Today, I, once again, enter the darkness of what is happening in Israel and Palestine.
In addition, it brings back memories of a time that seems a million years ago (actually twenty-one). That was when a group of my colleagues and I created The Center for Intercultural Dialogue.
We were doing deep work in conflict resolution processes. Someone on the team devised an idea, an experiment in looking at war and peace differently.
It began in the spring, a time of new beginnings. Jerusalem was unusually quiet and, yes, peaceful.
The six of us had created a two-day retreat with ten Palestinian and Israeli scholars and poets to discuss how all art forms could lead to conflict resolution and healing the divide.
We were naïve and hopeful.
With a heavy heart, I see how little has changed in the intervening years.
Nothing ever changes when we look from an either/or, good/bad, right/wrong, win/lose perspective.
Most importantly, I am not writing this to lecture. I am simply writing this as an outlet for the pain and despair. As a way to express my angst and sadness.
War has always been a tragic and recurring aspect of human history, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
To better understand the roots of destructive behaviors during wartime, it’s essential to delve into the psychological and historical factors that shape human actions during these challenging periods.
That is for another time.
The newest war is not very old, and the destruction is vast.
Moreover, the broader context of the underlying patterns of conflict seeks to shed light on why individuals may resort to violence against innocent civilians and vulnerable populations.
Dehumanization, perceiving others as less than, is often used to prepare soldiers for war.
It expands into the general population, and with social media available, the negative ways to see “the enemy.”
It is easy to see “the other” as weak, uninformed, less than, or the antithesis of those in control and selfish.
Think about your emotional reaction to nasty words and images. How do you respond?
I want to return to our retreat in Jerusalem many years ago.
Israeli and Palestinian authors and poets sat together.
The program was in a regular hotel, mainly for formal business meetings.
Therefore, it was set to be more formal and less personal (or so we thought!).
Most importantly, what happened next was unexpected in such a buttoned-up setting.
Any type of room is suitable for change. It depends on what you put into the room.
The room was quiet, and the lights dimmed. We started with a member of the US group, Udi Bar David, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra playing the cello.
This gentle and soul-reaching music was what I call a “pattern interrupt.”
Think about how most meetings begin… not with quiet and classical music.
After that, I watched as faces and shoulders began to relax.
In addition, as the day continued, we discussed “shared experiences.” What did we have in common? One that was a constant was feeling “less than.”
It is surprising how this is a constant in human development around the globe.
By the end, new friendships developed with ideas of spreading the importance of the creative arts in healing trauma.
My colleagues, Carole Gravagno Haas, Mikaya Lev, Etienne Kalos, Herb Kaufman, Udi Bar David, and I listened and learned.
Psychological safety means listening and encouraging rather than debating and judging.
Here is a short story about what Natan Yonaton, one of Israel’s greatest poets, shared and the reaction from a Palestinian poet who knew Natan for decades.
“I was in deep mourning when my son was killed in a skirmish
and went to the site where a sniper shot and killed him.
It was near a school in a tiny Palestinian village.
I was stopped as I, with tears flowing, let my memories flow freely.
A man about my age asked if I needed help.
Of course, no one could bring my son back. However, I did need to talk.
I shared about my son dying right there, outside the school.
This Palestinian man told me he was the school’s principal, and he also lost his son in the same battle.
There we were.
Two middle-aged men with holes in their hearts where their sons used to be.
A friendship based on love and loss developed.
We decided, almost in an instant, to go together to visit the graves of our children.
Ultimately, it was healing. It was a way for me to want, once again, to write poetry.
And we stayed connected for the rest of our lives.”
Stay open to the outcome; there is magic to sharing deeply who we are inside.
At the end of the retreat, a Palestinian poet called me aside.
“How did you do it?” He asked.
“Do what?” I queried,
“Get Natan to talk about his son Lior. I have known him for years and years, and he would always side-step talking about the pain of Lior’s loss in war at age 21. Why was he able to talk now?”
Later, I found out why Natan was so open with the group.
I asked Natan what made him share his pain in such a public way.
He smiled and said, “You created a safe place, and I knew I would be heard and not told what to think or do. You all listened. This, the cello music, and the art project we did together, creating tiles for a Peace Wall, were part of the healing process.”
All things considered, the path to recovery after war is challenging and seems impossible.
In brief, it requires collective efforts, international cooperation, and a commitment to building a brighter future for all. Through these efforts, we can help rebuild lives, heal wounds, and ultimately, prevent the cycle of destruction from repeating itself.
Here’s to a more harmonious world,
PS. Please think about being part of a more inclusive way. Any ideas are appreciated on how to get along with those who are seen as the enemy?