A Workshop for Jews and Palestinians in Israel 

(Hebrew translation)

On the last weekend of November, I led for the third time a day about liberation from racism for Jews and Palestinians who are Israeli citizens and also social activists. It was part of a wide world project I am coordinating. The goal of the project is to initiate dialogue between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and to support similar initiatives.

During the daylong program I shared the theory and practice of RC, and information about liberation from oppression in general and racism in particular. To help people decide to come, I’d convinced the NGO (non-governmental organization) I work for to pay a small amount of money to the people who attended. I doubt if the money itself brought anyone, but it helped some women with families, who are strongly pressured to be with their families over the weekends.

The first two times I’d led one of these days, I had invited mostly people I’d known, whom I’d also believed could quickly get into the RC Community. But after canceling an event a few weeks earlier because I hadn’t had enough participants, I decided to be looser this time with the invitations. Following the concept that there are people that we want to bring into RC, and others that we want to bring RC to, I dared to invite some people I hadn’t met before, or whom I knew and was skeptical about but who had some attention and I believed could hear the theory without getting too restimulated.

I think it was a good decision. Some of the people I had known beforehand surprised me in their willingness to look at things and work on them openly. And some I hadn’t known were eager to learn about the ideas and practice of RC. Even more important, the decision forced me to face my own fears and challenge my own limitations. It allowed me to test in a direct way how powerful RC is and how much we can achieve even when people’s knowledge and experience of RC are limited. It proved to me again that what we are offering is vital and that everyone wants it—whether they can recognize it or not.

Sixteen people came to the event: six Palestinians, four Mizrahi Jews, and the rest Ashkenazi Jews. Three of the women were RC leaders who were close to me and who came to support me. They were significant resources both to me and to the other participants. Two other Jewish women had already been through an RC fundamentals class, and a few of the other people had been to the previous days I had led.

Because most of the participants hadn’t actually known what they were coming to, and because I’m familiar with the way an “Israeli-Palestinian dialogue meeting” usually looks, I opened by saying what we were not going to do: we were not going to hold discussions, exchange opinions and ideas, or argue. Rather we were going to learn and try a new practice. I told people that they didn’t have to agree with anything I claimed, and that I could be wrong, but I suggested that they try what I was about to offer. I’m familiar with the patterns of criticism carried by people who are active in Jewish-Palestinian relations (and by Israelis in general), and I believe that most of the people who came found it helpful to give up the criticism (at least for a limited time) and really listen to the ideas I was trying to share.

After saying the above, I did what I usually do in RC introductions: I described what a human being is. (I think this is always necessary, and that it is vital at an event that deals with racism.) I reminded people how each and every one of us is good and was born full of passion for closeness and connections. And I said how vulnerable we are to being hurt and how distress affects us. Then I spoke about discharge and how it helps us recover from the hurts. I also spoke a bit about the things, like attention and connection, that help us get to the discharge. Then we did a mini-session in pairs or three-ways.

After that, Merchi Shookrun Lior did a demonstration with a Palestinian woman who had attended the meetings in the past and is very interested in RC. She could discharge deeply, which clearly demonstrated what we are about [who we are and what we do] and how we do it. Then we split into small support groups that each of the RC leaders led. I had decided that the groups would be mixed race, so we split based on sex into ethnically diverse groups. I worked with the men—one Palestinian, one Mizrahi, and one Ashkenazi. They all worked on issues from their past and opened up in deep and honest ways. Some of them discharged. The other leaders reported that the people in their groups had discharged on tough, deep distress.

After a break, I spoke directly about racism and the ways that it twists our relationships and our views of others as well as ourselves. I did a demonstration with the Palestinian man, who worked bravely and openly on the ways that Palestinian history and oppression had affected his life. He cried deeply, and many others, both Jews and Palestinians, cried with him.

One thought I had after the event was that Jews and Palestinians being together can make things hard for Mizrahim. At the gathering I’d emphasized that Mizrahim are an oppressed group (and that Palestinians and Mizrahim basically belong to the same group) and that white Ashkenazi racism hurts both Mizrahim and Palestinians. However, there are still many differences in their positions. The Mizrahim in Israel have been manipulated into being oppressors of the Palestinians, and the Mizrahim who live in Arab countries have been oppressed by the local Arab communities. At the event it was hard for the Mizrahim to tell their stories of oppression. I think this was partly because when they listened to the sessions of the Palestinians, they were listening from the role of the oppressor. I also think it was because leftist Ashkenazim have a strong tendency to connect with Palestinians while skipping over [not paying attention to] the Mizrahim. Part of the racism of the Ashkenazim toward the Mizrahim is to exclude or ignore the Mizrahi story, making the Palestinian story seem more significant.

We Ashkenazim need to discharge on this to figure out how to be allies to both groups. I am thinking about how to make more space in the future for the Mizrahi stories.

These daylong events have pushed me and the other leaders to think again about the racism toward both Palestinians and Mizrahim, the role of Israeli Jews as allies and supporters of the Palestinians, and the role of RC in ending the violent conflict in the Middle East. I am planning to lead a few more days like this, and I am excited about it. They are a great lesson for me.

Ofer Lior

Tuval, Israel

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Last modified: 2019-08-02 19:04:42+00