Israel, Palestine, Home, Me – Part II
Hummus, complex responses, and a new friendship with a Palestinian leader
Posted Jan 04, 2014
I know it's home because the sights and the sounds and the smells compel me even when I don't like them. Because the intensity of stress everyone lives with feels like it's just been yesterday even though it had been three years since my last visit. Because despite my distaste for the gruff mannerisms, I still love the immediacy, the unmediated access to people, the directness. Both this time and last time, my sister Arnina and I had post-movie conversations in the bathroom with total strangers, conversation that traversed meaning and slices of everyone's personal lives. I still miss the particular brand of kindness and generosity that means anyone can ask anyone for anything and mostly they will just do it. I recognize the longing, unmistakable, for some way of being "real" that I simply don't find in the US, the place I have made home and never feel at home in. A longing which surprised me with its intensity when a group of local Israelis in San Francisco started gathering once a month to sing the songs we grew up on. The first time I simply cried, in recognition, familiarity, and unbearable sweetness.
We don't get to choose who sits with us on an airplane, and so now, on my trip back, I feel lucky to have landed someone that feels like a companion to share the endless flight with. And he asks why I don't want to go back, and I have to think, so I don't have a rehearsed answer, because it's still so fresh, the mix of it all. And that mix includes the reminders about why I left, the horrors that would otherwise be done in my name, so close to home, directly by my people to people who are clearly kin.
Yes, I live in a country now that I believe doles out much more harm to the world than Israel ever has - by sheer numbers, by intensity, by scope. Still the harm manages to be diffuse, and mostly away, hidden in the convenience of the vast spaces of the land and the world. My friend Nichola wrote in a sermon recently, about people in the US: "Without our consent but with our complicity, we have been positioned as enemies of the earth and its inhabitants, and we don't even know it." One can truly not know in the US, or one has to make a serious effort to know. Israel, by contrast, is agonizingly small, and the harm, whatever it is, is always so near, only a few kilometers away, visible. No one can claim they don't see or know of the wall separating Israel from parts of what wants to be born and recognized as the free state of Palestine.
I don't go home not only because harm, visible harm, continues to be done in my name. It's also because of what doing harm to others is doing to my people. Yes, there is kindness, and generosity, and care that pierce me, regularly, and yet I have to remember them and dig for them underneath the surface of the vulgar, crass, loud, and insensitive shield everyone seems to be wearing, as if to protect their tender hearts from knowing, from feeling the devastation of being rendered inhuman, as if to find a way to not know, to believe it's justified, to be lulled into accepting the fears that perpetuate the war and separation.
So I am not going back, even if I didn't have the fundamental aversion to and sense of trauma about the idea of moving from anywhere to anywhere; even if I didn't have a sister six and half years into cancer I want to be near; even if I didn't have my work and the thickly woven web of doings and beings and support and meaning that ties me to where I am; even if I didn't live in the place on earth that has the most obscenely abundant year-around access to fresh, local, organic, delicious food of all varieties.
In my choice to stay away from this land, I now can celebrate, as I wrote about in my last piece, that I have found some way to contribute, something I can do as my small part in aiming for peace, for a new future for two peoples. You can read about it here, as I describe the 4-day training in Convergent Facilitation I did while there. What I didn't tell about in that piece I want to complete here: the friendships I encountered there, both old and new, that ultimately sustain everything I do.
Each time I go to Israel I experience paradox. Time there is both nourishing and challenging. With my old friends, whom I see, intensely, every two or three years, something is surreal, love and loss combined. Into this, another new friendship was born, through an accidental chat on a train on a stormy day that turned into deeper and deeper engagement as we rode the train together. As I was telling her one day, on email, about how much I work and how tired I am, she said something I imagine I will carry with me for a long time: "I bless you with continuing to work and get tired, work and get tired, doing what you must do." Amen.