Promote the ZPO Peace Work in 2016

2015 fundraiser332

Bubisattva with kids in India

Bernie with his Head “Charlie” in India with Dalit (Untouchables) children.

The Zen Peacemaker Order is dedicated to a spiritual practice that is rooted in social engagement. The ZPO’s peace work consists of executing and planning peacebuilding Bearing Witness Retreats in Auschwitz/Birkenau, with the Lakota nation on Turtle Island (Northern US), in Bosnia/Herzegovina, Rwanda as well as through ministering refugees, veterans, the environment, race-awareness, homelessness, poverty and more. This work requires your ongoing support, and we’d like to offer a special way to do so.

For any donation of $1,000 or more, You will receive a unique, hand-made ceramic art piece – a head created by Jeff Bridges – an award winning actor and director as well as long-time hunger relief activist and supporter of the Zen Peacemakers. Along with each statue, the you will receive @ A box and pillow for the Head @ A book honoring a generation of 18 Heads @ A Head For Peace certificate @ A signed photograph of the Head @ A What’s The Deal Here document @ A Why Zen Peacemakers document. Scroll below for a list of available heads. Read Jeff Bridges’ reflection on creating the statues and see the available heads.

DudeDonors also receive a hardcover copy of The top-10 New York Times Bestseller (2013) The Dude and the Zen Master signed by co-authors Jeff Bridges and Zen Master Bernie Glassman.

For more than a decade, Academy Award–winning actor Jeff Bridges and his buddhist teacher, renowned Roshi Bernie Glassman, have been close friends. Inspiring and often hilarious, The Dude and the Zen Master captures their freewheeling dialogue about life, laughter, and the movies with a charm and bonhomie that never fail to enlighten and entertain.

In a recent interview in the New York Times, Actor and Director Ethan Hawke said “the best book about acting, indirectly at least, is “The Dude and the Zen Master,” by Jeff Bridges and his Zen teacher, Bernie Glassman.”  The full interview is available here.

To make a donation and receive the book and the ceramic head, please donate in the button below $1000 or more.

Your Price: $ 

If you’d still like to make a donation without getting the book and the ceramic head, you can provide below a Tax Deductible Donation of any amount for helping to continue the work of the Zen Peacemakers.

Please specify in the comments block of the donation form, that your donation is for the support of the Zen Peacemakers.

 You can also give your credit card information, or send a check made payable to Zen Peacemakers, attn: Heads for Peace Promotion 2016 to Rami Efal, ZPO Coordinator and Assistant to Founder, PO Box 294, Montague, MA 01351, [email protected], Tel:347.210.9556

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Report From Journey to Sri Lanka

Founder of the Sarvodaya Movement of Sri Lanka Dr. A.T Ariyaratne

Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s biggest charity, is dedicated to making a positive difference to the lives of rural Sri Lankans. Their grassroots movement reaches 15,000 villages in 34 districts with 1,500 staff throughout Sri Lanka.
The Founder, A. T. Ariyaratne and Bernie have been friends and have shared ideas for 30 years. In January, 2012, Bernie, Grant Couch, Sensei Francisco Paco Lugoviña, Iris Katz and Tani Katz visited Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka. They met with various leaders of Sarvodaya to discuss banking, educational and general finance issues.

Bernie continues to keep busy…I just got back from joining him in Sri Lanka meeting with Dr AT Ariyaratne “Ari”, the founder of Sarvodaya which is a social movement established over 50 yrs ago and is based on “Awakening of All”.  It is a very inspiring model of empowering villagers to come together to solve their own needs – at the grassroots level with self sufficiency.  Ari met Bernie around 30 years ago when he visited Greyston in Yonkers to study Bernie’s success using “social enterprise” for solving a communities needs.  It was a real privilege to spend time with these two leaders of local level, social transformation.  (I also felt blessed to be able to make a contribution by sharing my experiences/challenges in dealing with central banks – Sarvodaya just received approval to come under Sri Lanka’s Central Bank supervision.)—-Grant Couch

About Sri Lanka

Sarvodaya is Sri Lanka’s largest people’s organisation. Over the last 50 years we have become a network of over 15,000 villages. Today we are engaged in relief efforts in the war-torn north as well as ongoing development projects.

Sarvodaya’s organization includes 345 divisional units, 34 district offices; 10 specialist Development Education Institutes; over 100,000 youth mobilised for peace building under Shantisena; the country’s largest micro-credit organization with a cumulative loan portfolio of over US$1million (through SEEDS, Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development Services); a major welfare service organisation serving over 1,000 orphaned and destitute children, underage mothers and elders (Sarvodaya Suwa Setha); and 4,335 pre-schools serving over 98,000 children.

Sarvodaya’s total budget exceeds USD 5 million with 1,500 full-time employees. When combined with numerous volunteer workers, this yields a full time equivalent of approximately 200,000, which places Sarvodaya on a par with the entire plantation sector in Sri Lanka.

Sarvodaya (formally knowns as Lanka Jatika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya) is an organisation developed around a set of coherent philosophical tenets drawn from Buddhism and Gandhian thought; it has been operational for almost 50 years. It has been described as an international role model by international bodies. Its founder and charismatic leader, Dr A.T. Ariyaratne, whose visionary contributions have been recognised in multiple countries, continues to provide ideological and inspirational leadership to the organisation while the day-to-day operations are in the hands of a new generation, receptive to modern forms of management that are compatible with the overall vision of this volunteer-based peoples’ organisation.

History

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement started 47 years ago. Sarvodaya is Sanskrit for “Awakening of All”, and Shramadana means to donate effort. Beginning in just one village and extending the movement to a total of more than 15,000 has been a fascinating adventure. Initially it involved an education program aimed at enabling students and teachers to live and work with the most remote village communities in Sri Lanka to lend a hand and develop self help initiatives. Within nine years, however, the “service learning programme” had expanded into a full-fledged development movement in hundreds of villages, with the goal of a comprehensive and nonviolent social transformation. During its first 15 years, Sarvodaya grew with hardly any foreign aid or state support, relying on volunteer labour, mostly from the beneficiaries themselves.

By the late 1970s, the Sarvodaya Movement, with support from partner organisations in more prosperous countries, became capable of reaching nearly every part of Sri Lanka. The programme of self-reliance, community participation and an holistic approach to community “awakening” appealed not only to the people in poor communities, but also to donors. Thousands of young women and men learned how to motivate and organise people in their own villages to meet the ten basic human needs, ranging from a clean and adequate drinking-water supply to simple housing and sanitation, communications facilities, an energy supply, education and ways of satisfying spiritual and cultural needs.

During its first three decades, the Sarvodaya Movement was able – initially without any assistance, and later within a framework of development cooperation with like-minded organisations – to become one of the largest participatory organisations in this region if not the world.

The momentum of the movement was such that by the early 1990s, in spite of harassment by the government and political violence, Sarvodaya had achieved an enormous outreach. The movement’s work now included peace building, conflict resolution, appropriate technology and programmes for children at risk, elders and those with disabilities all the while focusing on a holistic approach to social mobilisation through empowerment of people beyond mere economic development.

At around the same time, international priorities changed, switching to economic development strategies. Large projects and macro-interventions began to dominate the scene amongst donors, and Sarvodaya, which had originally attracted attention due to its broader based philosophy, became the victim of its own success. In 1991, when 85% of its external aid dried up, the movement was forced to go back to its roots. From then on, we relied on so-called pioneer villages to provide support for the surrounding communities still requiring development. In addition, we reduced the numbers of paid staff and counted on the commitment of Sarvodaya’s long-term supporters to keep the movement on course.

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement has now become stronger than ever before. A new administrative management at national level is supporting a motivated group of emerging leaders at the village and district levels. Although almost one-third of the districts supported by Sarvodaya is not financed by outside partners, they are nevertheless surviving in the knowledge that in the long term, progress for them will result from partnership and self-sustaining development activities rather than from charity. Our important role in peacemaking, community building, and securing a certain quality of life in Sri Lanka is undiminished, and our will to achieve innovation in the social, ethical, cultural, spiritual and economic fields is constantly nourished by partners who have the confidence that our 47 years of experience – including periods of hardship – have a certain value.

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Dec 2012 Journey to Israel and Palestine

by Eve Myonen Marko—–

We go to the West Bank on December 21. December 21 is Bernie’s and my anniversary. It’s also the winter solstice, and this year it marks the end of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of something new. I don’t think there’s an end without a beginning.

Our friends, Iris and Tani Katz, drive us from Jerusalem to meet up with Sami Awad, the head of Holy Land Trust and a nonviolence trainer and activist. Sami asked us not to go to his office in Bethlehem, but instead get to the Tent of Nations near the Palestinian village of Nahalin. He is serving as a Fire Guardian, building a fire at dawn of December 21 and keeping it going the entire day while holding ceremonies, chanting and praying on behalf of the earth and peace among people.

As is almost always the case, the journey is as interesting as the destination. We simply can’t find the Tent of Nations, located on top of a hill among many hills in the West Bank. I’ve never been there, though have heard much about it. It has belonged to a Palestinian family for generations, but falls victim to continuous forays by Jewish settlers who wish to take the land. The family has fought this in the Israeli courts, showing ownership papers that date back to the Ottoman Empire, but this doesn’t prevent ongoing violations. The Tent of Nations is always in danger.

To get there, we travel along the complicated road system found on the West Bank, including the Tunnel Road closed to Palestinians in this section, till we get off onto smaller arteries used almost exclusively by Palestinians. In the town of Husam we’re locked in a sea of cars outside a mosque calling out its Friday services. The young boys waiting outside enjoy the fact that our large SUV can’t move, but are not averse to helping us get unstuck, guiding us through very close spots. “Shukran, ya habib,” Tani says again and again. On this rainy, windy, cold day we also lose cell phone signal with Sami. Often we stop passers-by and they stand in the torrential rain speaking to him in Arabic on the phone, Tani rushing out with an umbrella to hold over them, till the signal is lost. But other than friendly waves and more “shukrans,” we come no closer to our destination.

Tani Katz with New Palestinian Friend. Are these people enemies?

Finally, Tani makes a friend. The owner of a car repair shop offers to take us to Nahalin himself and find the elusive Tent of Nations. We follow his large, old Impala up and down roads more suitable for donkeys and carts, and finally come to a stop at a barrier of boulders and rocks, created by an excavator to seal the local road.

“Sami says we should have passed a white fence,” Tani tells his friend after speaking on the phone. None of us saw a white fence.

But when we head back, there is it on the right, chained shut, and standing there in poncho camouflage is Sami. We thank our guide, who asks us to come and use his car repair shop at any time.

“Are these people enemies?” Iris asks rhetorically. “Is this how enemies behave?”

Sami unlocks the white gate and the car drives up. There’s a pause in the rain, but not in the wind and the cold.  And there, atop the hilltop, is the fire begun at dawn. A short, stout tree trunk is slowly burning. Only the bottom part of it has turned black, the fire diverted by twigs fed from a big mound of wood that lies alongside. It should burn for 24 hours, Sami says, lowering the hood of his poncho, like other fires burning around the world. Our Israeli friend, Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi, is also guarding such a fire up north in Israel. Eilda, Sami’s assistant, is there, as is Dina, another activist we met over a year ago at Auschwitz, newly married.

Sami, Bernie, Eve

The fire is small but ravenous. The ceremonies will only begin later in the afternoon, when we’ll be gone. We are surrounded by other hills, most topped by Jewish settlements that literally sprawl across the summit, leaving the smaller Palestinian villages to cling to the hillsides. For now, this hilltop is inhabited only by us and a half-burnt tree trunk. According to the Bible, Moses heard the voice of God from a bush that burned and was not consumed, and was told that His name was I Am That I Am. The mists roll in, covering the other hills, and if you just landed in a spaceship this moment you’d miss the big canvas, the settlements and villages, the gentle olive trees and the asphalt roads, those let in and those kept out, and see only a small group of people contemplating a fire that burns without end.

We also traveled in Israel proper, continuing Bernie’s exploration of how to bring the Greyston community model to an Israeli town in need. We visited with the head of the Municipal Council in Jisr al-Zarqa, Israel’s poorest village. One issue he mentioned is that Jisr does not have an industrial zone at present.

I was especially fascinated by the fishing huts on the Mediterranean.  Since Israel’s War of Independence, Jisr is the only Arab town that’s right on the sea, and while other Israeli cities, towns and kibbutzim have taken advantage of their venue, building sea resorts, hotels, restaurants and commercial beaches, Jisr has not. But individual fishermen have built some makeshift huts and have spread their nets. The beach was littered with empty soda bottles, old newspapers and falafel wrappers, sniffed hopefully by two yellow/white dogs. The smell was of dead fish.

A group of senior citizens had come by tourist bus.  They’d probably visited neighboring Caesaria and enjoyed its restaurants and shops overlooking the remains of Herod’s constructions, and admired the fancy condominiums open to the sunset over the Mediterranean.  And then someone might had said, let’s go to the fishing village next door. Only they couldn’t go directly because a wall separates Caesaria and Jisr al-Zarqa, nor is there a direct exit from the main highway to Jisr. But the bus made it in a roundabout way and discharged its older passengers, who were instantly slapped by the smell of dead fish and seaweed clinging to the nets, the sand covered with trash. But when I saw them they seemed happy, maybe a little fatigued, ready to go in from the biting, salty wind at sunset.

Sometime around then was when I felt how tiring it can be to go beyond clichés, to bear witness to each and every person, to the multiple lives each one of us lives, the universe that each one represents where he or she is not wrong and not right, just living cause to effect to the next effect and the one after that. There is freedom there, I knew that, but you have to watch for it carefully, the tiny sea crabs scampering over advertisements, the shifts in the sand, the spacious beach, sand and sky. Yes, political freedom is important, but so is the other kind, the individual kind that won’t give up.

Jisr al-Zarqa has its back to the sea; that’s also its exit out of poverty. That afternoon I saw it, heard it, smelled it. Will it happen?

We also went to Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a much bigger Arab town further south and inland, by Highway 6. Our hosts were Michal Fox and Jamal Mejadla, who had opened up a leadership institute at Baqa al-Gharbiyye. Jamal is also a prominent member of the municipal council and highly involved in civic affairs. Baqa al-Gharbiyye has a population of some 27,000 and a defined industrial zone. It also has the beautiful Al-Qasemi College of Education, once a Muslim educational institute and now a fully-accredited college whose student body consists mostly of religious and nonreligious women.

They mixed so smoothly and easily that one would not know the difficulty of their lives. Hanin Abi-Wasel , a young, scarf-covered woman, is an attorney. Highly educated and articulate, at an early age she was part of an Israeli-Arab delegation to the United States. But she has trouble finding work in Israel proper. “We women face the most discrimination,” she said. “We are Arab, we are Moslem, we are women, and we are mothers.” A lot of her work at – is to empower young women to search for jobs and not leave their work even when they get married, so that marriage not come at the expense of their independence. “When I couldn’t find work as a lawyer in the Israeli society, I became very pessimistic. Then I decided to work with other Arab women who face the same hardships I face.”

As in many parts of the world, providing education and job opportunities for women becomes the key to transforming families and community.

Left side of street is Israel, right side is West Bank

West Bank families shout from this window to family members on other side of fence.

One of  the most interesting things about Baqa al-Gharbiyye is that it’s adjacent not only to various kibbutzim, but also touches on the wall and fence that now separate the West Bank from Israel. Before the wall went up thousands of Palestinians would come through Baqa al-Gharbiyye every day to work in Israel. Now only a few with special permits can do that, though young people cross from one side to the other to go to school. In some places that separation is a fence that goes down the side of one street, while several yards away the other side of the street is considered Israel. Jamal tells us that a neighbor of his comes here to shout to her mother, who is on the other side, to find out how she is. So Baqa al-Gharbiyye is an intersection for Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews, and Palestinians.

What would it be like for all three to work together in a factory—or a bakery?

 

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BEARING WITNESS IN RWANDA

BEARING WITNESS IN RWANDA

by Eve Myonen Marko

Dora Urujeni and Issa Higiro

Bernie, Roshi Eve Myonen Marko and Sensei Francisco “Paco” Lugoviña were hosted by Dora Urujeni and Issa Higiro.

Eve wrote the following report of the journey.

 

 

BEARING WITNESS IN RWANDA

By Eve Marko

Kigali at noon in mid-September has blue, hot skies draped by rain clouds, which at times dissolve and at others turn into thundering rain, as they did just an hour after we arrived. We’re met by Dora Urujeni and Issa Higiro, co-founders of Memos-Learning From History, our hosting peace organization. There are three of us on this trip: Bernie Glassman, Paco Lugoviña, and me.

Eve, Bernie, Paco

Paco, Dora, Bernie, Eve

Sitting on the small porch of our guesthouse, I recall our meeting with Dora and Issa at our home and their passionate invitation to visit Rwanda and bear witness to the effects of the Rwanda genocide, in which over one million men, women, and children were brutally murdered in a period of one hundred days beginning on April 6, 1994. That averages over 10,000 people a day, a rate of mass killings that could only be the result of a pre-planned and well-organized campaign. Through the efforts of Ginni Stern, Both Issa and Dora have been at the Zen Peacemakers’ Auschwitz retreats. The two, along with Ginni, Fleet Maull, Genro Gauntt, Mike and Cassidy –, and others, began to make plans for a similar retreat in Rwanda.

The persecution of Tutsis began in the late 1950s and continued throughout the decades before the genocide. As a result, many Tutsis escaped to neighboring countries. Issa’s family fled to Uganda; Dora’s family to Congo. While they’re completely Rwandan, they also feel strong connections to the countries of their birth and are at home with multiple cultures. Dora returned right after the end of the genocide looking for the remnants of her family and found almost no one alive.

We go downtown briefly, just long enough to notice the incredibly clean streets and the large traffic circles filled with cars, motorcycles, and bikes. Foreign investments are visible in shopping malls and big banks, and Wi-Fi is more widespread than in our Pioneer Valley back home. Mobile phones, of course, are everywhere. The country seems to be prospering and change is rapid, you could smell it in the air.

In the morning we see the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. What stands out?

Rooms full of photos of those who were killed.

Several shrines with large photos of bright-eyed children and even babies. Their names are there, followed by their favorite drink, snack, what they loved to do, last words (“Do Hutus also pray?”), and what they died of (tortured to death, stabbed in eyes and head, burned to death, machete while in mother’s arms). Often the last thing they saw was the death of their own mother.

Mass graves holding thousands of bodies, built into the hillside beneath enormous slabs of stone.

Newly discovered bodies continue to be added to the mass graves. Several years after the genocide, with a land in ruin, hundreds of thousands of killers in prison and an outdated court system, the government decided to use a modified version of gacaca, an old tribal form of settling differences, to hasten the process of justice and reconciliation. If inmates were prepared to face their victims and beg for forgiveness, they would serve a minimal sentence (emphasizing civic education programs) before returning to their families. Over a five year period, gacaca helped dispose of most of the cases. Of course, no one knows what lies in the hearts of people who committed one of the century’s most terrible atrocities, but one great advantage is that the perpetrators reveal to family members where they hid the bodies of their loved ones, so that the survivors have the great comfort of giving the bodies a burial.

People almost incidentally tell us their story. Immaculee works in the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace, emphasizing research on the genocide as well as poverty (56% of Rwandese live below the poverty limit, which is $2. per day). Slowly and softly, she starts speaking about the village she came from. It was far from Kigali, far from much of the violence that had begun in the late 50s. “No one knew who was Tutsi and who was Hutu there,” she insists. Only at at the end of elementary school, when one finished tests and received a certificate, you were asked to write your affiliation. By then quotas had been put on Tutsis’ admission to secondary schools and college and she had to work hard to qualify. She did well in school and came up to Kigali (pronounced Chigali by Rwandans) for college and work. Married with a child when the genocide started, the family was hidden by someone in his Kigali home. She didn’t think anything would happen in her village, where no one knew Tutsi from Hutu, but the registers had been checked and the village Tutsis were murdered, including her parents.

She wouldn’t return to the village. Her brother, who had joined the RPF (the Tutsi army that invaded Rwanda and ended the genocide), had gone back and reported that no one said anything to him, no one would even meet his eyes. She refused to go to the gacaca proceedings, afraid she’d be overwhelmed by rage. She got very depressed and had to stop her graduate studies midways. What finally saved her, she said, was going to a retreat in Switzerland where she could finally come to terms with her feelings.

The government reminds people that they’re Rwandans first and anything else second, and asks them to reconcile with their neighbors even if they were killers. In some way, what choice do they have? In the genocide some Rwandans killed over 1 million other Rwandans; they’re all Rwandans and must learn to live together again. In that sense Rwanda may be a unique experiment of coming to terms with the legacy of genocide, and rather than fleeing from it, learning to live with it and integrate it in a big effort at reconciliation. But this is not easy on a personal level.

Bernie clowning with children

Jen, who owns the guesthouse where we are staying, is also a trauma counselor. Counselors work with survivors, ex-perpetrators, ex-army soldiers, prison inmates, and children of survivors, she reports. Right after the genocide Rwanda lay in ruins, with no counselors or therapists; now they train counselors and social workers to work even in the most remote rural villages. We would see examples of that during our trip. There is an overwhelming need to grieve and mourn. For that reason, Rwanda has a three-month commemoration of the genocide every year, beginning in April.

Issa says that everyone in Rwanda has a piece of the “cake” that is the genocide: as survivors; as perpetrators; as refugees in other countries; as those, like Dora, who returned to Rwanda in search of living family members; as those living in homes and wearing the clothes that once belonged to others; as teachers who deal with surviving students and children of survivors–everyone has a piece of the cake. The trick, he says, is to see this and own this.

Church in Nyamata

Dora takes us to visit the memorials at the churches in Nyamata. In the persecutions before the genocide, people who took shelter in churches had been safe, so Tutsis naturally assumed they could count on this again. Also, the radio and authorities told them to gather in churches where they would get water, electricity, and food, and people listened. Many still assumed that the civil government could be trusted to take care of them, but in truth, the intention was to trap them all in one place. Priests, ministers, and even bishops colluded with the killers. As a result, many churches became memorials and sites of mass graves instead of sanctuaries.

When Tutsis hid in the church the killers would attack with grenades and guns, then finish them off with machetes. In one there is a classroom where the children assembled for Sunday school, evidenced by the very low benches where they sat. There is an enormous stain on the wall up front from blood pouring out of the children’s heads as these were slammed against the hard walls.

In one big, beautiful church, the low benches are draped with the clothes of the people killed there. They are rags now, more accurately–shrouds. Up front is the strangest altar I’ve ever seen. A big wooden cross lies on top, surrounded by weapons of killing: machetes, knives of all kinds, and sharp nails inserted into the machetes for more killing effectiveness. In fact, when I later see the skulls, many are cracked where the machetes smashed into them.

Outside are the mass graves that one can see all over Rwanda. Some are 8-10 meters deep and house tens of thousands of bodies. A tall, good-looking woman in white is sweeping the grounds. She tells Dora that three years ago she finally testified about what she’d seen and endured during the genocide. That very night, as she slept, men came into her home, struck her head with a machete, and robbed her blind. She woke up in a hospital after being in a coma for two days, with no memory of what happened. The night of her attack, two other Tutsis had been killed and a woman raped.

 

A short flight of steep stairs brings me down inside the crypt, where, on both sides of a narrow, musty, and dark aisle lie multi-level pallets filled with skulls and bones. There were small piles of clothes among them, including a pretty piece of white fluttering lace.

I feel as if I’ve gone to hell. But I will discover that these displays of skulls, bones and even skeletons are widespread. A young man is down there with me. “So terrible,” he repeats again and again in broken English. When I ask him about his family, he says nothing and begins to cry. He adds, “Some people say this never happened. Some people deny. That is most terrible thing.”

We drive down to Butare, in southern Rwanda, across shining emerald hills and broad, smiling valleys. Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills; Rwandans tell you that’s a low number. Eighty-five% still live in villages, where neighbor killed neighbor and where support services are harder to come by than in Kigali. The women wear gorgeous bright prints and carry large baskets of bananas on their heads, while the men pull up bicycles heavily laden with yellow jerikans of water. Here, in the rural areas, I feel we are closer to the pulse of things.

In a large meeting room in a church compound we meet four women, representing Ubutwari bwo Kubaho, which means the Courage of Living, an association of genocide widows and the wives of perpetrators. They’re dressed in their colorful Sunday best, with matching head coverings, though they eke out a hard existence on their small farms. They speak softly as they tell their story, their bearing tall, faces brown and lined, a courteous smile on their lips as consistent as the pain in their eyes.

Three of the four are widows who lost their husbands and children; many were raped. After the genocide they lost all desire to live; they had no energy to work their farms. At first they wouldn’t even go back to church (most Rwandans are Catholic) because they knew that many priests had colluded in the killings, making of their churches killing fields rather than sanctuaries. But the priest in their church earned their trust. Bearing witness to their pain, he asked them to come together in an association of widows, and seven women agreed to do that. He also asked a nun to join them. It was she who helped create a space of safety for them where they could share what they’d experienced and study the Word of God.

While this was happening, the wives of militia members who had been sent to prison for killing Tutsis would walk along the road towards the prison every day to bring their husbands food, and the widows would shout insults at them and throw stones. Slowly the nun persuaded the widows to stop their harassment, and, at the behest of the perpetrators’ wives, even suggested that the latter be invited to join their classes. It took a long time, but they finally agreed. They all came to church for mass and to listen to scripture. The priest spoke a lot about forgiveness. The two groups of women would do mass together sitting in separate sections of the church, but when it came time to give peace one to the other, they couldn’t approach the wives of their rapists and family’s killers.

Slowly, slowly, that changed, and they finally opened the association to include wives of perpetrators. One of the four women talking to us was that. When the gacaca process began, she said, many of their husbands refused to admit what they had done, were not remorseful, and even denied the whole thing had happened. But they told their husbands about their association and what the widows had shared with them. They persuaded them to go through with gacaca, confess their crimes and ask for forgiveness. Where they suspected that the perpetrators were not serious, they urged them to bear witness to the enormous pain they caused. As a result, many of their husbands agreed, served a shorter sentence and finally came home. Some even joined the association, so that it now comprises widows, killers, and their wives.

They’re soft-spoken and respectful as they speak, little bright-eyed children hanging over window ledges to listen. They are convinced that this is God’s work. They have suffered so much that they don’t wish to cause such suffering to others. But there is pain in all their eyes.

Path to Murambi Memorial

Issa, Juliette

We go from forgiveness back to horror, for after lunch we visit Murambi. The car descends a steep, serpentine road down to a valley surrounded by hills, and in the middle is a green, broad, isolated hillock. The car parks below and we walk up the gravel path. In the lobby of the memorial we are met by Juliette, in a bright, summer yellow wrap. She looks above our heads, turning from one direction to another, as she recounts how 50,000 people were killed here between the hours of 3 and 10 am, after being sent here (once a vocational technical school) by the authorities. They lived here with no access to food or water for 2 weeks, so they were weak when the killers came with grenades and machetes.

She herself was a Hutu married to a Tutsi. He was killed with two of their children in front of her eyes while she held fast to her one-month old daughter, refusing to let her go even as the killers tried to separate them in order to kill the baby. She was allowed to live along with her infant. Juliette caretakes the memorial of Murambi, telling her story to strangers day after day. Being here where her family died day after day helps her find peace.

Barracks of Exposed Skulls and Bones

Once again there are mass graves dug along the hillside and the official mass grave under the heavy stone surface. Behind it are blocks that were meant to serve as dormitory rooms for the school’s students. They look remarkably like the surviving barracks at Auschwitz, only here the rooms contain pallets that hold hundreds of white skeletons. Their arms are outstretched towards each other and even into the narrow aisle, so you could bump into them if you’re not careful. The fingers are bony, the skulls gashed in by machetes. A few have a little hair left and there is a smell of decay. Worst of all are the skeletons of children and even babies, as tiny as dolls.

Juliette walks ahead of us in her sunlit wrap, and I walk behind her up and down the aisle of each and every room of skeletons. I have never seen anything like this. Over many years of mourning in our Auschwitz retreats we have learned to sing and even dance. Now I feel as though we’re back to the beginning, as though some process like that must start here, too, though I wonder if the sound of music could ever be heard in the middle of this charnel ground.

But there are souls here, just as there are at Auschwitz. Outside I see the surrounding hills, the generous earth full of green, the grass covering up the mass graves, and I feel that special energy that certain places around the world have, an energy that beg us to come and stay a while, that remind us there is work to do.

We do a full day of training for university students and counselors. The morning is spent in discussion of Zen Peacemakers’ Three Tenets: Not-knowing, bearing witness, and loving action. Issa feels that these tenets are simple, direct, and very practical for Rwandans. In the afternoon we do council. They’re very eager to get as much training as they can, and I’m uneasy in the garb of an American expert. We remind them again and again that answers—if there are any–lie in them rather than in us, calling for confidence and trust in oneself and in life.

In the morning we travel past village after village. The children are much more ragged now, their faces soiled and dusty, the dirt roads deeply rutted broken by small log bridges over gullies. We are following Therese, a counselor who trains others to go to the most far-flung villages to help trauma survivors. Therese is a big woman who sits behind a younger male on a motorcycle as they speed on the dangerous roads, her face strong and beautiful. She had done council training with Fleet Maull and Genro Gauntt through Memos: Learning From History in the spring of 2011 and feels this could be very helpful in Rwanda, where it’s hard for people to express their feelings.

Trauma Clinic

We arrive at a remote center with a trauma clinic. Twenty-five women are seated on benches set up in a circle. There are also a few men. Therese explains that these people are part of her trauma group. They are very poor and have probably walked for miles to meet with us, wearing their best Sunday prints with matching hair wraps, some with babies that they nurse.

One woman tells us that she was depressed for years. When the annual three months of commemoration begin, she is almost paralyzed. Another talks about how she used to hide her husband’s farm knives and machetes because of her fear, though after coming to Therese’s trauma group, she no longer has to do that. Another couldn’t stop crying. And as she says that, a young woman in burgundy and white begins to weep uncontrollably. Therese and a few others bend over her, offering precious tissues and tea. But she continues to sob softly for a long time.

Final Hugs and Goodbyes

Bernie asks if they feel anger or hate inside. The verdict is mixed. A few say this is not good, that having gone through the results of anger and hate, they have no wish to inflict it on others. Others, however, say that before they could reconcile with others, they must reconcile with themselves and with what had been done to them. I deeply admire their courage. I tell them that as I won’t have a chance to talk to each one, may we at least shake their hands? Their faces nod and break into big, broad smiles, and before we know it we’re engulfed, holding hands, hugging, talking to one another even as we can’t understand the words. One woman smells Paco’s after-shave and exclaims over how good he smells; others wish to hug and kiss him at great length, and we all laugh.

They ask us to visit their memorial with them. Here again is the big slab of stone over a mass grave of 42,000 bodies. We go underneath and find piles of coffins layered one over another, each large coffin holding many corpses. They say they must make room for new corpses that they find even now. There is a smell of mildew. During the commemoration months they spend nights here in grief. Next to the mass grave is the memorial itself, a large building filled with large compartments, those on one side containing lines and lines of skulls, while those on the other containing human bones. As I contemplate this, a woman who had been animated and full of energy and intelligence in the earlier meeting, tells me that her husband and two children are here, too.

What do they want from us? Support, to come and visit, to connect them with other genocide victims. As simple as they are, they have heard about the Jewish Holocaust and would like to meet their counterparts. When we leave they wave both arms in the air, and start laughing as Paco jumps excitedly up and down.

Eve, Bernie, Anastase, Paco, Pastor Mitsinde, and Dora

Finally, we meet two rescuers: Pastor Mitsinde and Anastase. Pastor Mitsinde is Pentecostal, a big man with a French translation of a book by Billy Graham. He hid 322 Tutsis in his church, and when he heard that they would be killed there he split them into small groups and found them alternative hiding places, including in his own house. When the militia came and demanded to know where he hid them, he lined up his wife and six children, stood by them and said that he, his wife, and children were ready to die before saying anything; he only asked them to kill him first. In response to my question, he said that he and his family had complete faith that if they had to die, they would go straight to heaven.

Anastase is a humble, shy man who looks down uneasily, never making eye contact. He was the watchman in a Catholic church and adjoining orphanage. Again and again he saw people coming to the church for shelter and watched the militia throw their grenades and machete people to death. Mothers often hid their children under them, and at night he could hear the children crying next to their dead parents. So he went in and removed the children. He cut their hair and dressed them in the orphanage uniform and put them in the care of the orphanage. Eventually, whenever he saw families fleeing into the church, he would convince them to hand over their children to him for safekeeping in the orphanage.

But it was only a matter of time before the militia arrived, demanding to know which children were Tutsi. He told them there weren’t any Tutsi children, there were only children. At that point one of the men bashed his head with a club and he collapsed on the floor. Another, however, was a close friend of his father’s and told the others that he would finish him off. When they were gone he shot a bullet into the ground and told Anastase, bleeding and hurt, to make himself scarce, because soon the Tutsi army would rescue them. And indeed, that’s what happened.

Anastase saved over 400 children. Every year they get together to commemorate that event; he is still invited to their weddings.

As Issa Higiro often reminds me, a unique experiment is taking place in Rwanda. After the Holocaust, most Jews left Europe. The Balkans were carved into separate countries for Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. In Rwanda both groups must go on living together, victims next door to killers. The government pushes for reconciliation because it recognizes there is no real choice in the matter. But how do individuals do this?

It is clear that Rwandans are proud of what their country has achieved since the genocide. Every last Saturday of the month communities get together to do community work known as Umuganda, including the President. Until recently, we’re told, Rwanda covered 60% of its budget and the remainder was covered through foreign aid, but when this past year much of the aid was curtailed due to the world-wide economic recession, Rwandans donated to their national development fund, in essence choosing to pay more tax. They have a deep sense of optimism and pride.

But how do they meet the challenge of facing up to the atrocities of the past, at the same time knowing that the only way forward is through self-befriending, befriending of the other, and finally reconciliation? How long will this take? The alterative, they all know, is to repeat the events of 1994. And those events are still so fresh in their minds that they will take many courageous, almost unparalleled risks to prevent them from happening again. And indeed, they often say, Never again.

Only the world has said that before.

Personal Reflections

People often don’t understand such a bearing witness trip. I have been asked why anyone would travel a long way to East Africa to listen to people describe a genocide perpetrated on them close to 20 years ago. Someone asked me candidly if I felt a peculiar attraction to terrible suffering.

I can only speak of my experience. Of course, as a member of a family that suffered from the Jewish Holocaust, I have a special interest in how another ethnic group of humans fared after being designated cockroaches, or untermenschen. The two genocides share differences and similarities.

But more generally, I went to Rwanda to witness how these survivors are struggling with the question of what it means to be human. In some way many of us would say that we struggle with the same question in our own lives. But the Rwandans can’t fake it. They’ve seen their families wiped out and must find some way to move on, face the killers, and plunge into the inquiry of what to do: Remember? Forget? Forgive? Hate? Take revenge? Remember God? Forget God?

To me it doesn’t matter what the answer is; the question matters, the readiness—out of choice or lack of choice—to bear witness, to own completely one’s individual life and that of society. What loving action emerges may well differ from person to person, but what the people we talked to had in common was a readiness to fully engage with this most basic of human challenges.

Yes, they each expressed sincere appreciation for our coming there to listen to them. It’s crucial to them that the world wants to listen, to join in their pain if only for a short time. But to me it’s clear that I brought home something immeasurably precious: various soft, clear, courageous voices articulating age-old experiences of suffering and the quest to relieve suffering. Each person did this in her own way, with a simplicity that had no patience for the trivial but that only spoke of what was done, and now what is to be done.

Instead of running away, they had to face the killers. Instead of denying, they wished to walk down the streets of their village and meet the Other face to face. What else was left to do? In their own words, they had to reconcile with all parts of themselves before they could reconcile with the murderers of their families. And if, after 18 years, they could not do this, they had to reconcile with that part of themselves as well.

I make nine bows to each of these beautiful teachers with the shy smiles about the lips and the pain in their eyes. May they find a measure of peace in their lives, and may their hard work bring great benefit to the Land of One Thousand Hills.

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The 1st Bethlehem Walk

Quiet Walking

Listening Circles

 Women Leading Change

 5 October 2012

Manger Square, Bethlehem

People of all nationalities and faiths are invited to join us in an event of solidarity for peace in the Holy Land.

We are calling for a shift in consciousness, based on a deep commitment to nonviolence, a firm resolve to overcome barriers of separation, and faith that peace is possible.

We plan to converge on Manger Square, in the center of Bethlehem, walking mindfully in columns and circles. Mindful walking is quiet, slow, and dignified. It expresses with our being, rather than with slogans and flags, our intention to live in harmony together. The experience helps us to develop calm, steadiness and confidence in the face of challenge.

This event is for everybody. As a symbol of the possibility of change women will be at the forefront as facilitators of listening circles in which we will share our visions for the change we wish to see.

We share a love of the land that we live in side by side. We all suffer from the continued occupation and injustice and lack of security. We all want to live in peace and harmony. We recognize that we all have the same basic needs for equal rights and deserve the same respect and dignity. We take responsibility for sowing the seeds of change, moving forward one step at a time.

 

Organized by a group of heartful Palestinians and Israelis

For more information, please contact Iris Dotan Katz.

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Socially Engaged Dharma in Israel & Palestine

Recently I returned from a Journey to Israel, the West Bank and Palestine. I met with many wonderful people doing projects and volunteer work in Social Engagement.

Aviv Tatarsky of the Israel Engaged Dharma Group gave me the following article he wrote on compassion. Rabbi Bob Carroll who works in the Interfaith Encounter Association, an Israeli NGO, dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study sent me his comments on Aviv’s article. Aviv then responded to Bob’s comments. I am posting the article and comments here hoping they will serve to start a dialog on the Israeli/Palestine issues. Please post your comments. Thanking you in advance, Bernie.

Aviv’s Article

Engaged Dharma in Israel – 2011 (2nd half) activity and learning report

During the 2nd half 0f 2011 our group initiated a variety of actions and projects as part of our ongoing
peace work. These included campaigns, solidarity actions with Palestinian partners, uncovering
information about the realities of the occupation, petitioning authorities regarding violations of
human rights, and laying the ground for educational work within the Israeli-Jewish society. Rather
than giving a full report of our activities during this period, we will highlight here the meaningful
lessons learnt during these months: Sangha as an invaluable resource for supporting activism and
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 we will bring concern our relationship with the village of Deir Istiya which has been
developing over the last two years.
Sangha as a vital Resource
One of our 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, we 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 we not the
support of a large “non-activist” Sangha. From this soft starting point there are many ways to go
deeper: We 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 we 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. These 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.

Rabbi Bob Carroll’s Comment

As you know, of course, everyone in this part of the world is awfully hypersensitive, and will read your words through a microscope. Speaking personally, I completely trust your instincts and methodologies and think that your work has tremendous potential to really have an impact here (FWIW I would not say this about all that many NGO’s that do peace work here, in fact the first thing I learned in this business was that everybody claims to be working for peace but many really are not.) So as an ally, but also as an Israeli, I wanted to share with you how I reacted to your message. Basically what I saw was that you do solidarity actions with the Palestinians, and acted against various abuses by individual Israelis and the government. (I am 1000% behind you on both of these!)  But when it came to working with the Israeli Jewish community, you were laying the ground for educational work.  Speaking for myself, I see two things missing here:  One, you did not speak about solidarity with Israelis, either as a people or as individuals, many of whom (virtually all of whom, in fact) have paid a terrible price because of the conflict.  But the ability to effectively reach Israelis and convince them to trust depends on being perceived as offering solidarity and support and empathy in addition to the actions you mentioned.  In short,  your message seemed to reflect a bifurcated approach which I found troubling – Palestinians need solidarity, Israelis (apparently) don’t. Israelis need to be educated, Palestinians (apparently) do not.  It may well be that I am reading too much into perfectly innocent wording, in fact I assume that this is so!  But I would urge you to consider that if the language struck me as being a little tendentious, it will have the same effect among others, in fact among precisely those Israelis that you most need to reach out to, and will cause them to think of you as yet another politicized NGO from abroad, and in consequence my fear is that they will close their minds to your message. Which would be truly tragic, IMHO. Part of this is ‘our’ baggage – we are inundated with, for example, foreign Christian groups which bring centuries of their own judgmentalism and sense of religious superiority to how they approach the situation here and which has done so much to alienate the Jewish community from hearing them, even when they’re right. But this is the atmosphere that you’re working in.  In no way do I compare your approach to theirs – on the contrary, it is because I know it to be so different that I want to make sure that the Jewish Israeli community doesn’t put you into that same box in their minds.

I hope these thoughts are in some way helpful to you.. as always, reflections/rebuttals/reframings and anything which helps me realize where I may have missed the mark are always welcomed and appreciated!!

Aviv’s Comment on Bob’s Comment

I think Bob’s feedback can (and needs to be) answered from a variety of angles. The simplest of which is the fact that he perceived the text to be about your involvement. Assuming you – as a supposedly “outsider” – would choose to be in solidarity with Palestinians and educate Israelis that would be one thing. When we, as Israeli Jews choose to do the same it is a different matter altogether. As Israeli Jews we are part of the Israeli-Jewish society and belonging to this society is an inseparable part of who we are. For us to be in solidarity with Palestinians is not to pick a side but to make ends and means one – we make peace here and now and not only work towards some political solution.

Having said that, I am aware that many mainstream Israeli Jews (sorry, but I feel uneasy using the word “Israelis” as if 20% of Israeli citizens are not Palestinian) perceive local peace activists as one-sided, sympathizing with Palestinians and claiming that the side that has to change is the Israeli side. I think it is relevant and helpful to see the difference between two types of peace work, which are both important and needed. People who work towards reconciliation often look for symmetry (both sides are suffering, both need to change). However, from a political-change point of view one can say that the wish for symmetry is a very problematic one, as it is blind to the realities of the conflict. It is blind to the imbalance in power and it is blind to the tremendous suffering that Israeli government, military and civilians have and are inflicting on Palestinians.
And, Israeli Jews are so (bloody) sensitive to any sort of criticism or unfairness that comes their way. Many Israelis find it incomprehensible why when someone sees a fully geared Israeli soldier beating up a small unarmed Palestinian child that person judges  Israel to be an occupying country and does not “acknowledge the full complexity of the situation”.

I feel that Israeli Jews must acknowledge the above. But it is not the whole picture and in any case “musts” are a very poor strategy when setting out to influence society. So now we come to the heart of our group’s vision and understanding.

We wish to focus on the Mind/Consciousness that feeds the I-P conflict. On the beliefs, assumptions, negative emotions and so on that block people from giving trust, that push them to demonize the other and that help them live in peace with terrible acts of violence. This needs to be done in both societies but we as Israeli Jews feel that we can do it within the Jewish society. And we feel that we have to do it. We are also slowly building relationships with Palestinian partners who share with us these views and are interested in joint work on such barriers to peace.

So our “educational” work is a variety of methods we have been developing to transform the Conflict Mind into a Reconciliation Mind. I must admit that the wording “educational work” is not a good one here, we should think of better terminology. This work – which we would like to be doing much more of – is not in the least contrary to being in solidarity with Israeli Jews: It is based on being empathetic, creating a safe space and expressing understanding. Through these expressions of solidarity we allow people to come in touch with their suffering and anxiety. They see their pain, fear and anguish.

What we try to do is to arrive at a place where these expressions of one’s suffering stay the focus so that one does not push them away by ideology, blame, guilt, or any other form of fantasy. Then we try to assure people that they are bigger than their fears, that they don’t need to be violent or despaired (just) because they are sometimes on the receiving end of the violence this conflict generates. We let them feel that the same softness and curiosity that allowed them to come in touch with their suffering can also support them to intelligently and nonviolently respond to it.

When hearing about our vision people sometimes mistakenly think that what we do is bring people together and help them see that “we are all human”. This is not exactly true and it refers back to the political-change perspective I mentioned above. Over the years many people have found the so called “people-to-people” approach problematic: Jews and Palestinians meet for an intensive process which is seemingly transformative – anger and prejudice give way to understanding, compassion and closeness. But once the process is over, the Jews go back to their privileged and safe homes and the Palestinians return to the checkpoints and abuse. Reality doesn’t change and it doesn’t seem that the Jewish participants are doing much in order to try to change it. Because there is a big a-symmetry in power there is also a big a-symmetry in needs: The Jews need to release their negative emotions, and they need that the Palestinians stop hating them. The Palestinians need the physical reality to change and ( to be blunt) don’t necessarily care if the Jews hate them or not. So unfortunately the people-to-people approach addresses the needs of mostly one side. At the end of the process the Jews may feel “We are all people, we are all the same” while the Palestinians may feel “they have so much and I can’t secure my basic human needs”.

Our approach is different because our process tries to weaken the military discourse so prevailing in the Jewish society and because we bring people face to face with the reality of living under occupation. Actually, one of the main reasons for our “solidarity work with Palestinians” – when we visit places like Deir Istiya – is the impact it has on us and on our minds. At the same time we may be able to offer our support (you rightly criticized the use of the word “help”) and maybe even alleviate some injustice. By the way, your articulation of the principles of not knowing, bearing witness and loving action has given us much inspiration in doing this solidarity work

This came out very long – thank you for the patience in reading. I do take from it the need to find a better name than “educational work”. Also, what I have depicted here might be an ideal picture of our work and vision. Perhaps some of us fall into one-sidedness some of the time. Also, recently, as our solidarity work demanded more attention, we have been feeling that we are not managing to devote enough energy to the “healing the conflict mind” work.

Yours
Aviv

 

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