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NOT WORRIED

August 11, 2016

Last night, the Sulha Peace Project brought 130 Israelis and Palestinians together to meet at Neve Shalom. Israelis came from around the country, the Palestinians from around the West Bank – Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah. One skull-capped settler joined us, a professor from a West Bank college, and he left gratified in the wake of his experience and promising to be in touch. An entire group of invitees from the village Beit Ummar was prevented by the army from participating, most of them people with no record of jailings or demonstrating or resisting the occupation. Nonetheless, the spirit at Sulha was wonderful, children from Dehaishe refugee camp scurried among the adults with abandon. People talked in intimate groups, created art together, sang around the tribal fire under the half-moon. With despair and the leaden burden of occupation in the background, IDF planes on maneuvers overhead, we cried our protest to the skies, infusing each other with joy of a few hours’ respite. Quiet conversation, deep listening and sharing, a delicious Palestinian meal, discovery of the human beings on the other side, deep renewal.

As I drove four young Palestinians back to the roadblock where they would make their way home to their village on the edge of the Judean desert, they spoke of their happiness at being part of the Sulha event. As they climbed out of the car, I said, in my rudimentary Arabic, “Now if this was a good evening for you, you must not be shy. Speak to your friends, tell them what you did tonight and what you feel.” They promised to spread the word, shook my hand warmly.

While reality presses in on us, arousing profound concern among us all, we know that taking action is the only way to ease our worry. On Tuesday evening, 15 Israeli activists labored at a workshop in Tel Aviv called “Beyond Persuasion,” seeking the keys to opening dialogue with even the most vociferous of the opponents of peace and other skeptics. The participants shared their frustration, as family members and neighbors malign their peace-work and people they encounter in the course of their work assail their efforts. “You’re so naïve, go to Gaza, too bad Hitler didn’t finish you off, better a criminal than an Arab….” This is what they hear.

Together, we explored what it is that can open a safe space where significant dialogue can occur. How do we protect ourselves from being sucked into a ping-pong of mutual blaming? What kind of listening do we need to learn, before the other can feel comfortable enough with us to open his/her heart and hear something fresh, reconsider assumptions? How do we identify the psychological mechanisms that enable authentic encounter, leading to the possibility of influence? While the reality is tough, the polls discouraging, we know that effective conversations are the tool that will open the path to change.

When I reach an uphill during my runs in the forest, I know that I must keep my eyes on the ground before me. If I look too far up the long hill ahead, I will get discouraged. What matters is this step, and the next. When we are engaged, when we are doing what calls out to be done, we don’t worry.

Yoav Peck

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