I have been struggling with how to respond to the current crisis in Gaza (and frankly, the craziness of so many things in the world right now – including the horrific reality that Obama is closing our doors to refugee children sending them back to their countries to face horrors unimaginable).

My heart is broken. At Shabbat services Friday night, as we sang a prayer for healing, my thoughts turned to all the victims in Gaza – images of their maimed and murdered bodies (that I had unfortunately seen on the internet) flashed before my eyes, resulting in tears running down my cheeks and sobs of sorrow and grief), just as I mourned the death of the three Israeli teenagers. I sometimes feel a sense of hopelessness at the current situation and know many people don’t have any idea what to do to stop this madness, nonetheless I am now working to expand our Network of Spiritual Progressives to help spread a different worldview and to bring a voice of compassion and empathy to the situation.

Israel, with its overwhelming power, has a moral responsibility to stop bombing Gaza. Israel is killing innocent civilians under the guise of wiping out Hamas when in fact, this sort of attack will only strengthen militant forces and voices in Palestine who will use the attacks to further their position that Israel (and “Jews”) are murderers and only care about controlling all of Israel and Palestine. In addition, this behavior by Netanyahu only perpetuates anti-Semitism and puts Jews at greater risk around the world. When the actions of the State of Israel are equated with the actions of Jews, Jews ultimately suffer.In fact, just today I read about pro-Hamas protesters in Paris trapping hundreds of Jews in a synagogue, chanting “Death to Jews” while throwing rocks and bricks at the synagogue. The police dispersed the crowd. The members left the synagogue – two were lightly injured. Anti-Semitism, like any form of racism, is always illegitimate. But when so many institutions of the organized Jewish communities around the world line up in solidarity with whatever military or political action the State of Israel takes, I can easily see how easy it is for some to equate the activities of the State of Israel with the entire Jewish people (unfair though that is).

At the same time, Hamas is playing into the hands of the Israeli government and Netanyahu. By responding by launching rockets into Israel (even though such rockets do not result in any physical injuries or deaths to people, but nonetheless terrorize the citizens of Israel – and yes, not at all in proportion to the suffering or terror of the Palestinians) Hamas is only perpetuating and bolstering the discourse in Israel that Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the planet and we need to wipe them out once and for all. Hamas would serve the Palestinian people much better if they put down their weapons and engaged in a massive nonviolent response, and publicly accepted Israel’s existence as a legitimate homeland for the Jewish people. After all, who wants to negotiate with an enemy who still says that their goal is to wipe you out entirely? But if they changed their discourse, and really allowed themselves to accept that Israel is here to stay and is not going to disappear, they would deliver a mortal blow to the right wing militarists in Israel. If they adopted this kind of nonviolent strategy, Israel would have two options – either continue to bomb Gaza even though there is absolutely no justification for it and lose any credibility it has left or stop bombing and return to a cease fire – thereby ending unnecessary suffering and deaths.

I desperately wish that saner voices would prevail in Israel, Palestine, the United States as well as around the world. And we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives are trying to help build an interfaith movement of such voices because we know that for American policy to change (which is a key part of changing the dynamic in Israel/Palestine) it will require voices from across the religious, spiritual, and secular society.

So what can you do? Challenge the public discourse – again and again – on social media, in the press, in conversations with others, EVERYWHERE.

Educate yourself about the situation – change the discourse from one of us/them to one of understanding and compassion. I know this is extremely difficult to do – how can we have compassion for a state that occupies another people and drops bombs on innocent civilians or for a group that says it wants to wipe a country off the face of the earth? And yet, that is what we have to do. The demonizing of either side only serves to bolster and perpetuate the violence and serves those promoting violence. We have to help people understand that both sides have suffered and that they continue to suffer, while also understanding that the suffering of Palestinians exceeds that of Israelis. If you are Jewish and have been raised in the discourse of Zionism, that Arabs want to kill us, etc., I implore you to read stories from Palestinians experiences of the situation. To open your heart to the possibility that you may not know all the facts – may not see the “Other” as equal.If you are Palestinian and have suffered at the hands of Israel, I also encourage you to read stories from the perspective of Jews and Israelis. To open your heart to their suffering, not in the hopes that you will no longer feel your own suffering but because your desire for peace, your desire to be able to live a normal life depends on it.Do this with compassion for yourself because unpacking a lifetime of stories on which you formed your identity and the identity of your people is no easy task.

I know this because this is exactly what I did 30 years ago – I started to read the history of Israel/Palestine, not from the perspective of my Jewish/Zionist roots, but from a broader perspective that included the stories and histories of Palestinians. I joined Palestinian solidarity groups, became friends with Palestinians and Muslims and broke down the stereotypes I was raised to believe – ones I am not proud of! No, it was not easy – it is never easy to realize that the stories you believed, the “truths” you believed, on which your entire worldview is based, are in fact only one side of the story and that life is actually much more complex than you thought. But I am so grateful I did – life is much more rich when you can see its complexities, its nuances, and its uncertainties. In fact, compassion, empathy and peace cannot be achieved without it.

To help you gain a greater perspective on the history, I encourage you to read Embracing Israel/Palestine. In this book, Rabbi Lerner presents an understanding of the history of both sides. Unlike other accounts that focus solely on the “facts,” Rabbi Lerner provides an understanding of the psychological history of both sides in the hopes that doing so will help you understand why certain actions only serve to perpetuate violence, throwing one side or the other into trauma and fear. When humans are operating from a place of trauma or fear, the normal human response is to fight, flight or freeze. As we have seen again and again in Israel and Palestine, the prominent voices and actors choose to fight, causing untold suffering and hardship for the rest of their societies.

It is not enough to know that something is wrong and that people are doing things that are causing great harm and suffering and that this needs to stop, you need to understand how to contribute to a healthy discussion of what are strategically sound and smart ways to respond – ways that will lead to empathy, compassion, understanding and ultimately peace rather than feed the fears of either or both sides. This requires a much more nuanced understanding of the history and peoples than you get elsewhere.

We, at the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), are working to build a spiritually progressive popular, political movement that will bring to the forefront of discourse on all issues spiritual principles and values of love, kindness, generosity, care, seeing and treating each others as sacred beings worthy of respect and dignity like each of us, and responding to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement. It is our belief if we choose to respond in this way to the crises in Gaza and around the world we will be able to slowly find a path to reconciliation, healing, peace and justice. And, I believe that to do so, we have to start where I did in this piece – with allowing the pain and suffering and sorrow of the world to course through our bodies, to move us to tears, to break open our hearts, to feel the depth of our grief because grieving is the birthplace of healing, repair and transformation (tikkun) of self and the world. There are plenty of movements with rational plans for the Middle East – but none has managed to crack through the cynicism and propensity on all sides of this struggle to believe that security can only be achieved through “power over” others. We at the NSP seek to work at this core level, the emotional blocks that must be exposed and then healed if we are to ever achieve peace, justice and true reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. They cynics will say, “It will never happen.” But as Rabbi Lerner says, you never know what is possible until you put your life energies, money, and time to promote what is desirable.”

I hope that you will join the NSP (to do so, go to our websiteand click on the join or donate button) and form a local chapter or affinity group so that you can explore these issues in a supportive community of people who share your values and vision for a new worldview. We are working to bring peace, justice and compassion to Israel and Palestine – if this is what you want too, please join our efforts. If you have questions or want support in your efforts, please email me at cat@spiritualprogressives.org.


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