Late last summer I began having dreams (once again) that something big was ahead, something I needed to welcome in my life and prepare for. Whenever I have epic, archetypal or foreshadowing dreams, I write them down trying to capture words whose meaning I often understand only much later.
In these dreams, I am “going downstream, in a rushing river… I am wondering if I can manage it, it is pretty intense.” I am “moving to another phase – of teaching? of relating to people? Giving birth to some new phase.” “…in a room with young women and I am the Elder…in another room where one young man is telling another to listen to me because I have something to offer, something to say.” “I am driving to my old house, and there is a wedding going on, but I am not stopping, I am going further down the road, past my old house….there is something I have to do, and my friends/allies are accompanying me”. The portent in those dreams was very real, and gave me a sense of wonder and openness to discovering whatever it was “I had to do”.
Soon after, I decided to go to Israel-Palestine and contacted Interfaith Peace Builders to sign on for its 50th delegation. I knew this trip would be life-altering for me. I did some preparation for it – continuing daily reading from our sources about the history, the occupation, the settlements. Taking a course on the reconciliation and forgiveness process in Rwanda, knowing that some day the people of Israel-Palestine may be ready to do that work. Inviting discussion with everyone I encountered by telling them about my upcoming trip. Choosing a word a week to ponder and meditate on for the 12 weeks pre-solstice, words to shape my thinking that I hoped would hold me in good stead during this experience – “attention”, “listening”, “patience”, “presence”, “compassion”, “clarity” and so on.
Still, despite this very intentional preparation, the actual experience – of entering the country, of being for even a brief time so close to such deep struggle, of bearing witness to heartbreaking sights and stories of dispossession, suffering and loss – was much more intense than I had dreamed or imagined.
The insidious pervasiveness of the occupation, its seepage into almost every single aspect of the lives of Palestinians, its relentlessness and intentional cruelty were evident everywhere. Our experiential, first-hand learning was necessary and valuable. Framed against the near invisibility of Palestinian suffering from the perspective of Israelis and from the young Jews on their Birthright trips, a kind of surreal aspect arises. Can these people really be so blind to what is all around them? Can they evict, rob and dehumanize a whole population for generations, with no end in sight, all in the name of their own “security”? Can they possibly create and live a culture of violence without damage to their own spirit, their own souls?
What will it take to create a shift, to turn this seemingly endless oppression around?
Despite the haunting words of the Palestinian “national poet”, Mahmoud Darwish, “I don’t see a shore. I don’t see a dove” (Memory For Forgetfulness, 1995), we learned about, and we saw many examples of “sumud” in action, the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, their determination to endure. We also saw and felt people’s weariness and sense that the world has forgotten about them. Our experience made it more clear to me than ever that a massive response from the community of nations is necessary, that the change needed cannot come only from within; the wheels of repression and control are too well-oiled. The Israeli people (not all, thankfully; we met some wonderful Israeli people of conscience) are steeped in a belief system that has blinded them. They have created a monster, and they live in existential fear that the monster will crush them if they let go of their need for a “Jewish State”.
This trip and the learning it brought have altered me. The courage and resilience of the people we met on our journey have touched me deep inside. I feel a great sadness for the losses, the hurts and the ongoing humiliations, and for the belief of many that their plight doesn’t matter to the outside world. The sense of dignity and profound humanity of the people we met, I will carry with me.
There is big work ahead, all right, and I am ready for it. I am ready to do my part and to stand beside those working for equality and justice in Israel-Palestine. “The night may be long, but the dawn always comes.” Let us help in whatever ways we can, to begin to usher in that light. As another great poet, Leonard Cohen, so aptly put it: “From bitter searching of the heart, we rise to play a greater part….Men shall know commonwealth again.”
I am very grateful to Interfaith Peace Builders for giving me the opportunity to travel with them, and to all those who taught us, our traveling companions, and our tour guides for their perspectives, humanity and humour. This is a journey I highly recommend.