April 10, 2016
Anyone who isn’t confused or conflicted on the topic of Israel probably isn’t looking into it too deeply. There are two distinctly, almost surreally different narratives in Israel and Palestine… and to a great extent, both are right and both are wrong. Both peoples have suffered greatly and both have legitimate grievances against the other. Holding that juxtaposition is itself a challenge. But things get even thornier when one adds to the mix the most essential fact of all: that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are going anywhere.
The us-versus-them paradigm articulated by both far right and far left on this issue does more to exacerbate than to solve the problem. And in their own ways, they’re both delusional. The extreme right sees Israel as all angel — all victim, no demon; while the extreme left sees the Palestinians in that same light. Such positions range from the intentionally false to the ridiculously naïve. Neither position feeds the angels of our better nature, so much as the jackals of anger that inhabit the landscape of all unthinking extremes.
Anyone seeking a real solution in Israel and Palestine rejects the us-versus-them mentality entirely. The solution to the problem is not on the level of land, but on the level of consciousness. The fundamental polarity in that region is not between Israelis and Palestinians, but between those who hate and those who love. Among both Israelis and Palestinians — people actually living with the problem on a daily basis, not just spouting off about it in swank hotel ballrooms or on college campuses — there are heroes who demonstrate the true fundamentals of peace-making: that any possibility of a sustainable future belongs to those who refuse, in their hearts, to reject anyone. What we need to reject is hatred itself.
The problem isn’t just that the situation is so crazy; the deeper problem is the crazies on both sides.
The extreme right is filled with those refusing to acknowledge a legitimate right to dignity and respect for the Palestinians, much less the legitimacy of their desire for a homeland for themselves. Certain facets of the extreme right in Israel are unquestionably as racist against Arabs as extreme Arabs are racist against the Jews. They display at times a profound mean-spiritedness — the willingness to grab land that does not belong to them, tolerate oppression, and put their own perceived needs before the needs of others in a way that is neither politically nor morally justifiable. One of the most tragic aspects of their position is that it counters every core Jewish value, thus making a mockery of the spiritual legitimacy of a Jewish State.
The extreme left in America, however, often refuses to acknowledge a legitimate right to dignity and respect for the Israelis. Many Americans parroting lines about “a more balanced approach in the Middle East” are promulgating the message, whether they’re conscious of it or not, “To hell with the Israelis; if they die, they die.” One wonders how some of them would react if Al Qaeda was amassed along our border with Canada — a legitimate analogy to the presence of Hamas in Gaza, by the way — building huge underground tunnels through which they could launch a military invasion of Seattle or Detroit. One can’t help but think many of them would be the first to panic, their cries of “Save us!” drowning out any pleas to make sure the response is proportionate. It’s not Israel’s fault that Hamas forces use human shields. And oh, did I tell you? Hamas and ISIL are bros now.
So what are we to do? Some of the most intelligent people have just thrown up their hands in despair, simply assuming at this point that the status quo will have to hold. But fortunately or unfortunately, the status quo never holds forever. What we have to do is rethink this. The biggest problem in the region is a mindset, and the only answer in the region is a new one. Only when we have a new mental filter will we have a new Middle East.
On a recent trip to Israel and Palestine, I was struck not by the hatred I saw but by the love I saw. I visited a school called Hand in Hand in an Arab village in Israel — one of seven throughout the country — where every classroom is headed by two teachers: one Jewish and one Arab. All Jewish students learn Arabic, and all Arab students learn Hebrew. They learn not only each other’s language, but also each other’s culture. Their families are involved in creating a community of inclusivity, an honor for each other’s differences combined with the cultivation of shared values. Hand in Hand teachers and school administrators are committed to providing the children with that most critical aspect of peace-building: genuine affection of the other, based on familiarity and understanding — especially during early childhood.
People such as those who created and maintain the Hand in Hand schools exist all over the Middle East. They are educators, businesspeople, politicians, journalists and more. While they aren’t the ones who grab headlines in Europe or America, in both Israel and Palestine there are smart, intelligent, deeply humanistic, ready-to-do-things-differently, tired-of-all-the-fighting, know-we-have-to-compromise-so-let’s-just-figure-out-a-way-to-do-it, wanting-a-better-future-for-their-kids-just-like-we-do, wonderful human beings who don’t need any of us to support their attitudes of anger or victimization.
It’s often not people who are the problem — it’s governments that are the problem. No, we shouldn’t always agree with Benjamin Netanyahu, but neither should we kid ourselves about the deep corruption of the Palestinian Authority or the terrorist threat of Hamas.
The real partners for peace are everyday citizens — Palestinians and Israelis who represent a survivable and sustainable future, not only for their children but also for all humanity. They are those who can listen to the righteous pleas of the other, who can genuinely acknowledge the pain of the other, and can recognize the legitimate aspirations of the other.
They meet in a field of consciousness beyond the past, and beyond guilt. “Out beyond all ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there,” wrote Rumi. And that is not just poetry. It is a description of the only place where we can meet. Those in both Israel and Palestine who are preparing that field – day after day, despite the rejection of a world that does not understand – are the true deliverers from the insanity of our times. They know the only survivable future for their children is in a land that’s called Forgiveness.
I have no further listening for the naïve and simplistic voices on either side of this argument. Only those who honor equally the aspirations of both Arab and Jew deserve credence, and the newly minted pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel stance so in vogue on the Left these days is no less imbalanced than the previously accepted pro-Israel/anti-Palestinian position it seeks to replace. Hate is hate, and it ultimately serves no one. No mother’s son is more precious than any other mother’s son. No people have more of a right than any other to a homeland. And in both Israel and Palestine, there are enough people in both places who know that. Let’s support them.
As it says in A Course in Miracles, “The holiest spot on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.” I felt that holiness in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah. I saw it in the eyes and heard it in the words and felt it in the handshakes of the people I met in both Israel and Palestine.
Those who don’t understand this conversation have little to offer at this point; those who do understand it, need to start thinking about this issue and engaging it more forcefully. Politics as usual doesn’t even begin to provide a context for any real solution, because the biggest problem is inside our hearts. The last thing we need is more people pointing their fingers at either side; the greatest enemy is that pointed finger.
The struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is a perfect reflection of the struggle between fear and forgiveness that rages within us all. A spiritual perspective doesn’t choose sides in this battle, but rather hovers above the battlefield. For only there does the battle end. The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians lays bare every wound and every yearning of the human heart, encapsulating both the tragedy of our humanity and also the potential for our redemption. The search for the Holy Land is above all else an internal journey. We shouldn’t expect it to be sweet all the time; just expect it to be real.