Not in the News: Palestinians and Israelis Training in Nonviolence

Report 2 from Nonviolent Communication 9 day Mideast Intensive in Beit Jala, by Roberta Wall

At our recently completed Nonviolent Communication 9 day Mideast Intensive in Beit Jala, we explored pain, violence, healing and transformation within ourselves, our families, societies and between the groups sharing the land.

In over 100 workshop sessions, more than 60 of us from the Region and around the world learned, shared and practiced Nonviolent Communication, on topics ranging from What is Nonviolent Resistance to Healing our Schools and Families to Barriers to Honesty, Empathy as Empowerment, Inner Healing and Transforming Anger, Shame Guilt and Blame.

We explored together, in plenary sessions, small groups, one on one work and inner processes, inquiries into our personal, communal and global relationships, such as:

Posting the Workshop Sessions ofthe Day

How can we experience deep presence with each other when we don’t “agree”?

How can we trust that our needs for presence, care and trust in relation to the other person can be met when we don’t agree?

How, when, can I trust your awareness of your capacity for being present here?

Can I trust that you will be available when people touch deep pain in the context of the Mideast? The pain of both Jews and Palestinians who are caught in fear.

How do we support each other in our projects?

As a trainer group, we met monthly on skype and then in person for three days before the training, creating connection, trust, understanding and support within our team. Together we explored these questions for ourselves and how we would support this community coming together in explorations like this.

Our vision and commitment was to support people to go out of this training with more understanding of themselves, and inspiration and hope in life.

To go forward with self-love. Not self-hate.

To go forward encouraged to do something, to move forward with empathy…with our empathy cups full.

In terms of the Mideast conflict, we wanted to create a community, a training, where there was open curiosity and vision to explore what drives Israel and Palestine, the people and the leaders, to behave exactly as they do; To explore what happens when we bring the energies of compassion, and connection with the needs, to what people do and think. We wanted to model as trainers and bring skills and consciousness to the training so that Israelis and Palestinians would be fully understood, and held with the same level of compassion, acceptance and understanding. Here is an example of an exchange between two trainers, one from Germany and one from Israel, as we explored this together:

I don’t even dare to imagine that I can be fully present and compassionate at all times.

I will need self empathy. I will do my best.

I feel how much my own heart is open to how you are longing for that trust

My understanding of the contribution to peace and the power of NVC is (that it offers the true possibility) for everyone who goes into the training to have trust that, as a team and a community, we are supported and that we are in alignment.

So I’d like to hear some strategies that would create that

It would help me to hear some observation standing between you and that trust…

Then we can find a strategy.

I don’t want to leave it with, “ok, you don’t trust ”

This commitment to finding ways to not leave it with, “ok, you don’t trust ” generated the energy of connection, learning and presence that characterized the 9 days.

One highlight for me was the workshop session I offered in which a mixed group of Israelis (Palestinian and Jewish), Palestinians from the West Bank, and Internationals explored What is Nonviolent Resistance.

Workshop Session on Nonviolent Resistance.

As we assembled in the room, I realized right away that the traditional “classroom model” we were falling into (I’m the trainer/leader/authority) would be a hindrance to creating an experience of Nonviolence- free from domination and authority. Empowering ourselves to take full responsibility for our learning. I suggested we run this not as a classroom, but as an activist group meeting to plan a direct Nonviolent action.

 This led to a discussion of what we call ourselves, this group of activists now assembled.

Over and over we brought concepts from NVC into our decisions and decision-making. As a group we looked at words such as “team” and “activist.” We listened to everyone and kept the need for inclusion, being heard and belonging as a core need, both as a universal human value and to meet needs for strengthening our group. When something was said that was hard for someone to connect to, we practiced reflection back to create understanding, connection and trust.

We practiced making requests to each other, taking 100% responsibility for how we reacted to one another and for getting our needs met, for meeting our needs through self-expression , checking in with each other that we are being heard and understood ( connecting requests) and action strategies that would serve our needs.

For example, here is an exchange in the workshop between a Palestinian from the West Bank and an Israeli-Palestinian:

Speaker 1: (I’m not comfortable with using) the word “resistance” – I prefer “action.” Here at NVC, we are learning to act, not react. We are learning to step into freedom and know our actions reflect the needs we want to meet; they are a positive, not a negative…

Speaker 2: This completely misses the point and our reality here.

(Standing up, striding to the front of the room). Ok, if there is no authority here, I can speak!

An action would be to go to a dangerous street and open it. It may have nothing to do with the situation here that we are acting to transform. It could be we are opening the street because we want a party.

By calling it resistance, it holds in the word the threat to our dignity and freedom that the other side did something which I am against, something that happened- the closing of the street- that I don’t feel good about. It’s so painful, what is going on, (and I am afraid) the voice of pain and suffering won’t be heard. You want to draw attention to what is causing your pain and suffering.

Speaker 3: (After he finishes speaking), what would he like from the group right now?

Speaker 2: My need is for us to be really in connection, for people to really understand what I just said.

Speaker 3: What is your request and from whom?

Speaker 2:   I would like reflection back from someone who understood what I said.-points to Speaker 4:

Speaker 4 (Jewish Israeli): I heard you say, it’s not that I choose to do an action…because I woke up to this situation. It’s because I don’t have choice. This is the reality I am confronting.

Speaker 2 asks for more reflection back:

Speaker 1 (Switches to his own pain, wanting to be understood).

Speaker 3: Who would like to reflect back what you heard is in the heart of Speaker 1 now?

Speaker 5: You are so longing for actions that change the situation that are taken from a deep place of inner freedom.

Speaker 1: Yes, and from love. From nonviolence. Not carrying forward the violence.   Yes…..

Speaker 3: Do you sense that now you could reflect back what you heard is really important to Speaker 2? Or would you like to ask him to say it again so you can really hear?

Yes…please repeat it because I realize I didn’t hear you fully, I was reacting to some pain…

Speaker 2: Resistance is a constant reminder to you that you have rights that you need to fight for .And resistance in my view is a very beautiful humane value. It doesn’t have to be violent, it can be nonviolent, and for me, when I am speaking of resistance, I am fighting for my rights, the rights of all other human beings,

Not just for the Palestinians. Also for the Israelis, to resist the conditions that are preventing basic human rights.

We all sense a different connection in the room now.

Here is the working definition we came up with for Nonviolent Resistance:

“Actions that create understanding, empathy, trust and connection and reduce anger and fear and draw our energy and attention to the actual situation that we are in that has created the need for this action.”

 Please join us at the next training in February to continue this exploration with us!

Roberta Wall               November 28, 2014      


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About the Author
Roberta Wall offers trainings inspired by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication and by the teachings of Mindfulness. She is a lawyer, mediator, trainer, parent, activist, mindfulness practitioner and coach. She shares her time between Israel and the beautiful Hudson River Valley of Upstate New York and travels the world coaching couples, individuals and organizations and facilitating workshops and retreats inspired by Nonviolent (Compassionate) Communication (NVC) as developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Buddhist teachers Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, and teachers and rabbis from her root Jewish tradition.