“We Are Not Occupied”

In anxiety, Dr. Dick Schwartz, Internal Family Systems, International IFS, Israeli Palestine Womens Peace, Mindfulness, Palestinian Women, Psychotherapy, Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm
  “It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall being tortured. I realized somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled bloody helplessness, I was still free; free to hate the men who were torturing me or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choices you make, between hating and forgiving, become the story of your life.”    — From Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts  

Founder and Director, Beyond Words


  Nitsan Gordon – Giles MA, Director
The Beyond Words Organization

 On Thursday, when I led a workshop in the Occupied Territories (also known as the West Bank or the Palestinian Territories) I understood a bit of what Roberts was referring to. 

Bringing together this group of Israeli and Palestinian women from four religions – Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Druze took a year and a half and has been one of the more challenging things I have done, mainly because of distance, technical details and fear –especially fear to meet in the Occupied Territories . In the Israeli media the main news concerning the territories is about conflict, violence and terrorists who are caught by the Israeli army. Thus, many of us feel that we are risking our lives (more than usual) if we go into the Occupied Territories .

We met in the train station in Jerusalem to begin our journey. One woman was afraid to drive in, so she and a few of the Jewish women took a cab. I sat in a car with Randa and Hala, two Arab Druze women, and Mariam, my Muslim colleague who co-led the group with me and was driving. She changed her head scarf to tie in the back and with her sunglasses and long dress she looked like a religious settler. The cab ahead of us, carrying the Jewish women, was stopped and their IDs were checked. We were waved right through.

I was nervous. I felt responsible for their well being and wondered what I was leading them into. Some of the women seemed so different in backgrounds. They also seemed to have such expectations of me and Beyond Words that I was afraid to fail. Fail in my eyes and in theirs.

Yet as soon as we entered the beautiful, serene school grounds of Talitha Kumi, my fears abated. When opening the door to walk in Randa, told me that the school is named after Jairus’ young daughter who had died. Jesus held her hand and said to her “Talitha Kumi” which means “Little girl, I tell you to get up” And she did. (Mark 5:41).

I knew that one of our challenges was communication.  Some spoke all three languages – Arabic, Hebrew, and English and others two or only one. There was not one language common to everyone, so every sentence spoken was translated by group members.

In the opening circle Mariam asked them “what brought you here?” Hala said she was scared to go into the Occupied Territories , that she had never been there and the news made it look so terrible. Yet she wanted to join the group so she asked her father what to do and he encouraged her to go.

Ania, a Palestinian woman, said that she was there so the Israeli women could hear about the suffering Israel was inflicting on the Palestinian people that was not described in the Israeli media. “For example,” she said “we have a holiday coming up where we are supposed to go into Jerusalem and pray and we are not permitted.”

Randa, a Druze woman, said that she was aware of a fifth religion in the room – her religion – Love.

Nira, a Jewish woman said she came because she wanted to meet the Palestinian women. She said she was so tired of hearing about suffering, the conflict and the violence that she hardly ever listened to the news anymore. She also stopped being socially active as she had been in the past. Yet this group attracted her because it not only offered dialogue but also healing and an opportunity to revive her tired spirit.

Edna, another Jewish woman said she was not so optimistic about the situation but still she came because she thought these meetings were important. They offered her an opportunity to feel not so alone in how she viewed the Israeli Palestinian conflict. At home her husband and her son who is in the army see things differently than her and there has been so much anger and discord between them on these issues, almost to the point of violence. Now they never talk about politics anymore.

Other women spoke about all of us being mothers and the power of women to change things. “When we give birth something in our heart is also born” one of them said.

Samia, a Muslim Palestinian woman, said that whenever she thought of Israeli women she thought of the severe, harsh women she met when she visited her brother in the Israeli prison. She also remembered how when she was young she went to help her father in the olive grove situated next to an army camp surrounded by a fence. Many times she saw soldiers — both women and men  — on the other side of the fence and waved to them, saying “shalom, ma nishma?” (Hello, how are you?) in Hebrew. Their response was always the same “Yala Zuzi Mipo” – “Go away… get out of here.” Our group is the first time she met Israeli women who seemed different.

At the end of a day filled with dance movement therapy, laughing and playing together, listening to one another’s personal pain, hearing about Beyond Words and how it originated, sharing lunch and massaging one another we finally met for the closing circle.

Even in my exhausted state, the sharing in the circle touched me deeply. Nira said with tears running down her cheeks that she can now look at the news and be able to hear about the conflict because now she knows there is also this possibility. A few of the women said they felt like they had known each other for years even though today was the first time they had ever met.

Samia apologized for her words in the beginning about how harsh Israeli women she had met were. She was embarrassed for having said it after meeting these women who were so different. She said she has a friend who had spent time in the Israeli prison and never wanted to see or meet Israelis again. She wanted to bring her to this group.

 One of Samia’s friends, Suheila, said to Samia that it is good she shared her pain because Israelis need to know, since they never hear about it in the media. Yet for me the sharing of her story was much more than an advertisement of suffering. It was the beginning of healing. I realized (and cried about it later) how little warmth, caring and acknowledgement most of us need in order to open our hearts to others.  She had been authentic and courageous and trusted us enough to share her pain.  I thanked her for leading the way in a circle which I felt would slowly grow to hold more and more pain; and through that holding and acknowledgement provide an opportunity for healing and for seeing one another, maybe for the first time, not as an enemy but as an ally with whom we can work together for change.

After the group ended I went to speak to Naseem, the Palestinian program director of Talitha Kumi. He asked me what the Beyond Words Organization did and I explained about our groups in the Galilee . “But this is the first time we have ever had a group in the Occupied Territories.” I added.

 Naseem looked at me and smiled: “We are not Occupied.” he said quietly.

 And then I remembered Roberts and his words about how in every situation we are free to feel whatever we choose and that the choices we make between hating and forgiving become the story of our lives.

(All names of participating women have been changed)



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