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Yoav Peck: Encountering Others in Their Full Humanity
Awakins Call 2/18/17: Yoav Peck, Peace Activist in Israel
Host: Shiv Jayaraman
Moderator: Aryae Coopersmith
Scribe: Dorsay Fischer
Shiv: The purpose of this call is to share stories and to tell stories...stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life who inspire us through their actions to live in a more service oriented way. And in each of these calls there is an entire team of service based volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Our special guest speaker is none other than Yoav Peck. Someone who really embodies today's theme of encountering others in their full humanity.
Thanks again for joining today's call. Let's start with a minute of silence to anchor this call.
This week's theme, as I shared earlier, is encountering others in their full humanity. Our guest this week shares opportunities for face to face meetings among people across deep cultural, social and political divides. For a person like me, we need to hear stories like this because today more than ever it's so important to not just encounter people but encounter them in their full humanity. So I'm really looking forward to hearing the conversation today. We also have the pleasure of having our remarkable moderator, Aryae, today. Now I have met Aryae many times and I love to hear his stories but it's also true that much beyond being my friend, Aryae is a founder of One World Lights, a community of global citizens with a shared vision of people everywhere supporting a course change for humanity by supporting each of us. Aryae's also the author of Holy Beggars: A Journey from Haight Street to Jerusalem. A memoir of a student, a spiritual teacher, and the spiritual revolution in 1960s San Francisco that transformed the way millions of Americans experience faith and spirituality. So without much ado I will hand it over to Aryae to start up the conversation. A very good morning Aryae!
Aryae: Good morning Shiv and thanks. It's great to be doing this call with you. So I'd like to say a few words of introduction about Yoav Peck. He is the co-Executive Director of the Sulha Peace Project. Their purpose as stated on their website goes like this: We are Israelis and Palestinians who meet to encounter the other in our full humanity. The purpose of Sulha is to end conflict and hostility among people so that they can conduct their relationships in peace and amity. Any political future must address the human needs of both sides. We at Sulha stand on the front lines of the struggle to return decency and compassion to our shared land. Every month or two we hold tribal fires in which 50-150 Palestinians and Israelis gather to reach beyond arguments and beyond political posturing to the essential humanity longing to be heard. We pray and sing together. We enjoy a meal in quiet and informal time and we work in listening circles creating a quality of awareness and attention to the other sorely lacking in our respective societies.
I have to say as I'm reading this, that this sounds like there's a lot of overlap with Awakin circles.
According to Yoav we persistently work with an uncooperative military to obtain entry permits for West Bank Palestinians so that we can be together. Sometimes we meet in the territories to make Sulha available to those Palestinians who cannot leave. As we depart from the tribal fire we are profoundly empowered carrying with us renewed inspiration, hope and determination to continue working to bring the conflict to an end.
Yoav was born in the U.S. and grew up on the East coast in a non-religious American Jewish family. His parents were very committed to supporting the new state of Israel as a home for refugees from the Holocaust. Full Disclosure: In the 1950s, Yoav and I lived in the same small town in New Jersey. We went to the same high school but were three years different in age so we didn't know each other very well. But we both wound up in the Bay area. Yoav attended University at UC Berkeley and graduated with a BA in Sociology in 1971. During his time in Berkeley he was active in the peace movement to end the war in Vietnam. Later he received an MA in Organizational Psychology from Norwich University in Vermont. In 1973 Yoav immigrated to Israel and joined a kibbutz where he lived as an active member for 15 years. Like most Israeli citizens he served his time in the military and was with the Iraeli army in Lebanon in 1982. After completing his active duty as a soldier who had experienced the reality of violent conflict he decided to become a different kind of warrior in the cause of peace.
Professionally Yoav is an organizational psychologist, coach and consultant who specializes in systemic programs for the advancement of human dignity. He lives with his wife in Jerusalem. Yoav and his Palestinian Sulha colleague and co-Leader, will be travelling in the U.S. in March and in the Bay area March 6th to tell their story in person over here.
Yoav, great to have this chance to have this conversation with you and thank you.
Yoav: I'm delighted to be here, Aryae. Thank you for including me in the Awakin calls.
Aryae: I want to start off asking you a little bit about the present and then going into some of your history and how you got here. One thing I want to mention for people that are listening, Yoav blogs on his facebook page, and for those of you who are interested in reading it, there are very poignant entries that he makes from the point of view being in Israel today and seeing what's going on there. Yoav, I just want to ask you if you could share something recently that has come up in Sulha in one of your recent gatherings. What's the mood? What's the feeling? Give us a sample of what the conversation is like today.
Yoav: Well people are dealing with a lot of despair. Surrounded by despair, both on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side. We look around and our present government is doing everything it can to avoid peace and the Palestinians are facing waves of occupying violence and the Israelis are basically not seeing any horizon or light at the end of the tunnel these days. So that's sort of the prevailing mood. And in that mood we still continue as we have for the last 17 years, to bring groups of Palestinians and Israelis together where we create a viable, a vibrant alternative to the despair that surrounds us. People arrive from all over the West Bank and from all over Israel to our gatherings where I'll just give you an example of what happened at a recent gathering. A young Palestinian got off the bus and it was his first gathering. And he looked around and he was not happy, he had been persuaded to come, but he was not happy to be there and he looked suspicious, and he limped. Later on we found out his limp had to do with a severe beating that he received at the hands of Israeli soldiers before being put in jail. He was around 18. We coupled him with a young Israeli settler who had agreed to come and he was about to go into the army. Somehow intuitively we thought the two of them were a good match. We put them together and there was a lot of suspicion and distance at first. And then they started talking. They both spoke halfway decent English so they were able to communicate. During the evening we tried to get them to join the collective activities and they refused because something very special was happening between the two of them. We saw them exchanging cigarettes and beginning to laugh together and at any rate to make a long story short, at the end of the evening it was clear that something had happened between the two of them. We had to get the Palestinians back on the bus to get back to the road block before the curfew and before he left the Palestinian turned to the Israeli, "In about a month you're going to be in the Army and I'm still going to be across the road throwing rocks at you soldiers at the road blocks. Please be careful out there." And it was a magical moment. Then he climbed onto the bus. The two of them have actually stayed in touch.
Aryae: That is an amazing story. You know of all the two people in the world who would be the least likely to become friends, those two would, sounded like that. So what's the secret? How does this work? Where there's so much reason for people to hate each other, what is that magic that happens and what are the conditions that allow that to happen, that they can become friends like that?
Yoav: It's really in the listening. God gave us our subtle hint when he gave us one mouth but two ears. So many of us are so intent on saying what it is we want to say that we forget about listening. Particularly in Israel and Palestine the level of listening is really quite dismal and people are sort of waiting for you to take a breath so they can leap in and say the next thing they have to say. At Sulha we very much emphasize the importance of listening. The heart of our monthly gathering is listening circles where we take the Native American technique of using a speaking object, something that has some significance for the facilitator, only the person holding that object speaks. We don't argue. We really have people deliver themselves to whoever is speaking; to listen from the heart and speak from the heart. We stay away from political arguments because people can argue politically every day all the time if they want to. But actually listening through each other’s stories and listening to people talk about their lives and themselves is quite rare. What creates safety enough so that people can open up, is that we pay attention to each other. And work more from the heart than we do from the head.
Aryae: One of the things I'm curious about is the Palestinians and Israeli Jews meeting each other, there's a situation of such inequality where the one side has so much more power to act, to travel, to live their lives than the other, and how does that play out in the dynamics of the conversation or does it?
Yoav: Well it does. You know the Israelis are aware of the power imbalance when we come into these meetings. For the Palestinians it's quite unique to have a representative of the occupier sitting there and looking into his eyes and just listening to him. So that's a piece of it. The other piece is that Israelis talk about themselves and talk about their lives but they very often talk about their shame, our shame. And it's a critical piece because of the willingness of the Israelis to acknowledge the damage that's been done to the Palestinian people by virtue of the establishment of the state of Israel is quite unique for the Palestinians. For them to hear the pain and discomfort that Israeli's experience when we consider what our government is doing and what many of us ourselves have done as combatants. That really enables many Palestinians to come out of their shell and to feel in the course of one evening, to establish enough trust so that they're willing to share themselves quite openly.
Aryae: Is that a surprise to a lot of Palestinians to hear Israelis talk like that?
Yoav: Yes it's a surprise. I also want to say the Israelis might be part of the occupying force but they have a story. Each of us has a story. It's important to the Israelis to establish a situation in which not only are they listening to the Palestinians but that the Palestinians are listening to us. And it means listening to the history of our families, many of who have been through the Holocaust 70 years ago. Includes Palestinians listening to the dilemmas that Israelis with a social conscience are in when we do our Army service. And it wouldn't work if it was all about the Palestinians. I'll give you an example. During the 2014 war in Gaza we did a gathering at a small Jewish Arab settlement, the first Jewish Arab settlement, Nevi Shalom. And while we were sitting outside having dinner a missile was fired from Gaza and was intercepted over our heads and exploded over our heads. We looked at each other and it wasn't clear which way it was going to go. And then one of the Palestinians asked an Israeli woman how she was feeling about all of this. She shared that her three sons were all simultaneously in the Army and serving in Gaza. She talked about her fear. And despite the fact the Palestinians, many of them had family in Gaza, and of course the casualties in Gaza were much heavier than they were in Israel, and you wouldn't expect the Palestinians to be willing to hear the mother of three soldiers talking about her fear for her sons. And yet they did. And there were a lot of tears on both sides. It was extremely moving to the Israelis that despite the fact that it was our government bombarding Gaza, that the Palestinians were willing to hear our fear for our kids, and our fear of the missiles that were being shot at us.
Aryae: Yes I get that. I'm curious the other way around. Is there anything that's typically surprising for the Israelis to hear from the Palestinians as they're listening to the Palestinian stories?
Yoav: I think it's less surprising. You know there's a difference between reading it in the newspapers and seeing the number of casualties and the Palestinians are not called Palestinians, they're called terrorists, whatever reporting is being done. So there is a real dehumanization of the Palestinians. The Israelis pay attention to the stories, the actual occurrences the Palestinians confront. We can't take away their pain but there's something wonderful about listening to their pain and it's what opens up the doors of communication that happens.
Aryae: Yes it's about the stories. I want to ask you one more question about the present, then I want to ask you a little bit about some of your life journey. The question I'm asking is you opened up by saying how much pessimism there is on both sides and no one seems to see any solution to the conflict and I'm wondering in that kind of situation, why do people even bother? What are people thinking whether they're Palestinian or Israeli, what are they thinking they are going to accomplish in talking to each other and why are they doing it?
Yoav: Usually people come because they've been persuaded by a friend who's been. They arrive with lots of skepticism and they really don't expect to be surprised, or feel comfortable so we actually do have in periods like this, we have a problem recruiting, bringing people in. The Sulha gatherings that include a core group of people who come every time but of course what most interests us is reaching out to people who would never ordinarily find themselves in this situation on either side. They just come and bring their skepticism along with them and then we go to work. You can actually see people melting. One of the members of our board is a Palestinian whose family was driven out of central Israel in the 1948 war. Then they moved to Gaza and fled Gaza in the ‘67 war and moved to a refugee camp in Jordan and grew up there hating every mention of Israelis. And then finally as a young man he came to to Palestine to join the struggle to find Israelis to kill. And that was his intention and he is still willing to talk about that today. But he was invited against his better judgement to attend a Sulha gathering and he describes being absolutely flabbergasted by what he saw and felt among the Israelis. With time he understood that you have to make distinctions between different kinds of Israelis and that these people, the Sulha people, are there to support him and to seek peace together with him. And as I say he's now been active for about 8 years and he's a member of the board. So you can only start where people are and move from there.
Aryae: It sounds like maybe what you're saying is even if the larger picture invokes a lot of despair and there's no light at the end of the tunnel in sight, that on a personal level there's still stuff that people can do that's meaningful.
Yoav: Absolutely. A normal evening will include the listening circle I described, but also we share a meal together, and we bless the food in Arabic and Hebrew before we eat. We sing and we play music and we have informal time so that we come at it from different angles during the evening and something always works with people. If it's not the listening circle then it's the informal time around dinner, something works. But as you say it's really the personal connection, it's sitting across from someone who's listening to you, who's passing the rice, just people in the end.
Aryae: So Yoav I want to go back in time a little bit to the 1960s and you're going to school at UC Berkeley and I was doing my thing, we didn't have much contact then, but then at a certain point, I guess the time you were graduating, you decided to go to Israel. And I'm curious at to why would you leave a place with so much financial opportunity, a relatively stable country depending on how you look at that, and go to a place like Israel? What motivated you to do that?
Yoav: Discomfort. I had Jewish friends who were marching in Palestinian support marches in Berkeley and I was not because I didn't feel I had enough information to be able to take a stand. So I basically came to Israel, gave myself a few weeks to try to figure things out, to develop a political position about the Middle East. Well three weeks was not enough and 44 years later I'm still figuring out what my position is. What happened to me was I fell in love. I was blown away by the Israelis. The country is beautiful, but what's even more beautiful are the people. There's a warmth here and an immediacy, a straight talk ethos and I had wonderful conversations. I felt wanted. I felt that people wherever I went reached out to me and said your a Jew, your place is here. And at first I was very irritated by that. But then I started to feel this incredible sense of belonging that I really haven't felt in America ever. When I realized how good I felt in Israel, I was persuaded to stay longer and the longer I stayed the better I liked it. I also travelled to Palestinian refugee camps and talked to Palestinians. Back then in 72 you could take a bus to Gaza and I did. I was escorted to a refugee camp by two young guides. And I saw through their eyes what occupation meant. Although it was only 5 years of occupation at that time. I think something about the intensity of the mix -- my love, my increasing love for the Israelis and my concern for what Israel's existence meant to the Palestinians -- there was something challenging and exciting about trying to embrace that contradiction. And the longer I stayed the more I felt at home. Eventually my first wife and I moved to--our tickets were going to run out--so we had to get back to the states. And we lived in a cave on an island in Spain and we sat there for two months and wondered why we were going back to California. And when we couldn't find an answer we made the decision to immigrate to Israel. So we went back to the States and made a little money and got married and in ‘73 came back right after the Yom Kippur war.
Aryae: So after that you wound up living and being an active member in a kibbutz. I remember back in those days there was kind of an idealism that many Americans and American Jews felt about kibbutz over here in the states. It was all about capitalism and making money and advancing yourself in your career. The idealism around kibbutz life was very different. Can you say a little bit about your experience living in a kibbutz in a socialist environment like that for so many years was like for you?
Yoav: Well at first it was just wonderful. I had lived in a commune in Berkeley in the ‘60s. That was sort of my value system and the kibbutz value system coincided. The years I lived on kibbutz I didn't own a wallet and I didn't have a key to my house because you didn't need a key to your house. It was a collective society where people supported each other. Twelve people made meals for 600 where the other people did things for the people working in the kitchen. It was socialism in action and I loved it. It was an English kibbutz. English working class Jews who came to Israel in 1948. I loved the people. I liked my work. I started in agriculture and ended up going back to psychology but I liked being a part of that community.
Aryae: What motivated you to leave?
Yoav: I was sent by the kibbutz movement to the States as an emissary. I proudly represented Israel in the States but I came back having you know that saying, "You can't keep them down on the farm once they've seen Paree" and I came back having lived an independent life. On the kibbutz if I wanted to work in my profession I would have to go through the work committee and I remember one year they said I could go back to my profession but only next year because this year we want you to run the dining room. And I felt myself getting older and less willing to compromise. The kibbutz was also undergoing change, increasing going to privatizing, social glue holding people together, some quabbling about property and when televisions were introduced into members' apartments, and I grew up in the states with television and I really didn't want that for myself to be shut up in my kibbutz apartment with a television, and so all of it came together and I realized it was time to move on.
Aryae: How interesting about the complex relationships between individuals and collective wellbeing. There's one more thing I want to ask you about your experience being in the army fighting in Lebanon and what caused you afterward to make the decisions to be a peace warrior?
Yoav: Well I joined the peace movement but I did my army service and then I did reserve duty until I was turned out to pasture. For me it's not a contradiction but it's a contradiction I can live with. And in June of 1982 I was called up to my unit, the evening before we went into Lebanon. And I believe what I was told which was that we were going in for a few days and no more than 25 kilometers into Lebanon. We were going to make the northern Gallilee safe by doing that. And yet when I got inside Lebanon we weren't told the truth by our own officers. We were listening to the BBC and realized the Israeli army was already in the suburbs of Beirut and it looked like it was going to be a very long war which what it turned out to be. I was really in a crisis because I didn't want to be part of taking over Lebanon and yet, and this might be hard for Americans to understand, but when you join the Army you develop a very close relationship with the guys you're with. For me to walk out on them and to throw down my gun and to say "I'm not participating in this, you guys work it out, I'm going home or to jail." I chose not to do that. On the other hand when I got a 48 hour leave, I went home and said hello to my family and my kibbutz neighbors and took off my uniform and went to Tel Aviv to demonstrate against the war I was fighting in. It might sound like a ridiculous contradiction but as I said before living in Israel is about embracing contradictions sometimes and not being able to resolve them. And after the demonstration I got some clean clothes and went back to Lebanon until I was discharged a few weeks later.
Aryae: Were there any legal consequences from the Army or the Government for the way to your embracing contradictions in the way you did?
Yoav: No I didn't advertise that I had gone to the demonstrations. No actually what happened to me in Lebanon, I was a munitions technician but what I saw was that many of the reservists that I served with were falling apart. I went to my commander and I said I'm a psychotherapist and I see people that are in deep trouble and he gave me a tent and said this is your office and I want you to interview the people that say they're going crazy because some of them are, and some of them are faking to get out of serving and your job is to figure out who's faking and who's not. Well it was a terrible mission but for the most part I gave people the benefit of the doubt and if someone was desperate enough to pretend he was falling apart, I figured he wasn't going to be functional so that was what I was doing in the day and at night I was sending munitions into Beirut. Speaking of contradictions.
Aryae: You talk about embracing contradictions and I wonder if that is kind of the key to being fully human in a situation like that there are so many people, it seems, who don't embrace the contradiction, and say this is my stance. I'm wondering if that's what it is, that there's something about embracing contradictions that is key to being a peacemaker?
Yoav: Israel continues to be threatened. We do need an Army. My kids have served in the Army. And I feel it's an obligation to be part of defending us. And when I speak to Palestinians, I conceal the fact that I've served in the Army because I think it's important for them to embrace that contradiction as well. The fact that they are talking to a peace activist who cares about them visibly on the one hand, but has also served in the Army and believes Israel needs to maintain a strong defense Army until the danger has passed. You use the phrase taking a stand, I really do feel I take a stand about peace but I have blood on my hands and I think most of us do. And many of the Palestinians do as well. One of my best friends in the peace movement spent 10 years in jail for stabbing Israelis and we're very close and we're both peace activists. It's just the way things are here.
Aryae: I want to get into something that we touched on when we spoke a few days ago. And that is the peace movement in Israel. And you said something that really surprised me that there were roughly around 60 different peace organizations in Israel and that's really surprising. What is it like for people who are in favor of peace and people who are on the other side and feel that a strong military solution is needed? What's the Israeli society like right now?
Yoav: In a recent study, 48% of the Jewish Israeli public said that left wingers are traitors. Along with racism about Arabs, about Palestinians, there is a lot of hatred directed at peace activists. And yet we make a point of flying the Israeli flag. I feel that my peace activism is an act of patriotism. Yet we're facing increasing opposition. People who have despaired of there ever being peace with the Palestinians, many of them, former liberals have turned very strongly to the right and feel that we have to be strong and to show the Palestinians who's boss and hope that eventually the Palestinians will understand they can never win the struggle and they'll give up. And of course that won't happen, anymore than it did in Vietnam. This tiny country defeated the most powerful army in the world. Because when you have nothing to lose, what you have left is the struggle. So if we are stuck with the Palestinians, then we're going to have to turn our enemies into partners. We don't have to love them, you don't have to go and have hummus with them, but we are going to have to work out how to cooperate with them. So as you said there are tens of peace organizations continuing this work. Sometimes peace activists get beat up on their way back to their car by right wingers that are waiting for us. But the peace movement is steadfast. It's very small despite the number of organizations. There are people who have despaired but we try to strengthen each other. There are not only many organizations, there are several umbrella organizations that bring the peace organizations together to offer mutual support.
Aryae: You know you mentioned that 48% think that people who are involved in the peace movement are traitors. I wonder on the other side, what proportion of the Israeli Jewish population are either involved in the peace movement or who's beliefs are aligned with the peace movement?
Yoav: I couldn't tell you how many are peace activists actually but the studies continue to show a majority of Israelis even if they don't consider them leftists or peace activists, a majority of Israelis continue to believe the two state solution is the only way we are going to get out of this conflict. There is still support for a negotiated settlement where the Palestinians end up with an independent state of their own. We're in danger of losing that majority and it's certainly smaller than it used to be but mainstream Israelis -- life can be quite comfortable for Israelis. This is a prosperous country relatively speaking and it might be hard to get the end of the month without an overdraft in your bank account. You can live a very comfortable life in Israel and ignore what's happening a few kilometers down the road. For example, in Jerusalem, just a couple kilometers from massive refugee camps on just the other side of the barrier wall and yet if you want to blind yourself you can. And then what your opinions are likely to be about defense, is we have to be strong, they'll never give up those Palestinians, so we just have to overcome them. What's most depressing is when you talk to right wing Israelis, my question I always ask them, "What's your vision of the future?" And they have none. They actually have none. Our prime minister, in the 10 years he's been in office, has never offered a vision of Israel at peace. He prefers to show us as a beleaguered country that will always be at war, and he actually said that we would live by the sword forever just a year ago. And many people have sort of resigned themselves to that being a description of reality.
Aryae: You know I'm struck with the thought that there's a kind of similarity in Israel and in the U.S. with divided populations. That you have a situation in Israel, as you say, where a majority of Israelis so far favor a two-state solution and yet Netanyahu's policy is tilting towards a one-state solution. And similar to the states that the majority of people here favor one vision of America and the minority that support Trump look at a different kind of America--I don't know it seems similar. What's it look like to you?
Yoav: Yes there are incredible parallels between what's happening there and what's happening here. I'm a little jealous of all of the activity that's blossomed before and after the election there. I'd love to see that vitality in our weary peace movement here. But yes I think one of the strongest similarities is that there is a leadership vacuum at the top in the States and here in Israel. We share the fact that Trump and Netanyahu -- I call them NitTrumpYahu -- they are what psychologists call representatives of the Dark Triad. Which consists of psycopathy, narcisissm and Machiavelism and I think if you take a look at Trump and a look at Netanyahu, I think you can see that Dark Triad operative in both of them. The other thing that we both have in common, that if we don't reach out to the people who hate us, and the people who support Trump and Netanyahu, we are never going to lay down the foundation for change. So I think a huge challenge for us is to start talking to the people we disagree with. And to do it with compassion and to do it with listening, which is stronger than our talking, and to hear their stories. Because, ultimately until there's a sea change in the masses of population all of the progressive movements will be talking to themselves. So this is a common challenge for all of us. How do you talk to someone who screams at you and does everything he can to insult you. I have been told in the streets when talking with the public, "It's too bad you didn't die in the Holocaust with the rest of your family." I've heard terrible things but there are techniques and ways of thinking about these encounters that can enable us to weather those kinds of attacks and to really seek the crack in the armor of the people who are angry at us. Because everyone has a crack. And it's a test of our creativity and sensitivity to see how well we can identify the place in which the humanity inside that person is still alive and well.
Aryae: Yoav that is a beautiful summary and a beautiful place for us to transition. I'm listening to you and I'm thinking, okay it's not only about each of us finding a way to reach out to people being oppressed but it's also up to each of us to find a way to reach out to the oppressors. Not a simple task but maybe a very necessary one.
So we're at the point where we're opening up for questions and conversation and Shiv I'm going to turn it over to you.
Shiv: Thank you so much. I must say that my official role is to play the host and to monitor the controls and the calls that I read. And yet I’m so intently listening to what is happening because not only is it a topic close to my heart but for people like us who are young and don't have the awareness of what is happening in a place so far away, it's really fascinating and I'm really humbled by what I've heard.
I have a question for you from Jerry. Jerry says I'm a mediator in California working with Aikido principles as applied to verbal conflicts. Aikido, as taught in Israel, has brought Jews and Arabs together to train in the martial art of peace. Are you familiar with such effort and can you address this psychological dynamics? He does mention a website, CommunicationHarmony.com.
Yoav: Well thank you I love the question but I am not familiar with the Aikido community in Israel and Palestine. But the little I know about Aikido from studying karate back in the ‘70s in Berkeley is that instead of offering resistance to another aggression, one finds a way to join with the momentum of the other or the adversary. And then to assert some kind of control or mastery once you've done that. And that's really at the heart of the work we're doing with the public here. Instead of arguing and fighting in an oppositional way, we look for ways of going with someone's pain if we can get them to go beyond their fury and to express their pain. And they can. If I ask them in the middle of an argument he's trying to pick with me, if I ask him what are your hopes for your children and your grandchildren, sometimes his honest concern about that can come forward and he feels I've joined him in his concerns rather than opposing him. I know this is really a novice or ignorant person talking about this principle but if I got it right, this is a great direction. And I will check out that website.
Wendy: Such a pleasure to hear you again. My first question is what do you think is the motivation for people to come to a Sulha event anyway. I know you mentioned that people have been invited but there must have been something there for them to be invited in the first place. So have you been able to understand what that spark is on either side to allow people, or encourage people to participate in the first place because I know for Palestinians it can be a very dangerous thing to participate in peace work. And the other thing I wanted to ask you, you recently wrote about a situation where you were confronted with a right wing Israeli and you turned it around. Not that he agreed with your views but that there was some ice broken there. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the specifics on how that came to pass.
Yoav: Thank you Wendy. As I was listening to you I wrote down on this paper the word "longing" because under the skepticism that people who have never been to Sulha feel, what we see is an incredible longing for something different from what's happening now. Their daily lives, both the Palestinians and the Israelis in different ways, their daily lives are so full of how grim things are; or people painting how dangerous and grim and sometimes how dangerous they really are if you are a Palestinian. There is a deep longing in people to connect; to be in a safe environment; to express a closeness; I'm just picturing it was under a full moon just last week around the camp fire at the end of the evening, you know you just saw people's faces glowing after they had a long listening circle about men's roles and women's roles in Palestinian and Israeli societies. They came out and they had dinner, then they danced and sang around the fire. We were attacked once by Palestinians who were not at Sulha and they said how can you have these celebrations when the occupation is still going on? They call it normalization -- that's a curse word in Palestinian society and it's thrown at people who come to our gatherings. Our response is that if we don't celebrate what are we struggling for? We must be able to create islands of aliveness and joy and comfort and safeness in order to recharge our batteries to carry on facing the reality of our everyday life. I really think people are dying to change things and not be afraid anymore. The other night with the two orthodox right wing guys I could hear in the way they were chattering at the beginning of their conversation, I could hear how thin their vulgar proclamations about Palestinians. It wasn't coming from a deep place at all. Eventually I said to this guy, "I hear this coming out of your mouth and I'm looking at you, and I offered you a cigarillo and we're standing here together, I feel like you have a good heart and that you are actually a good guy. And even though I hate the things you're saying, it's not the way I feel about you." And something there turned him around because he said the same thing back to me and it ended up that I gave him my card and invited him to the next Sulha gathering. I don't know if he'll come but you get what I'm saying. And you know at the beginning of the conversation he was just disgusted when I said to him if my daughter wants to marry a Palestinian and the guy is a good guy, so I would give her my blessing. He almost killed me. He couldn't believe I was saying that. By the end of the conversation he knew my opinions but there had been a connection that had been created.
Wendy: Thank you for sharing that.
Shiv: I have an observation from Michelle Robinson. She writes today's share by Yoav led me to a poem by Mark Nepo. It focuses on what we can do. ‘Accepting This’ by Mark Nepo. "We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion."
Shiv: I have a question. I had the good fortune of visiting both Israel and Palestine a while ago. We went all around the country and met the people. But that was close to 10 years ago. But with social media today and the ability to connect a lot of people, would you have any observation about whether it's connecting people the right way or is it actually marginalizing and polarizing people? How has social media helped or hurt your cause?
Yoav: It's helped enormously. The powerlessness of the Palestinians is so overwhelming in so many aspects of their life. But facebook is a great equalizer. Anyone can meet me at a Sulha, ask me my name and the next day ask me to be a friend. And I have tens of Palestinians who immediately after a gathering become friends on facebook. I see their posts and some of it's in Arabic and I don't understand it and they see mine and we like each other. It's a great tool. I'm not particularly sophisticated in the dangers of the internet but from the perspective of a tiny organization with a $30,000 yearly budget, this is an amazing tool for connecting with the Palestinians. And, of course, connecting with each other. We advertise our events so it's very useful.
Shiv: I was just wondering when you mentioned some comments were in Arabic, has language ever been a barrier when Israelis and Palestinians meet face to face? And if so how do you overcome that?
Yoav: I'm so glad you asked that. I can't believe I didn't talk about it. All of our gatherings at Sulha we work with translators so that no one is left in the dark. We have three languages because there was always someone from abroad that only speaks English. So the big barrier most of the young Palestinians don't speak anything but Arabic. So we have to learn Arabic. In fact I'm studying Arabic. In fact I feel if someone wants to do something useful as a peace activist the thing to do is to learn the language of the people we're supporting. It's a wonderful language and it's a joy to learn it. I happen to have a magnificent teacher. Some of the Palestinians speak some English. We manage. The act of translating actually slows things down. If someone saying in Arabic what I just said in Hebrew I have time to breathe a few times and think about whether the next thing I'm going to say is useful or not. It's like turning a difficulty into an opportunity.
Aryae: Yoav I've been thinking what you've been talking about has mostly been about outward actions, how to act with another person. But it occurs to me that to be able to face someone who's screaming at you, disagreeing with you, saying they hate you, whatever, and be able to say to them, I can see and appreciate your essential goodness. There's got to be some inner work there. So I'm curious about what inner practices you have. I know that you haven't been what we normally think of as a religious person. Do you have any kind of inner practices for transforming yourself that you have worked on in order to allow yourself the ability to respond to people in this compassionate way?
Yoav: Some colleagues and I do a workshop for peace activists called "Beyond Persuasion." Which is a workshop for training in the art of reaching out to a hostile public or to anyone for that matter. But people report increasingly not being able to talk to the public. But now also not being able to talk to their families and having huge rifts in families over politics. One of the preparatory pieces of the workshop is what we call "taking on a role."
You're not in a normal conversation. You say to yourself "Okay I have an objective in this conversation to turn this antipathy into human contact and maybe get some ideas challenged. In order to do that I have to be in a role. So putting on a hat, an imaginary hat, and saying I'm in the role of engaging with this person. That's one way. The other thing is we use a concept we call the "umbrella." An umbrella is what we imagine putting over ourself and the rain is the horrible things people say to us. So if we want to preserve our own serenity or relative calm in one of these encounters, it's important to imagine I have an umbrella on and am committed to not having my hurt feelings run the way I'm going to respond. Then it's possible to hear all kinds of things and look for the opening to be able to make deeper contact with the person.
Aryae: When you're standing under that umbrella and you're going to say something positive, is that merely a script or do you really experience the goodness in that person? And if so, how do you align yourself to see and experience that goodness?
Yoav: That takes us back to why I fell in love with Israel. Israelis who say hateful things are still beautiful in my eyes. It's easy to love these people even when they're being obnoxious. I don't know. It's almost like there's this nice person locked up inside a prison who's just trying to find a way out of there. If we can unlock the doors then we've done our part. You know the guys I talked to the other night, they didn't transform their opinions about peace, but maybe they went home and talked to their wives and said I met a leftist who made some sense and wasn't such a bad guy. And that's one step for humanity and feels good when you go home.
Kozo: Yoav thank you for this beautiful conversation on peace. I wanted to ask you a question about the role of forgiveness in the work that you do. And if you have any stories like radical acts of forgiveness that caused transformation in the dialog or the individual?
Yoav: That's a great question. I talked earlier about shame. And the place that forgiveness begins for me is forgiving myself. Sometimes I'll be talking to people and I'll say "The Jewish people were on a sinking ship in Europe during the Holocaust and when they jumped out of the sinking ship into Israel, the life boat of Israel, there were people in the life boat and we did damage." Aryae was saying does it become a script. Well that's something I've said a lot of times. But the damage we did in 1948 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes or ran from our Army. To forgive myself for that is not easy. And the only thing that really helps is doing something. When I'm putting together a Sulha evening I don't have a problem being nice to myself and being forgiving even if I was part of this occupation, I am part of this occupation and yet the doing puts all of that stuff in the background. But some people of noble souls among the people at Sulha are able to forgive the occupiers, the people that have put them in jail. They want something bigger than resentment in their life. There are some very gracious moments. I'll never forget the Israeli woman talking about her fear for her sons in the invading Army of Israel and watching Palestinians listening to her intently, being compassionate towards her as she wept. That was pretty miraculous for us. So thank you it's a huge subject and so complex. I'll just put a plug in for Kevin Rudd and the Sorry Speech. In Australia when the Prime Minister turned to the Aborigines in Parliament and said to them "I'm sorry what we have done in Australia to your people." I just so badly would like to see Netanyahu. I guess I'll wait a while before he can deliver that speech.
Shiv: One of my friends wants to know is their humor in these meetings? You touched upon music. When we bring people together the situation could become very grim. Does humor ever come in or does it even solve or alleviate the pain during these meetings?
Yoav: For sure it's absolutely a wonderful part, not only do people listen to each other in conversations but they laugh together at these gatherings. Speaking of plugs, one of the most professionally humorous person I know is Fulla Jubeh who is coming to the States with me in March. She's a professional clown and actress and a medical clown with children who have terminal illnesses at Hadassa hospital. She brings a twinkling eye and a wonderful laugh to every meeting she attends. Sometimes we're laughing through our tears.
Aryae: I just wanted to also say what Yoav was just saying, for those of us in the Bay area on March 6th Yoav and Fulla will be here and we can include that in our thank you that we send out to the people on this call.
Yoav: The other thing I would be delighted if anyone that's following this call wants to send us an email that would be great. The email address is email@example.com. We'll be in New York city and New Jersey in March as well and Seattle. Loved to hear from anyone.
Shiv: We would like to know how we can support you and your work?
Yoav: It's funny I always tell people to do a Sulha in your town. Anyone can locate 5 Muslims or Palestinians or both and the Jews are always available and the Christians are interested as well. To put together a meeting. I would be supportive of that by providing materials for simulation games you could do. People can do sulha anywhere. And we would love to host people when they come here. If we can coordinate one of our gatherings with your visit. And we would appreciate you following us, we're on facebook, and we have a website. We would like to get a newsletter out to people who are in touch with us to let you know when we're going to be in your neck of the woods.
Shiv: Will definitely find the best way to connect. And as we end the call from Service Space I want to thank you, Yoav, for what you've done for people like us who have come to a stage in life and begun to question hey is it just about me, shouldn't I be getting more involved in my community? People like you have always been the beacons, the light we hope to get energy from and move forward. Today's call is extra fascinating for me because I have been to so many places in and around Israel and Palestine, but I must admit I have never looked at the place as you have seen because I visited the place as a tourist. Today and tomorrow when I do visit I hope with your guidance that I will be looking at the place with a new light.
You talked about dehumanization and how important it is to humanize people before engaging in conversation. It is something I hold close to my heart and to all the people that I talk to I hold this in conversation about how important it is to humanize. You talked about a sense of belonging and it's so interesting that you said even as you were in the army, as you were seeing certain things, your love for Israelis never went down. In fact I think you alluded to the fact that it increased. So this compassion when you see something wrong happening is very interesting. That in fact you can't resolve the contradictions. It was indeed very enlightening for us. And I always want to end every conversation with hope and that came when you said you see in people a sense of longing, to change the status quo and to aspire for something more. And it is with that hope that's a constant sense of longing in everybody. And will guide us and teachers like you. And that sense of longing will come to the surface and people will humanize each other and share their heart and make a spark of hope. Very sincere gratitude to you, Yoav, that we end this call.
Yoav: I have to thank you and this has been a wonderful opportunity and I appreciate your generosity.
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