#7 Reflection: A Sad Interlude—July 24: 18 days now

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.  
Desmond Tutu
(and, then there is ignorance…)

I sit here on the back deck of my home listening to bird sounds, the rustling of leaves from a slow-moving breeze and the distant movement of traffic.  I see moving light on the pond at the bottom of the field below.  I look out onto gardens filled with varying shades of yellow, white, green, and my eyes rest on the peaceful face of the Buddha statue under the apple tree.  What teaching do you have for me this day, dear Siddhartha Gotama, while bombs are falling in Gaza and the people who live there are dying, injured, displaced from their homes?  While, too, my friends in Israel suffer from fear and despair wanting to do something, but feeling ineffectual?

I wake up at night and immediately my head is filled with worry and concern about the people of Gaza.  I check my Facebook to see what news has been posted (I have learned not to rely on the mainstream media for accurate reporting), to see if Khitam has written anything—to know she is alive, uninjured; to let her know I am listening and speaking up.   I look for messages from Rose, my friend from Ramallah; Hamde, from B’ilin.  I follow other friends in human rights organizations I trust and respect:  Jewish Voice for Peace, US Campaign to End the Occupation, Interfaith Peace-Builders, B’Tselem, If Americans Knew, Breaking the Silence and others.  And “share” what I learn (some would say too much).  I read articles and essays and look at photographs that I don’t want to look at.  The most painful ones for me are pictures of mutilated bodies of babies and little children and the anguished faces of their tormented parents.

A couple of days ago, Bob received a call from our friend, Yasser, telling us that two 14 year-old boys from his town, Al-Ram, had just been shot dead by Israeli soldiers (we still haven’t heard about this in the news).  Bob could hear gunfire in the background along with the sound of fear and despair in Yasser’s voice.  Yesterday, we received an email from our Israeli Jewish friend, Iris, who lives just outside Tel Aviv.  She, too, is despairing and deeply frightened.  She and many of her Israeli friends are frantically meeting, planning and organizing protests rallies and events. (We don’t hear about these actions here in our media either.) Her son has refused to sign up with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).  He won’t have blood on his hands, be part of actions he believes are morally wrong.   He is one of many Israelis doing what he can to end the horror that can have no end from continued acts of horror.  And, as an Israeli citizen obliged to serve his country, there will be consequences.

As I sit in the quiet and safety of my home, I feel tired, deeply sad; and I feel the desire to turn my head away from it all.  (Quickly the thought arises—with judgment and scorn— “YOU are tired!?”)  I do know I need to rest and spend even a few minutes by the pond at the bottom of the field behind my house—to rest in “The Peace of Wild Things”.*  And, then feelings and thoughts of shame arise: this country to which I pay taxes uses over 3 billion of those tax dollars each year to fund the government and military that is massacring the people of Gaza, taking without permission or compensation land that is not theirs, intimidating, restricting, constricting the lives of an entire group of people, letting them know through speech and actions—“you do not belong here.”   My heart screams in agony for the people of Gaza, for the people of Palestine—for the ignorance that perpetuates the violence and occupation of the Palestinian people…that affects the people of Israel and the sustainability of the state of Israel…that affects us all.

It’s all there in what is unfolding, isn’t it?  The truths of kamma (cause and effect), anatta (not-self and the illusion of a sense of identity and separateness), annica (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness and suffering).  And, ignorance, like the trump card, is the most powerful part of it all.

I keep hearing in my head the words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross:  “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

*title of a poem by Wendell Berry


#3 Reflection: Palestine through the sense doors—smelling and tasting

Standing on the terrace of Yasser’s apartment I smell the aroma of food being prepared below—the spices and meats of traditional Palestinian cooking. Depending on the direction of the wind, the smells are more or less intense, and they become mixed with the smell of burning trash nearby.

Lama, Yasser’s niece, invites us to dinner—her four children greet us, at first with a reserved curiosity, but after we learn their names (and clumsily attempt to pronounce their Arabic names correctly: Dania, Carmel, Alama, Ahmad, Kenda) and ask them questions about school—their favorite subjects and activities—they relax and smile and talk with us in English far better spoken than we will likely ever be able to speak in Arabic. The table is set and a feast is served of chicken and potatoes roasted with olive oil and sumac and other spices; a chicken in a creamy sauce, and meatballs prepared with a mixture of spices traditionally used in Palestinian cooking; green salad; and rice with roasted almonds and vegetables. My taste buds receive the stimulation and my mind responds in the affirmative: “Yes—I like the taste of all of this! More, please!” The tastes experienced continue to please even while the body’s message—“Stop…enough already!” — is felt more and more. Arabic coffee, dark roasted and spiced with cardamom, is served along with a chocolate covered, chocolate mousse filled cake. While my body is full from an excess of food (and I’m not feeling so well), my heart is full in a different way– Lama’s love and her generosity are conditions that contribute to the arising of joy I am feeling in my mind, body, heart.

It’s early morning and I wait for Yasser to pick me up and take me to the bus station in West Jerusalem that will take me to Tel Aviv for a meeting with Buddhists in Israel (more about this later.) The sky is clear and the breeze is steady and cool—a pleasant sensation on my skin. I watch children walking, on their way to school, and many cars pass by with families and individuals heading somewhere. Dust clouds form and move into the air as tires make traction on the unpaved street. The trash pile (plastic bags, cardboard boxes, food waste, broken glass, aluminum cans) has become larger since we arrived in the neighborhood, and it has become more unpleasant—the sour smell of spoiled meat, feral cats eating from the trash, wind blowing the lighter trash around in the empty lot. Yasser said the town would be coming to take it away—but they haven’t arrived yet. Such a contrast to the neatness and cleanliness inside the apartments I’ve visited in this same area.

I see a well-dressed man leave his apartment across the street from where I am standing—he opens, then enters his garage, on the ground level of the apartment building, and when he backs his car out he is in a dusty, but otherwise very nice BMW. So close to the trash that all I need to do is turn my head slightly to see it. And, the continuing wafting of sour, spoiled meat. There is not adequate money available to the municipality here (and throughout Palestine) for necessary equipment or a proper facility for waste disposal and management. Sadly, this is another consequence of occupation and the restrictions Israel imposes on the people of Palestine.

As the week unfolds, I will experience pleasant and unpleasant sensations and joy alongside of deep sorrow as our journey takes us deeper into Palestine and the lives of the Palestinian people.


#2 Reflection: Palestine through the sense doors—hearing and seeing (part one)

We are living in the top floor (6th) apartment belonging to our friend, Yasser, in a section of East Jerusalem known as Aram, a suburb of Beit Hanina. The apartment is situated on the highest point in the area, so the view is unobstructed—Jerusalem to the left, Ramallah slightly to the right. From the airport in Tel Aviv it is about a 45 minute drive. Bleached blue sky; bright white buildings; dusty dark green of trees, shrubs and the sparse smattering of grasses; and the light tan to white of sand, rocks, concrete and dried out branches of palm trees and grass.  Here and there are flowers—what look like yellow mustard and Queen Anne’s lace growing wild, and the various shades of pinks and reds of cultivated flowering bushes and flowers I don’t know the names of. Neat, trimmed, well organized, lovely to my eyes.

It is very clear where the boundaries are between Israel and Palestine, whether official and legally defined or illegal (settlements and outposts). Israel has the privilege of watered landscapes and well-financed infrastructure and public services, while Palestine does not. So, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is drier, dustier, trash-cluttered; many of the streets and roads are dirt, stones and rubble, narrow with potholes. Trash is burned in large rusty metal containers (dumpsters or barrels) placed along streets of neighborhoods–black smoke indicating the locations.

I stand on the terrace outside Yasser’s apartment and look over the neighborhood all the way to Jerusalem and Ramallah. Children are playing below—kicking a ball, chasing after one another, boys throwing rocks at a target they’ve constructed with rusted barrels and plastic bottles. I hear their voices, familiar child voices—yelling, laughing, high child voices, excited and playful. I also hear birds chirping, the distant sounds of cars nearby, and the wind. The Islāmic “call to prayer” –the voices of men (imams—Islamic worship leaders), song-like, reciting sections of the Koran– can be heard from minarets in various places around the area. There is a kind of sound-around effect—sometimes nearly synchronized, sometimes like a call and response—exotic to my ears that are unfamiliar with the Arabic language.   In the distance, I hear the sound of a siren.


Reflection: Identity as ‘Self’ delusion

It’s a long flight from Maine to Israel-Palestine: Portland to Philadelphia to Tel Aviv—about 14 hours. From Philadelphia, on United Airways, the plane was completely full, and I had plenty of time to wonder about the purpose of the trip of others around me. Religious reasons—a pilgrimage to the Holy sites? To see family? To go home? Or, like Bob and me, to visit with friends and to learn more as we work to promote human rights for all people in the region, including Palestinians? How many on the plane would identify themselves as Christians, Jews, Muslims? Americans, Israelis, Palestinians? Identity—this most powerful and primal human concept—is blindly accepted and widely embraced to recognize differences and distinctions between people.

However, while identity provides comfort and safety through the sense of belonging to a group, by its very nature it also alienates and separates through distinguishing one group from others. Such is the paradox—comfort and belonging, on the one hand; distinction and separation, on the other. While much that is good and beautiful arises from identity, such as the richness of cultural expression through music, art, poetry and dance, it is also identity that contributes to seeing others as less valid, less important—as competitors and an obstacle to one group’s getting what it wants, as much as it wants, when it wants.

Competition is a perspective based on a sense of lack and, therefore, can produce stinginess rather than a sense of plenty, sharing and generosity. Actions that are fear-based often arise out of the “lack” side of the identity coin—we need to ensure our safety, our security, even our very existence. You are not one of us–I am afraid of you. Unfortunately, and as we know, many groups, because of a certain identity (ethnicity, race, gender, and so on), have been persecuted throughout history (most notably, and horribly, the Jews in the Holocaust), so it is understandable that there is fear. But fear can be fueled by the powerful, and the vulnerable persuaded to believe distortions and untruths. Others become victimized, with perceived justification, as one group makes the claim for its right to exist with full rights while denying the same right to another group. Fueled by greed, ill-will and ignorance, the cycle of suffering will sadly continue——until there is a seeing, a deep seeing, into the superficiality of identity and the delusion of separateness.

On the big house-in-the-sky, flying over the Atlantic Ocean, regardless of the purpose of our trip to the Holy Land, we are a people together, a community– sharing space and time and a common goal: to reach Tel Aviv safely. We are companionable, cooperative, respectful towards one another. A woman loses her glasses and the iPhone flashlights from those around her quickly light up the area and a search begins. A baby cries and her young mother soothes her by walking up and down the aisle—kind words and gestures are offered. We wait in line for the lavatory and wipe the sink (as suggested by the sign next to it) so the next person in line has a neat wash area. We are quiet so sleep might be possible. I curl up in my seat as best I can and close my eyes to rest.

Meditation of Compassion (Karuna)

The nature of my suffering is the same as the nature of yours– May my heart know your heart;
May we be free of the delusion of separateness;

The nature of my suffering is the same as the nature of yours–May the light of love and understanding
Penetrate the darkness of worry, fear, and regret;**

May we be free from suffering;
May we live in harmony with each other and with life just as it is;
May we know peace, contentment, and the ease of well-being.

**”May the light… sorrow and regret”:     adapted from a compassion mantra, pg. 111.   Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt 


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