January 27, 2011 by Andy Dreitcer
I begin with a confession: Even though I have been to this land before, studied the cultural, political, and religious situations more than I imagine most people have, and taken care to try to identify who’s who and where and what and why, I arrived yesterday evening realizing I am still rather confused about the identities and locations of the various populations here. Israel? Israelis? Jewish Israelis? Israeli Arabs? Palestinians? Palestine? Palestinian territories? Druze? Christian Arabs? Muslim Arabs? Muslim Israelis? Catholic Israeli Arabs? Are any, all, or some of these appropriate or accurate or accepted ways of referring to the people and the land? I’m suddenly very aware that I don’t know how to answer that question. And I’m also keenly aware of how important it has become for me to attend to the ways people name themselves, their heritage, and their home – particularly because I am trying to develop news ways of teaching in a school, Claremont School of Theology, that is re-forming itself into an inter-religious university that trains leaders from a multitude of religious traditions who define themselves in a multitude of ways. With my colleague, Frank Rogers, I have been sent by our school to explore how our Center for Engaged Compassion might connect with reconciliation efforts in this traumatized land. Yes, I am here with a purpose. But now I find myself confused. So I have resolved to forget what I think I used to know. Instead, I want to try to enter into a contemplative stance; I want truly to hear what the people I meet have to tell me. I hope I can attend to what they say about their own lives, what they call themselves, how they define their own land. So, I have decided to listen for stories – and the stories I hear will fill much of what I write over the coming days. Here, then, is the first story that stands out for me:
Eitan is a Jewish, Israeli therapist who has been training a group of Jewish and Arab (Christians, Muslims, and Druze) women in a contemplative/therapeutic process that cultivates healing and reconciliation among the members of the group and across the communities in which these women are respected leaders. In preparing for the group’s first gathering, Eitan planned to lead them in one of those rather common group-building “icebreakers” that consists of a set of “let’s-find-out-about-each-other” invitations: e.g., asking everyone whose favorite fruit is grapes to take one step forward. One of the invitations was to be: “Everyone who was born in Israel, take…..” But in the midst of the planning, Eitan and her colleague suddenly realized that Israel was not necessarily a universally-embraced designation. Did everyone in the group refer to the land they lived in as “Israel”? Or did some call it Palestine? Or something else? It’s not a good thing if a group-building icebreaker sparks tension or anger. So, after some thought, they changed the invitation to “Everyone who was born in this land….”
Yes, I know: this doesn’t clear up my confusion. Instead, it points me to what seems to be the confused state of this holy place. But I will keep on listening as the stories unfold…..
(P.S. to Alane. I am making every effort to help Frank follow your instruction to “make good choices”: tonight I prevented him from climbing over the 10-foot-high wall into the garden behind the Church of the Nativity. I’ll continue to be vigilant.)