Israeli Engaged Dharma

In the past 6 months our group was intensively involved in two campaigns of big concern for our

Palestinian partners and friends: In Deir Istiya, farmers received notices ordering to uproot 2,000 olive trees planted on their private land. The reason given for this order was that the area was declared by Israel as a natural reserve 30 years ago and so planting of new trees was illegal. In Al- Walaja, where the separation barrier is being built by Israel on village land, it was we who discovered that the Jerusalem municipality was about to declare 1,000 dunams (247 acres) of the village’s land as a national park “for the benefit of the Jerusalem populace”. Both cases are being disputed in court right now and in both we have been giving support to the people, gathering important information and bringing the story to the media.

These campaigns, the dilemmas they raised for us as well as the ways in which Dharma was manifested through them, were to be the focus of the current report. But instead, a profoundly touching meeting that took place in Al-Walaja in several weeks ago seems to be the right thing to share this time.

The Israeli Engaged Dharma is a group of Dharma (Buddhist way) practitioners who aim to transform Conflict Mindset into one of Reconciliation. We work in solidarity with Palestinians and aim to raise the awareness of the Jewish population to the realities of life under occupation

Our connection with the Al-Walaja begun more than 2 years ago, shortly after Israel started constructing the separation barrier around the village. The story of the fence and wall being built around Al-Walaja, deserves a separate account. As is common in other villages where the barrier has been built, we joined nonviolent demonstrations. We also contributed information for the court appeal by the village to set an alternative route for the barrier which would be less disruptive and we found ways to raise the awareness of the Israeli public to the issue. We are also involved in the campaign to stop the above mentioned national park plan.

But as we learned more of the challenges facing the community and people in Al-Walaja, and as the demonstrations died down without achieving the goal of stopping or changing the route of the fence/wall we felt that along with the protest and struggle, other forms of solidarity were called for. We wanted to take part not only in resisting the injustice of the barrier but also in contributing to the strengthening of the community in Al-Walaja and the empowering of its people. For various reasons this is not so easily realizable1 and for the past 6 months we made very limited progress in gaining the consent of the village to this approach.

Two of us came to Al-Walaja about a month ago to discuss with our local partners possible avenues for joint action. Coming to the meeting we knew that we had already done good preparation work on previous meetings and were expecting to receive agreement that we will join families of the village for the olive harvest. We knew our hosts well and we have deep appreciation for them. Over the past 2 years we stood together in demonstrations which were violently dispersed by Israeli soldiers, we discussed various issues with them and as the intimacy naturally grew between us we exchanged more personal feelings and stories. In order to protect their privacy we will not mention their names. The account of the meeting will be given in the first person.

After some greetings we presented our purpose – we wish to find ways to support the village. What ensued was completely unexpected to us. “What for?”, said one of our hosts, “there is no use in doing anything. You and we are so weak that anything we try to build will be destroyed by Israel”. These words were coming from the mouth of a very determined person who has participated in and led many acts of resistance in the village. He continued with a long monologue and wouldn’t let anyone else speak. It is important for me to explain that this man, nearly 70 years old, has a very strong presence but with us he is always kind and never aggressive. It was no different this time: His words were strong and direct but he was not attacking.

He was critical of the village’s inability to keep up the demonstrations and I took the opportunity to explain that we have something else in mind: “The people in the village are facing many challenges”, I said. Life here is becoming more difficult. As there are no demonstrations we can devote our energy to support the village…”.

He cut me short: “You sound like those UNRWA people”, He said, referring to the UN agency giving aid to Palestinian refugees. “They give us some bread to eat and in turn expect us to behave nicely”2.

He touched a sensitive spot in me: “You know I’m hoping for a Palestinian nonviolent uprising. I’ll be there when it starts”, I said with emotion. But again he didn’t let me speak through: “What do you mean ‘nonviolent’?”, he exclaimed. “We are facing armed soldiers! Have you ever seen us throw one stone in the demonstrations in this village?!”. And thus it continued. The next time I tried to say something he made a comment about my backpack. When I spoke again he said some joke…

I finally understood that he was not going to let me speak so I accepted it and listened. He talked on and on. Sometimes one of the others tried to say something but he didn’t give anyone a chance. The way I described it so far it might seem to have been an unpleasant experience. But the contrary is true. I felt completely calm. What he was saying contradicted my strong motivation for action and my expectation that in this meeting we will finally agree on a joint action but I was very touched by his words. I knew that an important thing was happening: We were making it through the veils of ideology, opinion and pretence to reach the reality of what was there.

After a while the story of Bodhidharma the first patriarch of Chan in China came to my mind. Bodhidharma was sitting in meditation and refused to give any consideration to a man that approached him and asked to be accepted as a disciple. Bodhidharma ignored him for days but the man wouldn’t leave. It was snowing and the snow gathered to the man’s knees and still he wouldn’t move. But Bodhidharma refused to pay any attention to him. In the end the man was accepted by Bodhidharma and became his Dharma successor. Or the stories of people who want to be accepted to Zen Monasteries in Japan and have to wait outside for 3 days in order to prove their determination. I never felt that I would be able to pass such a test. Even during my most zealous days of excitement about Dharma practice I was sure that in such a situation I would become bored or discouraged after a short while.

And now, facing my host’s unstoppable speech and his insistence that there is nothing we can do I was surprised to see how unaffected I was. I wasn’t irritated, I wasn’t discouraged. There was no hint of doubt or frustration in my heart. And then I realized that this has been going on for quite a long time: For 6 months I and my partners have been trying to break through the obstacles facing Israeli- Palestinian solidarity in Al-Walaja but nothing worked. We were refused politely but firmly. And these refusals had no effect on my confidence that we should keep on coming to the village and find a way to be of value.

Our host spoke of his frustration at the political situation and of the stupidity of cutting up land by a wall. He spoke of his disappointment of his community who were not able to keep a prolonged campaign of struggling against the barrier. He also spoke about the Israeli public who don’t care about what’s happening to Palestinians and about the insignificance of Israelis like us who try to make a change.

Our host was going on about the political situation and how bad it was. I usually have no patience for long talks about politics and politicians. It’s always the same and all the analysis seems to me to be of little relevance to what I as a grassroots activist can and need do. But somehow there was something very touching about what he was saying. The facts and opinions were not new but it was all said in a very connected and heartfelt way. He didn’t mince his words: When one of the others told him : “You’re blaming Israel but it’s not Israel, it’s the Israeli government”, he directly dismissed him: “Most Israelis want the occupation to continue, the Israeli left is so small and so weak – what can you achieve? And anyway, you pay taxes don’t you? You’re part of it as well”.

It didn’t feel like we were being attacked. On the contrary, our host was voicing his despair and we were being allowed to see into his heart. And he has so many reasons for despair: He was born with the Nakba3 in 1948 during which his village was uprooted and his community dispersed. Then in 1967 he came under Israeli occupation. In 1994 he was held in an Israeli military jail for 9 months without trial. The interrogations must have included torture. Since being released he wasn’t allowed to work

in Israel and has been practically unemployed since. Due to the construction of the separation barrier, over a hundred of his olive trees have been uprooted and he will lose practically all of his land as it will be left on the other side of the barrier and he will have no access to it. And the list of injustices continues.

His reasoning didn’t convince me at all but I had nothing to say back. Our differences were made vividly clear: He is living under occupation and I am a free man. I take it for granted that I am master of my destiny and he has seen, time and again, how his plans, work and dreams are crushed by the enormous power of the state and its military. I understood that I can not really understand him, I don’t know how it feels to be oppressed in this way. And coming face to face with this gap between us was at once a painful and a valuable experience.

It was getting late and then one of us simply suggested that we join the olive harvest together with families of the village. The olive harvest season is very close and olives are an important part of Palestinian culture as well as a source of livelihood for many Palestinian families. Many Israeli activists join Palestinians during the harvest to protect against settler violence or harassment by soldiers. In Al-Walaja we do not expect such attacks but still help is needed. The harvest this year will be very symbolic: In a few months the separation barrier on the village’s lands will be completed and most of the olive groves will be separated from the village. Yes, the barrier’s route was drawn in such a way that most of the village’s agricultural land stays on the Israeli side and with very limited access for the farmers of Al-Walaja who own that land.

Leaving the village, the conversation continued to resonate with us. I think it will stay with me for a long time as one of the meaningful experiences for me as an activist.

A month has passed since that conversation and a big shift has happened to our relationship with the village. During the olive harvest season we organized 3 groups that joined and assisted the local families. Over a hundred people came this way to the village, many of them for the first time. Working together, a natural closeness develops as people ask each other for help, share food and tease each other. We had the chance to meet new people in the village and strengthen ties with those we already knew. As the harvest came to an end, our partners in Walaja started to suggest ideas for further joint action. The door has opened more.

The timing was also significant: During the harvest, the Israeli army started to lay down the fence around the village. In a few months this work will be completed. The village will be surrounded and the separation between it and Israel will be solidified. But this barrier will not separate us. It will merely emphasize the value of open hearts, determined minds and continuous right action .

1 The difficulties facing Israeli-Palestinian solidarity deserve a whole separate report

2 There is much criticism of the aid agencies which make the occupation bearable and in that sense allow it to continue. UNRWA, established more than 6 decades ago exemplifies the way aid can create and perpetuate dependency.

3 The Nakba – disaster in Arabic – is how Palestinians refer to the destruction of over 400 villages and uprooting of over 700,000 Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 war. The war, which gave birth to the state of Israel, is called by Jews the Independence War. One people’s joy marks the other people’s catastrophe.

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 Engaged Dharma in Israel 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 write to us at [email protected] .

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13 Comments

  1. pat westwater-jong

    Thank you for your support of the people in Deir Istiya and Al-Walaja, i visited both this past fall. And thank you for sharing their “stories” – we Americans are heavily involved. You, and anyone who’s interested, are welcome to visit my exhibit of “Courage and Compassion in the Holy Land,” currently at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Kennedy School, Harvard University. Wonderful Jews, Muslims, Christians and others are honored for their courage and compassion. Photos of Al-Walaja and one in Deir Istiya are displayed. It’s open to the public 9:00=6:00, M-F. It should be up through February. I’m happy to make appointments to give exhibit tours. Thank you again.

  2. Len Moskowitz

    I’m very disappointed in how you have adopted the Palestinian perspective and narrative so completely and one-sidedly. I hope that others in Zen Peacemakers are more balanced.

  3. My dear friend,

    do you allow me to call you a “friend”, a “dear driend”? I hope so. What you are describing is a process of reconcilitation. And reconciliation has much to do with listening, giving space and freedom to another person, to his or her reality, to a group, to a village in this case. Nobody will trust anybody who is coming from a completely other reality and who is claiming to “know better”. – In my eyes the old man already trusted you enough to share his heartmind with you. And you could appreciate that because – as I assume – you are used to deeply look into yourself in order to resonate. You hadn’t found aggression, but frustration, resignation, and many, many reasons for being desillusioned. So this man became a light to you, and your patience and readiness to really be open and bear witness become a light for us – the readers. We have to share our lifes with people whom we wish to offer help. And in this process both parts are transformed. – Thank you very much, also for the example with Bodhidharma and his later successor. it is great, really great. I thank you so much for you work, please go on writing about it. With Gassho – Monika

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Thank you for this teaching how to listen deeply.
    For respecting this old man who trusts you and your friends enough that he could speak about his tremendous pain.
    Thank you that you are telling us about the violation of human rights going on since so many years and for your support to your friends in Palestine.
    How wonderful that there are people like you expressing civil courage!

    with appreciation
    Barbara Wegmüller

  5. Len Moskowitz

    I’m very disappointed in how you have adopted the Palestinian perspective and narrative so completely and one-sidedly. I hope that others in Zen Peacemakers are more balanced.

    When both Jews and Muslims are suffering, why would you exclusively address the Muslim suffering and neglect the Jews? Have you worked as hard to find out and oppose the demonization of Jews (all Jews, not just Israelis) in the Palestinian schools? Have you worked equally hard to redress the suffering of the Jews who were expelled from Arab countries in 1948? Have you questioned why the larger Arab world has pushed so many Palestinian to live in UN-underwritten “refugee” camps while every single displaced Jews has found a home in Israel or another Jewish community?

    • Bernie

      This blog was written by an Israeli, Aviv Tatarsky. If you have different opinions, please spell them out with some facts.
      Thanks for your opinion.

      • Bernie

        Another opinion on the Israeli and Palestine school systems:

        Professor Bruce Wexler, the Yale University psychiatry professor who designed the comparative study of Israeli and Palestinian school text books, has blasted the “blind spots” of Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar, saying: “National leaders who have those blind spots make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”

        Wexler’s outburst, reported in the Forward, came in response to the Education Ministry’s harsh condemnation of the report “Portrayal of the Other” that examined Israeli and Palestinian school textbook and found that both sides do not “demonize” the other, but are equally guilty of distorting history.

        Israel, which has made the condemnation of the anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish content of Palestinian textbooks a focal point of its hasbara efforts against the Palestinian Authority, lambasted the report as biased, unscientific and unprofessional.

        Wexler, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Yale University who supervised the joint Israeli-Palestinian study told Nathan Jeffay of The Forward: “Frankly I think that the minister of education is a great example of the power of these unilateral narratives. That man cannot see beyond the blindness that has come in to his mind. National leaders who have those blind spots …make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”

        “It’s painful to think that the Israeli government would rather hold on, it seems, to a propaganda point that they know to be false than they would to get real change in the Palestinian books.”

      • Bernie

        Another opinion:

        By Richard Cohen, Published: February 4

        Imagine six former directors of the CIA talking with a distinguished filmmaker and confessing to the murder of two terrorism suspects, ordering the assassination of others, alleging a lack of real leadership by the president and stating to the camera and the entire world that the war in Afghanistan is an unconscionable botch — a bloody, daily slog without end or justification. This, of course, could never happen in the United States. It did, though, in Israel.

        The filmmaker is Dror Moreh, and what he did, simply and astoundingly, is sit down, camera rolling, with six former heads of Israel’s security agency, the Shin Bet, and let them spill their guts. The result is the documentary “The Gatekeepers,” which is up for an Academy Award and which, it seems safe to say, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu would like to see lose. That it was partially made with government funding is, truly, an example of insult added to injury.

        The six men’s tenures span the years 1980 to 2011. They served under eight different prime ministers and through a succession of uprisings by Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza, a turn-your-face-away series of terrorist attacks against civilian targets — the bombing of city buses, etc. — after which certain niceties of the law were not followed. After a 1984 bus bombing, two captured terrorists were almost beaten to death by the army — and the job was finished on the orders of the Shin Bet’s Avraham Shalom:

        “So I said, ‘Hit them again and finish it.’ ”

        The order was followed.

        “I think he took a rock and smashed their heads in.”

        Some of the other Shin Bet chiefs recount James Bond-type exploits — an exploding cellphone, for instance — and rough interrogations that may or may not amount to torture; it’s not clear. But what is clear is that some of these former spy chiefs view right-wing Jewish militancy as more perilous to Israel than the restive and seething Palestinians on the West Bank. It was a Jew, after all, who killed the revered Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 because that prime minister was determined to make peace. This was, they all concede, an event that changed history.

        The film is a tough indictment of Israeli policy, particularly the continued occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of Jewish settlements there. All of the former officials are traditional Israeli secularists, and they show a commendable loathing for the religious militants that Israeli governments continuously pandered to. Above all, though, they are critical of government after government that lacks a strategy to somehow withdraw from the West Bank and instead relies on oppression. “You can’t make peace using military means,” says Ami Ayalon, head of the Shin Bet from 1996 to 2000 and a former navy commando.

        Ayalon is the cliched Israeli. He is the product of the kibbutz movement, a rock-hard physical specimen with more derring-do under his belt than an entire SEAL team. He had a belief, a secular one, and it was in the wisdom and courage of Israel’s leaders. As he talks, the camera pans a wall of the prime minister’s outer office, where the requisite photos of them all hang. Ayalon recounts what he found when he finally had the stature to get to see that office . . . nothing:

        “I was on the second floor and found no door at the end of the corridor, and behind the missing door, no one was thinking for me. You see that void, that . . . lack of initiative, that willingness to let things take their course.”

        This has the aspect of a dream sequence. But the lack of initiative, the refusal to recognize that time ticks for the Palestinians, not the Israelis, that the world watches with growing irritation (and, for sure, anti-Semitism) are all too real. The weight of history, of fearsome geopolitical truths (so many Arabs, so few Jews, so much fear, so little hope), is crushing Israeli initiative. For those of us who love and admire Israel, “The Gatekeepers” is a squirmy 97 minutes.

        And yet is there another country where the former security chiefs would say such things? Is there another country where the tough guys cite philosophers, confess their anguish, admit to the inadvertent killing of noncombatants — look the camera in its cold, unblinking eye and express second thoughts about what they did and accuse their bosses of being weak, unimaginative leaders? Having not seen the competition, I can’t say if “The Gatekeepers” deserves an Oscar. But I can say Israelis do for having made it.

      • Bernie

        Another opinion:
        By Saeb Erekat

        It is time for Israel to relinquish its current state of denial and confront reality. It is clear to everyone, including Micronesia and the Marshall Islands (two of the few countries who voted against Palestine’s recognition as a state by the UN General Assembly), that Israeli settlements are illegal and that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 border. In fact, according to international law, to move civilians from the occupying power to an occupied territory is a war crime. And this is what Israel has been systemically doing over the past 46 years.

        The UN Fact-Finding Mission report on Israeli settlements is an excellent opportunity for Israel to put an end to this state of denial. After being banned by Israel from visiting the settlements, the commission met with over 50 civil society representatives, Palestinians affected by settlements and settler violence, and a wide range of experts and officials, including myself. The report provides conclusions and findings that cannot be disputed. In fact, the report took most of its information on settlements from Israeli sources. It provides recommendations that the international community should examine carefully and enforce.

        For the sake of peace and the integrity of the UN system, the world has an urgent responsibility to end decades of Israeli impunity by implementing not only the recommendations of this most recent report, but others, including statements from other UN agencies, the International Court of Justice, and the European Union.

        Today, over half a million settlers live in the occupied State of Palestine. They are distributed all over the West Bank, including Occupied East Jerusalem. Successive Israeli governments have been directly involved in the colonization of Palestine, particularly those of Mr. Netanyahu, who has prioritized placating the settlers over his international commitments. In all likelihood, Israel will not pay attention to what the report states and will continue to plan and build more colonies. Indeed, Israel’s recent refusal to show up for the UN Human Rights Council review, the only country of the 194 states to do so, speaks volumes about its disregard for international law. This report is an opportunity for the international community to hold Israel accountable and end a culture of impunity that has all but destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution.

        Though Israeli officials have highly criticized the report, it is a matter of fact that Israel violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statue, both of which consider all Israeli settlement activities to be illegal. The report therefore reaffirms what several international law experts have said before: that Israel is liable to be prosecuted for war crimes. The Israeli response, saying that the report is biased, merely demonstrates that Israel has been given no incentive from the international community to change its illegal behavior. The State of Palestine will continue to use all non-violent, diplomatic, political, and legal tools at its disposal. But the international community must support our efforts if we are to succeed in preserving the two-state solution.

        This is a report which should be read by every single Israeli citizen. What their politicians have been telling them about “neighborhoods” in “disputed territories” are actually colonies in another country. Moreover, Israelis need to realize that the moral corruption of the occupation has led to hatred and violence. Settler terror, an integral part of the Israeli colonial enterprise, has become mainstream. Burning churches, mosques, trees and homes is hopefully not something that many Israelis will take pride in.

        As the report states, the onus is on all member states “to comply with their obligations under international law and to assume their responsibilities in their relationship to a State breaching peremptory norms of international law – specifically not to recognize an unlawful situation resulting from Israel’s violations.” It reaffirms that international law should be the basis for any peace process, if it is to be meaningful. Furthermore, it states the legal obligations of the international community. International action is a must if Israel is to change its current state of denial for one of justice and peace.

        The writer is a member of the PLO Executive Committee and the chief Palestinian negotiator.

  6. Bernie

    Dear Bernie,
    I hope you are doing well. We heard from Iris and Tani about your good visit here last month.
    Thank you for posting the report I sent you on your blog. We appreciate this expression of support. I’ve just received a very moving email from someone who read the piece on your blog and wrote us.

    Our current projects include:
    - supporting medical needs of people (through our cinnection to Deir Istiya)
    - a campaign to help Al-Walaja (very close to Bet-Lehem) keep land that the separation barrier would cut off. In a few weeks we wiil join local farmers to plant fruit tres on that land
    - a campaign to stop house demolitions and allow Palestinians to build homes (in cooperation with other organisations)
    - 10 week workshops which use mindfullness ans openess to allow close introspection of political assumptions and shifting towards reconciliation
    - next month a we will start meditation course for social activists

    Best regards
    Aviv

  7. Len Moskowitz

    I’m amazed that all of my later replies to Aviv have been removed from the comments to this very one-sided blog post. What’s left is a monologue of leftist extremism.

    How sad that the Zen Peacemakers are portrayed in such a way!

  8. Len Moskowitz

    The results of hate education:

  9. Len Moskowitz

    The results of hate education:

    “When a Palestinian teen shed the last traits of humanity”

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/when-a-palestinian-teen-shed-the-last-traits-of-humanity/

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