13 06 2010

This month, instead of a “truth in strange places” award, I’m giving an “inconvenient truth” award, to the once revered but now reviled Helen Thomas, for this exchange, as reported on Democracy Now:

    RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Yeah, and any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?

    HELEN THOMAS: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

    RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Ooh, any better comments than that?

    HELEN THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, and it’s not Poland.

    RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: So where should they go? What should they do?

    HELEN THOMAS: They could go home.

    RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Where is their home?

    HELEN THOMAS: Poland, Germany—

    RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: So the Jews—you’re saying Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?

    HELEN THOMAS: —and America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?

Ms. Thomas’ expression of her honest opinion had several unfortunate effects.  Personally, it marked the end of her career as a White House reporter.  In general, the resulting spin storm eclipsed, in the US at least, the outrage of Israel’s violent attack on an unarmed convoy bearing relief supplies for Gaza, where millions of Palestinians are enduring near-concentration camp conditions.

Government and media in this country conveniently ignore the reality of the Palestine/Israel situation, which in many respects eerily parallels the European subjugation of the Americas:  White people with a sense of entitlement helped themselves to territory long held by darker-skinned people, couldn’t understand why this created resentment among the natives, and then used their superior technology and tighter organization to violently suppress native resistance to European invasion.

The further irony in the case of Palestine as a “Jewish homeland” is that, just as  Hindus,  Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Mithraists, and many Christians  in the zone of Muslim conquest  ultimately became Muslim, so many of the original Jews of Palestine became Muslim, and now find themselves oppressed, in the name of “Israel’s right to exist,” by Jews with only a very distant genetic tie to “the Jewish homeland.”

Don’t get me wrong–I was brought up Jewish and have a deep appreciation for its tribal, earth-based traditions.  Whatever European roots my family had were erased in the Holocaust.  I am further aware that the Holocaust wasn’t solely the construction of a few perverted Germans.  They were aided and abetted by anti-Semites all across Europe, especially Eastern Europe, where anti-Jewish riots after the Second World War made it clear that the Nazis had tapped into a deep, long-lasting prejudice with their genocide.

But nobody really asked the Palestinians.  With all the furor about “illegal immigrants” in the US these days, it’s surprising that so few people get it that Israel was populated in part by–illegal immigrants.  Even those who entered legally were allowed in by the British, who had the power to enforce their rule over Palestine and paid little more than lip service to the needs, wishes, and feelings of the native population.

I don’t have time this month to explore this explosive, expansive topic as much as I’d like, but I will say that Helen’s suggestion that the Jews in illegal settlements in Palestine (which I think is part of  what she meant by “Israel should get out of Palestine”) should go back to their countries of origin has some merit.  The standoff between Israel and the Arabs needs to be de-escalated.  Israel’s piratical attack on the Gaza relief convoy, relentless oppression of its native people–the Palestinians–and many other provocations I wish I had time to go into (can you say USS Liberty, boys and girls?)–have made Israel into the pit bull of the Middle East, with the USA as its enabler.  No wonder people can entertain the notion that the Israelis planted explosives in the World Trade Center!   They make the North Koreans look laid-back and friendly.

But I digress….thank you, Helen Thomas, for daring to speak the truth.  I’m sorry you’ve been pilloried for it, but that just shows how closed the discourse in our “free society” really is.  We can get to peace and honesty from here, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.

music:  Steve Earle, “Jerusalem


16 03 2008

from her blog:

I’ve spent a lot of the last week being searched, questioned, detained, jailed, and ultimately denied entry and deported from the State of Israel–that land which I had been raised to believe would always be the ultimate refuge for anyone born Jewish. But not, apparently, for me.

I was refused entrance because of work I have done in the past with the International Solidarity Movement, a group which supports nonviolent resistance against the Occupation. ISM works in the West Bank and Gaza, bringing internationals as witnesses, moral and practical support for nonviolent Palestinian initiatives–like the ongoing campaign against the Wall which the Israeli military is building to protect the illegal settlements which have encroached deeply into the territory once designated for a Palestinian state.

I came to join the ISM out of a deep belief that nonviolence is a powerful means of struggle, that the Jews of Israel who after all are my own people are good people and a nonviolent struggle would touch their hearts and turn the tide toward real justice. I saw efforts to establish a nonviolent movement as a small ray of hope in an endless cycle of killing begetting more killing and revenge begetting revenge.


8 03 2008

Most of the news we hear from the Middle East is horrendous. Wars, rumors of wars, airstrikes on civilian targets, cluster bombs, car bombs, suicide bombers. It makes this grown man cry, especially because there seems to be no way out of it through the political process.

We’re all told to be very afraid of Middle Eastern Terrorists and that Israel is the bulwark of Western Democracy and needs to be unconditionally supported, but this is the root contradiction on which the whole mess rests. Most people have forgotten, if they ever knew, that some of Israel’s roots spring from the Jewish terrorist group the Irgun, which attacked and killed Arabs and British army personnel and even went so far as to blow up Britain’s headquarters in what was then called Palestine and the British embassy in Rome. And who was leading the Irgun? Menachem Begin, who later became Israel’s prime minister.

The situation was far from black and white. Beginning in the late twenties, Arabs increasingly resented and resisted the rising wave of European Jews who were trying to make room for more and more of themselves in the fragile, limited ecosystem of the western fertile crescent. Jews were desperate to escape from certain death in Europe, and felt they had a God-given “right of return,” which is just what the Arabs who are now refugees from their long-time homes in Palestine feel. It’s the same irresistible force meets immovable object story that fills the Old Testament, only with more people, better communications, and firepower and other technology that would have seemed absolutely miraculous in the days of Joshua and King David.

And what this has done is create suffering on a truly massive scale. About a million and a half very angry, desperate people are now confined in the Gaza strip, where a fearful Israeli army keeps ratcheting up the oppression because they’re afraid of what will happen if they stop. Conditions in Gaza are strangely parallel to those in the Warsaw Ghetto during WW II, except that Gaza has about four times as many people and has lasted for decades, while the Nazi concentration and persecution of Polish Jews was over and done with in four years. One difference, of course, is that the Nazis had a system of death camps to which they sent their Jewish victims, and the Israelis have no such outlet. Thank goodness.

As an aside, I have to say that I cannot consider Israel a “Jewish” state. Growing up Jewish, I was taught that the basis of Judaism is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and that doesn’t seem to me to be the principle on which the State of Israel is operating with its Muslim neighbors.

So, what can be done to defuse this ticking time bomb? Just as with the US defense budget, it’s another case in which the resources that could be used to make everybody’s lives better are all tied up in weaponry that seems to be necessary because everybody feels so deprived and threatened. The US political establishment is utterly clueless, with McCain chanting “Bomb, bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” and Obama and Hillary singing backup. The good news is, there is some under-the-radar citizen diplomacy going on.

I recently received a forwarded email from Jack Kornfield, the meditation teacher, about his experiences meeting with Muslims and Jews in Palestine and Israel, and it was some of the first good news I’d heard from that troubled land in a long, long time.

While the governments and the militias duke it out, a lot of people on both sides of the conflict are realizing that there can be no victory through violence, that there can only be finding a way to live with each other, which can only be found by Israelis and Palestinians not just talking to each other, but listening to each other.

Listening, really listening, to somebody you’ve been brought up to hate and fear is not easy, but what Jack Kornfield reports is that there are several techniques that have been developed through the years for use in far less charged settings that work very well to create frameworks for dialogue for these polarized people.

One of the techniques is called “Non-Violent Communication.” To quote from the Non-Violent Communication website,

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is sometimes referred to as compassionate communication. Its purpose is to strengthen our ability to inspire compassion from others and to respond compassionately to others and to ourselves. NVC guides us to reframe how we express ourselves and hear others by focusing our consciousness on what we are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

We are trained to make careful observations free of evaluation, and to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others, and to identify and clearly articulate what we are wanting in a given moment. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed, rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

I have been aware of Non-Violent Communication for some time and thought of it as one of those New-Agey feelgood thingies for rich white folks with too much time and money, but the news that it works in the fiery crucible of Israeli-Palestinian relationships has definitely upped my opinion of it.

Another technique that has worked very well to get both sides of this conflict together has been Compassionate Listening, which, according to its originators,

requires suspending our judgments and listening from an open heart. Through the skills of reflective listening and non-adversarial questioning the compassionate listener generates healing in the heart of the speaker. Once this healing has begun, the compassionate listener builds a bridge by the humanization of the other. When both sides understand the suffering of the other, reconciliation can begin.

Two of their favorite sayings are

“An enemy is someone, whose story we haven’t heard.” and “ Behind every act of violence is an unhealed wound.”

Gene Hoffman, one of the founders of the movement, has written,

Reconciliation is the most difficult of peace processes because it requires the resumption of relationship between those in conflict. It means the coming together in harmony of those who have been sundered.

My sense is that if we would reconcile, we must make radically new responses to the radically new situation in a world where violence is mindless, hopeless, meaningless and almost every nation has nuclear weapons — if they don’t now, they soon will. We must move beyond initiatives we formerly used, into realms we have not yet considered, not yet discovered, trusting that there are always open to us new divine possibilities.

We peace people have always listened to the oppressed and disenfranchised. That’s very important. One of the new steps I think we should take is to listen to those we consider ‘the enemy’ with the same openness, non-judgment, and compassion we bring to those with whom our sympathies lie.

Everyone has a partial truth, and we must listen, discern, acknowledge this partial truth in everyone – particularly those with whom we disagree.

This kind of approach, I think, is true radicalism, because it goes to the root of the problem. Jack Kornfield, in a talk on meditation that he gave during his visit to Israel and Palestine, said that people needed to

“drop below the levels of identity that we make, such as ‘I am a man,’ ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a Muslim,’ ‘I am a Jew.’ You feel the humanity… that we all share, and to recognize that in a deep way… changes the way you relate to everybody,”

He continued

“Here in Israel, there are so many differences [stemming from] identity. The question for us as human beings is how can we respect identity, but also see that it is not the whole truth, and that there is a deeper truth we all share.

The third technique that Kornfield reported on was Trauma Therapy–and, in a land where violence is pandemic, that makes sense even before you find out the details. Most Americans (except the ones who have been to Iraq) have not had to deal with having their homes bulldozed while they were still in them, or being at the mall when somebody blows herself up and takes fifty people with her. We lead such insulated lives. Our credit is drying up and our homes are losing value? Big deal! Nobody’s firing rockets at us or dropping cluster bombs in our yard or assassinating our family members while they’re driving down the road.

Here’s some of what Trauma Therapy does for those who have lived through, and are stuck in, that kind of hell:

Narrative trauma processing is the first of three basic tasks in trauma therapy …. In our approach the more conventional goal of dealing with the meaning of the trauma comes only after narrative closure is achieved and the traumatic dissociation is repaired. Only then do we expect the person to be able to gain a perspective that makes it possible to change one’s assumptive world and replace the mythology of being hopelessly vulnerable. The goal of narrative processing is for the patient to reconstruct a complete narrative of the traumatic experience. That is, we ask patients to tell the story of their traumas. The creation of a detailed coherent narrative with a beginning, middle, and end brings together the fragmented images of the trauma. Telling the story from start to finish, complete with all the details is crucial to helping patients reverse their dissociation.

The language is rather academic, but I think you get the point.

These are real things that really help real people with their real problems. They have nothing to do with bloviated peace conferences that are little more than photo ops for the pirate captains of the world.

They are far more effective than body armor, attack helicopters, high-tech surveillance, or car bombs. They are limited in that they have, as yet, no power to stop those who prefer the tools of destruction and domination, nor can they, at this point, change the horrific life conditions imposed by such oppressors, whether they be Israeli, Palestinian, Chinese, or American. But they provide a way to rehumanize those who are caught in the web of their own violence.

Accomplishing that task one person at a time seems agonizingly slow, but this movement is growing and gathering energy. It, just as assuredly as solar buildings and workplace democracy, is part of the technology we need to know and spread to create a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world.

And, by the way, I did, after some searching, find who had originated the email that tipped me off to this saintly reconciliation effort. It came from Ralph Metzner, famed for his early association with Tim Leary and Richard Alpert. Thank you Ralph, you done us proud.

music: Steve Earle, “Jerusalem”


29 02 2008

Since I can’t find it on a webpage anywhere, I’m posting a letter that was forwarded to me because it describes “change from the bottom up” which I think is the only thing that will avert or at least blunt catastrophe.  I have linked the references to Non-Violent Communication and some other modalities that Kornfield mentions, but for those of you who would rather have a summary than chase down a link, I would call them “listening disciplines”–ways to remind ourselves that the best way to be heard is to listen well and ask good questions.



Jack Kornfield Ph.D.

          In a recent visit to the peacemaking communities of Holy land, I found an astonishing (and hardly reported) web of hundreds of organizations fostering reconciliation and peace in powerful ways among goodhearted people on all sides.
          Careening around the West Bank through armed checkpoints and guardposts, guided by the wise Sheik Abdul Aziz Bukari and unflappable Jewish activist Eliyahu Mclean, founders of Jerusalem Peacemakers I was led to meet with leaders (and sometimes to offer teachings to) Arab, Israeli, Christians and Druze who were dedicated to planting seeds of respect and healing in this torn land.
          It was a wild ride. We drove around the West bank and through barrier wall avoiding checkpoints, listening to Santana and the Grateful Dead (the Sheik lived in California for some years) changing our garb and hats to fit the need, Arab Kaffia, Jewish yarmulke/kippah, secular jackets. Sometimes it was like the Marx brothers, sometimes like James Bond. We met with fundamentalists, mystics, shopkeepers and soldiers in Hebron and yogis and sages in the desert beyond Jericho.  There were peace marches across Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives for hundreds, with Muslim, Jewish Christian leaders. And an amazing walk from the Holocaust Memorial into the Palestinian refugee camps, led by an Arab leader intent on teaching his people about the painful history of the Jews in Europe. And thus also helping the Jewish people understand the Naquba, the catastrophic loss of Palestinian homes and villages in the 1948 war to found Israel. There were the Combatants for Peace, former Palestinian and Israeli fighters now fighting for each other’s well being. There were the Bereaved parents in Ramallah/West bank and their partners in Israel. There were the Israeli/Arab women’s groups “Beyond Words” that are working for women’s right and planting hundreds and thousands of olive trees. There is the wise old bearded Chassidic settler Rabbi beloved on all sides who was mediating between Hamas fighters and the Israeli Dept of Defense. There is the Holy Land Trust, run by Semi Awad, a Palestinian center for Gandhi’s teaching of non-violence in the Arab world located a stone’s throw from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  There was Neva Shalom the peace village founded by a catholic priest for Muslims and Jews, hosting a hundred Palestinian and Israeli teens who had been meeting for 2 years and were now bringing their parents from the west bank and Israel together with tears in their eyes trying to teach them to listen to one another. There were the widespread activities of a whole group of Rabbis for Human Rights, and the Interfaith environmental and peace council meeting at the Sheik’s Sufi center in the Arab quarter of the old city with Bishop’s, Imams, Rabbis, and other community leaders. There was Ipisam the big hearted Arab woman whose name means smile, who runs empowerment and peace groups for women and ran for political office (to the chagrin of the local male Muslim leaders) and who inspires healing work on all sides.
           There was Stephen Fulder, Naturopath who opened a large clinic in the Galilee for the Palestinians in the adjacent village and is teaching Arab women the ancient tradition of herbal medicine and Stephen’s counterpart,the village Sheik who has spent all his family money bringing sick Palestinian children across the wall to good hospitals in Israel. There was Abdulla, the dignified Arab director of the large Jenin refugee camp, now actively a part of the Middle Way peacemaking group. And all over these committed people are using the widely spreading skills of Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication, of Jack Zimmerman’s Listening Council, of mediation, mediation, Mindfulness, of Peter Levine’s Trauma Therapy, of Arab practices of Houdna reconciliation. I spoke to a hall of a thousand people in Tel Aviv teaching them some of these practices and honoring the widespread support for these heartening possibilities.
          I WANT TO TELL THESE STORIES AND GET THE WORD OUT TO THE MEDIA SO THEY CAN REPORT ON THEM (otherwise the continually repeated stories about fear and violence will sow more fear and violence).
          With appreciation for all who read these words,
                   Dr. Jack Kornfield
                   Spirit Rock Meditation Center

                   Woodacre, Ca 94973   415-488-9780

%d bloggers like this: