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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

 

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THE LAST DAYS OF THE SIXTIES

There are two locks on my front door. One is impossible to open from outside, the other has a key. One sign of aging is that I don’t lock the impermeable one, when home alone, and I make sure the key is pulled partway out on the other, so that someone could get in and find me, were I to be incapacitated in one way or another. I figure I might as well not handicap my chances.

These are the last days of my sixties, and not surprisingly, I am nostalgifying some.

The last days of my sixties bring forth, among other memories, the last days of the ‘60’s. December, ’69, I was among 300,000 at the Altamont Festival, booked to be “Woodstock West.” It turned out to be one of counter-culture’s worst days, with the Hell’s Angels, assigned “security” for the festival, going nuts and killing Meredith Hunter.

During the late ‘69’s I was tear gassed many times, beaten by police and jailed briefly, smoked a lot of pot and dropped acid a bunch of times. Was blessed to participate in numerous mass demonstrations, where THE STREETS BELONG TO THE PEOPLE! was actually true for a few hours. Threw rocks at police and got to see one of my rocks strike a cop in the leg. Lived in a commune in Berkeley where we grappled with sex-role issues and communal values, went out at 2 in the morning to spray-paint slogans against the war in Vietnam and sexism, and gleefully shattered the plate glass window of the local Safeway to support the grape boycott. Helped organize some actions and played political rock‘nroll in a group called Contraband.

My friend Bill documented the co-opting of the 60’s youth rebellion by the interests of media and big money. Big business helped destroy the spirit and political potential of the hippies and yippies and the resistance to the Vietnam war. As “the ME generation” of the ‘70’s replaced the activism of the ‘60’s, and more people were doing speed instead of pot, and there was a desperate understanding that the revolution was slipping out of our hands. As Bob Dylan moaned, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” I abandoned ship, leaving in ’72 and discovering in Israel that the revolution will never be over.

Once again, now, we have an opportunity. This time, Trump is providing the impetus for baby boomers to come out of hibernation and see if there are still any trout in the stream. And here, Netanyahu, embodiment of darkness, calling us forth to resist the hatred he spawns, with our love for each other and our determination to make the world flourish for our grandchildren.

We drink from whatever well that nourishes us. For me, it is the experience of the ‘60’s, as I bid my sixties farewell. What’s evident is that our taking action is incumbent upon us, in this world we inhabit. We knew in the ‘60’s that it is true that if you pick up the paper in the morning, glance at the headlines, and you don’t like the news…..you can CHANGE IT. In this little country, the size of New Jersey, when you do something that makes a difference, you will likely see that on TV in the evening. And when the days come when we finally bring the message of freedom and justice to bear, on our society here in Israel, TV news will look mighty good to us.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Let us take from the dead their inspiration, and move on. 2017 will be our year. We will reclaim the fervor for joyous, wholesome living. Like Jerusalem forest, where everything is now moist and green, where pink and purple cyclamen sprout everywhere in the shade of the pines, where granite boulders’ gentle grey folds under the deep green surging moss, so we too will now join hands and come to life. 

                                                                           Yoav Peck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE VACUUM AT THE TOP

This is all a gift….Trump, Netanyahu. The current calamity, in both the U.S. and Israel, is a disaster that’s also an opportunity. The thousands of women in the street today were not there last week. Where will they be tomorrow? All our lives, we choose from day to day which side we are on. Usually, our stand is not to take one. But thanks to these two dark men, we must choose sides, for there is nothing at the top. I love the t-shirt one woman is wearing, “I’m with her” with arrows pointing in every direction. My Dad would have loved this moment.

God is sending us all a broad hint….”Hey, guys,” he could be saying, “Look around! These are the only people, the ones around you, who will determine what will be in your lives. There are no leaders now, other than you. Get off the dime, and get on with it.”

The Israelis working for peace are wearier than the fired-up Americans in the street today. We’re tired of longing for the beauty of the Israel we love. Like some lost lover, Israel was our sweetheart. The beloved Judean hills now turn green and the narcissus comes, bringing the deep musk of a wet Jerusalem winter. Someone slipped our beloved Israel some heroin in 1967 and over the years she got strung out, got nasty and cruel and selfish and mean. And we miss her, that country of warm, friendly middle-eastern people who rub up against each other without tension and with humor. We Israelis long for a time when we felt that assumption of relatedness that sociologists observe. But we are split, as out president says, into four tribes: liberal secularists, nationalist religious people, ultra-orthodox, and Arabs. And we’re tearing each other apart.

Those vibrant Americans out there in the street today will have to decide next week what they are going to do with their rage and hurt. We Israelis must also awaken to the wake-up call that, without inauguration day, is here. Netanyahu must be brought down, and a popular struggle for the soul of the country must begin. No leader is in sight, here, and we have to see to it that, whoever replaces Netanyahu will know he has a mandate from an overwhelming majority of Israelis to achieve comprehensive peace with the Palestinians. We will make the U.N. resolution superfluous, because we will finally design peace ourselves, with our enemies.

At an international non-violent communication course happening now in Beit Jalla, a suburb of Bethlehem, an American participant said to me, “I’ve always felt that if you Israelis and Palestinians can work it out, anyone in the world can.”

Let’s get to it. There are hearts and minds to win. But, no, this time, let us allow our adversaries to change our hearts and minds. Let us enter a dialogue among the concerned majority and play a loser-less game, with no net dividing us, let’s stand in a circle and see, together, how long we can keep the volleyball in the air.

Hillary ignored wide swaths of Americans. The Israeli left has alienated much of the population. 48% of Israelis believe leftists are traitors. Only by befriending adversaries will they see who we are…. after we see who they are.

We are patriots, and our hearts yearn for a quiet day at the beach, asking the strangers under the next sun-shade if they’ll watch our stuff while we go for a swim.

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

 

 

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.

Yoav Peck

THE BATTLE OF JERICHO, REVISITED

50 million shekels is the price of our capitulation to the 40 families at Amona. 50 million. What might we have done with that money? In our schools with 40 kids in many classrooms. In East Jerusalem where they need money for 1000 classrooms they don’t have. In hospitals, where increased staffing would mean that nurses would have the time to discuss patients with doctors who would have the time. The most treacherous roads would be upgraded. The streets of Jerusalem might not be so dirty.

As even our leftist hearts are touched by the endless radio interviews with the threatened settlers of Amona, we have developed a national amnesia, allowing ourselves to forget that the settlers chose to live in a place they knew was contested, unresolved. With their eyes wide open, the young grandparents of a third generation of settlers gambled on an uncertain future when they moved into their caravans and built their homes. And now, how are they feeling? Are they losing any sleep about the cuts in welfare, education, health that will fund their relocation? Or do they just reflect an ethos of fuck you, Jack, it worked out for me… an ethos gathering force here, after 50 years of occupation, re-defining what it is to be an Israeli.

Sophisticated thugs and sex offenders are at home among those who wield power in Israel. They are rich, they make and break the rules, and they are admired and envied throughout the country. Virtually unopposed. 48% of the public thinks leftists are disloyal, according to the Israel Democracy Institutes recent poll. Why are there no leftists among the perpetrators of incidents reported each week, like mushrooms after the rain, of corruption and sexual abuse?

The Israelis coming to Sulha’s event near Jericho on Thursday are among the traitors reviled by many of our fellow countrymen. The Palestinians who join us will be curious to encounter Israelis who seek contact with them, who wish them no harm. An evening after the longest night of the year, as we gather to consciously confront the darkness surrounding us, we will humanize each other by sitting in small circles and listening. Looking into each other’s eyes and working to embrace the contradictions we see, the tension we feel. Palestinians will speak with Israelis who have served in the army, imparting their experience under occupation. Israelis, carrying the shame of the conqueror, will reach out to those people seen as the enemy by our families and friends. We’ll summon the chutzpah to ask of young men, from refugee camps and West Bank villages, that they hear our story as well.

This time, in the listening circles, we will explore issues of personal and collective vulnerability. We’ll pray too, we’ll thank the cook and the people who grew the vegetables we’ll eat. Over supper, there will be quiet conversation, and laughter. Later, beneath the desert sky, we’ll light the Tribal Fire, and we’ll warm ourselves together, singing and perhaps dancing. How powerful will be our softness!

In 1967, Vietnam protestors placed flowers in the barrels of the guns of National Guardsmen protecting the Pentagon. As we leave the Sulha event, we’ll be armed with flowers for the guns of hatred that will surround us again, back in our daily routines. Palestinians and Israelis will be assailed by cynical friends. But the glow of the Tribal Fire will glow in our bellies. Thursday’s achievement will be measured in the hope and perseverance we’ve re-ignited in the hearts of those who were with us. The little community we re-created outside Jericho will strengthen us as we carry on. In the words of the slaves’ spiritual…”and the walls came tumbling down….”

Yoav Peck

THERE’S STILL TIME FOR OBAMA TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are foaming at the mouth as they smell the approaching advent of the new administration, anticipating that Trump will support their future-less conception of Israel’s direction. A year ago, Netanyahu prophesied, he promised that we “would live forever by the sword.” Bennett has already met with Trump’s people in New York to lay groundwork for what he believes will be the start of a great partnership, Trump’s son in law’s foundation has been supporting settlements for years. While here at home, the Netanyahu government is currently advancing a piece of legislation that would legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts. Some 100 of these wildcat outposts dot the territory, many have been built on privately owned Palestinian land. The new legislation appears to be another in a series of steps designed to lead toward the government’s formal annexation of the territories. Likud Minister Benny Begin objected, pointing to the illegality of such a move, and was suspended by a fellow Likudnik from the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for refusing to toe the party line. The proposed “Normalization Law” is a foreboding milestone. Beginning Thursday, activists will hold a vigil outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem to protest this new dire threat to the possibility of a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter this week called on President Obama to recognize the Palestinian state. This is an intriguing development. If he listens to Carter, Obama may finally have the opportunity to earn the Nobel Peace Prize sitting on his shelf. After seven years – the frustration of John Kerry’s valiant efforts, repeated humiliations at the hands of Netanyahu and his henchmen, the disgust that has accumulated in the White House for our manipulative, anti-peace prime minister – perhaps Obama is ripe to make a significant move. If Obama so chooses, the move will not come from anger or revenge. On the contrary….. Rejecting lame-duck clichés, even at the eleventh hour, Obama can take action to transform reality, to create a game-changing moment, before leaving office. The best material comes out in the final moments of a therapy session, so why not a presidency?

Aside from a handful of ministers in Bibi’s government and the minority of confused Israelis who still support them, the world community acknowledges that there will be no peace in the middle-east without realization of the Palestinian aspiration for independence. Let Obama now pull a maneuver of the sort that the settlement movement has made a way of life….create facts on the ground first, and then work to justify and solidify that move. The follow-up work would be in Trump’s hands and who the hell knows what he would do. But with no way of predicting unpredictable Trump, Obama can nonetheless initiate a bold gesture of intervention, just before leaving office, a gesture that would force Trump to take a stand about peace in our area. Even if Trump moves to annul the declaration, days after assuming office, the die will be cast. One symbolic, courageous act could shift the equation significantly. What does Obama have to lose here? Restraint is no longer in order. Let Obama turn to the world and say clearly, “We know that justice is served by affirming the Palestinians’ right to a homeland, a right that is in no way junior to the Israelis’ claim to their home. We stand with the Palestinians and yet we also believe that proclaiming the Palestinian state is a way to support the Israelis who continue to seek a solution that will ensure Israel’s democratic future.”

Obama’s statement would have to also acknowledge that the borders of both Israel and Palestine have yet to be finalized. The principle of “1967 borders with some adjustments” has been welcomed by most players on the international and local scenes. Yet many crucial issues would remain unresolved….the future of Israeli settlements in the new Palestine, water distribution, security cooperation, to name a few. The two states, Israel and Palestine, might now be forced to negotiate the new reality with the unprecedented motivation of two internationally-legitimized neighbors who now need to complete an agreement in order to get on with handling more pressing matters than security.

Jimmy Carter can look today at nearly 40 years of Egyptian-Israeli peace with satisfaction. A “cold peace” is still peace. Egypt sent firefighters to help us a couple of weeks ago. This year, thousands of Israelis returned to vacation in Sinai. Peace is a process. This moment is Obama’s chance to launch a hopeful new chapter here in the troubled middle-east. Recognizing Palestine will not end the conflict. The act will arouse fierce opposition in Israel. But it could open a new page, and in a best-case scenario, could give the incoming President the leverage he needs to get Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table so we can overcome our 100 years’ mutual resistance to moving forward.

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

THE LURE OF NETRUMPYAHU

Donald Trump has succeeded in awakening the beast in us. He has brought our baser instincts to the fore. The difference between him and us is that he says and does the things that decent men control and suppress. We are all attracted to women. Most of us manage to keep it to ourselves, neither speaking nor acting on the lusty urges that rise up out of us. Trump both speaks and acts on his urges, and enough white American men vicariously became Trump to enthusiastically give him a mandate.

Every two-bit psychologist knows that we react with strong revulsion only if something in us has been awakened. Otherwise, we would react with indifference. Our disgust with Trump’s predatory sexism is rooted in our struggle with the primitive in ourselves. This is also true regarding his racism and our own, his violence and our own, his indulgence of the animal that he, and we are.

Bibi Netanyahu is more subtle, but just as dark. He is a sexless Machiavellian, his lust is for power. But lust is lust, and Netrumpyahu is celebrating the arrival of a kindred spirit. Things have never looked so good for Bibi. If he brinkmanshipped his way through a troubled relationship with Barack Obama, humiliating the President and surviving, yet again, the mess he created, he can now breathe deep and warmly welcome Donald Trump.

What is common to these two “leaders” is their lure. They have drawn a following because a huge swath of both their constituencies share common values, values whose behavioral expression includes: screw everyone who gets in your way, lie whenever you want, exploit people’s fears and offer them magical solutions to their difficulties, demonize and blame the weak and subjugated people for everything, and emerge looking good. There are indeed many people for whom this is the chosen path, the followers of Netrumpyahu have left their better selves behind.

So now, what do we do? First, let us mourn our loss. We Jews sit shivah when someone dies. For a week we labor to process how much we miss the dear departed one. Let us mourn the passing of our hope for goodness and decency in government. Let us acknowledge that there is no longer a partner of any sort, not in Washington and not in Jerusalem. When Shivah is finished, we climb to our feet, venture out the front door and face the day after, and we look for our friends and comrades.

Today, 80 Israeli peace activists travelled from around the country to Sderot. Together, we heard mothers and kindergarten teachers who huddled in concrete sewage pipes with their children while missiles and mortars rained down on them in the summer of 2014. We studied the trauma of citizens and their prime minister’s manipulation of that trauma. We listened to their accounts of suffering. Some of them spoke of the parallel suffering across the fence in Gaza, the defenselessness of those women. But then, in small discussion groups, we moved to look forward. A young community worker spoke of his efforts to achieve small victories in working with traumatized people, returning hope to their hearts. The leaders of Women Wage Peace shared the joy of leading 20,000 committed women on marches across the country.

Curiously, openly, we explored new ways of reaching out to those who have resigned themselves to endless conflict. We debated the relative worth of inclusive approaches to the public vrs. more targeted tactics. We chipped at old concepts of “left” and “right,” birthing new ways of approaching a frightened and reluctant public. We networked, spawning possibilities of inter-organizational collaboration.

We know that depression is a function of passivity. We left Sderot determined to renew and re-vitalize our efforts, with pocketsful of each other’s calling cards. We drove home across the broad, arid plains of the Western Negev, heartened in the knowledge that soon the winter’s rains will green these fields, and they will, they must once again be lovely.

                                                                                                Yoav Peck, Sulha Peace Project