Talk and Questions and Answers with
in Israel in September 2019
What Are Ways to Support the Growth of the Community?
What are the Issues for an Intentional Community?
With around 250 residents, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Slam/Oasis of Peace consists of a village of Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel dedicated to building justice, peace and equality in the country and the region. It is the only community of its kind in Israel. Formed in the early 1980s, the community has established an integrated education for children and conducts activities focused on social and political change. Many of the village members work in peace, justice and reconciliation projects. The village dwells midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Transcribed, edited and adapted.
Let us have a quiet moment or two together.
I want to check if you prefer Arabic or Hebrew with simultaneous translation. Are you all OK with Christopher’s English? What’s the view? All OK.
I would like to take a few moments with you to touch upon these areas of interest. I will then invite anyone to ask or share with us. I also have the same privilege. I may ask you about your response.
As people of the Earth, we find ourselves in a situation in which identity matters to us. I can say that of myself. I am English. I do apologise (smiles among listeners). I’m a teacher. A grandparent. A writer. These are all forms of identity. The self of the individual easily identifies with these identities. When an identity become strong, the identity forms a polarization. It means we face an opposition to our identity. The more I identify with my identity, the more there will be an issue with another identify.
A variety of identities forms in the human being. An exploration in life includes seeing what is far more significant then identity. Owing to grasping an identity, there will be struggle with superiority feelings, inferiority or feelings of equality.
I appreciate the vision of the community here in this exploration. There is much which is taking place outside of the idea of equality. This needs to be addressed. Here is a small example of what is bigger than an identity. The air conditioning here in the hall contributes to the climate emergency. There are currently 1.6 billion forms of refrigeration in the world. This includes refrigerators, air conditioning at home in factories, transportation and more.
What is the environmental cost of air conditioning? There is a production and exploitation of diminishing fossil fuels, plus manufacturing and maintenance of refrigeration and finally the disposal of all this machinery after a few years. Air conditioning wears out. It has to be disposed of and then it gets replaced.
What does air conditioning offer? It makes a slight change in the feeling sensation in the body. That is all the air conditioning has to offer. Nothing more and nothing less. As human beings, we live in an environ-mental world. We are challenged to examine our relationship to everything. Global citizenship and responsibility matters more than personal identity.
This community has the potential to contribute to a discourse going on around the world. The discourse includes a foundation of nonviolence and social/environmental ethics. This is the foundation for the support of a community.
A community has a great potential to be a major voice outside of itself in many creative and fresh ways. I want to touch on that. You then respond to priorities from a place of resilience and strength within.
I spent ten years in the East, mostly in community, including six years as a Buddhist monk. By the way, I am not a Buddhist. The Buddhist tradition has more than 2600 years of intentional communities. I have created Agents of Change, worldwide and lived in intentional communities in the form of short-term retreats/courses/gatherings/pilgrimages. I have made annual visits to Israel and Palestine since 1992. The sense of community with ethics and clear intentions serves as a foundation for change.
As a group of people, you need to use all your creativity as well as religion beliefs or otherwise. The only way communities survive is not through insularity but through its outreach. We must live in ways that show contact with local communities. That’s the door knocking. That is speaking. That is an invitation to people who live close at hand to visit your community. This develops an integrated approach.
A community engages regularly with meeting local people. There is an outreach which takes place. Let me give you one example. I hope that every single person in this room has heard in the last few months of Extinction Rebellion (XR). Some have not heard of XR. I can see from your eyes. XR campaigns to slow down global warming to sustainable levels.
I wish to make clear here that I am not of the political left, nor of the right, nor of the centre. Political standpoints are not my cup of tea.
The temperatures this year rose to the highest ever in 11 different countries. We must act. That action is to disrupt the system. To disrupt consumerism. This means being on the streets. This is an intentional community of protest which is imaginative, appreciated and respected. You can offer a lot. This is needed. This is part of the work of XR.
You have a sense of your near neighbours and international neighbours. Palestinians and Israelis belong to the global community. That would take a lot of fresh questioning of identity. The global community includes questioning use of air conditioning and intention with travel. 15% of the damage to the climate is due to the fashion/clothing industry and what we wear. Our lifestyle now is up for dialogue.
We need the counsel and knowledge of the next generation, which follows on from our generation. I talk with women and men in their teens, 20s and 30s including children. They have a sense that this planet and all sentient life is in a crisis.
You need to share more with intentional communities near and far. It would be lovely to see you in demonstrations banners with the good name of your community.
Please feel free to ask any questions.
Question: Not long ago there was a big fire near us. We became close to the people living there What is your response?
CT: Let me give a short summary. You got together to put out a fire. This brought together communication and a sense of appreciation. Appreciation builds community. It is the action of giving support to others. This expands a sense of community into a common voice. This means work with people who suffer.
A common voice I hear is despair. There’s an alarming degree of unhappiness, A lack of self-worth gives the feeling of being unable to see any changes. This brings about an outcome of emotional and mental paralysis.
What can you do? In a culture of addiction to individualism, people feel paralyzed. They feel sure they can’t do anything. Community includes discussion and sharing. This contributes to a sense of the collective developing a quiet power to act. This is the priority.
We find ways to talk together. The confirmation in the talking is not in the discussion. The confirmation of real dialogue is in the action. It is always in the action. What are the actions which can be taken? This evening is a preparation for different kinds of initiative.
Question: Can you say more about identity? This is the opposite of our way. Other communities think differently as well. It is regarded as an asset. You are talking about it as if it is a burden.
CT: The lighter we treat our identity the more we have the opportunity for love and wisdom from the Deep. Identity is built up to form an identity within a human being. Thoughtful people with their identity will wish to share something with the other. This shows as a respect for their identity and respect for one’s own identity. A person wishes to find equality within the identity.
Identity is valuable. It is useful. But there are a lot of deeper things in life. Identity is not a 24/7 experience. This is a myth that identity is the same and constant. Identity is a social belief system and agreement around a role or culture. Being English or being a teacher is the moment in time when I’m teaching. I takes steps as a grandfather and at such times I am in the role of the grandfather. I am on the road. I am English with a passport, birth certificate and with criticism of this identity.
You are not always a Palestinian. You are not always an Israeli. You are not always a mother or a father. There are plenty of times each day when these roles have no relevance. They are not in the conversation or thought. In the absence of the roles, there is an opportunity to question Who am I? If I’m not concerned with this identity, an extraordinary opportunity opens up in consciousness.
Question: This is a sharing. It is a sensitive one. It is a personal sharing. This is something which I have been struggling with in the past year and in the last weeks. Many of the younger people in the community play a part in the process of developing the land and the community here. For me it was very important to preserve the land not as real estate.
From the beginning i went to the head of the community who is responsible and asked: “Can we keep the land as it is? Please only make small changes. Keep them to the minimum.” We had a few discussions. Recently we had discussions which involved the new people coming to live in the community. Listen, it has taken years to develop the land. Another way is to develop the land in the right way. What is the plan? When do they put in concrete? It makes me feel small. If it’s only me I will do my best to take care. At the end of the day this is the land we are living on.
CT: In the community, there will be elders and younger generations. With a variety of ages. You share your concerns and there is no response. You do not have to feel small as a result. It would be a pity to shrink. You organise a meeting. When an agreement is made, whether by consensus or by a vote, the people with authority are the ones who attended the meeting. They agreed to something. When the meeting is over, those people in the meeting do not start using critical or blaming voices about the result and the decision. Those who did not go to the meeting have no right undermine the agreement of the meeting because they didn’t go.
The only time when it is valid to question a meeting if one feels an unethical or violent decision has been made. Anybody in the community has the right to question. You may not agree. There is a certain thoughtfulness with the meeting to trust. Human beings get very dependent upon the approval of others. There is fear to act in case in case one is disapproved of. That kills the spirit. It stops creative imagination because of fear of what others will say. It is important that we honour and respect women and men, an individual or collective, with a bold idea. If we sense something is important, so we say, ‘Go for it.’ Do not keep restraining from action. Yes, we can act.
Question: On community building. We are sitting in a room now. Some of us have been here for 30 years and some new people have come to live here. I do not even know some of the people’s names. How do we reach out for community building? What would you suggest would be helpful in this circle and the wider circle who are not here to build community?
CT: This is an important question. This question is widespread in many different areas. There are usually two or three people with the skill to organise to make something happen. If a person(s) does not make it happen, the community will suffer a slow death by complaining. That initiative to make something happen encourages people to co-operate. I give you an example. I live in Totnes, a radical town in Britain. We put leaflets through the door of each house on our street. We got together regularly for an evening. This is a very short intentional community.
We looked at the use of energy in our homes. I listen to people even thought I stood twice for parliament for green the Green Party. I listen to senior citizens in our street. For example, some closed the door of unused rooms in the winter and turn off the radiators in those rooms – to save energy. Some always turn the light off when they leave room. The appliances are switched off at night. They do not use standby. They prefer to wear jumpers and have a maximum temperature for the house of under 20 degrees in the winter months.
The motive is often three -fold. One motive is to save money. A second motive is to give support to a sustainable way of life. The third motive concerns the future. The elderly think about their children and their grandchildren. Will there be resources left for them? These considerations motivate people, especially the elderly.
We can view community through friendship and people meeting together. People must talk. The talk addresses life and lifestyle. That’s how friendship develops. We also must remember to dance. If we don’t dance, we have lost the plot (laughter). There is enough stress and unhappiness in this world. We need fun. We need play. We need poetry. We need the artists. We need the human spirit and we need to act. Then we build community.
We can act. I was looking at the BBC News. The news made to the politics going on in this country. It is also miserable what is going on in Britain with Brexit. Our small town declared ourselves an independent city state. We issued our own passport with allegiance to the project of the European Union. This brought lots of media attention. It was a creative idea to make a protest. We need creative people. I met here in Israel a young, handsome guy. He is travelling around in the night in Israel putting great graffiti messages on roads and walls questioning the status quo. We need voices who say, ‘Let’s do this.’ Any responses?
No responses. I have lots of questions. Years ago, I read about your Prime Minister, Mr Bibi Netanyahu. I saw his name in the newspaper. I thought his name was pronounced ‘Bye Bye Netanyahu.’ Inshallah.
In terms of exploration for change, we heard from the good man seated near me on the importance of sharing concerns within the community.
What would be bold and fearless?
What changes would you like to see including the relationship to land and people?
What changes would you like to initiate?
What would you get involved in which address the larger picture.
Any new kinds of explorations would include your relationship to communities between Israel and Palestine, as well as the global community. You would look at the climate emergency and much more.
Who is willing to speak up?
Question: If the community decides something, then it should go ahead and do it. If the decision is to pay taxes, then everybody should pay taxes if the decision is to clean the land so people do not throw garbage on the land. What do you do?
CT: I would find it hard to imagine that everybody will agree about everything. It might take a few people to initiate to make something happen. With that, it might give inspiration to others. Significant changes take place because a handful of people said we are going to do something. That sends out a positive message. To give an example. Totnes set up projects to develop a sustainable life by reducing use of energy. The model was developed in the town for two or three years. Within five years, more than 600 – 700 towns and cities explore and employ this model of sustainable development.
We were the first town in the on the planet to develop a ban on the use of plastic shopping bags in small shops. A few people were quietly determined to act to produce something new. The birth of an idea leads to the birth of an action. This is what is vibrant. It only takes a handful of you here to do that. This is far better than waiting for everybody to agree to do something.
Question: From my point of view. There is a big difference from trying to make a change in the world. The conflict is much more here. You can see the different points of view in this room.
CT. In the exploration of our humanity and to be fully in our being we must act despite the politicians, Parliament, the Knesset. Your authority is to act. You never water down action. If we do, we transfer authority away from us the collective. We transfer our authority as an individual or group and hand it on a plate to people, who are addicted to power and consumerism. We refuse to hand it over to them. We trust and connect here to ensure that there is an outreach. We sometimes need just one two or three voices in a community of 250 people.
Let’s get together. Let’s make this happen. Let’s not be afraid of the majority.
When people say to us, “Oh, you can’t do this. It won’t work. You are naïve.’ When I hear those voices at those times, I know that I’m on the right track. Some start to doubt their initiative so the action get questioned. Then comes the view, “Perhaps we shouldn’t do this. We mustn’t distract consumers from shopping.” Of course, we can. Of course, we can. We have a right. We are human. We have concerns.
Question: Can you say a little bit more about the term that you are using namely authority. please expand on that?
Sure. I looked up some years ago the origin of the meaning of the word authority. No one has the authority to hurt or harm another human being, animals or the environment. Authority comes from an old French word. The root of this word relates to authority, author and authentic. An authority with a healthy and wise meaning refers to a woman or man, who come together to create or make something happen.
Our authority expresses when we create and make something happen. In such times, we are authentic. We are author of change. We look at ways to bring the authentic into the life of human beings. Human imagination in conversation can lead to action. This is liberating. Action takes place, which is near or far, small or great. Any more responses?
Question: You were asking about making changes in the community. What are the ways to be more harmonious in community life? How can we respect each other without being involved in arguments?
CT: If I may respond to making changes in the community. This is an exploration. I write books. I asked about two years ago what’s the what’s the interest currently in the world of human behaviour around psychology and emotional issues. What is a primary level of interest? A major publisher has spies whose job it is to check out the public mood. The publisher wishes to be at the beginning of the wave of public interest – in order to sell books. That’s their business. The editorial director of the publisher said to me that there are two primary issues strong in the public mind now. Empathy is one and forgiveness is the second.
In community best way for community members shares such values to give support to the other members. If you don’t, you will end up complaining. The complaining voice keep saying that situations should be like this or should be like that. The voice of those who keep complaining eat into the DNA of the community. If you catch yourself complaining, then it is time to put some soap in your mouth and wash your mouth out.
Let me go back again to Totnes for a moment. Totnes hosts the Community of Dragons. Some of the women and men in the town wish to start a small business. The person has the knowledge and the experience but they may not have all the other tools needed. A meeting is held to support a start-up. One woman wish to grow a field of organic wheat grass after the farmer said he would support her with an acre of land. Another person said he wanted to give support to Syrian refugees and others.
People step forward and offered to give support. A person in the audience offered to teach basic English. Another offered to show social services work. One person offered to take refugees hiking in the nature. One Syrian refugee quietly and politely said: “If you don’t mind, I will not come on your long walks. I have just walked from Syria. I am sick of walking.”
A person speaks in the Totnes to around 60 – 80 people for five minutes on their project. Is there someone who knows how to create a web page Is there someone who can put a flyer together? Is there someone to help me plant the seeds in the field? I need someone you can show me how to look after accounts. People put their hands up and say I will help you with your website etc. People might offer a couple of hours a week or more for a period of weeks.
One person put up his hand and said if six people here offer a £10 pound (50 shekels) I will put in £10 as well. At least 20 of us put up our hand. So, the person in the start-up business received around £200. The start-up’s receive money and office service, which gave them support to help get their program off the ground. Think about it. It is called the Community of Dragons – an intentional community. Be creative. Lots of things can be done to help people feel loved and supported. Human beings have two simple priorities in daily life namely to feel loved and feel understood.
Question: It came to my mind as you were speaking that in the past if you wanted to build your house, you needed your neighbours to help you. In a settlement one family needed a house and all the community would help them. What you describe now is a modern-day Kickstarter. It is global and you don’t even know the people. Interaction is local and global. It shows different communities are existing. There are virtual communities as well. Take Facebook for example.
Take social media. Facebook is primarily an advertising agency. It is also a surveillance agency. Facebook works to maximise profit. It does this by promoting itself have a virtual reality community. That is the marketing strategy of Facebook. It is a surveillance agency to collect data about ourselves and buy our attention through collecting information about us. Facebook uses technology, algorithms and artificial intelligence to sell us products keep us involved in consumerism.
Be careful. There is no substitute for the real world Facebook is not a community. A community consists of men women and kids spending time together, acting together. Facebook is a fictional community. It might be useful to put some information out to let people know about events. Do not deceive yourselves into thinking that that mobile phone in your hand is an expression of community. Social media is a transmission of information. We need to rediscover community so we can take steps in the actual world. We can waste our life in the virtual world.
Question: There is a fire or a war and then people get together. I do not remember any projects happening for a long time.
CT. There is some soul searching to do. Am I waiting for a drama in order to respond to all the global emergencies? Do, I retreat into a comfort zone? Do I go back to sleep and then wait for the next fire? We cannot live like that. What we need are the good voices with a wealth of experience. Are we keeping our eyes and hearts open? Do we ask ourselves what steps we regularly make? It is vitally important that we also can stand back, so there is the engagement within the community and outside of it. We need renewal. We need the energy to come back.
I have no connection with the political left whatsoever I see that there is far too much anger in the left. Anger shows a lack of imagination, a lack of creativity. The attacks on others verbal or physical or both, stops people from going deeper into a situation for its resolution. We have to find fresh ways. I was reading in the election here in Israel. It mostly about the persona of the Prime Minister. Policies were hardly mentioned. There was hardly a word about the occupation. There was hardly a word about the climate emergency or the social deprivation in this country. What is going on in South Tel Aviv? Again, hardly a word.
Politics has become about the persona of strong leadership. The public vote is not about policy nor is it about democracy. It is who about the powerful and who has the support of the oligarchy of the press. Fear and blame have become the primary reason for voting. We have to address that. We must find fresh ways as a community to live differently. That is an immense undertaking. Powerful leaders exist in China India Britain, Turkey, Syria, Russia, USA Israel and elsewhere. These leaders do not serve our deep interest but primarily their own need to retain power.
Question. I joined here a year ago with my partner. We are very much at home here. I work with youth and children. I have never worked alone. I want people to work with me. I have a plan. I have inspiration. I invite everyone to help me. We can engage in joint projects. This community in this village has lots of gifts.
CT: I could not care less if a person has been in a community for 30 or 40 years or a year or two. I’m not impressed with the numbers. I’m interested much more in fresh creative ideas. Children have their sensitivities. They know something is going on in this world. We must listen to their voices. The protests of the children take place. These youngsters are finding their voice. Thank you for your good words of support for children.
Listen to the invitation for support to connect with the children. Do not say “Oh that’s a nice idea. I will leave my neighbours to go. No. You go. You listen to the kids, play with them, connect with them. Children are regularly asking deep questions about life. Why was I born? What happens to me when I die? Is there a God? These are deep questions from little children.
Make sure you got answers. Make sure you find out. If you have no idea, then reflect on their questions. Adults are the gods of the children. Mother and father are the first gods for children. The children have a right to ask profound questions. We need to share and not to dismiss their questions. You might have to say “I don’t know what to say now but it is such an important question I will explore with you in the next couple of days. We will talk about this.
If we do not respond to the children, they will give up asking deep questions. That is because the adults have failed them. Parents and adults have let them down. That is tragic.
Who are those interested in kids? Put your hands up and sign?
Who are those interested in recycling in the community. Put your hands up and sign up?
Who are those interested in protecting the land? Put your hands up and sign up.
Who are those willing to go on a protest and take a banner to represent the community? Put your hands up and sign up.
Who are those willing to go out and talk to people about the community and other matters? Put your hands up and sign up.
The person who makes the invitation has the responsibility to then go and find those people who put their hands up to form a group so you can have a meeting together. This means there is no pressure on the whole community to be involved. Vision is in support of life.
The author of the group plane arranges the frequency of the meetings.
This will then help to get the project going. At the end of initial trial period, some may be willing to commit themselves for a further period. You form a group in the context of what is possible. Remember the one who initiates the group cooperates with the participants.
Question. It is exciting for community members to share ideas to meet and to get to know each other more. Our community has structures and forms but too few people take part in them.
You make good points. The committee and activities often fall onto few shoulders. That expansion into new projects can increase levels of energy in the community, which benefits everybody. Trust develops when a community of people opens its doors out to fresh initiatives. This can bring about more fluidity between the new and the old. It is a risk.
Worthwhile communities work best when there is curiosity and interest. The community is a very intimate world. There is a language which is used within the community. What comes out of our mouth or what is written tends to travel around the community and further afield. There are situations where there is some unrest, I cannot imagine anyone living in the community and not experiencing this at times. The word ‘community’ is an abstraction. Someone else hears the same word and then he or she adds their perceptions, projections and views onto the word ‘community.’ This generates a division between people and the concept ‘community.’
Be very mindful when you speak about the ‘community.’
Thank you for your very kind invitation to meet with you. I deeply appreciate our time together. and your thoughtful questions.
NeveShalom/Wahat al-Salam Community is a progressive model of the way ahead. You support cooperation and harmony to fulfil the deep wishes of one and all in the community, Palestine/Israel and the region. Thank you.
May all beings live in peace
May all beings live in harmony
May all beings live with love and liberation.