Last month Sarai and I sat at a gathering in the Negev desert in Israel called the Sulhita gathering. 150 Jewish and Palestinian teenagers gathered together for 5 days in the desert to make and celebrate peace. No finger pointing. No blame game. Just some good old fashion peace making. Some times we sit around and wait for politicians to tell us when we can and can't have peace. Screw that. We can just do it. And we did. For five days. We sang eachothers songs, and danced in eachothers celebrations and we sat at night around the camp fire and listened to eachothers stories.
One story really stuck out to me. It was told to us by a pair of peacemakers who came from a group of Israelis and Palestinians who had each lost dear family members from all the fighting. Most of the Israelis in the group had lost family members from bus bombings and shootings and most of the Palestinians lost family members from Israeli army activity. Yet they sat side by side and spoke of their yearnings for peace and reconciliation.
Ahmed grew up in Jenin. (He's the dude on the right. The man next to him is an Israeli who lost his son.) The only Israelis Ahmed had ever met wore green Camo, held huge guns and sometimes drove tanks. This to him was what a Jew was. He said that he grew up hating Jews and during the intifada he was in the front lines throwing stones and who knows what else. He'd been in and out of jail several times. One day there was an early curfew in town to keep people off the streets. Ahmeds 13 year old brother went for a walk to his grandmothers house just down the street. He heard shooting and started to run. Before he could make it to the door a rubber bullet made it to his chest. The bullet went through his little body and literally broke his little heart. He died. Ahmed said that that day was the last day he saw his mother smile. Fueled with more rage he hit the streets again looking for bigger stones to throw.
A few years later Ahmed needed a job and had looked everywhere in town but couldn't find one. His friends told him that there were good jobs in Israel. At first he was appalled at the idea of working in Israel for Jews, but eventually he had no other choice. So he got a construction job in a Jewish town working for a Jewish boss, the first Jew he ever met who wasn't wearing green. He was very bitter about the whole situation. One day his boss stopped and asked him why his face was always so sad and bitter. They sat down under a tree and Ahmed told the story of his brothers death and about his mothers grief. As he told the story his Jewish boss began to weep and say how sorry he was that had happened to his brother! Ahmed didn't really know what to do or what to think. He'd never met or seen a Jew expressing compassion and this behavior didnt jive at all with the image he had in his head of his enemy, the "other" he'd been fighting against and trying to destroy.
Two weeks later a Palestinian man walked onto the 18 bus in downtown Jerusalem and detonated and explosives belt around his waist. The blast was so strong that the top of the bus pealed back like the lid of a sardine can. 17 Israelis were instantly killed and many more injured. After work that day Ahmed returned to his mothers house. When he came in he found her on the ground crying besides the television set as the news was coming through. He said "Mom, why are you crying? don't you know those were Jews who were killed, not Palestinians?" The Mom looked up and said through her tears to him "I'm crying because of all the Mothers who are right now going through what I once went through".
Something began to change in Ahmeds heart and in his mind. He no longer could say that he hated Jews because he'd met one, just one, that he really liked. His mother showed him that pain and suffering transcended nationality and religion. And he had to reconcile this new information with his actions. He realized that throwing stones and plotting destruction we're just perpetuating the struggling. Eventually he found the Bereaved Families group of Israelis and Palestinians and now he tours around Israeli towns and Palestinian communities side by side with Israelis and shares his story.
These people who lost their relatives have every excuse to live in hatred. Yet they choose love and reconsiliation. If they can do it, we have no excuse.
Another thing that really struck me by this story is how it only takes a few small interactions to radically transform a person. So Im trying to look at each moment as sacred and as having awesome potential for growth. In this life, with this body and with these eyes, we can barely see the ripples we are constantly sending out. We know so little about what effect we have on eachother. The boss had no Idea was he was really doing and neither did the Mamma...they were just being, being genuine and coming from a place of compassion and when we come from that place of compassion, especially for the "other", we send out beautiful waves of goodness.
Click here for Sulhita