Dear beloved Plum Village community and friends,
My heart breaks to see the news of war in Palestine and Israel, the ancestral lands of so many dear to me.
Since yesterday, I’ve read the news in Al Jazeera, Ha’aretz, and +972 with immense sorrow and grief.
For some Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora, deeply impacted by the oppression & violence of the Israeli military occupation, the war may be a fight for freedom. For others, it is a continuation of violence that has limited impact on daily life. For some Israelis, who fear rockets and the Hamas army as a threat to their lives and families, this war may be a fight for existence. Each person has their own story and ancestral inheritance, and I do not know every perspective.
Over a period living in Jerusalem and Bethlehem from December 2018 - March 2020, I have witnessed (to the extent a foreigner can) some of the conditions leading to this moment. These are conditions I have seen, heard directly, or learned of via friends, elders, or community members.
Palestinian farmers are often unable to harvest their olive trees, water their crops, or care for their animals due to Israeli settler and military violence. Settlers often take control of scarce resources (water, electricity, land, roads) while Palestinians must ration water and face power outages.1
Homes owned by the same family for generations are taken or destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).2 Illegal settlements are expanding and becoming legalized by far-right Israeli courts.3
2 in 5 Palestinian men and 1 in 5 women are incarcerated in an Israeli prison at least once in their lives.4 Palestinian youth are often arrested for throwing rocks, and sentenced in military court. One friend was shot in the knee as a teenager by the IDF; another was imprisoned for years. The IDF conducts nighttime raids in Palestinian refugee camps, which barely faze some friends anymore.
The 440-mile separation wall literally divides Palestinians and Israelis. It is illegal for Israelis to enter the West Bank, and Palestinians must have a permit to enter Israel. At Checkpoint 300, which connects Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Palestinians queue for hours each day to “commute” to work.5 Many Palestinians cannot find a job paying a living wage.
Palestinians in the West Bank lack freedom of movement, with many unable to leave the country due to financial, logistical, and legal barriers. Foreigners who marry Palestinians are often denied residency permits, and thus cannot travel given the risk of being unable to re-enter the country.6 The American wife of a dear Palestinian friend, with two Palestinian American children, could not leave the West Bank for this reason.
For now I’ve checked in with friends in the West Bank and they are safe. Military checkpoints setup by Israel have prevented one friend from going home (from the city where they work). Still they are in good spirits, and giving thanks to be safe. I am humbled by their resilience. This is their reality.
I do not know of the conditions in Gaza beyond what I’ve read in the news.
I mourn all those lost to violence. I am terrified for those taken from their homes and brought to Gaza as prisoners of war. I acknowledge the deaths of so many Israelis, including the 200+ youth enjoying a music concert in the desert killed by Gazan forces. I am grieving for their families.
I am afraid for my friends and their families in Israel, who live with the possibility of rockets raining from the sky. Many remember or were directly impacted by the violence and suicide bombings within Israel during the intifadas. Some still have young people serving in the IDF, and I’m worried for their safety and the loss of childhood too early.
I have been fortunate to be welcomed into beautiful Jewish rituals and holidays, to weekly Shabbat dinner gatherings held in sacred community, to know how the land itself is woven into the practices of Judaism. I am grateful to have learned the practice of blessing self and others from my Jewish friends, to have experienced the community singing as one body. I take refuge in the resilience and connection that is fostered in the temple, much as in the meditation hall.
Several dear friends were on the streets in Jerusalem protesting the changes to the judiciary led by Netanyahu and his far-right government. These friends are elders and peace activists in the Plum Village community, who tirelessly build hope and compassion in times of despair. I think of them often with gratitude and love.
There are no easy answers. For now, I want to practice clear seeing, recognizing that this war exists in a context of decades of violence. I will practice recognizing interbeing - the history and trauma on all sides - to soften my heart and deepen my understanding.
This blog by Jewish Voice for Peace was helpful to put things in context for me.
I am trying to keep my heart open and yet I must admit that despair is flooding in. I am trying to take no sides, remembering my love for people on all sides of the wall, knowing that the conflict includes me in the US too. I hope it is possible to hold all voices with compassion while continuing to advocate for a cessation in violence and an end to the military occupation.
May all beings be safe, protected, and free from harm.
May we be free from the delusion of separateness - from our own bodies and those we see as our enemies.
May we rest in spacious awareness, aware of our own capacity for awakening in this moment.
I am here for you with love,
1 Harvesting Olives
Climate Change and Settler Violence
2 Destruction of Palestinian Homes
3 Expansion of Settlements
6 Foreign spouses of Palestinians barred