Reflections: Journey to the Heart of Israel and Palestine, May 2014
by Andrea Cohen-Kiener, Journey leader
I approached my first Compassionate Listening Delegation in 9 years with some trepidation. I had not laid eyes on the separation wall. So many of the wonderful people I had learned so much from over the years had passed away in the intervening years. It seemed to me that the suffering, rage and fear on both sides could only be more entrenched after another 9 years with so little discernable progress.
One morning 6 weeks before the trip, I remembered that people go on with their lives whatever the circumstances. People are people. We all need and want the same things. From that moment until now, 4 weeks after the trip, I am still buoyed by the intentions of our work: to meet each human being where they are and make room in my heart for their story. The trepidation was replaced with exuberance for our work.
Our delegation was comprised of 10 women (!) beside myself who arrived with open hearts and wonderful skills from their backgrounds (collectively) as counselors, midwives, mediators, moms and peace builders. Together we created a warm circle that embraced and held every speaker. With each visit, our group seemed to go thru a curve similar to the one I went thru before the trip. We began with a deep breath, trying to widen beyond our fears and expectations. And suddenly the labels fell off and here we were – people – sitting, talking, eating. Hoping.
I am inspired and touched by the peace builders – who can see the humanity of each Other through all the stereotypes and all the walls. Two come to mind, farmers like me, Ziad Sabateen and Shaul Judelman. Shaul lives in Bat Ayin – which our bus driver Nidal described as the most racist Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Ziad Sabateen learned Hebrew during his 5 years in an Israeli jail; he lives down the road from Shaul in the Arab village of Husan. These two friends told us of their mutual love and respect. They told us of their journey to humanize and find common ground with their neighbors. In this case – the common ground was literal, a garden project. What could be more natural than growing food together to nourish self and others? What could better symbolize our common human needs? Our day in the gardens in the valley below Husan, blessed by natural springs, was refreshing, physically and emotionally. The biggest challenge of that day was the hike back up the narrow goat paths – with two of us hyperventilating thru our fear of heights!
This is the core of the work. We start where we are – whether we are fearful and aggrieved, whether we are hopeful, buoyant, or impatient. And we meet. There is a moment when we touch the common strand of humanity and this contact replaces our mental images and projections.
Some visits were harder. I think of Tzippy whose father was stabbed to death in his home by a Palestinian man who escaped back to the safety of Arab Hebron. He killed twice more before being apprehended. Tzippy feels a right and an obligation to live in Hebron – even knowing that virtually all Palestinians and most Jews consider her to be The Problem. And Farhan comes to mind, that former Hamas mayor of Al Aroub. Farhan has suffered arrests by both Israelis and Palestinian authorities. He believes that he is in his rightful home in Palestine. And Jews should go to their rightful home – in Eastern Europe. During the harder visits, I was simply able to make a place for the speakers in my heart. I was saddened by these visits because they are a clear indication of how long the road is.
Our friend and guide Eliyahu McLean says, this is a place where unhealed trauma meets unhealed trauma. Farhan and Tzippy cannot meet face to face – for now – in the West Bank. But they meet already in the hearts of the members of our delegation. We eleven delegates can imagine a shared future, a mutual homeland. Each time we traverse these mental walls, the physical ones become a little more porous as well.
Journey to the Heart of Israel and Palestine
Tali Goodfriend, Assistant Journey Leader/Facilitator
As co-facilitator for the May 2014 Compassionate Listening Delegation to Israel-Palestine I made the transition from the public sphere to the private after saying my “good-byes” to our group and heading down to the Arava desert, to celebrate Shabbat with my family. (Tali is a native Israeli – editor.)
My mother (who is generally sceptical about the usefulness of talking to Palestinians had been following the delegation’s progress through my texts and phone calls) was looking forward to my visit, perhaps with some trepidation because she was not sure what to expect or what I would share from my experience.
I began to tell my mom about “Heaven’s Field Project” and the impact this place had on me. Shaul Judelman, a Jewish settler, and Ziad Sabatin a Palestinian farmer (and a founding member of “Combatants for Peace”) work together in the heart of the West Bank between Husan (a Palestinian village) and Beitar Illit (a Jewish Settlement). On this organic farm they encourage Jews and Palestinians to participate and work side by side. Here you can experience the dual narratives intertwine and create a fruitful partnership. Unfortunately, that location is now at the heart of where the current cycle of the conflict started: the Kidnapping of the three Jewish settler youth on their way home from their Yeshiva.
I felt this organic-farming would resonate with my mother as my family has been farming in the Arava since we made Aliya (immigrated) in 1965. She found it very inspiring that both men had a connection to the late Rabbi Menachem Froman z’’l who advocated for co-existence and was often called “a maverick Jewish religious peacemaker”.
I also shared several other Compassionate Listening Stories with my mother and it was then that she wanted to know if CL could be used within our family. With optimism and reassurance I said: “Yes, such strategies and skill sets should prove fruitful!” I felt this was a breakthrough. Using CL skills could provide a framework with which we could begin to talk about specific, delicate and problematic issues within our family. I would like to add here that my mother was familiar with the concept of Compassionate Listening, as I had been sharing my own process with her for the past three years and also how I incorporate CL in my teaching at the college level. She was also aware that I had been using CL skills when I speak with her, especially about controversial issues or when I feel she just needs me to listen to her.
Over the next several days with my family, Compassionate Listening skills were incorporated, first in individual conversations, then in small group get-togethers. The basics skills were presented and I encouraged them to keep up the work and use what they learned as they continue to meet after my return to Montreal. It was during this process that, for the first time in eight years, my mother was able to refer to my Muslim husband in an accepting way and one of my sisters wanted to know if he would be willing to meet the “Israeli side” of the family, as they were ready to extend an invitation to him to visit.
It has been close to two months since my return home and in Israel/Palestine the conflict has flared up again. I have been using CL skills, from afar, to the best of my ability to connect with my family and try, in some small way, to comment on the situation and the devastating impact it is having on both Israelis and Palestinians.