The Best Security: Make Sure Your Neighbors Are Happy by Avishai Pearlson
"What is most important is that we first take care of the seeds of negativity in ourselves. Then if someone needs to be helped or disciplined, we will do so out of compassion, not anger and retribution."
Today is Yom Kippur, the day Jewish people spend fasting from food and outer stimulation. A day to go inward, deeper to our core. We entered the New Year. Where am I in my relationship to myself, to the creator, to others, to the rest of creation? Anything to mend from the previous year? Anything to become clear about for the New Year?
This year, the relationship between the inner aspect and the outer aspect has a new, dramatic edge to it.
Two weeks ago, September 11, 2001, the American people and the whole western world were shocked to realize both how vulnerable we are and how deep the hatred towards us is. A terror group carried out the most unbelievable, unimaginable attack, aimed at the two strongest symbols or tools of the American Empire: the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Thousands of innocent people became ashes within minutes as the Twin Towers burned and collapsed into a pile of scrap and dust. Then we saw TV footage of Palestinian Arabs dancing with joy in the streets. “They deserve to be punished, to be wiped off the face of the earth” many of us reacted with rage and disgust. These are the same Palestinians that support the suicide bombers that kill dozens of civilian Jews in Israeli cities. How easy it is to hate them and Bin Laden and Saddam and all the crazy fanatics, and unite in our desire for revenge. What else is left to do?
But today is Yom Kippur. On our table at home, instead of food, I find inspirational books to read, from both Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, in his book, Peace is Every Step, talks about the roots of anger: “Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs...What is most important is that we first take care of the seeds of negativity in ourselves. Then if someone needs to be helped or disciplined, we will do so out of compassion, not anger and retribution. If we genuinely try to understand the suffering of another person, we are more likely to act in a way that will help him overcome his suffering and confusion and that will help all of us.” As a Vietnamese monk in the 60’s, he witnessed many of his country’s villages being bombed and destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese killed, yet he sought reconciliation with the American “enemy.”
The Dalai Lama refers to the Chinese as his great teachers, not his enemies, although they have invaded and destroyed his homeland and still continue to torture, kill and abuse his fellow Tibetan people. On top of that, the guy is cheerful, full of joy, and trust. How can he?
There are two ancient Jewish phrases that keep coming into my mind these days: “Thou shall not do to your neighbor that which you don’t want him to do to you,” and “Love thy neighbor as thy self” which is considered to be the entire Torah (Bible) on one foot (one has to be thrifty with words when standing on one foot!).
As an Israeli Jew, my neighbors are my Muslim cousins, the Palestinians. What if my neighbor is my enemy? I try switching shoes with them. I’m in their shoes, I endure generations of brutal military occupation, in dire poverty, unemploy-ment, and constant humiliation. I hate the oppressor that took my land, water, and freedom. Will I fight?
Jewish history, both recent and from thousands of years back, is always glorifying our resistance to being under occupation, fiercely fighting the evil oppressor. Have the roles switched? I have always been uncomfortable with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and feared an explosive uprising of the Palestinians. I see no other way but to take out the Jewish settlements and allow the Palestinians to have their independent State in the West Bank and Gaza. We have to give them something to work with and something to lose. Right now they have nothing to lose. “Our backs are against the wall,” a Palestinian friend of mine said, describing his feeling to me.
As an Israeli Defense Force (I.D.F.) soldier, I always preferred to guard a common border than to control a seething population of nearly two million bitter and angry Palestinians—many of them desperate refugees. In order to implement a Peace Treaty with Egypt, then Israeli Prime Minister Begin had to return all of Sinai to Egypt’s Prime Minister Sadat, and evacuate Jewish settlements there. Can Ariel Sharon be brave enough to do what he knows to be the only possible solution to the ongoing bloodshed? Can Arafat be brave enough to settle for less than everything? I pray for courage. May all leaders do what they know they have to do to avoid unnecessary suffering. Otherwise, the extremists, the fanatics of both sides will continue to lead us into this unfolding nightmare.
My Neighbor-Enemy As My Friend? Here in Eugene, Oregon, I participate in a Middle East Peace group. We have been gathering for discussion, celebration, and mutual education for a year now—since the Intifada broke in September, 2000. Between Twenty to Forty Muslims, Jews, and others (including Israelis and Palestinians) meet every month to share food and to break through our fears, judgments, and distrust. The meetings are at times emotional, challenging. Our families and tribes are at war in the Holy Land. Being so far from them, we share the wish to keep a flame of hope and sanity burning, for reconciliation and co-existence. We are reminded we are all descendants of Abraham, and we are making friends. As I write this, I’ve just returned from a seven- week visit to Israel. My time there was overshadowed by intense, ongoing clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. The tension is high, the morale lower than I’ve ever experienced before. The forecast for the coming months is grim. Both sides are more angry, frustrated, and fearful. Trust is gone. Many say this is war. And yet—I’ve met so many people who are committed to working for peace and reconciliation—they see that the worse things get, the stronger is the need to break the cycle, to focus on the common goals, to work through our boundaries of fear and distrust. Here are a few examples.
• In my home Kibbutz, Kfar Hanassi, there was a well-attended gathering of neighbors—Arabs from the neighboring Bedouin village of Tuba with Jews from nearby communities. They are meeting to increase cooperation through educational, environmental, and social activities. The atmosphere in the circle on the lawn, on that balmy, late summer evening, was friendly and lively.
• In Beresheet Festival (the Israeli version of Oregon Country Fair) over Rosh Hashana holy days, more than twenty thousand Israelis gathered to celebrate in nature, to welcome the New Year in joy and peace. A mixed group of Arab and Jewish musicians called “Ruach G`lileet” (Galilee Wind/Spirit) played the most inspiring Mid-Eastern music that got us all dancing. Another group sang and played uplifting poetry of Rumi, the Persian Sufi poet.
• On September 12, in Haaretz daily paper, I was deeply moved to find a full-color page with the image of rows and rows of coffins, some of which were covered with the blue and white Israeli flag, more of them covered with black, red, and green Palestinian flags. “May a year and its curses end” read one headline across the page. The other part of this Jewish phrase is “May this New Year begin with its blessings.” In the corner is a logo of a tree stump, sprouting a new branch. This was a paid ad by the coalition of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families for peace. If these families can pull together, I thought, then there is hope.
• In the Galilee mountains, people from Jewish “Misgav” settlements and Arab villages gather for reconciliation and to discuss fuller co-existence one year after the bloody beginning of the Intifada, when fourteen Israeli Arabs were shot and killed during riots by Israeli police.
• Friends of mine participate regularly in Friday meetings in Jerusalem, where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims gather to pray together for peace. For me, the news is not found solely in the headlines of the daily papers. Good news rarely finds its way to the media. Many courageous individuals create an alternative reality to the common despair and fear.
How do we transform disaster, whether in our own personal life or in the world, into an opportunity to transform ourselves? How do we change from being reactive, mechanical human beings to become free, response-able human beings? How do we transform this Hell into Heaven on Earth?
Rabbi Hillel, over 2,000 years ago, answered by asking, “If I’m not for myself, who is for me? And when I’m for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Born and raised on a kibbutz in northern Israel, Avishai Pearlson has always been a seeker of alternatives to the unsustainable status quo. Avishai is a teacher, practitioner, and ongoing student of Breema. He introduced Breema Bodywork to Oregon and is a founding member of Breema Northwest in Eugene (541-344-8741). Avishai is a co-founder of the Eugene Middle East Peace Group and is known to find or found a kibbutz wherever he is.