Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Chasm that Separates Us

On Sunday Jan 4th i attended a demonstration in Miami in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza. On one side of the street stood Palestinians and their supporters, on the other side of the street, Israelis and supporters of Israel. The cars passing between them ran a gauntlet. Many people looked dumbstruck as they passed between the demonstrators screaming at each other. Others quickly chose a side and either gave a thumbs up or the finger to the side they supported/ denied, with the side getting support cheering wildly and those denied support jeering. Skirmishes flared as one side grabbed the flag of the other and stomped on it, spit on it, or wiped their ass with it. Taunts flew, invectives flew, spit and fists flew. Anger and hatred disfigured the faces of women, children and men, Israeli, Palestinian, and American, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Atheists alike. Besides the traffic streaming by and the policeman lining each curb, the gap between each side was filled with a lack of recognition. A lack of perception that made a three lane street a chasm as deep as the chasms of hell. Hell on earth- not an afterlife destination, but rather a hell here and now, a hell we human beings have created and continue to create on a daily basis. A hell we are living because of our lack of recognition. And it was a microcosm of the hell of Gaza/Israel.

What was the missing ingredient? The ingredient that has the possibility of transforming the hells we have created? What is the recognition that i am talking about? It is simply this- we are not separate. That is all. The recognition of this fact transforms our relationship to everything, but particularly our relationship to our ill-perceived enemies. It transforms our self-righteousness and it transforms our insistence that our position is the correct position. My anger is transformed from a creator of hell realms to an energy that deconstructs the hells of our creation. The road becomes a bridge over the chasm, and we can walk together, toward peace and toward justice, which are merely reflections of each other. Once we recognize that we are not separate, we can begin to work constructively, together, for just solutions. The issue becomes how can we fulfill each other instead of how can we oppress each other. Rather than seeking power and dominance we seek equality. Rather than a boot to the neck of those we have differences with, we embrace them and work for a mutually beneficial experience.

Of course, there is incredible opposition to this perspective, because incredible pain and suffering has been created by our ignorance, and in our ignorance those who are interested in power, not peace, have exploited our fear. As individuals we begin this journey alone. We must persevere. This recognition leads away from passivity and acceptance of injustice and leads directly towards action because our lives become intertwined with each and every being facing injustice, and each and every being perpetrating injustice. Our work is to fill the gap. Peace is the natural outcome of this shift in perspective. Then we can face each other and say Shalom, Salaam, Peace be upon you.

There are many histories at work here, and individuals rely on what they have been taught to justify their positions. i, too, have been taught that, “if you don’t learn from history, it is bound to repeat itself.” That would explain why on one side of the street Israeli supporters held signs reflecting their darkest historical moment, the holocaust, repeating a common refrain, “Never again”. It also explains why Palestinians on the other side of the street held signs equating current Israeli policies in Gaza to Nazism. Neither side held signs reflecting the resistance to the policies of Hitler’s Germany. Neither side held signs reflecting the possibilities of a citizenry participating in subversive activities that were diametrically opposed to the regimes grab for power and dominance. Neither side held signs calling for peaceful co-existence. Neither side could see how history bound them to a limited view of the present moment. This history is a limitation that continually pushes us apart until we consider violence upon the other (not only violence to subdue, but violence to eliminate the other) as the only viable option.

Facts may be pointers, but misconstrued they lead to devastation. The facts never reveal what is in a person’s heart. The facts never reveal a persons true source of power. The history of facts ignore the individual and paint a broad picture that bends reality to fit a framework that benefits those seeking power. The history of facts is used to distort the present moment in ways that create fear, distrust, and anger. This history kills the individual. It creates a chasm in Miami that allows people to shout “terrorist” and “baby killer” at each other.

But let us put this history aside for a moment and delve into another history- the one left behind in the face of “the facts”. This history is not constrained by time or place but rather holds these parameters. This history is the very mystery of our lives. The sacred history of our place on this planet is never revealed by the facts. Stories of real power, and dare i say, stories of love, are dismissed as weak, or fantasy, or naiveté. To examine this history reveals where each of us has gone wrong, where each of us has condoned the atrocities that have taken place today and throughout space and time. To realize this history reveals our individual flaws and causes us to look at ourselves in a new light. And because of the huge responsibility this places on each of us, we turn away from it. We do what we can to ignore it. It is the written facts that take precedence, whether they are true or not. These facts are then manipulated, debated and spun depending on where one imagines one stands. This is the true meaning of history repeating itself. Ignoring the sacred history of our planet and our humanity and relying on the “facts” demands a fight or flight response and puts us squarely in this moment of suffering and pain. Those deemed “other” or “enemy” are condemned. They are not given room to breathe. Innocent children die, and it is acceptable, because they are "other" and have been stripped of their humanity. We do not see our own child torn apart. We do not feel our own heart torn open. Our fear and ignorance based on “facts” allow us to commit atrocities without reservation or reflection. In “victory”, it makes us small and ultimately inconsequential. We claim, “Never forget” but we never take the time to remember that our story is not different nor is it exclusive- that we, in fact, are not “a chosen people” but just people in this time and this place. The people on the other side of the street share the same story- in fact there is no other side of the street, just our false conception of a reality left unexamined. One story. Our story. This recognition leads us away from the abyss.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel Sends Season Greetings to Palestine

It is amazing that Israel can deny people the most basic human rights -- that is, the right to food, water, shelter, security and dignity, blame it on the very people they are oppressing, and act surprised and victimized when people, sorry, i mean terrorists, strike back. It is the malevolent policies of Israel that result in rockets raining down on Sderot.

The propaganda we hear is typical of a belligerent regional power bent on destruction and oppression, and reminds me of the propaganda our departing administration has spewed about fighting terrorism in Iraq. The two regimes go hand in glove, though it is difficult to tell which is the hand and which the glove. Of course, like Saddam and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the situation is all the fault of Hamas. All talk is about how a truce must be implemented- Hamas must stop what it is doing immediately while Israel bombs entire apartment blocks, a mosque (or two), a university, and ambulances rushing the injured to hospitals. And the argument goes like this: Israel is the most tolerant nation of all, they desperately want peace, but they are surrounded by enemies. Israel has shown tremendous restraint. What other nation would allow a terrorist group to send rockets into their territory without responding with force? No mention of the fact that the rockets are inaccurate and largely ineffective. No mention that the rocket attacks are often in retaliation for the state sponsored terrorism of Israel. No mention that Israel broke the most recent truce. It is Hama’s desire to kill that must be stopped- rather than Israel’s actual killing. It is Hama’s refusal to passively accept Israeli oppression that must be deterred. Forget autonomy, forget self-determination, forget justice, it is obedience that counts. For all the talk of peace and a peace process, Israel, like all colonial powers, only considers peace if the opposition comes to heel.

There is no mention of the fact that Israel has been systematically starving the civilian population of Gaza for two years, with Dov Weinglas actually saying in February 2006, "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger." The hospitals of Gaza have been deprived of medicines and equipment for so long that the hospitals can no longer meet the minimum daily needs of the Palestinian civilian population, never mind a population under a bombing attack. People are dying for the lack of medical care. Children, not terrorists, are malnourished, and now dying under American supplied bombs. There is never a questioning of this “tolerant” Israeli position of collective punishment. To hear Condoleeza Rice explain it, you’d think it was Israel under the bombs. It’s a lot like blaming a murder victim for standing in front of the gun. At least she’s not calling it the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Perhaps she recognizes it’s the same old death throes of the past 60 years.

Talk of peace is cheap. Providing real security for your citizens requires more than the ability to drop bombs. Shock and Awe does not deter. The war on terror ensures terror for years to come, and the ignorant cry, “Why do they hate us so?”