(Photography: Yafa Kfir)
"May we always have the courage to bear witness, to see ourselves as other and to see other as ourselves."
Roshi Bernie Glassman
It was a sunny afternoon in Jericho’s most beautiful place. 50 people gathered for an experiential workshop aimed at exploring our relations with one another and with ourselves. 47 were Palestinians, mostly from the West Bank. 3 of us were Israelis: one 25 year old young man, one mother of kids older than mine and me.
The year was 1999, August, one year before the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising).
For the first time in my life I spent five intensive days in one building surrounded by Palestinians, in their territories. I felt strange, fearful, and uneasy and worried there… It was my biggest challenge in being with “the other”.
It took us a few hours to “melt the ice”. We shared our hearts and discovered valuable common needs and feelings. I felt so happy and relieved.
Something changed on day four. I wondered: “Why do they no longer speak to me?” Or was it my imagination? A case of “My fearful mind strikes again?”
I gathered all my courage a few hours later and asked in our intimate small group’s session: “why?” No one answered. Their eyes turned aside, avoiding mine… I asked again: “Please tell me what is going on here. I feel so embarrassed and uncomfortable. I feel fear”.
The next few seconds felt like an eternity to me. Then one man said: “Listen, You seemed to me to be such a nice person before and I really appreciated you. I think I owe you this at least, so I’ll tell you the truth”.
My heart was beating like a drum. He continued: “We had trust in you. We thought you were a faithful person, so we wanted your company and felt close to you. Now we realize the truth about you. We now know that you lied to us, so we won’t talk to you any more!”
Confusion, tension, worry, fear – all surged through my body, heart and mind.
Then a young woman said: “You told us you live in Jerusalem. We now know the truth that you live in Pisgat Ze’ev! You are a settler! We won’t talk to settlers! You betrayed us!”
I now remembered my Giraffe skills. It took all my spiritual, emotional and mental energy to focus on their feelings and needs. I recalled stories I heard from Marshall Rosenberg about cases of emergency. I said:
“Now that you know where my home is, are you feeling surprised, shocked and frustrated because you want to trust me and rely on what I say to you?”
“Yeh!”, she said.
“And you want us to have relationship with open hearts, confidence and integrity?” I asked.
“Sure!” She said.
Some nodded their heads affirmatively. All were silent.
I continued: “So, you also want me to understand and appreciate your feelings and needs and respect them?”
“I understand now why you have decided to stop talking to me, and I am grateful for your candid sharing“, I said and continued:
“I feel relieved too, as my need for frank and honest communication is now fulfilled”. As I looked at the faces around me I noticed expressions of surprise.
I added: “Would you be willing to listen to the other thing I wish to tell you?”
The first man said: “Oh, yes. I want you to talk. I need to hear you. Thank you.”
I said: “I feel surprised and even shocked. I never realized how different our perspectives, knowledge and concepts are. How poles apart our stories are. I also feel moved and excited, as I am now starting to comprehend something valuable to me, which I had never realized before!”
There was silence in the room. You could hear our breathing. I continued:
“I wish to share with you my perspective about the issue, not because I think mine is truer than yours, but because I want you to know it. I want you to have the information about how I was raised and educated, from early childhood. Would you be willing to listen to this?”
I saw tears in some eyes. The young woman said: “Please go ahead”.
“As my need to be connected to you is being met, while we talk and listen this way, I feel immense wonder, mixed with certain confusion, because I thought I knew everything that I had to know about you.… I was used to thinking about Jerusalem as one big city, including all the new neighborhoods built since 1967. Now I grasp that you see this from a completely opposite view.”
“But you should have known that your neighborhood is an occupied territory!”, said one man.
“Well, the information I had had about that place was about former Jewish lands, which had been taken by the Arabs in the 1948 war and released in 1967 by the Israelis. Here is the basis of my confusion; I wish I had known earlier about this gap of information between us. I also want very much to be aware of your sentiments and thoughts about it and I want you to know that I respect them. So right now, I feel happy at being able to talk to you about it openly and explore with you our different narratives and knowledge.”
“I knew I could trust you, anyway”, said another young man.
The rest of the workshop went on and our discourse continued. We spent hours together at the dinner table, in the garden, in the lounge and during the sessions.
It was my most meaningful insight ever regarding my relationships with Palestinians and regarding “other” people with whom I encounter. It was a moving teaching on Not Knowing and Bearing Witness to what comes and what is.