It's a slippery slope when people become so hardened that they lose their empathic capacity. They have also lost their inner empathy….they lose track of what is happening to them, in addition to distancing from the feelings of others. Toward the end of her life, the novelist Anais Nin explained why she had stopped reading the newspaper. "Either I am shattered, or I become hardened. I can't allow myself to do either."
We Israelis have allowed ourselves to become hard. Next time you get so furious with someone that you imagine hurting them, check to see how you feel about yourself in those moments. A 19 year old soldier who evades rocks thrown in the casbah of Nablus, day after day, who arrests 11 year old boys in the middle of the night, terrifying the family and dragging the weeping child into a jeep…. What becomes of this soldier's soul? Now picture him doing what he does for 52 years, and multiply him by tens of thousands. The guys who obeyed Rabin's order and broke the arms and legs of captured Palestinians during the first Intifada (uprising) in '87, those guys are now in their 50's. The young officers from the '80's are likely now in management. The occupation is deep in our bones, in our blood. Like the strongest West Bank settlement, the identity of Israeli-as-oppressor is here to stay.
Unless we take the country back, so that we can begin the healing. The talking, the listening, the face-to-face meetings, the willingness to confront the price we all pay for our dominance. If we can head back toward justice, and make our way through the shame and regret, reaching for the lost innocence and inclusiveness that once were central to Israel's way. If we can regain the best about being Jewish, if we can advance beyond our history and lay fresh track, nothing will stop our breaking free, together. The imperative is to leverage the coming election for a breakthrough. However, the day after whatever are the results, that is when our struggle for Israel's soul will shift into high gear. Myriad initiatives will burst forth, and a new wave of hope will sweep the cities of Israel and Palestine.
Last week, the Sulha Peace Project brought 60 Palestinians and Israelis together, to engage each other around issues of parenting. In small circles, people spoke of their parents, and of their children. The listening was impeccable. We danced toward the end, to celebrate this fleeting moment. As the evening ended, we announced the opening of registration for a bi-national group of Jerusalem parents who want to study parenting in a safe setting. The macro, the micro. One step at a time, breaking free, together.
YOAV PECK is co-director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people-to-people solidarity.
Yoav is also a valued member of Track Two's International Abrahamic Network (IAN)