Engaged Dharma in Israel

During the 2nd half 0f 2011 the Engaged Dharma in Israel group initiated a variety of actions and projects as part of their ongoing peace work. These included campaigns, solidarity actions with Palestinian partners, uncovering information about the occupation, petitioning authorities regarding violations of human rights, and laying the ground for educational work within the Israeli-Jewish society.

Aviv Tatarsky of the Engaged Dharma in Israel group highlights here some of the lessons learnt during these months: Sangha as an invaluable resource for supporting activism ano peace work, the power of compassion and openness for turning confrontation into dialogue, and the deep relevance that our spiritual insights have when facing the challenges of peace work. Most of the examples concern their relationship with the village of Deir Istiya.

Sangha as a vital Resource

 One of their main missions is to raise awareness within the Dharma community to the meaning of living under occupation, and to create opportunities for Sangha members to get involved in peace and human rights work. A good starting point is what can be considered “soft” humanitarian action.

Recently, for example, they organized for Sangha members to collectively buy a significant amount of olive oil from a few poor families in the village of Deir Istiya. It is important to note that even this simple action (an action very significant for the farmers) could not have happened had they not had the support of a large “non-activist” Sangha. From this soft starting point there are many ways to go deeper: They used this opportunity in order to inform the Sangha how Israeli policies and economic interests create a situation where Palestinian farmers find it increasingly more difficult to sell their oil. Olive agriculture being such a major part of Palestinian economy and culture, the implications of this situation can be very dramatic. Now they are working together with Deir Istiya farmers to create a channel for exporting their olive oil to both Israeli and foreign markets. This entails connecting potential customers on the one hand and assisting the village to develop quality assurance and other mechanisms that are needed. All this requires knowledge and expertise and here again the Sangha offers indispensible resources in the form of practitioners who are professionals in the fields of food industry, trading etc. Many times, these professionals – who offer their knowledge and assistance wholeheartedly – have not previously engaged in Jewish-Palestinian cooperation, so they too find the experience unique and are excited by how they can put their skills for this cause.

Stability and Whole Heartedness

 Crossing the unseen but very real borders that separate Jews and Palestinians generates much hope and intimacy and can be very healing and transformative. Hope and intimacy run so contrary to the mainstream beliefs around the Jewish-Palestinian conflict that sooner or later challenges and conflicts arise as well. There have been many instances where group members had to face confrontations and attacks from various sources:

  • A physiotherapist and Sangha member came with us to Deir Istiya to treat a handicapped woman. Later, when telling friends about her deeply touching experience in the village, she was aggressively criticized and condemned by one of them…
  • Walking with the mayor of Deir Istiya to see contaminated sewage flowing from a nearby settlement to the olive groves of the village we are stopped by soldiers who demand that we turn away. The soldiers take it for granted that they can give orders to civilians, completely disregarding the fact that we are walking on land privately owned by these civilians.…
  • Together with Palestinians and other activists we are demonstrating in the village Al-Wallaja in protest of the separation wall being built on its lands, several meters away from the houses. The demonstration is nonviolent but the soldiers declare it illegal. They shout abuse and throw scores of stun grenades directly at us…
  • A representative of ours phones the mayor of Revava, the settlement from which the above mentioned sewage is flowing. The mayor refuses to speak with the “Arab lover” and after a few hostile sentences, hangs up the phone…

 These kinds of occurrences are the all too common experience of peace activists in Israel. It is very painful to be considered “public enemy” and this pain gives rise to many challenges: Inwardly it is difficult not to feel resentment and anger towards people who attack you so vehemently. Outwardly, expressing this anger unskillfully only adds to the cycle of hate and violence. On the other hand, if wishing not to take part in these kinds of violent exchanges you step back and cease to be involved, then you give up on the commitment to work for changing the troubled reality which our lives are part of.

We feel very privileged to be able to engage in such confrontations while being supported by Dharma practice and the wisdom and compassion it cultivates. Responding skillfully in these situations is an ongoing learning process and one of the deepest practices that activism offers us. Through this practice we learn to open to the feeling of Dukha and find in it a refuge from the danger of breeding our inner ill-will. We learn how big our capacity for listening can be and how much our adversaries need that we listen to them. Hopefully this listening also helps us to better understand them. We learn how to state our case clearly, directly and non-aggressively. We learn the power of a heart and mind that are well tuned. And we learn simultaneously of our own fragility and power.

The Physiotherapist absorbed her friend’s abuse and had enough inner freedom to be aware of the needs of that friend and the other people who witnessed the exchange. The group near the sewage refused politely but firmly to obey the unjust orders. In Al-Wallaja, instead of adding to the mayhem, our activists helped a few frightened and angry partners to relax. Our representative kept on phoning and listening to the Mayor of Revava who became very curious about him, put down some of his defenses and finally invited the representative to visit him at the settlement so that they could discuss things thoroughly. When, despite this show of good-will, no progress was made for fixing the sewage we petitioned the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment which is now charging the settlement with contamination of agriculture and water resources.

Raising Awareness and Creating Transformation

 Another major part of our mission is transforming the existing prejudices and psychological obstacles for peace in the Jewish-Israeli society. In the last few months we held a weekend retreat of Engaged Dharma and spoke about our work in a conference that was dedicated to “Trends in Buddhism in the West”. In the next two months we are scheduled to hold another retreat and are organizing together with the different Israeli Sanghas a conference on “Dharma inspired Political and Social Struggles”.

Through such activities we aim to raise political awareness within the general Dharma community in Israel and encourage more practitioners to become socially engaged. During the first four months of 2012 we will hold three workshops titled “The Conflict (not) On Automatic Pilot” for students in prearmy gap year programs. The workshops are designed to help participants discover their automatic responses when dealing with different aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inquire into the roots of these responses and see if other, more helpful approaches, can be taken. Finally, we were asked by Combatants for Peace, a major Israeli-Palestinian peace group to facilitate for them a workshop on nonviolent struggle.

We intend to continue this outreach work and hope to hold many more workshops for these three target groups during 2012.

˜ We will be very happy to hear your comments on this report. Your support, suggestions and feedback for improvement will be received gratefully. Please feel free to forward it to Dharma friends. Our blog engagedharma.wordpress.com is currently Hebrew language only but we would be happy to provide more details about our vision and guiding principles.

Please email us at engaged.dharma@gmail.com .

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4/18/2014