In January 1994—it was my 55th birthday—I did a retreat in Washington, DC, bearing witness to the question of what should I do to serve those rejected by society, those in poverty, and those with AIDS? As a result of bearing witness in that retreat—I had gone there with no ideas of what to do. I had completed work on a major project in Yonkers, NY called Greyston, but I had no idea what I should be doing. So I sat in a five-day retreat, and I sat with that question. I bore witness to that question. And out of that came the vision of a container for people wanting to do spiritually based social action. I discussed it with my wife at the time, Jishu, and we decided on developing the Zen Peacemaker Order. And that is now being revitalized.
Now, in August 2014, I am faced with another question that has been burning a hole in my soul. For many years my wife Eve and I worked in the Middle East, in Palestine, in Israel, in Jordan. We had staff there. Eve was going there every two months. I was going every three or four months. We worked for many years. And then we stopped to build a big retreat center in Montague, NY.
And recently—as most of you who are listening to this know—there’s been major battles going on between Israel and Gaza (Hamas and Gaza). Even before that happened, I had become so frustrated with what’s going on between Israel and Palestine that I took an easy way out, which many of us do. I boycotted. I decided I wouldn’t read anything about it, and I would stop going there—even though I had family there, even though my wife is Israeli, and all her family is there, and we had been going twice a year. I stopped going. And I stopped reading the Israeli newspapers, which I used to do on a daily basis. That is an easy way out called denial, boycotting, avoiding. And it’s not in my nature to do that—although it’s in the nature of all of us to do that with issues that are too frustrating to deal with.
So recently, just within the past few weeks, I decided I have to go to Israel—actually to a place where I can invite some Israeli activists, and Palestinian activists to join me if they wish, in a retreat. And I’m choosing a place in the West Bank, called A Tent for All Nations on a hilltop surrounded by settlements. And it’s a place where conferences for peace have been held, and all kinds of peace activities—and where settlers on a regular basis come in and destroy trees, and destroy properties.
So I’m going to go and sit for three days, with no idea what to do, and bear witness to the whole gestalt of what’s happening there—the occupation, the siege, the rockets, the killing back and forth. I will sit and bear witness to what’s happening there. And I will take the actions that arise out of that not knowing, and bearing witness. These are the Three Tenets of Zen Peacemakers. The action may be to do nothing. But whatever actions arise out of that bearing witness, I will take.
And as I said, I’ll invite a few people too, that are activists right now, both in Israel and Palestine to join me if they wish. And after that—even if nothing comes up—I will bear witness to individuals in Israel (right wing, and liberal), to Palestinians (in Israel, and in West Bank), and hopefully with some people in Gaza—to bear witness to their stories, and their gestalt.
I’ll report back after I do this.