“So you are a Moroccan” told me the young Arabic woman in the mourners shade “go back to Morocco! You are not from here!”. We were a group of six people, Jewish, most of us Rabbis, all of us students of our late Rebbe Rabbi Zalman Schakter Shalomi who passed just some days ago. We met in the mourning Shiv’a ritual in Jerusalem that was held by Rabbi Ruth and Michael Kagan for all the students of Reb Zalman. Gabriel Meyer came with the idea to go visit the Abu Hadir family, that their son, Mohamad, was kidnaped last week by Jews from the street in his town Sho’afat, and was burned alive as a revenge for the kidnaping and murdering of the three Jewish kids two weeks before by Palestinians from Hebron.
Lisa Naomi Beth Talesnick, who was playing a wedding melody on the harp for Reb Zalman’s Sacred Union with the Divine Light, arranged it through some connections she had with the family through her work place as a teacher in the Arabic high-school. Some of us decided to go. It felt like the right thing to do as a direct line from Reb Zalman’s Shiv’a: doing something we know he would have done if he could.
We were escorted in by family members who met us in entrance to Sho’afat. They brought us to the big shade of mourners. A line of mourners was standing there and we went and shook the hand of each of them, expressing our sadness and condolences. The father of the boy stood in the middle. Tall, present man, red eyes, just came back from meeting with Abas in Rammalla. Then we were taken to the women mourners hut. The mother set there, surrounded by other women, family and friends.
The noble woman in purple is the mother of Mohamad. “Why did they have to burn him alive?…”
We were invited to sit. One of the women started to talk strongly to us in English: “who will protect us now? I am afraid for my own son now!” the fear was real. Just like the fear of parents in the Jewish side of town, yet here it was mixed with the fear from the Israeli police and Israeli authorities. Then she got political: “they took our land and built the local train passing here in the middle of Sho’afat. We do not want it here! They didn’t build it for us, they built it for the settlers, for those who killed our son! If we go on this train the Jews give us bad looks. We do not need they transportation. We have our own… ” many of the other women there were nodding.
We told them that we hear the pain, and that we are here because we and many many others are so ashamed that this thing could even happen. We told them we are Rabbis, and that we come from the mourning ritual of our Rabbi who just died, who was himself a man of peace. We told them we will pass their massage to our communities. They noded and thanked us.
We received many thanks from women and man from the family, telling us how important it is for them that we came to visit. They even invited us to stay and dine with them the “Iftar” – the breaking of the fast of Ramadan after sunset. It was so touching. The mother of the murdered kid (dressed in purple in the picture) was very noble all the time. Heart broken and opened she felt to me. We looked at each other many times and I saw how she takes it in with sad respect. It was heart braking to even think what she must feel. “why did they have to burn him alive”? she asked…
“Those who did it, they are not human beings” said another woman there. And I, who heard it so many times said by Jews regarding the Arabs (“they are not humans.. they are animals”) and regarding the Nazis, I knew that we ARE ALL just humans. And that IS what humans are capable of doing to eachother. Humans can love and humans can be so afraid that they can think that by murdering the “other” they do something good. Those humans can be Germans, Polish, Arabs, Africans or Jews. We are all just very human. 13 years of retreats in Auschwitz with Roshi Berney Glasman and the Zen Peacemakers helped me realize it. The Nazis were human as of any other human being. Dehumanizing the perpetrator helps the victim justify any act of violence, later on, towards those who are “not humans” in their eyes.
When we were about to leave, a young woman, leaning on the wall asked me who we are. She could not accept that we are for peace and we live in Israel. Not in the west bank, in Israel! “where did you come from?” she asked me. I told her that my own family came 200 years ago from Morocco, thinking that it will surprise her, but it didn’t. “you should go back to where you came from” she said. “so we cannot live here in peace, you and i?” I asked. “yes we can” she answered “under a Palestinian state”. When I asked her when did her family immigrate to this land she said “never. We were always here. We are Canaaniets”. I heard it before, the distortion of history that happens amongst the Palestinians to justify themselves is sad and frightening. But I knew that it is not the time for argue. I came to share with them the brokenness of the heart over the murders, and not to have a political discussion. I told her how sad I am for all that had happened. She nodded.
For me it was another lesson in how being a victim actually serves the ego in gaining “points” for its causes. I see it over and over again, with Jews and with Arabs. I see it with men and with women in my work of relationships and love issues. We all try to convince ourselves how right we are because “the other” is so “wrong”, and by that justify ourselves and gain some points.
The war is over only when we dare to not be a victim anymore. And then – it is over in a second.Victim consciousness is a consciousness of war. It justify war as a “defense” and creates more and more war. That is why the ministry of war in Israel is called the ministry of Defense….
People tend to think that in peace there is no perpetrator. I think that in peace there is actually no victim. All the rest just unfolds from there.
I felt that from the parents of Mohamed Z”l. By allowing Israelis to come and visit them they elevated themselves a bit from the victim-defensive-aggressive loop. i thank them for that, and pray we all find the way to take full responsibility for our own life experience and stop the victim story, that is, truly, a boring one already.
The group was: Lisa, Dawn Cherie Ezrahi, Rabbi Menachem Kalus, Rabbi David Ingber, Gabriel Meyer and myself:
Thank you so much for sharing this and for the courageous and beautiful people doing this work, holding this vision and spreading this teaching. In my opinion, it is so true that this victim hood and war is within each of us and that war is perpetrated within each of us and our families and relationships just as it is perpetrated in Israel and so many other places. For me today, I am grateful to be inspired to see my own victim consciousness and to do the work to heal and transform my own self.
Beautiful actions! Can we ever speak to the Leaders and move them? Victim leaders ,especially: Hamas, Israeli? Also business leaders, those who make profit from supplying weapons? Political leaders who use support, condemnation for their own ends?
How to avoid using this awareness as yet another way of taking the victim position and justifying aggressive “defensive” action against the deluded other who insists on taking the victim position?
Rabbi Ezrahi’s insight provides a nuance most often lacking in “pro- Palestinian” or “pro-Israel” statements, but it too can devolve into self-righteousness and a subtle form of dehumanization of the other–as if to say, “As long as you see yourself as a victim, you will be prone to lie and attack and will have to be defended against. Victimhood is itself a form of aggression, a pathology.”
But victimization isn’t always a choice. Sometimes it is simply a fact.
How do we avoid blaming the victim for being a victim when the victimization wasn’t a choice but an event imposed from without?
How do we avoid seeing ourselves as the victims of “victims”?
I found the very last words of this article to be quite harsh. I can not imagine the pain these parents and the group in general is feeling at this time of loss.
I loved this article in general and thank you for your insights. I think that there is a risk of loosing the message though when we are not more thoughtful and selective of our words – don’t forget – this family has just lost a young man as a result of an extremely violent act – was he a victim of violence? Are they not in extreme pain as a result of the violence and the loss they so deeply feel right now? I do not think the use of the word boring is helpful to close this piece.
Thank you for sharing your experience. Your need to bear witness of this tragic action and awareness of the right way to enter the domain of the people in mourning, with the kindness in which you entered made it possible for all to show peaceful action. You were all in that moment truly the Children of Abraham.
I, too, feel deeply moved by this piece. I have been to Auschwitz twice – one of them a Bearing Witness retreat with Bernie. I, too, returned each time with a full recognition that this is what WE do – not ‘them’.
I’m also aware that the recognition of this is, once again, something I can distance myself from by witnessing these dramas played out ‘over there’.
The big dramatic manifestations of this (Israel, Palestine etc) make it easier for my righteousness to take hold and forget to look at where I’m playing out similar acts of denial in my own daily, domestic life.
Donestic it might be, but this is where I can and do perpetuate the whole delusion. It is in my front room where making a difference starts..
I love this piece, it is tremendously important and wise. I learnt a lot chewing it. We are going to read it, loudly, line by line, during next Zen Peacemaker Gatherings. We will spread this text, inhale it. – It should be translated into as many languages as possible, I will commit to do the German part. – It should be found in school-books. – Thank you Ohad, and bowing deeply to your wisdom. – Monika Jion
Thank you for posting this moving account, and for the work you do. I am curious why you believe it is untrue that the indigenous Palestinians have “always been there” and are “Canaaniets”? It is true that we all came from somewhere … Africa, orginally, so they say. But there seems to be good reason to believe that the indigenous peoples of the region have been there since Biblical times. There is a good article at Wikipedia on the Palestinian people here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_people It says that: “Genetic analysis suggests that a majority of the Muslims of Palestine, inclusive of Arab citizens of Israel, are descendants of Christians, Jews and other earlier inhabitants of the southern Levant whose core may reach back to prehistoric times. “A study of high-resolution haplotypes demonstrated that a substantial portion of Y chromosomes of Israeli Jews (70%) and of Palestinian Muslim Arabs (82%) belonged to the same chromosome pool,” and “The history of a distinct Palestinian national identity is a disputed issue amongst scholars. […] According to Rashid Khalidi, the modern Palestinian people now understand their identity as encompassing the heritage of all ages from biblical times up to the Ottoman period.” Further down in the article we read, “The Greek toponym Palaist√≠nƒì (Œ†Œ±ŒªŒ±ŒπœÉœÑŒØŒΩŒ∑), with which the Arabic Filastin (ŸÅŸÑÿ≥ÿ∑ŸäŸÜ) is cognate, first occurs in the work of the 5th century BCE Greek historian Herodotus, where it denotes generally the coastal land from Phoenicia down to Egypt. Herodotus also employs the term as an ethnonym, as when he speaks of the ‘Syrians of Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian-Syrians’, an ethnically amorphous group he distinguishes from the Phoenicians. Herodotus makes no distinction between the Jews and other inhabitants of Palestine. The Greek word bears comparison to a congeries of ancient ethnonyms and toponyms. In Ancient Egyptian Peleset/Purusati refers to one of the Sea Peoples. Among Semitic languages, Assyrian Palastu generally refers to southern Palestine. Biblical Hebrew’s cognate word Pli≈°tim, usually translated Philistines, does not distinguish them and the other Sea Peoples, who settled in Palestine around 1100 BCE.”
Thank you so much for this article. It is very uplifting to know about this visit. My heart is so inspired this news.
About your comment “People tend to think that in peace there is no perpetrator. I think that in peace there is actually no victim. All the rest just unfolds from there”.
I agree. And I would add that actually the polarity of victim AND perpetrator is dissolved when one is able to realize that one could be the other and the other could be oneself. Meaning that destiny could have made me the victim in this case or the perpetrator as well because in reality I did not control any of the factors that created my birth as a hebrew or as a palestinian. So both can look beyond the polarity of victims and perpetrators to the One in Whose hands are all destinies and bow/prostrate to THAT and see each other as equal. Equal in the sense of having the same potential to be victims or perpetrators.
We also prayed for the soul of Reb Zalman, rahmetull√¢haleyhi.