The Road To Freedom
I am a Jew and being Jewish in these recent times isn’t easy if you are socially and politically aware as I try to be. I have spent many years exploring what it means to be Jewish as a race, as a religion and as a persecuted and nomadic people. It is complex, I can tell you and as a woman who has discarded the religious part of judaism for a more worldly form of spiritual practice having no desire to move to Israel I have never felt more distant from the Jewish aspect of myself. On the other hand it’s not anything I would ever deny, I believe that understanding and owning your heritage is the starting point for your healing journey and that, I feel, is my road to freedom personally and globally.
With the situation in the Middle East growing ever more intense my need to understand what really is going on has reached a point where I found myself joining the Frome Friends of Palestine. This amazing group of people, living in this dynamic and positive Somerset town, really know how to create awareness. In six months I have learned more than I learned in the last 40 years. I have attended some fantastic talks in Frome by Palestinians visiting this country, from people who have been to Palestine and worked as an EAPPI, standing as a witness on the checkpoints in Gaza. This month the group is hosting a talk by lIan Pappé an Israeli historian, who dared to speak out about the injustices in Palestine. Hounded from his job in Haifa, he now heads the European Centre for Palestinian Studies at Exeter University in the UK.
It’s a whirlwind that I have stepped into and it is a constant pull on the heart strings. The deeper my involvement the more painful the journey, but there is no turning back and emotional pain for me has always been a sign that I am on the right path as it is always balanced with emotional bliss; tears of joy and sadness are never far away from each other.
Last month I went on the march for Gaza in London. It was my first march since the anti-war march in 2003. It was a good thing to do, although I didn’t feel hugely excited by the gathering. I sensed I was keeping an aloofness for my own protection both physically and psychologically. However, I was soon found out and whilst the march had reached a standstill, a hand belonging to one of the bystanders on the pavement reached out and literally picked me out of the throng. As I looked round to see who owned the hand that had taken a hold of my arm, I saw an old man who, in a kind and gentle way, was pulling me towards him.
“I presume, you are Jewish” the man said, half as a question but actually as a statement.
“Yes” I replied,
“Thank you, thank you “ he said. I told him it was something I knew I had to do and that we all needed to do, Jewish or not. He was an Egyptian, living in England for some 30 years but his generosity of spirit and depth of gratitude drew me to tears. We talked for a short while and hugged and I went on my way knowing that this was the main purpose for my coming on this march.
There is no easy solution to ending the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for what is at the heart of it is a deep seated hatred for one’s own brother and that cannot be changed or healed over night. For me, the first step as a Jew, is to begin by clearly making the distinction between being a Jew and being an Israeli and to say ‘not in my name.’
However, this is a global problem. The traumas the Jews suffered during the Second World War left them damaged and scarred (whether you came through the holocaust, or were one of their descendants or you simply carry a sense of guilt for surviving, few remain unscathed) and the Camp David agreement set up by the West for the peoples of the Middle East positioned the new Israeli Jews in amongst the Arab nations, like a caged, injured dog surrounded by a pack of angry wolves. Over the years Israel has been nurtured by America and has now grown physically strong but its people still bear all the emotional scars of its past and they are now, in their position of strength, playing out all the traumas they experienced on their, now weaker, neighbours, their Palestinian brothers.
The extent to which they are playing out a repeat of their, and the world’s, experience of the war is uncanny and very unnerving. When the wall started going up at the beginning of the century I admit I was shocked but not enough, I confess, to do any more. Now I have been made aware of the how extensively the wall snakes through Palestinian land cutting villages off from each other, making the impact on travel, work and communications arduous and damaging on such a small race of people, I find it hard to stay silent. As the Israelis continue to land grab from the Palestinians, they ‘protect’ them by putting their second class homes behind cages whilst they build their high quality houses all around them. Echoes of the wartime Ghettos in Poland resound in my ears as I watched a utube video of an Israeli woman repeatedly whispering abuse through the wire at a Palestinian woman who was merely trying to get her son back behind the cage so he wouldn’t get hurt.
Hamas have grown as a retaliation to all this and their continued bombing has fueled the fire and left empathy for the Palestinians in the firing line too.
The stories are many and unless you go there yourself, or talk to someone who has, you do not see the both sides of the story. I know the late Joan Rivers said she knew what was going on as she went to Israel, but did she visit the West Bank or Gaza? I kind of imagine she wouldn’t have or she would have realized the huge extent of human rights abuse that is going on under the Israelis’ noses. I’m sure most of the Israelis are not aware of these abuses either, they just live in their world, scared and in pain, justifying their actions from this wounded place. However, there are those that are and it is this anger on both sides that we have to work with. We have to understand, from an objective position, that there must be no blame on either side for this to move forward into a positive healing situation. There is history of violence on both sides and at some point the table needs to cleared so reconciliation can begin. We made it happen in South Africa so it is possible here if we decide that it is.
I believe life offers us situations and that we have the chance to make choices to raise the situation out of the pain and suffering or we can continue to live in a place of stuck energy, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. I believe that Jerusalem is felt, by all the three main religions concerned here, to be the spiritual heart of the Earth. I believe that the heart reflects the whole and if the heart of the world is in pain and conflict then that is going to be played out throughout the whole planet. These religions, Christian, Judaism and Islam, I also believe, have all descended from Abraham (Isaac and Ishmael were his two sons) therefore they are all brothers. We are seeing the playing out of the story of Cain and Abel here in Israel and so all around the world. This story is symbolic of the conflict we carry within ourselves and I believe it is up to us, one by one, to choose to heal our own pain and help others see this healing so they can make that choice too. When we learn to love ourselves truly then we can learn to love our brother.
I would like to see all three religions coexisting in peace in Jerusalem as man has been able to do in the past. If we can’t make this reflect from the heart of the Earth out then we will have to start from the outside in.
This is a global journey, it is huge and it might seem like an impossible mountain to climb but we all have a part to play and once it really starts the growth is exponential and rapid. The sooner we take our own step onto the Road to Freedom the sooner we’ll all get there.