...reflections from a Compassionate Listener

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sami Awad, on Auschwitz, fear, and the meaning of nonviolence

The Israeli attack today on the ships trying to break the blockade on Gaza, brought great sorrow throughout the world. On this dark day, our delegation here in Palestine received the profound gift of listening to Sami Awad, Palestinian non-violence leader. Sami is the founding director of the Holy Land Trust.

Learn more about their work at: http://www.holylandtrust.org/
I am partnering with Holy Land Trust to bring Compassionate Listening training to 30 Palestinian women, June 16th - 18th, at the Everest Hotel in Beit Jala. If you know any women from Palestine who would like to join the training, please have them contact Holy Land Trust directly.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Love and courage in the heart of darkness...

Today we had two inspiring home visits in the West Bank. One with the former Mayor of Beit Ummar - a member of Hamas with the soul of a poet. We met him once before, and tried to meet with him again on our last delegation, but found that he had been arrested and imprisoned with many of the other elected Hamas legislators and officials from the West Bank. After his release from prison, he was not allowed to resume his post.

Today we met Farhan at his parent's home, with many family members joining us, including his mother, and his son Salaheddin (in the photo). We spoke of many things today. At one point in our time together, it seemed that many of us in the circle were in tears. This was unusual, and I continued to wonder what was going on. After a while, this is what came to me: Hamas, who won democratic elections in Palestine, under the intense scrutiny of international monitors including Jimmy Carter, has been existing under an international boycott since just after their election. They received the label of "terrorist organization" from Israel and the United States, which provides a justification for members to be arrested and held without trial at any time. This group has been marginalized within the global community, and very few people take the time to really listen to them - or to understand the distinctions between Hamas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza (Hamas in Gaza is a much more muddied situation due to the complete closure for many years now. In Gaza, Hamas includes mafia-like elements, complete with family gangs and feuds. With no access to the outside world, a much more fundamentalist strain has taken hold there.)

The experience of sitting with a West Bank leader, of a marginalized community - one that is suppose to be scary and wicked even, and to find such a beautiful human being - a poet, who speaks the language of the heart...and this, despite multiple arrests, imprisonment, and torture by the Israeli military...
I dare to say that some of us were experiencing the blessing and grace that comes from creating a sense of "wholeness" in the world. Listening to marginalized voices is a deep precept of Compassionate Listening. As Carol Hwoschinsky says so beautifully, each one of us holds pieces of the puzzle, and if we don't listen to one another, we'll never find the answer."

After hearing too many painful stories, Farhan told us near the end of our time together: "I have hope in my heart, so every good act gives me more hope. Even if it’s a very small action, it’s like a hole for more light to pass through. The important thing is to hold the hope that change is coming... People must be honest with themselves. You can cheat others, but you will never be able to cheat yourself. So every small action is important.

"If you notice water, falling down drop by drop, and if you look just under the ground, where the drops are falling, there is a softening there, under the hard surface. We will have it – change must come. If all of us can turn our tears into action – to tear down the walls from within, we can turn our fears into good actions. If you can see me and hear me, and I can see you and hear you, this is one of the starting points. We need to allow ourselves to truly see each other...Don’t look for the empty part of the cup, but always keep looking for the full part, even if it is very small. That will give us the hope and courage to live and love and have the strength to keep standing."
Thank you Farhan, for your incredible hospitality and friendship to us today. I was especially moved by your interaction with your Mother, when you told her that she is your heart. And your mother shared the same about you. I think about the agony of a mother's heart when her child is imprisoned and she is unable to help. Seeing the joy and love in your family was a beautiful gift and we wish for your safety always.


Our second visit was in the same village, at our friend Jamal's home, where about 10 Israeli Jewish members of "Wounded Crossing Borders" joined us. These are Israeli Jews and West Bank Palestinians who have been wounded in the conflict, and have decided to reach out to do the hard work of seeking the humanity on the "other side". One of the Israelis was the former head of the Hebron prison (for Palestinian political prisoners); another was the wife of an Israeli politician who doesn't understand why she is doing this work...
It was beautiful to sit together with these courageous people. For many of the Israelis, this was their first visit to Jamal's home in the West Bank, even though they have all been to Bosnia and Switzerland together, as well as attending numerous meetings together in Jerusalem. The psychological barrier and fear involved in coming to a Palestinian village is immense (especially when your host's home is tear gassed on a regular basis). So this was a special occasion with an atmosphere of friendship, love and celebration (and amazing food, lovingly prepared by Jamal's wife, Saadiye).

Today we have learned so much about love and courage in the heart of darkness. Thank you to all of our incredible teachers. 

(here is a slideshow from our day in Hebron yesterday. To see the photo captions, you have to click the arrow, and it will open the slideshow on flickr. The two photos above are by Ellen Greene, and I took the ones below.)

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunday, May 30th

After our sessions yesterday, it seems there is no crazier place on the planet than Hebron. It's going to take a bit to catch up and compose that post.

Today we'll be visiting with two families in Beit Ummar, in the West Bank. Both families are suffering daily from the occupation. Tear gas, beating, arrest, detention (our friend's nephews, ages 14 and 16, were just arrested a few days ago)...I'll post more about our visit there later.

Tomorrow we'll visit Bethlehem University. I'm looking forward to small group listening sessions and hearing about the lives and visions of more young people.

This morning, a facebook friend from Gaza posted this video. More and more, my inspiration is coming from the youth, who are tired of the world that they are being handed. Their message to us all: come on friends, we can do better!

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Meet Hashem Azzeh

I'll be adding on to this blog in the days to come, to tell more about our time in Hebron. For now, please meet Hashem Azzeh, a Palestinian man living with his family, sandwiched between Israeli settlers.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

The battle for Sheikh Jarrah

Avital in her home in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo credit: Ellen Greene)

Thursday, May 27, 2010, Visiting the Settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.
Avital is a young, orthodox Israeli Jewish woman and mother of three young children. She grew up in the Israeli city of Netanya on the Mediterranean coast, and has lived in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, for the past 6 years. Avital and her family won the right to occupy their current house by a court decree that the home is owned by Jews. Avital tells us that this area – approximately 40 acres – was actually purchased in the late 1800s by a mixed group of Ashkenazi and Sepharic Jews, who then began to settle there. The area surrounds the tomb of Shimon HaZaddik, a pilgrimage site for Jews since ancient times.

In 1948, when the land fell under Jordanian occupation, Jordan resettled Palestinian refugees from Jerusalem in the empty houses, with help from the United Nations. Nasser Ghawi’s family was one of the recipients of the homes, and his family has lived there continuously since 1954…until the day last summer in early August, when settlers and the military moved him and his family out by force, along with all of their possessions.
Now eight Palestinian families have been forcibly evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and there is fear that more evictions are coming. Some of the families are still living in makeshift tents across the street, holding vigil and lifting the injustice to the level of international observation.

Avital tell us, “The last year has been very hard. There is a demonstration every Friday here, to protest the decision of the courts. We feel that we are under the eyes of the world. Everyone has something to say about this neighborhood. I feel that the demonstrations that have been here every Friday are saying ‘we want this neighborhood to belong to Palestine’. The issue is, if Jews don’t have the right to live if Jerusalem, then where do we have the right to live?”
Avital continues, “It was a problem, what to tell the children during the demonstrations. I don’t want to hide it from them, as some of the other families do. My children know the chants and actually sing with the demonstrators now. We say that this is their right to demonstrate. We are here because the judge and the court say we have the right to be here. The demonstration is always before Shabbat – we can time Shabbat by them. I don’t believe that I stole this house. I’m here because the courts say I could be here. When I met the families that lived here, I respect them. I feel for them. We have to answer many questions that we had for ourselves. With the demonstrations, I think we’ve gotten stronger. I feel more right, more moral.”
“I cannot lie to you – these are difficult times. People call you thief. Chase you, threaten you. I want to have a perfect life for my children.”
“I don’t think they want to hear us. They are trying to picture us to the media that we are violent. We’re more concerned with what we’re having for dinner. I think it’s comfortable for them to picture me as an evil person.”
“It’s hard for both sides. We don’t want to conquer them, and they don’t want to conquer us. In this neighborhood, we lived as normal families, we all have children. If we all respect each other, we can live together.”
In 2001 in the 2nd Intifada, my nephew was killed when a Palestinian threw a stone that hit him in the head. He was 6 months old - he was the youngest victim. Respect is the key to life. “
“The bible gives me my courage. We think that this is our country. Until a real peace is here, I would never submit to living under Palestinian control.”

Friday, May 28, 2010
Today we visited with the evicted Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, and witnessed the Friday protest.

On August 2, 2009, following an Israeli court decision, two Palestinian families (al-Hanoun and al-Ghawi), consisting of 53 persons, were evicted from two homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Jewish settlers moved into the houses almost immediately. The Israeli Supreme Court previously ruled that Jewish families had owned the land. The municipality of Jerusalem intends to build a block of 20 apartments in the area. The United Nations coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert H. Serry, said the evictions were "totally unacceptable actions... contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory. These actions heighten tensions and undermine international efforts to create conditions for fruitful negotiations to achieve peace."[21] United States State Department spokeswoman Megan Mattson said they constitute violations of Israel's obligations under US-backed "road map" peace plan.[22] Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move, saying "Tonight, while these new settlers from abroad will be accommodating themselves and their belongings in these Palestinian houses, 19 newly homeless children will have nowhere to sleep."[21] Yakir Segev, a member of Jerusalem's municipal council, countered the condemnations stating "This is a matter of the court. It is a civil dispute between Palestinian families and those of Israeli settlers, regarding who is the rightful owner of this property... Israeli law is the only law we are obliged to obey."[23]
While Jews maintain they legally own the land based on documents from the Ottoman Empire, Palestinian lawyers claim that they have a document from Turkish archives that says the Jews who claim to own the land are not the rightful owners.[24] As such, the Palestinian families and their supporters maintain that the legal decision is based on forgeries and should be reversed.[25][26] The lawyer of Israeli families claim that the land deeds were checked by many courts and found to be authentic.[24]
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Jarrah

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Sulhita Youth

                                              (photo credit: Sulhita Youth Project)
In the harsh reality of our region, Jewish and Arab youth have few opportunities to meet their peers of "the other side". In such a formative period of their lives, gaining first-hand experience beyond rigid stereotypes, social norms and negative media coverage is crucial for creating a different future for our nations. - Sulhita Peace Project
The far majority of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers grow up here in Israel and Palestine in a climate of intense fear of the “other’. With only a few exceptions, villages, towns and schools are all segregated, with little opportunity to meet one another, let alone in any kind of humanizing way. Thus, it’s easy to perpetuate the fears and stereotypes that hold the psychological barriers in place. And since most Israeli Jews do not learn Arabic, and most Palestinians, whether living in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza, do not learn adequate Hebrew, the language barrier is yet another hurdle even for those who wish to connect.

(Photos: Ellen Greene and Leah Green)

In this general climate of disconnection and fear, the work of Elad Vezana, director of the Sulhita Peace Project, is like a pristine spring in the desert. Sulha, the parent organization, is well known for their summer festivals that have brought over 12,000 seekers together from across the region for music, ritual, listening circles and healing. Since 2001, Sulha has created many opportunities for personal encounter across ethnic and religious lines, for those wanting to break through the barriers and meet their neighbors. (“Sulha” is the actual name for the ancient, indigenous Palestinian conflict resolution process, that is still practiced today in Palestinians and Bedouin towns and villages throughout the region.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Empathic Civilization

A friend sent me this video today. It speaks to the very essence of our collective work in the Compassionate Listening Project, along with millions and millions of people and organizations all around the world who are working towards an empathic civilization. As Paul Hawken, Four Years. Go., and others have brought to our attention, the times that we're living in are simply unprecedented - never has there been such a groundswell of individual and grassroots efforts working towards restoring the environment and fostering social justice. As Hawken says, "humanity's collective genius" is bursting through.

I'm dedicating this post to Dan Nichols, a great model for the empathic civilization, who passed on yesterday here in our Indianola community. In his 51 years, Dan taught us much about empathy by how he lived his daily life...a gentle, powerful teacher for so many.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Truth is like oxygen.

Today at our Advanced Training we held the Truth Mandala ritual (a gift to the world from Joanna Macy). All thirty-two of us gathered in a tight circle, which was divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant held a symbol - dead leaves for loss and grief, a stick for anger, a large stone to symbolize our cold, hard hearts when we are fearful, and an empty bowl for emptiness - for what's missing. The ground underneath the mandala is the ground of hope. Each person was invited to enter the mandala, pick up the object that we feel drawn to, and speak from that quadrant. Indeed, truth is like oxygen. It takes so much courage to face the times we live in - to continue to generate the strength and courage necessary to feel, to act, and to anchor in a place of compassion for all that we fear - not just for what and who we love.

We entered the circle, one by one, with our tears, sorrow, grief, rage, longing and prayers. Joanna, a Buddhist scholar and environmental activist who brought this work that she calls "from despair to empowerment" to people around the world, knows that when we take the time to feel and express our despair, we are able to move through numbness and hopelessness, and reconnect with joy, clarity, and the energy to act on behalf of our beloved planet. I began using the Truth Mandala in trainings ten years ago, and have witnessed again and again the beauty and power of this ritual. Today, Andrea led us in the ritual, and it was no different.

Today in the circle of the mandala, those participants who have experienced some of the darkest that humanity has to offer, showed us the capacity of the human heart to forgive, and to love. That in itself gives us so much hope. Three remarkable men - one from Sudan - a "Lost Boy" who was forced into being a child soldier; a man who lost his family to the insanity in Rwanda, and another man who miraculously escaped from the war in Chad. And now they are teachers for us, their hearts so full of love...

After the long ritual, we stand in a circle, in silence, arms linked tightly, gently swaying in an ocean of compassion, with no need for words.

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