Around 33 Israeli citzens, a Dharma teacher from Germany and myself joined together in late September, 2016, to make a day long coach journey to the village of Deir Ishtya, Palestine, to hear about and witness for ourselves the impact of the Israeli occupation.
One Israeli came had been patrolling the village as a soldier during the last Intifada. He said it had been a very traumatic time and he felt anxiety about returning to the same village as a citizen.
Engaged Dharma and Sanghaseva, founded by Israelis, give support to the Palestinian village of Deir Ishtya. The support develops close friendships and co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis.
Organiser Aviv Tatarsky, a founder of Engaged Dharma, made numerous potent points about the impact of the 700-kilometre metre long Separation Wall.
Israeli citizens are frequently led to believe that the Wall, often eight metres high, simply keeps Palestinians out of Israel. The citizens believe the Palestinians are left on the other side of the Wall to get on with their lives. Nothing could be further from the reality.
Aviv spoke at length and in detail about the daily plight of the Occupation. He pointed out:
- The Wall fully encircles various towns and villages in Palestine.
- Israel build factories in Palestine using cheap labour. Israel controls 60% of Zone C, restricts work permits and orders the army to intimidate Palestinians. (Palestine is split up into Zone A, B and C – Zone C is closest to Israel. The government and IDF slowly force Palestinians out of Zone C through laws, strangulation of economic life, unemployment, home, school and mosque demolition/desecration and frequent arrests and harassment of adults and teenagers.
- Israel uses 80% of the water in the West Bank for the Settlements and its building projects. The Palestinian have to buy water from Israel with severe shortage of water for homes lasting four or five days a week without water or very low water pressure.
- A Wadi (valley) was declared by Israeli military order as a Natural Reserve depriving Palestinians of use of the land.
- Settlements let their sewage flow into the Wadi forcing 50 families of farmers to abandon their homes.
- Israeli Nature and Parks Authority issued warrants to uproot olive trees. (Engaged Dharma supports the farmers – joining their demonstrations, contacting media and appealing to the minister for the protection of environment. The army and nature authority uprooted 800 trees in one area).
- Farmers cannot reach their olive groves due to a main road separating the village from the fields. (For three months Deir Ishtya village held weekly protests near the road next to their village. The protesters would pray together and then stand along the road with banners. Engaged Dharma joined these weekly demonstrations).
A Short Talk to the Palestinians
The Palestinians expressed much appreciation of the willingness of the Israelis to come to the village. Some Israelis said they were anxious about coming to Palestine.
In the afternoon of our short visit to Palestine, I spoke to a handful of Palestinian elders and a Palestinian woman, who was formerly the Mayor of Deir Ishtya. She said her biggest regret as Mayor was to trust the word of the IDF after agreements were made. Here is a general summary of the themes.
The Israelis quietly listened as I spoke to the Palestinians. (I have been visiting Palestine annually for the past 25 years, mostly offering workshops to Palestinian women suffering under the occupation in the Nablus Women’s Centre).
I said to the Palestinians that I know that biggest loves of Palestinians are their communities, their families and their olive groves. I said I know that internationalists come to Palestine and some offer classes on farming and women’s rights. The farmers have been growing food on the land for thousands of years and hardly need an education about farming. I know that Palestinian women hold the major role in the home and also engage in social and political affairs. They don’t need lectures from Westerners on women’s rights.
I said the naivety from well-meaning Westerners comes from the Western media stereotyping of Muslims women as submissive and helpless.
I told the Palestinians that there are three common states of mind in Israel that show that Israelis also live under occupation. Living under occupation, Israelis find themselves separate from seeing the tragic living circumstances of the Palestinians.
The three states of mind resulting in the occupation of the minds of the majority of Israelis are:
- Stress, namely fears and worry about the present and future
- Guilt owing to feelings of helplessness
- Denial that avoids experiencing the conflicts and unresolved internal and external divisions
These three widespread states of mind make it difficult to explore the conflict between Israel and Palestine and make steps for its resolution.
The conflict is very rarely discussed in Israelis homes, among friends or in a variety of social circles. It can quickly lead to arguments, shouting, tears and a sullen silence. Members of families can stop speaking to each other due to the vast polarisation of views.
I pointed out that these three prominent mind states to the Palestinians so that they might start to understand that the Israelis live under an inner occupation that keeps them trapped. This inner entrapment prevents the freedom to express empathy, campaign for change and develop compassion.
I said that 71% of Israeli do not believe in the Occupation. * I told the Palestinians that rejection of the Occupation is a form of denial. It is almost like saying trees are not made of wood.
Words like the ‘conflict’, ‘peace,’ ‘Arabs,’ ‘Palestinians,’ and ‘Muslims’ do not belong to the daily discourse in Israel. Such words have become infected with negative connotations in society and Israeli politics. A small minority in Israel refuses to tarnish such words with negativity.
The way to resolution comes through the willingness to speak on such painful issues, hold meetings, share experiences, conflict resolution. aid, diplomacy, and end the arms trade.
I said I sat in one Dharma group for an hour or so with about eight or 10 people a week earlier. This was a thoughtful and caring group of people. One person did not want to talk about relationship of Israelis to Palestinians. Everything to be said has been said, he stated.
Another Israeli in the group said “We are at war. We have to defend ourselves against the Palestinian terrorists.”
Three said little or nothing.
I said I loved Israel. There is no point though in avoiding the stress, guilt and denial that is widespread in the country.
I said the British have their dirty fingerprints all over the Middle East, as well as war memorials in 154 countries to British soldiers who died in for British wars mostly around occupation.
I reminded the Palestinians that Israel has adopted the policy of the British namely divide and rule – Gaza divided from the West and Bank and the divisions of the West Bank into Zone A, B and C.
I said it was important that Israelis come to Palestine. About two thirds of the coach were full. We need thousands of coaches to come from Israel to Palestine.
After the Talk
“We are all human first,” said a Palestinian.
“Being an Israeli/Jewish and Palestinian/Muslim gets in the way of our common heritage.”
“We have to listen to each other and talk about our differences,” said another Palestinian.
“We love our land. We have lived here for thousands of years. We are not going to go away,” added a Palestinian.
“We want to live in peace.”
One Israeli pointed out that the soldiers, often 18-24 years of age, were also scared as they pointed their rifles at the Palestinians in times of confrontation.
After I spoke, one Israeli woman came up to me as we walked back into the village. She said she only agreed with two things I said but did not state the two points. Then she added:
“How can you say such things about Israeli? The Palestinians might believe what you said. It is unbelievable what you said.”
Another Israeli said to me: “I wish my parents were here today to listen to you and the Palestinians. They could have heard a completely fresh perspective.”
Reni and Guy from Tovana made valuable contributions to the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
A Palestinian elder came up to me just before boarding the coach to go back to Israel. He said: “Thank you for coming again, Christopher. You understand us Palestinians.”
Founded in 2009 after the Israeli war on Gaza in 2009, Engaged Dharma creates opportunities for the Dharma community within Israel and overseas to raise its awareness of the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and become engaged in Israeli-Palestinian solidarity action.
Engaged Dharma continues to be engaged in two Palestinian villages: Al-Walaja in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and Deir Istiya, halfway between Tel Aviv and Nablus.
Through Dharma tours, writing, sitting groups, practice days and retreats, Engaged Dharma brings the stories of what people learned in the occupied territories to the wider Sangha. Social action allows for valuable opportunities for meaningful Dharma practice. Participants on these tours are then invited to return with Engaged Dharma to the villages for the various activities we organize.
Four tours were held in 2016.
May all beings live in peace
May all beings live in harmony
May all beings live in peace and harmony
*Report on May 2016 survey of 71% of Israelis who deny the Occupation.