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 LEADERSHIP IN DARK TIMES

Leaders create the future. Their deeds, promises, and orations receive broad publicity, and they impact inordinately upon reality. They seek to define where we are and where we’re going. And many, many people buy their definitions. When Bibi Netanyahu promises that “…we will live by the sword forever…” he utters a self-fulfilling prophecy, committing himself, and us, to endless warfare.

We, who are also your citizens, Bibi, we seek the possibility of a new future that was so visible in the joyous face of Yitzhak Rabin, minutes before he was killed. This leader, defining a different future, shyly singing into the microphone, exhorting us: “Don’t say, ‘the day will come,’ rather bring the day…” Rabin was a leader who offered us and our children the hope and direction that spurs us to be our best selves. Together, that night in ’95, we were paving the road to our nation’s peaceful future.

What road are you paving, Bibi? Which audience are you playing to now? The reality you defined at your pep-rally last week is a dark foreboding place where, you say, “wild beasts” will pursue us forever.

Our world, here in Israel/Palestine, is indeed not safe. Those speaking of peace will be more facilely and hatefully labled “leftists” now, with the fresh encouragement of our prime minister. However, unsafe as life is, we see light in the darkness. There are people, everywhere in Israel, pursuing peace, writing, teaching, demonstrating, organizing, and learning the tools of peacemaking, embracing the imperative that we live peace as we make it. We are taking heart, as we see that truth is gaining on you, Bibi, and that your slickness will soon meet its match. Bibi’s imminent fall already is strangely encouraging. Here in our blemished democracy, nonetheless a semblance of justice sometimes is reached. Elor Azaria did go to jail, as did President Katzav and the others. Let’s hear it once for Israel’s being a precious democracy, warts and all.

What is the nature of the stuckness of the great masses of people in this country? The poor people in Israel who support Bibi….do they not see that their crushing poverty and Bibi’s consistent rejection of peace are somehow related? People can learn to think things through and go beyond their instincts, to braver, clearer places. Watch legendary teacher Jane Elliott on youtube, where in two days in 1970 she had 8 year old kids discover for themselves the terrible reality of racism. The kids got it, experientially, conceptually. We can all learn to fight racism, to teach peace.

How can one speak of “the masses” without condescension? When we engage rightists in conversation, we often arrive at moments when they stop thinking and give in to fear and fury. We try to bring them back, but often their canoe has already gone over the falls. Yet, there are moments of grace. Recently  encountering three soldiers on leave in the Square, all of them second- generation settlers, our conversation began hostile and aggressive, but by the time we parted, there was mutual listening on both sides. I invited them to describe the future they envision, and we connected. Before they left, one of them shook my hand, took my card, and said, “I hope you didn’t feel we were disrespectful during our talk.” It’s fulfilling work, and the little steps forward energize us.

This blazing hot summer, we’re chickens, frying in our own grease. It seems that everyone’s on vacation, along with optimism, flaked out exhausted on some beach in Greece. Those of us who are here, we sweat and shower and sweat some more. While in the middle of this swamp, our leader is bellowing his last hateful, inciteful shrieks, as he steadily sinks into the quicksand he created. But it is not enough to see Bibi fall. Who will step into the vacuum?

To get through security at last week’s Pride Parade, we stood squashed like sardines, for nearly an hour. In any other crowd, in Israel, people might have gotten uptight and nasty. But this gay and lesbian crowd, laced with supporters, was simply lovely, considerate, joking easily with each other and strangers, waiting to join the other 22,000 marchers, united by a common longing for a gentler Israel, a less frightened, less frightening Israel.

Will LGBT activists also march against occupation? These bold and loving Israelis, who bring new meaning to “pride,” will they also acknowledge that, underlying the homophobia and racism in Israel lies the deeply corrupting reality of controlling four million Palestinian people for 50 years? Will we coalesce and muster our courage to reach the decent, caring Israelis, to uncover our own collective leadership, bringing us all the future that only we can create?

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for person-to-person contact

 

WATERING THE TREE

When we moved into this house, there was an ugly stump of a lemon tree in the garden, twisted, scarred and nearly branchless and leafless, less than a meter high. As we settled into the house, I planned to tear out the little stump and plant something worthy. Frumit vetoed that and I was stuck with this eyesore in the middle of the front yard. Turns out, the little guy had a lot of fight in him. For eleven years, I have poured water into the roots of my friend the lemon tree, trimming him as he grows and reaches for the sunlight that peeks in over the hedge in the afternoon. When our supply of plump supermarket lemons is gone, we step outside to pluck one his crinkle-skinned, small lemons. Today, he towers over the hedge and the front porch, looking robust. Do we wonder if the grass is greener on our neighbor’s lawn? No, we know the grass is greener where we water it.

We, the gardeners of the future, see the blazing summer heat as nature’s way of throwing down a glove, challenging us to awaken and take care of what is quickly deteriorating before our eyes. We cower in our air-conditioners and try not to think about the sea-level atolls in the Pacific that will be first to be flooded by the rising sea, and we don’t think about 110 degree heat in Jericho. As the occupation rumbles into its 51st year, this heat is everywhere, God is mad this summer. Mad enough to reshuffle the cards, bringing us Avi Gabai, surprise victor in the Labor Party’s primaries, bringing freshness to the scene. He has so far not fully defined himself, but he offers something new, and we’re all so sick of more of the same. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s shady swamp of intrigue is steadily sucking him into the quicksand he’s created in our name. Maybe we are getting mad enough to rediscover our willingness to put activist meetings in our datebooks, to initiate alliances and action-projects, to volunteer time and write checks we haven’t been writing.

The alternative to ending the occupation leads to a whirlpool, dragging us down to the deterioration of our democracy and the corruption of the Israel we envision and long for. This week, Judy Maltz reported in Ha’aretz that discharged army officers are running mock-battle fun-parks for tourists, where people get to fire real weapons and are regimented and commanded to do pushups when they’re lagging behind. Business is booming, with this attraction sprouting like mushrooms across the country. The pictures of tough-guy officers in uniform and sunglasses, delivering a shpiel to awestruck Japanese tourists, sickening. If, as Netanyahu has promised, we will live by the sword forever, then we might as well have the sword turn a profit.

There are those of us who still seek and find the Israel we love, the sweet, warm Israelis who love to laugh together and don’t want to hurt anybody. We get together and feel the sorrow and waves of despair that accompany yesterday’s terrorist incident in the Old City, another in an endless succession of attacks and counter-attacks. We watch our prime minister scorning the majority of the world’s Jews, reneging on his promise to give egalitarian streams a platform by the Western Wall. Weary, we look toward more scorching days of these ruthless summer months, and again Israelis are forced to take a stand, to collectively deepen the problem or begin birthing the solutions.

Jerusalem’s evening cool descends, sweet respite from the oven that was mid-day… we’re evaporating more slowly now. I switch on the kettle for tea and step out to the garden to pluck a tough little lemon from our flourishing tree.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people engagement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRE-OCCUPIED

Last night, I attended the launch in Israel of Kingdom of Olives and Ash, a book about what we are doing here. The book offers 26 authors’ responses to the occupation, most of them from abroad. This book should not have had to be written. The occupation. Not a worn-out accusation, the mention of which causes people to roll their eyes. The book invites us to leap out of the water we have learned to take for granted and to look into the depths of what controlling others’ lives means for us.

The occupation of four million Palestinian people’s lives, the lives they should occupy, we now occupy, for fifty years. If an Israeli dares intrude on another’s personal space, look out! But to occupy the space of 4 million people for fifty years with force and sometimes deliberate cruelty? We can live with that.

Here in Jewish Jerusalem, when the occupation arises in conversation, it’s one of those, well of course the occupation’s awful… tell me something I don’t know….moments. Chabon and Waldman’s book invites us to spend quality time, to be with the deeper significance of the occupation. The book does not allow us to gloss over, it presses on us the weight of this fifty year human tragedy.

During the Six Day War, I was running in the streets of Berkeley, resisting the war in Vietnam. While Israel’s planes decimated the Egyptian air force, I was throwing stones at policemen, choking on tear-gas, and spray-painting buildings. When I came to Israel as a volunteer in ’72, I did not imagine that ten years later I would be convoying ammunition deep into Lebanon as part of the IDF’s failed attempt to wipe out the PLO. I became part of the problem, and over the years did my reserve duty, indirectly supporting the occupation. As a military organizational psychologist, my job included enabling commanders to be true to their duty during their time in the territories. To restrain their men, to prepare for the moral dilemmas they would face. That they must patrol, arrest, invade families in the middle of the night, seize entire homes to establish look-outs, while children screamed with terror….. this we learned to take for granted.

Avner Gavriyahu, speaking on behalf of Breaking the Silence, partners in the book, was asked, “What is the occupation doing to the Israelis’ lives, our souls?” his response was to say that serving as an occupying soldier, controlling people’s lives, had changed him. He sees around him a moral danger, where we lose sight of the potential for what we can be as a people. For most Israelis it is possible to keep the occupation at bay. Most of us don’t serve or travel in the territories or even in East Jerusalem. We complain about traffic jams and plan vacations, and we are able to ignore what is happening for people who live two kilometers away.

We seek our footing on a long, slippery slope, we allow cynicism to creep into our humor. We worry about our grandchildren and we don’t know what to do. We don’t want to be among the fools who kept hoping, working in vain for a change.

Last week, some of the fools got together. The Sulha Peace project hosted an Indian rapper for peace and social change named Nimo. 40 weary Palestinians, 14 hours into their Ramadan fast, some with children, met with 30 Israelis in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. We learned Nimo’s songs, which included “Planting Seeds.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLx7I9WcMK0LZ19ADweJE5IWFrnKeqTer1&v=5AmqYcWjBmc

After we learned the chorus and sang it together with him, Nimo asked people to share the seeds they have been planting. We listened as different folks spoke of the ways we offer what we have, to others. By taking action to protect those we love, by actively caring. Later we sang about gratitude and then around the circle we shared what we are grateful for. We ate our Iftar meal together, after a prayer. For a few hours, as dusk settled, the joyous response to occupation was palpable, the glow visible in people’s faces. Just people, a little community for an evening, where together we tapped into the love and hope that carries us through.

 

Yoav Peck, an organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people humanization and solidarity

NAKBA DAY

We crush insects and plants underfoot when we hike in the woods. For the insects and plants, we are bad news. We inevitably do damage when we live our lives. We damage nature, we hurt the ones we love.  Question is, what do we do about that sad fact?

We crushed Palestinians when we created the State of Israel. This is Nakba Day. Nakba, the Palestinians’ catastrophe. 700,000 children, women, and men fled their homes, in trucks, on foot, ushered out of their land so that the Jews could establish a homeland after 2,000 years of exile. As the Palmach conquered area after area, there was little thought of the horror of what we had done, from the other’s perspective.

What’s wonderful about time, about history, is that even now we can take responsibility for the catastrophe our liberation has wrought. We can say “Sorry” in a way that brings with it a devotion to justice and humanism, without compromising our security. We can reach out, from our position of strength, and say to the Palestinians, “Hey, we are ashamed that the joy of achieving our state rests on your suffering and loss. We wish it hadn’t gone this way. We are listening to your pain. Now, we Israelis are strong and secure, and we are here to assist you in creating for yourselves what we have built for ourselves. We know that only when you can finally live your lives freely will we truly be liberated.”

 

PASSOVER, 2017

Jerusalem forest is bursting with life. Every obscure bush is flowering, the weeds are waist-high, the thistles strut their bright purple flowers, while the orange-beaked blackbird sings his courting song. Each blackbird has a unique call, a five-second improvised series of riffs and whistles and rapid-fire chirps, then a pause, and then again, sometimes repeating the earlier call, sometimes breaking into something new. Springtime jazz! As Spring peaks, it is Passover, the Jewish calendar providing a full moon, so pilgrims of yore might make out the path on their way to Jerusalem to pay homage to God at the holy temple. We feast, we sing, we remember when we were slaves in Egypt, and we celebrate liberation.

And yet, our celebratory joy is restrained, impaired. The Talmud tells us that God chastised the angels who were about to cheer the drowning of the pursuing Egyptian soldiers: “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying.” We drip ten drops of wine onto our plates as we recount the plagues, remembering that the cup of our redemption cannot be full when the Egyptians, cruel masters as they were, are suffering and then losing their first-born.

The joy of freedom, mixed with quiet empathy for the other’s suffering….this is a key mandate of Passover. While Jerusalem forest blooms, we remember that there among the pines, on a dark night in 2014, 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir was beaten and burned to death by three religious Israelis.

While we celebrate, the Palestinians are the new Israelites, “oppressed so hard they could not stand…” as we sing in “Go Down, Moses.” For Palestinians, Passover is marked by “closure,” when all Palestinian workers and permit-holders are barred from entry into Israel. No vacation days for them. There will be no compensation for the work they miss. We at the Sulha Peace Project will have to drive to Jericho or Ramallah if we want to meet with our fellow activists. This week, we cannot welcome them to our homes.

A young “Breaking the Silence” activist writes: “Although our service in the occupied territories was part of mandatory military service.… we each carry the responsibility to look deep within ourselves and seek out the moment that our heart hardened. Hardening our hearts is our defense mechanism against the daily madness in the occupied territories, a personal moral dissonance in light of human rights violations and continual violence.”

In this, the 50th year of occupation, so many Israelis are willing to ignore that our “liberation” remains very partial. For the Palestinians, we are the Pharo. As Moses sought to soften Pharo’s heart, so must we Israelis soften ours.

So this Passover is a somber celebration, a mixed blessing. Around the Passover table, the delighted squeals of our children and grandchildren must remind us of the frightened cries of children, down the road in Issawiyeh, who cower as Israeli border guards burst into their homes at two in the morning, seeking nine-year-old rock-throwers.

Sadly, we Israelis must defend ourselves, for we live in a dangerous neighborhood. But we must also raise our heads above the frightening daily headlines, the endless cycle of violence, and ask, “Where is our Red Sea now, when will the waters part to enable us to finally rid ourselves of the roles of persecutor and persecuted?”

And what sort of leadership will carry us forward? We remember that the Sea did not open to the Israelites wailing and trembling on the shore, until Nachshon waded into the sea, having no idea what would happen. He plodded forward into the waves, and only when the water reached his nose did the waters open the way forward. Where are our Nachshons today? Certainly they are not in Washington or in the Prime Minister’s residence. Is Nachshon not we, the peace-makers, who plunge forward into an unknown future with a song of peace and justice throbbing in our hearts?

How will we reach out to Israelis who blind themselves to the untenable present reality? Will we harangue them from some righteous perch? No, this has not and will not work. Rather, we must sing our song, improvising like the blackbird, in the certainty that the she-bird will eventually come to us, and together we will conceive new life and together we will celebrate freedom.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people-to-people contact

FIELD OF DREAMS

Here in Jerusalem, yesterday evening’s news broadcast included a cellphone film of a young, armed Jerusalem policeman head-butting, stomach-kicking and swearing – “son of a whore” – at a 50 year old Palestinian truck driver who was trying to sort out a minor accident and who had not provoked him. “I could do nothing,” said the man. “He had a pisto/l and I feared that if I responded he would kill me.” Following that, we watched footage of soldiers in Hebron dragging a weeping, frightened 8 year old boy through the streets, pushing him into homes and demanding that he finger other kids who had been throwing stones. This is occupation, and it happens every day. Thank God for cellphone cameras. My wife cannot watch these things. While the feelings of Palestinians witnessing and filming these scenes can be imagined, I keep trying to understand what the policeman and soldiers are feeling. How do they justify their behavior to themselves? What is happening in their souls? This occupation hurts the Palestinians but is destroying us. It must end.

I’ve just returned from a two week fundraising tour on behalf of Sulha. In six events, some 350 people came to hear my Palestinian colleague, Fulla Jubeh, and me as we described our life here and the work we do at the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for person-to-person contact. People’s concern was palpable, the support heartening. Folks were generous, and we came home with some money, some air to breathe for our little organization.

After schlepping to our worst evening, south of San Francisco, where 10 people showed up, we needed a breather, and I took Fulla into the city on our way back to Berkeley. Parked near the famous bookstore of the beats, “City Lights,” and strolled down Broadway. The barkers were out, hoping to lure us into the girlie shows. It was strange for Fulla, she didn’t quite know what to make of it all. We went in to buy some smokes, and the looks of the guy at the counter prompted my asking where he is from. “Palestine,” he said. Within seconds, Fulla was entirely at ease, engaged with this handsome guy. The Arabic rolled out, I caught snatches. This kept happening during the trip, Palestinians popping up everywhere, a Turkish/Iraqi shop-owner in Seattle and an Egyptian who sold us lamb in pitta on the street in New York. Maybe the Muslims are taking over!

Wherever we went, we heard people’s deep anxiety about their new situation, but we also met liberals-becoming-activists, people demonstrating, sitting on the phone, coalition-building. We brunched in Seattle with six therapists, and one of them, my age, said, “Gee, I thought I was done with the 60’s,” with some chagrin. I couldn’t stop myself. “Isn’t it great?” I enthused. It really is special that baby-boomers get to go back to our roots and use what we learned fifty years ago, as we face this new, decidedly fateful and fascinating period in history.

Did you catch that? I said “we,” and I’ve been an Israeli for 45 years. During our trip, it became clear that we here in the peace movement and the American liberals have something profound in common. During the presidential campaign and before it, the Americans missed, ignored, took for granted the millions of other Americans who voted Trump, seeking change in their lives. And we Israeli leftists have missed the masses of people who vote for Bibi, who somehow believe that he will see us through this tough time. Many of those people despise us peaceniks, consider us traitors, and similar alienation has been revealed in the States as well. Meanwhile, our struggles to end the occupation and the opposition to Trump are the most patriotic thing we can imagine. Both the Americans and we in Israel are confronting a daunting challenge: Discovering how best to reach out to the people who oppose our goals, how to engage with them in a way that can break down the present polarization and move us all forward together. The effort will require dedication, listening, and the development of communication skills.  

On the plane over to the States, I worked on what I wanted to say at the Sulha events. Somewhat stymied, I watched “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, for the third time. What I saw in the film this time was a pervasive longing, longing for a better time, a time that has been, and could be recovered. The innocence of youth, baseball, good clean fun and comraderie, and the thrill of honest achievement. I thought of that longing as I met Americans who dream of a return to the values and lives that enable freedom and openness. I thought of Israelis and Palestinians who seek a quiet life, who long for a solution to our century-old conflict. America the beautiful is in peril, as too is Israel, my wonderful, vibrant home. There is so much to be done.

Yoav Peck is Director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people contact

Swords into Plowshares

On Wednesday, 80 people converged on Eco-Me, the ecological peace encampment outside Jericho in the West Bank, for another Sulha tribal fire. Some Palestinians made the quick jump from Ramallah, and a minibus schlepped two hours from Hebron and surrounding villages. Israelis came from Jerusalem and farther out. Joining hands around the tribal fire, and after some warming up, entering the main hall to consider tonight’s question…..What does it mean to you to be a man/woman in your society? It is the kind of conversation we would have with friends, in Israel/Palestine after peace is achieved. But here, in the 50th year of the occupation, we dare to consider the banally relevant issues of daily living, together, in this momentary island of calm.

Four of us share with the big group, and I am the Jewish male representative. I talk about the life-long pressure to be strong, to look strong, and the loss of gentleness that is the price I pay, and about the quest for a manhood that is assertive and soft, compassionate and fierce. Then a Jewish woman, and a Palestinian man and woman share their takes on the issue. Jamal speaks of the burden of his role as father of five, facing the hardship of holding his family together in a Jerusalem neighborhood. Both women speak of being objectified by their community. The 80 are silent, pensive. We break into small groups, men in one hall, women in another.

This is my first men’s group in a long time. The big gruff Palestinian guy across the circle speaks of his neighbors’ scorn when they see him washing dishes at home, and proudly declares that he doesn’t care, that it is time for change, even in his traditional neighborhood. A Jewish man speaks of his love for being a man, celebrates the harmless exercise of his masculine power. A Palestinian speaks of his years in an Israeli jail, about humiliation and backbone, about collective strength among the prisoners. As we pass the talking-object around, each of us shares, to the intent listening of the other 10 men. As we finish, there is hugging and hand-shaking and long looks in the eyes, as we thank each other for these moments of intimacy.

The women are late returning, can’t tear themselves away from the deep sharing that happens there. A Palestinian woman in hijab has opened her heart, ending with a warm invitation to her group to meet in her Hebron home. Finally, we are together around the food, blessings are offered in Arabic and Hebrew, we share the meal around low tables. As the evening draws to a close, the full moon blazing overhead, we re-gather around the fire, the drummers throbbing, and a young Palestinian singer offers a spontaneous performance.

A Jerusalem homemaker and her Reform rabbi friend are at Sulha for the first time, visibly moved. A young Nablus Palestinian with laborer’s hands accepts one of my cheap cigarillos gratefully, as we talk about the specialness of this evening and his eagerness to tell his brothers and friends about his experience. He makes his way through my stumbling Arabic to understand that I am getting what he is saying. A Hebron journalist, here for the second time, again asks me to come visit him to think about expanding Sulha’s impact among the Palestinians. The evening has been well-spent.

The next night, I join “Talking in the Square” in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square, luring the public with tolerance-promoting leaflets into conversations about the future of our city. This Thursday is slow, a bit cold, and the racists from the “Lehava” organization, who usually square off with us, are away at a wedding. We consider going home early, but then I offer our leaflet to two passing ultra-orthodox young men, and for some reason they stop to read it. Immediately they let me know that they are Lehava sympathizers, and our warm beginning turns ugly. “You sure you’re Jewish?” Chaim rants at me. “You love Arabs, you hate Jews!” he screams. Pulling out one of my favorite provocations, I say, “You know, Chaim, if my daughter wants to marry a good Arab, a guy I can trust, I’d be fine with that.” And then he says some terrible things about Arabs, a stream of profanity. And I say, “You’re saying some awful stuff about Arabs, Chaim, but I can see that you’re a good guy, with a good heart. You sound full of hate, but I’ll bet you’re not really that way.” And he gets that I am not against him, that I am a fellow Jew, the age of his grandfather, and that I am taking him seriously. The conversation warms, he listens a bit, I listen a lot, and within ten minutes we are talking about my grandchildren, and about his wife and daughter and his barbershop. I tell him about Sulha and he takes my card, I ask him to be in touch, and maybe to come to our next gathering. As we part, he says, “I completely disagree with you, but I can see you’re a good guy.” I appreciate him, he me.

Such a long road ahead, but, one conversation at a time, perhaps we can make a difference. It was midnight when I got home Thursday, but I couldn’t get Chaim off my mind. What did he tell his wife when he got home? And why are there not “Talking in the Square” groups at 1,000 Israeli crossroads? When will there be Sulha gatherings throughout Israel and Palestine? Resistance to peace is the inertia of people who have been collectively scarred by their lives. Conversation is the balm, the healing stream that will feed new life. I see us, Palestinians and Israelis in the thousands, out in the street, engaged in ten thousand difficult conversations, seeking a way together as we warm the winter with our love and the dream of better times.

Yoav Peck is a Jerusalem organizational psychologist and director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people-to-people contact