I attended the launch in Israel of Kingdom of Olives and Ash, a book about what we are doing here. The book offers 26 authors’ responses to the occupation, most of them from abroad. This book should not have had to be written. The occupation. Not a worn-out accusation, the mention of which causes people to roll their eyes. The book invites us to leap out of the water we have learned to take for granted and to look into the depths of what controlling others’ lives means for us.
The occupation of four million Palestinian people’s lives, the lives they should occupy, we now occupy, for fifty years. If an Israeli dares intrude on another’s personal space, look out! But to occupy the space of 4 million people for fifty years with force and sometimes deliberate cruelty? We can live with that.
Here in Jewish Jerusalem, when the occupation arises in conversation, it’s one of those, well of course the occupation’s awful… tell me something I don’t know….moments. Chabon and Waldman’s book invites us to spend quality time, to be with the deeper significance of the occupation. The book does not allow us to gloss over, it presses on us the weight of this fifty year human tragedy.
During the Six Day War, I was running in the streets of Berkeley, resisting the war in Vietnam. While Israel’s planes decimated the Egyptian air force, I was throwing stones at policemen, choking on tear-gas, and spray-painting buildings. When I came to Israel as a volunteer in ’72, I did not imagine that ten years later I would be convoying ammunition deep into Lebanon as part of the IDF’s failed attempt to wipe out the PLO. I became part of the problem, and over the years did my reserve duty, indirectly supporting the occupation. As a military organizational psychologist, my job included enabling commanders to be true to their duty during their time in the territories. To restrain their men, to prepare for the moral dilemmas they would face. That they must patrol, arrest, invade families in the middle of the night, seize entire homes to establish look-outs, while children screamed with terror….. this we learned to take for granted.
Avner Gavriyahu, speaking on behalf of Breaking the Silence, partners in the book, was asked, “What is the occupation doing to the Israelis’ lives, our souls?” his response was to say that serving as an occupying soldier, controlling people’s lives, had changed him. He sees around him a moral danger, where we lose sight of the potential for what we can be as a people. For most Israelis it is possible to keep the occupation at bay. Most of us don’t serve or travel in the territories or even in East Jerusalem. We complain about traffic jams and plan vacations, and we are able to ignore what is happening for people who live two kilometers away.
We seek our footing on a long, slippery slope, we allow cynicism to creep into our humor. We worry about our grandchildren and we don’t know what to do. We don’t want to be among the fools who kept hoping, working in vain for a change.
Last week, some of the fools got together. The Sulha Peace project hosted an Indian rapper for peace and social change named Nimo. 40 weary Palestinians, 14 hours into their Ramadan fast, some with children, met with 30 Israelis in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. We learned Nimo’s songs, which included “Planting Seeds.”
After we learned the chorus and sang it together with him, Nimo asked people to share the seeds they have been planting. We listened as different folks spoke of the ways we offer what we have, to others. By taking action to protect those we love, by actively caring. Later we sang about gratitude and then around the circle we shared what we are grateful for. We ate our Iftar meal together, after a prayer. For a few hours, as dusk settled, the joyous response to occupation was palpable, the glow visible in people’s faces. Just people, a little community for an evening, where together we tapped into the love and hope that carries us through.
Yoav Peck, an organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people humanization and solidarity