant Jew who doesn’t want to shake my hand or hear me sing. .And each time, it is me who is closing, constricting, cut off from the interconnectedness of life. And so I breathe in and out and remember my deepest aspirations- to live in a place of openess, with a heart full of love, as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama all say.
On our recent trip to Israel Bernie and I went into Bethlehem to visit with Sami Awad, the head of the Holy Land Trust. And since we were with some friends we did a tour of Bethlehem, including the Separation Wall. Five years ago only a checkpoint separated Bethlehem from Jerusalem, with a single booth manned by a soldier who looked at your papers and waved you through. Since that time a big cement wall has been built to separate between Israel and the West Bank, and at the road to Bethlehem the wall slices across the road, hiding everything from view. You now have to go underground and under the Wall for the various checks before you can emerge on the other side.
Part of the tour was a tour of the Wall itself, and what stands out about it isn’t just the ugly high concrete blocks that cut through this gorgeous countrywide of olive tree groves, monasteries, hills and valleys, but the way it zags and zags, in some places coming all the way around, in order to enclose certain areas and keep them on the Israeli side of the Wall, especially land with no homes on it, fields and groves that belong to Palestinians but end up on the Israeli side of the Wall. The Israelis say that they built the Wall against suicide bombers, so for them the Wall is protection, a hindrance to terrorists. To Palestinians, and to almost anyone else who bears witness to how the Wall goes around and then veers back and forth almost in figure eights, the Wall is also a mechanism of discrimination, making a statement: this is what we want; this is what we don’t want; this is what is ours, this is what is yours.
So on the one hand, the Wall includes and excludes, defining something as being here as opposed to something else that’s there. It’s also full of graffiti, including graffiti art, demanding that the Wall be removed, by Palestinians and internationals, including Israelis. So many hands have touched it, it’s been seen on television all over the world, it’s the intersection of hopes, dreams, disappointments, war and peace. When you look at the way it winds back and forth, the way it cuts valley from hill, groves from homes, city from city, you sense it’s not just a wall, it’s everything. The Middle East is that Wall, the Crusaders are that Wall, the Wailing Wall is that Wall, everything is that Wall. In other words, it’s empty of its own identity, and therefore full of everything else, full of life.
So what do you do? If you see it just as a wall that divides A from B you can dynamite it, but it’ll come back even thicker and higher, this time probably protected by minefields. If you see it as everything, what do you do?
After seeing the Wall we went to visit with Sami Awad. One of the things we talked about was his desire to send some of his activists to participate in the November multinational youth retreat at Auschwitz. Sami has been at the Auschwitz retreat a number of times. He explained to me that his visits to Auschwitz changed his nonviolent resistance work, changed the way he looked at and talked to soldiers. He realized, he said, that unless you can really understand the Other’s pain, you can’t do effective nonviolent resistance. So Sami has multiple responses to the Wall. Every Friday he participates in a nonviolent action against the Wall. He operates an online news service. He does trainings in nonviolent resistance. He went to India in Gandhi’s footsteps and has worked with peace villages in Colombia and Portugal. And he has gone to Auschwitz and wants to send other Palestinian activists there too. Why? Because the Wall is everything.
That’s why emptiness is a place of such creativity. It’s the ground of being, the potentiality of everything. A wall is a wall, and not just a wall. So what to do? Work nonviolently. Use it as background for art. Send people to Auschwitz. Bear witness to the Other. It gives us greater freedom to act, to be creative, to look again and again at what works.
All of us have our own zigzag walls that separate, that include certain things and exclude others: money or the lack of it; my boss; my parents; my children; my partner; my neighbor. These walls take the form of keeping my distance, a grimace, a smirk, a scowl, avoiding the telephone, all symbols of separation, all manifestations of a self-referential, self-centered life. There are many ways of penetrating these walls. We go to a family therapist, a mediator, a healer. All these arrows are fine, but in Zen we say that we basically need just one arrow, the one that pierces the apparent solidity of the wall and shows me its emptiness—or fullness.
That same arrow will also reveal our own true nature, which is emptiness, boundlessness, unconditioned. That is our true reference point. Waking up to that, I can now move and act freely and creatively, unconstrained by such notions as like or dislike, victim or victimizer.
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