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A Reminder of Our Shared Humanity in the Face of Israel-Palestine Violence

For us to transform as a society, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individuals. And for us to be transformed as individuals, we have to allow for the incompleteness of any of our truths and a real forgiveness for the complexity of human beings and what we’re trapped inside of. — Angel Kyodo Williams, activist and Zen priest

Dear PEERS subscribers,

Join us in a moment of pausing, and taking a deep breath.

The geopolitical turmoil in Israel and Gaza has appropriately captured our collective attention. Wherever you stand on this important issue, it can be exhausting and heartbreaking to make sense of this deeply complex issue. The culture and information wars playing out in the media have generated ferocious argument, yet very little clarity about how we can engage with each other across the vast differences in the information we consume. At PEERS, we question any narrative that justifies war, or keeps us divided into us vs. them camps.

People all over the world are using the power of art and storytelling to remind us of the larger field of humanity, which often get left out in the polarizing media frenzy of this moment. Join us in foregrounding narratives that bring us together in mindful inquiry.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Along the way of life, someone must have enough sense and morality to cut off the chain of hate. — Martin Luther King Jr.

There is unspeakable suffering and innocent people dying on both sides. Acknowledging the basic humanity at stake is not affiliated with a side nor dependent on an enemy to destroy. This is especially important when we debate and discuss shared versions of reality and history about this complex conflict. How would we relate to this issue, if the goal wasn’t to have clear answers or to determine who is in the right or wrong? India's first and longest serving Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “Let us be a little humble; let us think that the truth may not be entirely with us.”

With many awakening to the grief, confusion, and rage rippling throughout society, our times call for some restoration of the common good. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a "Beloved Community" centers the Greek word agape. Instead of it meaning something sentimental or affectionate, agape is the understanding, redeeming goodwill for all. Furthermore, agape is the willingness to go to any length to restore and heal relationships. King felt that this is our best hope for a durable future that can outlast the harms and abuses in our world. What if we included these constructive qualities in our daily experience, just as much as researching the news, facing injustice, and holding the powerful accountable? How would this enhance our activism?

Koolulam is a social initiative that harnesses the power of music to bring people of all faiths and walks of life together. In 2018, Koolulam invited 3,000 people who had never met before to sing together. 3,000 Jews, Arabs and Christians merge their voices in English, Hebrew, and Arabic to sing "One Day." One day, they sing, there will be no more war and we will live in peace. Watch this meaningful 5-min video of this profound, emotional celebration of coexistence and shared humanity.

The heart that
breaks open can
contain the
whole universe.

― Joanna Macy, scholar of Buddhism and and deep ecology

While political discussions of this tragic conflict flood our media systems, the real stories of those most impacted by war are often not highlighted. A stirring film features powerful (and at times heart-wrenching) human testimonies of those living in war-torn areas, particularly the first 35 minutes. This film is part of a deeply moving series called HUMAN by filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who spent three years collecting real-life stories from thousands of people in 60 countries. Their stories, although unique to them, speak to the human condition and the parts of life that unite us all: love, happiness, poverty, war, and the future of our planet.

There was a moment when he looked at me, and our eyes met. At that moment, everything else disappeared. There was no sound. There was just two people looking at each other in the eyes. And just for a moment connecting like two human beings in an event that is beyond any of their control. At that moment he wasn’t a terrorist. He was a scared man, and he was asking me for help. From that moment on, the war changed for me. It became a little more scary…. And I started to question decisions more. That scared, crying man peeing himself could be any or all of them. — Caleb, US Soldier (17:25, Human Vol. 2)

May we remember the simple power of telling a story, letting it inform us of what it means to be human and what connects us across our seemingly vast differences.

It's easy to avoid having experiences with other groups. But once we do, they're very beneficial. We spoke with someone named Ali Abu Awad [who] is a Palestinian activist. He said he never had contact with an Israeli ... until he was in his 30s. And they were brought together into a group. This Israeli woman was crying, and he was crying. They were both grieving the loss of family members of the conflict. That moment of contact actually changed the whole direction of his life because he realized that this Israeli woman was human like he was. He ended up becoming an activist working toward a solution that humanizes Israelis and humanizes Palestinians at the same time. The Power of Contact in the Rehumanization Process, Waging Nonviolence

The Shambhala Warrior, a 1,200 year old Tibetan Buddhist prophecy, tells the story of regular people who bring about great change and healing through the powers of compassion and insight. In a time of rising barbarian powers, the Shambhala Warriors must dismantle their weapons. The warriors know they can dismantle them because the weapons are "mind-made." Instead of these instruments of death coming from extraterrestrial forces or evil deities, these weapons arise from the deeply held beliefs and stories created about the world. These human stories of separation and fear drive the violence we see. And if it is mind-made, it can be unmade by the human mind.

[Compassion] provides us the fuel, it moves us out to act on behalf of other beings. But by itself it can burn us out. So we need the second as well, which is insight into the dependent co-arising of all things. It lets us see that the battle is not between good people and bad people, for the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. — Edited excerpt from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

A joint statement about the recent violence in Israel-Palestine by Tikkun Magazine and Beyt Tikkun: A Synagogue Without Walls beautifully captures the essence of shared humanity and grounded political thought:

This statement is written and signed by Palestinians, Jews, and others who are committed to holding complex truths and striving to overcome polarization. We feel the pain of our people, identify with their pain, and need to work together to uplift our shared humanity.

The unfolding horror in Israel and Gaza is an escalation of decades of state-sanctioned violence by Israel against Palestinians. We condemn the horrific actions of Hamas against Israeli civilians. We likewise condemn Israel’s unbridled bombing and cutting off access to all basic needs, including food, water, electricity, and medical care. Attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians are repugnant.

Israeli violence against Palestinians has been intentionally hidden, slow, and steady. Contrary to what the media is reporting, this attack was not unprovoked. The Israeli and American governments have worked together to suppress and deny the inhumane acts against Palestinians that have led to this moment. There are Palestinians and Jews who have been raising red flags and warning about this inevitable outcome for decades, only to be dismissed and ignored.

The world’s failure to challenge Israel’s ongoing occupation, apartheid, and unbridled violence by settlers and soldiers in the West Bank provides the context for what is happening now. The recent Israeli government’s escalation of violence, encroachment of Al Aqsa Mosque, and its 16-year siege of Gaza has led to the current explosion.

We repeat: the brutality of Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians is unjustified.

As we watch the violent attacks and rallying of xenophobia on both sides, we are brokenhearted. Although it feels like a time to stand with “our people,” we know this is a time to come together. This is a time of great suffering for all; a time of painful emotions. It is only by recognizing our shared fears and our shared tears that we will find our way through this nightmare. It is a struggle we need to undertake jointly.

When we fall back into our separate and distinct identities we risk becoming part of the problem, not the solution. Both peoples suffer from ongoing trauma. We are all on high alert. The fear is palpable. And it is easy for us to objectify the 'other.'

We seek a third path that neither perpetuates a xenophobic response nor sustains an unjust status quo. This moment calls us to slow down, sit with the pain and complexity, and grapple with our discomfort. It is a moment for digging deep, seeing across differences, and remembering our deep yearning for peace and justice. It is only through compassion and empathy that we will find a different way.

We recognize and uplift the humanity of all peoples in Israel/Palestine.

We call for an immediate ceasefire from Hamas and Israel.

We demand that basic needs be provided to Gazans.

We demand that the United States provide only humanitarian support to Israel and Gaza.

We support the creation of a movement that recognizes and affirms the humanity, dignity, and desire of both peoples to live in peace through reconciliation and justice.

This co-creative vision put forth above shares the same sentiments as social commentator and poet bell hooks, who wrote a powerful essay, "Love is the Practice of Freedom." She explores the need for love in any social movement. She argues that approaches to activism are rooted in overemphasizing material goals like policy change, lawsuits, historical facts, and political jargon. Yet very little attention has been put on changing how we think and relate to each other and our environment. Instead, it is more common to see the shutting down of different perspectives and people treating others as mere disposable artifacts in the cultural economy.

In this society, there is no powerful discourse on love emerging either from politically progressive radicals or from the Left. The absence of a sustained focus on love in progressive circles arises from a collective failure to acknowledge the needs of the spirit and an overdetermined emphasis on material concerns. Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed.

Without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination. It has always puzzled me that women and men who spend a lifetime working to resist one form of domination can be systematically supporting another…. (with) many of us motivated to move against domination solely when we feel our self-interest directly threatened. Often, then, the longing is not for a collective transformation of society, an end to politics of dominations, but rather simply for an end to what we feel is hurting us.

Until we are all able to accept the interlocking, interdependent nature of systems… we will continue to act in ways that undermine our individual quest for freedom and (the) collective liberation struggle. The civil rights movement transformed society in the United States because it was fundamentally rooted in a love ethic. No leader has emphasized this ethic more than Martin Luther King, Jr. King believed that love is "ultimately the only answer" to the problems facing this nation and the entire planet. I share that belief that it is in choosing love… as the ethical foundation for politics, that we are best positioned to transform society.

Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.

These challenging times call for nuance, sensemaking, and healing. What has been helping you connect to a shared sense of humanity and the greater good?

With faith in a transforming world,
Amber Yang for PEERS and

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