SULHA DOES IT AGAIN
100 Palestinians and Israelis gathered in yesterday’s cold, clear evening at Eco-Me, the ecological meeting center near Jericho, for another of our Tribal Fires. On the longest night of the year, in the darkest of times, people arrived, quietly checking out the others who had arrived, looking to get their bearings, cautious. Here in the territories, the Palestinians were free to come, without dealing with the army, and Sulha was free of the humiliation of begging for permits from a frustrating bureaucracy. A carload of friends from Nablus drove down, a minibus of men and women from the Hebron area skirted Jerusalem, driving two hours, and some Israelis from the Galilee travelled three hours to get there. A group of students in their twenties, participants in a course for Jerusalem-area Palestinians and Israelis, bussed in.
After tea and greetings, getting-to-know-you exercises, and the music of a great little combo, people have warmed up enough to move into small listening circles, where, in Arabic, Hebrew, and English we lead them into sharing, this time, about issues of vulnerability. In each circle, the talking-stick is passed around, and each person brings some aspect of his/her life in which they feel soft, weak, unprotected, hesitant, frightened. In the circle I am facilitating, a Palestinian speaks of the derision of his neighbors and friends when they hear that he is heading to another of our gatherings. They accuse him of “normalizing” relations with the Israeli enemy, and he is torn. A Danish visitor speaks gently of his fear of speaking in front of others. An Israeli woman shares the dread of sexual intimidation at her workplace. I reveal my fears of the future, my grandchildren’s eventual entry into the army, in a reality that might not have changed by then. A Palestinian in a wheelchair tells of the Israeli “dumdum” bullet that shattered his spinal cord 15 years ago, during a demonstration in which he did not participate. The atmosphere is somber, we gaze across the circle, honoring the others’ willingness to take the risk of sharing so intimately.
The second question we ask is, “Despite all of this, where is strength? Where do you find light in all the darkness?” And people speak of their family, their friends, and of music and writing and nature….the places we go to renew our faith, our willingness to fight despair. The disabled Palestinian speaks of the hope that a meeting like this arouses in his heart. “Though I will never walk, being with people like you gives me a sense of freedom,” he says. We conclude by thanking each other, some exchange phone numbers.
We are called to a luscious vegetarian dinner prepared by a Palestinian Sulha steering committee member. There is laughter and ease as people enjoy relaxing from the listening-circles’ tension. We then move outside under the stars and light the bonfire, drums and guitars come out and we sing, in Arabic and Hebrew, and new friendships flower as people engage in conversation on the edges of the circle. A journalist from Hebron is visibly moved, and he grabs me, insisting that I come to visit him to explore ways of getting Sulha’s message out to the public on both sides. We promise to be in touch. Some concluding words are said by the vivacious 25 year old who leads the Sulha production team. She thanks and blesses us, and after a quick collective cleanup of the premises, we board the buses for home.
Pulling away, the waning fire and lights of Eco-Me glow in the darkness, we are brimming, buoyed and warmed. Some would say that we have done nothing to “advance the peace process,” yet we know this evening has made a difference, in many ways, in many hearts.