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The First Palestinian Workshop for Healing the Hurts of Racism

About three years ago I started leading workshops for Palestinian liberation. That was the beginning of a long series of gatherings and workshops aimed toward building Co-Counseling skills. Recently I noticed that the Palestinian Co-Counselors could do effective liberation work but that more work toward dismantling racism was needed. In order to begin this, I decided to lead a workshop at which Palestinian Co-Counselors, the constituency oppressed by racism, and Israeli Jewish Co-Counselors, the constituency in the oppressor role, would both be present. My main purpose in leading the workshop was to help the people in both groups feel proud of themselves and their origins.

The first issue I faced concerned a Jewish participant who observed the Shabbat ritual both in his personal life and during all RC workshops. The starting time of the workshop coincided with the starting time for Shabbat. I decided that it was all right for the Shabbat ritual to take place but that it didn't make sense for the first Palestinian workshop on healing the hurts of racism to start with a Jewish ritual. I was inspired by Harvey's perspective that Jews, in places where they are a minority, need to be open about their religious rituals and not hide them. In Israel, Palestinians are the oppressed minority, so I decided to start the workshop with a recital of Qura'n verses followed by an Arabic song sung by the Palestinian Co-Counselors. After that we all participated in the Shabbat ritual.

This beginning seemed to be useful for the Palestinian Co-Counselors, who'd had difficulty believing that the workshop would be Palestinian with Arabic spoken, that it would be located in a Palestinian area, or that the Jewish Co-Counselors would be there only as allies and guests. After the opening, the Palestinians were able to feel great pride in our Arabic language and in being in a powerful, leading position. Emphasizing our language and culture gave us a sense of safety, which is the most important factor in working toward dismantling racism. The Jewish Co-Counselors commented that it was useful for them to see us proud of ourselves and that the beginning of the workshop gave them a new and positive perspective.

I shared some theory and did some demonstrations in the large-group setting. Before sharing theory, I asked the Jews to discharge on where it is hard for them to witness and accept Palestinian anger and I asked the Palestinians to discharge on where it is hard for them to show their anger to Jews. Then we discharged in two separate groups: one for Palestinians and one for Israelis.

Because the Jews finished their support-group meeting first, they prepared dinner for the Palestinians, which was a beautiful contradiction.

After dinner we met together for a class and had two excellent demonstrations. The first was with a Palestinian man from the West Bank. At first he said he was not a skilled Co-Counselor. However, the sense of safety, the complete attentiveness of the group, and the good contradictions allowed him to discharge well. He refused to take the direction, "I am not Palestinian, and I will make you feel what the Palestinians feel," and instead chose the direction, "I am Palestinian, and I will tell you what was done to me in prison during the Intifada." He showed his anger powerfully, and everyone in the room discharged with him. (This makes me think that a workshop of this kind must be small and intimate.)

It was the first time this man had told of these things he had always tried to hide or forget in order to survive. He allowed himself to become transparent and let the Israelis see his pain and vulnerabilities. This led to him feeling separated from the Israelis, whom he saw as oppressors, and from the Palestinians, because he felt a sense of shame for his "weakness" as a man. As we were going into two separate groups for sessions, my three-year-old daughter came into the room and started to play with him. That made him smile and say, "It sometimes happens that someone likes somebody."

The second demonstration was with a Mizrachi Jewish woman. She, too, at first said she was not a skilled Co-Counselor, but she quickly began discharging with the direction to remember her goodness. At the end of the demonstration she decided to get closer to one of the Palestinian Co-Counselors at the workshop.

The second day was primarily with Palestinian Co-Counselors. We started out with the women tossing pillows at each other. Then we had two topic groups focusing on "What do you want the Jews to know about their racism?" and "What are you willing to do to help liberate your group from oppression?" After that we looked at the Palestinian internalized racism that separates us Palestinians from one another. I did a demonstration with a Palestinian man and a Palestinian woman.

In general, the Israeli Co-Counselors were excellent allies to the Palestinian Co-Counselors. And throughout the workshop, non-smokers were allies to the people who smoked. We maintained an atmosphere of connectedness, and along with the hard work we had much fun, laughter, and dance. At the end everyone worked together to clean up the workshop site (my house), and before parting we played a game in which my husband and children also participated.

Noha Hijab
Kfar Maker, Israel
Translated from Arabic by Ibtisam Barakat


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00