These days my heart is in turmoil and my mind is thinking the most desperate thoughts. My stomach is made sick from all the hatred and anger I hear and witness around me. There is a lot of cruelty and injustice in the world that I don’t understand and feel helpless against. But the current conflict between Israel and Gaza touches me on a personal level. It shakes me to my very core. I am no Javier Bardem and my words may have lesser weight, but I grew up in Israel and I would like to share with you about that experience and the perspective it has given me, if I may.
GROWING UP IN ISRAEL
I grew up in a secular kibbutz that had no synagogue. Nobody lit Sabbath candles. Almost everyone who lived there had a very left-nick political view and believed in peace. Bible studies were part of our curriculum, but none of us were too interested and wanted merely to pass our exams. Our teacher from “outside” (the kibbutz’s bubble, that is) was a religious man, who knew the Bible inside out and was reading its complex language to us with much ardour and pride. I slept through most of it. Until I heard him say something very unusual and unexpected: “We’d like to think of ourselves as the chosen people, but we are no different, no better. We have committed all the horrors that others have – murdered out of greed and afflicted pain on others.” The classroom became suddenly uncomfortably silent and I started to pay attention. This was a devout man clearly very proud of his religion, yet able to step back and look at it with a critical eye. He was an inspiration to me. I never again slept in his class.
When I joined the Israeli army, not by choice, but because I had to, I thought again of my teacher. I knew in my heart that I would never be able to fire a gun at someone, yet I was asked to pledge allegiance to my country by holding in one hand the Holy Bible – “that represents our culture and beautiful heritage” explained the ceremonial officer, and in my other hand a gun – “that can protect it”. Many of my soldier friends were moved to tears, while I couldn’t help thinking that it was frighteningly reminiscent of something I had already seen in videos, broadcasted later on the news, by people who claimed to be our sworn enemies. People we claim to differ from; people we claim to be better than.
WE ARE ALL INTERCONNECTED AND OUR FATES ARE ENTWINED
Years later, while studying ancient yogic philosophy, I was inspired by the thought that we are all in fact interconnected and our actions can set off either a wave of positive, or negative changes in the Universe. The very purpose of the path of yoga is to bring union, or oneness. And it warns us about our primarily obstacle: our own ego that sees itself as separate from others, living solely in the physical body. Yoga teaches us that as long as we see ourselves as separate from others, or better than others, we suffer. And our world suffers with us, greatly.
I am incredibly fortunate to be living in a democratic country like Canada, where you are not only allowed to speak up about grievances you may have, but are encouraged to. I am privileged in my safety. But I am very much affected by all that is happening right now, far away in Gaza. We all are. I may not know a single Palestinian personally, but I hear those innocent children’s last cries as though they were my own. I feel their pain right in my gut and it sickens me. We are not separate. The same is true of my fellow countrymen who wrap themselves in Israeli flags and rejoice that “Gaza is now a cemetery” and that “There are no schools or children left in Gaza”, as much as I would like to deny that connection. I know our fates are entwined and I acknowledge with sadness that hate does unfortunately exist. I would like to see myself separate, a better person, but I soon realize that in voicing my desire to separate myself from Israel by denouncing my citizenship, I have also hurt my best friend.
My friend wrote to me a heartfelt letter about her sadness caused by my shame of our country. Her political argument is similar to what you may have already heard. Hamas are being the real baddies here, aiming to wipe out Israel from the face of the earth. They are terrorists and psychopaths who won’t even hesitate using innocent civilians as “human-shields”. Israel has the right to defend itself. There are infinitely worse and more horrible things going on in other parts of the world that no one criticizes or cares about. There is a lot of anti-Semitic propaganda out there... While my friend is a peace loving left-nick and a mother, I’m not surprised by what she says. I’ve been following the Israeli news closely on the “mission in Gaza”. I know already that harrowing images of the devastation of Gaza the world could see on CNN were not shared with the Israeli public. No injured children or mothers crying in their blood soaked shirts. No mentioning the names of Palestinian victims. Instead there’s talk of self-defense, national security, dangerous tunnels and the constant threat. An esteemed reporter even called the nation to “cheer and laugh as they hear the bombs falling on Gaza, and the cries of those psychopaths’ caught with their pants down”. Israeli artists, pro-peace protesters and Jews who dare to voice their objection are accused of being “the worst kind of traitors who deserve to be sent to the gas chambers”… I understand and sympathize that it’s hard to think differently in this environment. Sirens go off every couple of minutes, rockets threaten your safety and young Israeli soldiers are sent to fight, possibly to their death. And my shame accomplishes nothing. What good does it bring? Will it only add another spark to the rising negativity and hate? What then? What feasible solutions are there? Are there any?
THE ONLY LONG LASTING SOLUTION - COMPASSION AND PEACE
Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love, this is the eternal rule. (Buddha)
So I am brought back to the ancient yogic scriptures and recall what my Bible studies teacher said 20 years ago: “We are no different. No better, no worse, and not separate”.
And before I am accused of being some naïve idealist, sentimental pacifist (or unoriginally - anti-Semitic) I plead with you – to look deep within your heart and forget your religion and nationality for a second… Imagine being born in a different part of the world, perhaps on the opposing side. Would you see yourself as a brave defender, a freedom fighter, or a repressor, a terrorist? Under what circumstances would it be acceptable for you to rejoice in the death of children? What if they were your children? Would you be more worthy of your freedom, your basic human rights than the person next door? Is that person a psychopath, or merely someone who is trying to survive, very much like you? Is he or she is really so different than you? Do you still see yourself separate from him, or her?
It is all a matter of perspective, and no side is right. They are both grievously wrong. There are no winning sides in a bloodshed war. We are all losers in this downward spiral of ignorance, hate and revenge. We are merely mortals, temporarily occupying this planet before we hand them over to our children. Our fates, and the future of all our children are entwined. And while I am immensely grateful that I can tuck my two young daughters safely in their beds and kiss them goodnight, I want them to grow up in a better, more compassionate world. Their world is only as safe as is their neighbours. So I will do my very best to guide them in this journey and to cultivate love around me every chance I get. But I can’t do it alone. I need you to join my camp. Human to human, parent to parent, I beg of you.