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July 11, 2016

A deeply disheartened crowd of peace-organization leaders met today outside Tel Aviv. The day was organized around several short lectures, deepening our understanding of where we are, and then discussing the lectures in small groups, and finally networking with each other. Professionally organized, a small island, a work-day well-spent. Even the food was decent, and kosher, so that the three or four religious activists could eat. Yet a pall hung over the day, the pink elephant in the room, whose name is collective-despair-with-the-current-state-of-affairs, was not mentioned except in passing. The chopped-off leg that we don’t discuss, one guy said.

Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo Agreements, was among the founders of the Peace NGO Forum. Ron must be restless as hell, up in heaven. Nonetheless, there we were, some 100 serious activists, sharing ideas, exchanging calling cards, planning collaborations. Some schlepped from Sasa, on the Lebanese border, others from Yeruham, deep in the Negev. While the situation is desperate, this was not a despairing crowd. Providing each other life jackets, in this roiling sea. Somewhat ashamed at our own organizational separateness, how we all carry on, with each organization working too much on its own. And here, after a long helpless lull following Ron’s death, a fresh Peace NGO leadership calling us together to buck each other up, keeping our chins above this rising sea.

Marking 49 years of occupation, many of those present will gather Friday outside Bethlehem to march our solidarity together with our Palestinian partners. But we all knew this afternoon that the lion’s share of the work is in our daily plodding along, and we allowed ourselves to be enthused by new possible cooperation that had become real by day’s end.

One of the religious activists asked for a lift to the train. Earlier, she had invited all present at the meeting to use her as a resource. During the short drive I told her about the obstacle of my religious ignorance and asked if I could call on her for support in developing my understanding and ability to square off with religious right-wingers. She beamed her pleasure at my request.

The day was full of small openings: A woman from educational t.v. invited us to inform her about possibly filming special events. One of the lecturers offered to send us the articles in which he fleshes out the assertions he made today about the increasingly tribal nature of Israeli society. The young intern working on the common Palestinian/Israeli water dilemma explained in a few words what I had not understood about the danger/opportunity of the water issue. Man, we were bubblin’!

The answer to despair is doing something. Anything. That’s what today was about. My California meditation teacher told me, in 1968, that when he was studying to be a teacher in India, there were monkeys who jumped on the rooves of their huts, disturbing their serenity. They complained to the chief guru who replied, “If you cannot meditate with the monkeys jumping on the roof, you cannot meditate anywhere.”

The monkey of despair is jumping on our roof, yet we are busy doing what needs doing, and we headed home today, clearer, calmer, more determined than ever. And planning to do things tomorrow that we hadn’t considered yesterday.

Yoav Peck, Sulha


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