Tuesday January 19, 2010 – Worlds apart in Jerusalem.
After yesterday’s rains, the sky was blue with magnificent clouds over the hills. Picture the huge majestic skies in “Old Testament” renaissance painting. “Biblical” comes to mind. The air was fresh and clear, the pink stone paths and alleys shining, as I walked from my room on Habad Road in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, through the Armenian and then the Moslem Quarter, going out the Damascus Gate to the “Arab bus station” to catch the 36 blue and white bus to Lazzaria/ El Zarria/ Bethany, a small Palestinian city on the other side of the wall.
I asked to make sure I was getting on the right number 36 bus – both 36 buses go down the road to Jericho (Joshua….), but one 36 bus goes to one side of the wall and the other 36 bus goes to the other side. I am going to the other side, so its 6 shekels, not 4 shekels.I can go because I have a non Israeli passport. Israeli’s can’t come through without special permission and Palestinians can no longer come to Jerusalem without the same. I feel sadness and despair writing this because I don’t have much hope that this state of things will produce peace and connection between our two peoples. And I am very clear that I have no blame in my heart toward one side or another.
Thursday January 21: A footnote to the above, written after spending the evening with the Ariel’s, my Jerusalem family ( my niece’s in laws). Over tea and dinner in their lovely home in Abu Tor, I asked them how they feel about the wall. Aaron said, first, that before the wall, they were living with daily random violence and killing. Over 1000 Jews were killed during the second intifada. This elderly couple, Aaron born here, Batya a kibbutz pioneer in the 40’s, couldn’t even live in their own house of 50 years without fearing for their life. They told me about street corners and cafes that I pass everyday where suicide bombers blew up themselves and passersby.
Two: Aaron said- It’s a border. We are two countres. The Palestinians don’t want to live under our rule ( wevice versa). The wall creates two countries. There are walls and borders between all countries. There are some Israelis who opposed the wall because they said it was giving Palestinians a land and sovereignty. The wall begins the creation of two states, with a border and independence from each other. Each side of the border needs to begin to rebuild and look to the future. Yes, there are hardships, errors, but this is the cost of the violence and instability.
So, once again, I am blown away by yet another perspective on the situation here. And I am so grateful for the practice time I had at Plum Village before I came here- bringing me to a place where I can live and connect to people and stay in this place of not knowing.
So on Tuesday, I crossed the border. Lazzaria is where Jesus “raised Lazarus from the dead”. For me, this 2 minute bus ride was like going from the first world to the third world. Lazzaria reminded me right away of India- rubble strewn, broken streets, people walking right in front of the bus, shops and stands with lots of goods, the biggest cauliflowers I’ve ever seen, luscious fruits and greens, piles of white plastic chairs, household goods, tapestries hanging in the dusty air, abandoned burnt cars all over. India without a ton of people.
As soon as I got on the bus (I am pretty confident that everyone else on the bus was Palestinian) a man leaned over to me and began telling me, in broken English, his troubles. He was clearly sick, his nose running unchecked. Another man, sitting behind me, neatly groomed hair, fancy glasses, well dressed, leaned forward and said to me, in polished English, don’t give him anything. He then asked around the bus for a tissue for the other man and handed it to him and said something to him in Arabic, maybe, wipe your nose. I don’t know, but I was struck by the way people, strangers, talk and connect to each other in both cultures here, and then go back to their individual spaces. A few minutes later, two women got on the bus and two men immediately stood up and gave them their seats.
I ended up in a long conversation with the second man, Hussein , who is Palestinian, and his mother is Spanish. He is an American educated engineer who can’t find work in Palestine. (I keep meeting Palestinians who have lived in the U.S. at one time or another. I have not recognized any anti American sentiment. Maybe this is because I am obviously speaking to those who know English, but its been a really nice relief and surprise
Hussein is really interested in NVC and is going to email to me contacts in some NGO’s he knows about. Maybe he will come to the NVC training I hope to give at Al Quds University in Lazria, which was one of the purposes of my visit.
Massimo was waiting for me in front of the church (tomb) of Lazarus. We took a few steps and a man pulled me over to get on his camel. Up up up I went. Yikes, they are tall –those humps reach the sky–Massimo photographed the event. I’m posting the photos on facebook until I figure out a better system. What a lovely gentle camel this was. Really really tall. I was ready to get down after a turn around the parking lot.
Massimo then hailed what looked to my untrained eyes to be an unmarked van, which is the bus system around Lazzaria. Fleets of old white vans picking people up, very mysterious to me how you know who, where, when. Massimo is from Milano, and has ben living in Palestine doing various projects sponsored by the Milano government and other sources. He , his wife and little girl have recently been joined here in the flat they are renting by Massimo’s elderly parents from Milano, who are cooking and looking after their grand daughter (more later).We went straight from the camel to the van to AL Quds University, the largest Palestinian university, its main campus here in Lazazaria. . After a tour by a student friend of Massimo, including a visit to the law school’s human rights clinic, we met with the University’s public relations director, a beautiful Palestinian woman, to organize an NVC training there in the next few weeks..
As part of my presentation to her about what NVC is, I asked her, did anyone say anything to you today that you are upset about. Right away, she responded, yes, starting early this morning.
I expected to hear that her child wouldn’t brush her teeth or was late for school or something like that- the usual triggers we hear about in the morning from parents in the U.S. Instead, she said that early this morning the Israeli military entered to the Jerusalem campus of the University (the only Palestinian U. in Jerusalem), closed the gates and commenced preparations to move one of the buildings because it is in the path of a road that will connect Jewish settlements with East Jerusalem.
I don’t know if this was a surprise, if there had been a breakdown in negotiations- I know nothing and still don’t. I have googled this, asked around, no one has heard anything abut this. That place of not knowing.
I listened to her, and connected with her frustration, her fears, her dreams of creating a safe place of education and safety and dignity, stability.Then she said, yes, yes, and what I’m really upset about is that when I called my colleague in Jerusalem, and said we need to do a press release right away, he said, “I’d like to wait until tomorrow.” She was quite emotional about all of this.
So I said, “so when you heard him say, can’t we wait until tomorrow, you felt really upset and frustrated?” She looked at me and said, “yes.” And I guessed again, what was in her heart, “it’s so important to you to have support and cooperation in your dream of creating a thriving safe university for Palestinians?” “Yes, yes…..” Her body posture changed, she was now looking right at me, and said something like, “wow, this is really good stuff. Now what?”
I said, well, once you’ve connected with yourself, what’s really painful and important to you about this, you have a choice- you can either look again and see what was important to him about waiting a day- and the three of us brainstormed a bit about what might have been going on for him….or, I added, you may want to express to him how you are feeling and why, and I repeated (modeled) her self connection.
The energy in the room was so alive- excitement, softening, openness, curiosity……
Then she said, “this can work in families, with everyone. How could it work for Hamas and Fatah?” She asked me that twice.
I answered something like I think ultimately this can bring peace and reconciliation between everyone- even Israel and Palestine, everyone. We need to start listening for what’s really important to the other, and find solutions that address everyone’s needs.
My “plan” today had been to stay away from politics and demonstrate NVC in the context of teaching or family life!
She then told me she is part of a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who meet every few months to dialogue and that she’d like me to meet and offer a training to them in February. And we also are planning a two part training at Al Quds.
Then we went back to Massimo’s for a home made Italian lunch, his mother’s home made pizza. I was really excited about this. As we waited for his wife to return home so we would all lunch together, the cell phone rang- it was the director of the orphanage we were planning to visit later. There was an emergency and Massimo was needed.. No lunch for us. Off we went to a building across the road that was the municipal building. We raced up and down dark corridors with stuff piled here and there. Finally, after passing numerous photos of Yasser Arafat, we entered a room where about 10 men and a few women were seated in a circle. A large man with a long bead was behind the desk. We were there to keep the peace for and witness a marriage ceremony between one of the girls from the orphanage and askinny young man. The director of the orphanage, an Italian woman whose life’s work is supporting the children who end up there, had arranged the marriage to get the girl away from her father who, I was told, had abused her and her sister. The two girls had taken refuge in the orphanage, burns on their body, no teeth, the woman many years before. She was now19, and getting married.
The father’s consent was necessary for the marriage and he was demanding a dowry and threatening to kill the Italian women who runs the orphanage. He was demanding that the girl return home util they had a wedding party. The girl refused (I was told this father had raped her, beat her, it gets worse and worse). After lots of heated exchanges (of course all in Arabic), and an appearance by the public security chief who, I was later told, said, sign or we wil sign it, the father signed and the man behind the desk- turns out he is an Immam- told us all to put our hands on our thighs and we prayed. I wish I understood the prayer. I heard later part of it was that she would obey him. I prayed for her safety and happiness.
After more confrontation with the father, it got a bit scary, he left and we went into a roadside coffee shop type place with lots of empty counters and shelves and celebrated with fanta-like drinks and cross buns.
I took some photos when there were a few smiles. It was a shocking contrast to the exuberant wedding I attended my first week in Israel, singing, dancing, joy, families overflowing with love, piles of gifts and food and cakes.
We went back to the orphanage, which turns out to shelter many children (35 or so girls) where children from abusive homes and other hardships are taken in. Five girls are there whose mother is about to go on trial for killing the father. He would tie up the mother and have other men rape her for money. I won’t go into the rest of the details I was hearing. It was too much for me. Her lawyers said she has no defense and that there’s no point in trying to get her out of prison because she’ll be killed.
My overwhelm, helplessness, despair was reaching new levels. The orphanage director wanted me to hear more and more of the story, more and more details of the murder, the abuse… I was giving myself empathy, breathing, connecting with what I could say to stay connected to her, to the girls who were there, to my own intention to be present for the suffering I encounter here and also to take care of myself by air, space, rest. I managed to excuse myself, spent a few minutes brainstorming about returning to do some singing with the children, got on the 36 bus, came back to the Old City and got into bed, feeling sick and despair about the pain and suffering I had witnessed.
The next day I had a long breakfast with my new NVC sangha buddy Hagit. Hagit is an NVC trainer here, a former Israeli police officer who got to travel around with Marshall Rosenberg when he had a contract to work with the Israeli police. Hagit’s really got it! And I am so blessed to have her as a friend and colleague here. Over the famous Israeli breakfast she listened to my despair and shock at what I had seen, and through that I reconnected with my excitement over the other parts of the visit, and together we share excitement that I am able, as an American, to get NVC in the door to places that she can follow up with after I leave.
After breakfast, I went to a study class with Sarah Yehudit- the topic is “You are what you hate” Call me by my true names came to Elayne’s mind. I’ll end with that:
This poem by Thich Nhat Hanh embodies the essence of what he calls “interbeing,” the innerconnectedness of all things.
Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.
There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh