Wednesday, January 09, 2008

IPCRI (Palestinian/Israeli) retreat in Jerusalem

IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) had a retreat this past weekend at the beautiful Tantur Center in Gilo near the Bethlehem border. Now sometimes these retreats can be quite stressful for me and other times they are most enjoyable.

There were about 200 Israelis and Palestinians who participated in the many workshops over Friday and Saturday. It always astounds me that even after 6 years of being involved in peace activities, I'm still meeting new people and making new connections. When you think you just about know everyone in the field, you realize there's still a lot more out there. Which makes me happy of course, believing that these grassroots movements are growing like weeds.

I checked into a lovely room with a terrace that morning and after lunch went back to my room to put away some of the brochures I collected. I noticed another backpack on the other bed and wondered who my roommate was. But what I did notice was that this person didn't have any toiletries or perhaps didn't get around to unpacking them. That's unusual for a woman, isn't it? The jacket on the bed was black with a satin stripe and I wondered whether I did indeed have a female roommate.

I ran down to the front desk.

"Who is my roommate?"

"We don't have any names, you'll have to check with the organizers"

It wasn't until dinner time that one of the organizers came over to me and said she had made a mistake and had put a man in my room. Great! Just what my husband would want while he is in Canada. And I wondered who the lucky guy was! But I didn't stick around to find out, and hurriedly got my things and checked into another room. I thought how funny it would have been had I not questioned anything and went to sleep and then I'd see this guy come into the room.

The next day people were like "well, how did you sleep."

"Very well, thank you, since I didn't have a GUY in my room."

Other than that faux pas, the retreat was very well organized with a choice of 3 different workshops at any given time. I gave a workshop at the very beginning with my friend Rahel from Reiki for Peace on "How to Move from Extremism to Tolerance" citing my days as a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane and how these Israeli/Palestinian encounters" made such a difference and changed my life entirely.

There were quite a large number of young Palestinians in our workshop, from the Hebron area and some from Bethlehem and Nablus. I guess they have their hardships with neighborhing Jewish extremists and were interested to hear my story.

There were some very powerful young people at the retreat that I had a strong feeling of a new world order about to emerge from this. I know that's a very powerful statement, but it really felt "as if".

The fact that I live in Maaleh Adumim raised some eyebrows but the participants here weren't as aggravated about this fact as they are at other times, and listened to my views. A Fatah guy from Bethlehem was terribly excited when he heard where I come from and shouted "That's IT! We have to start talking to settlers!." Even though I don't feel like a settler at all, I guess I'll always be one to the Palestinians. I often wonder if they consider those who live in post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods like French Hill, Talpiot Mizrach, Gilo and Ramot as settlers too. Mr. "Fatah" and I exchanged numbers and I hope it won't be too hard for him to get a permit to come into Jerusalem for more interfaith gatherings. But one of the Palestinians told me he knows of two Palestinian families who live in Maaleh Adumim, which I was thrilled to hear about - one is a journalist and the other, I have no idea. And I wondered if their neighbors know and if these families are having an easy time of it or not.

We were entertained Friday evening by Musicians for Peace who were better than I've ever heard them in their four years together, and they sang Shlomo Carlebach's classic "Because of My Brothers and Friends" in Hebrew, English and Arabic while we linked arms and swayed back and forth together as one family.

One of the more popular workshops there was how to influence policy makers. There wasn't enough time for everyone's questions and there was just so much to talk about that we could have gone on for hours about this.

And while I was going to workshop after workshop, it seemed that my own goals became clearer, and I was quite happy and confident in knowing that I have a very big goal in mind - which is combating racism in my neighborhood. Not an easy task and certainly this is not a task for one person. But I thought of adding monthly encounters at my home when things are a little less hectic in my life and getting others involved. I'm sure we could have quite a nice group going in my part of town and took down numbers of people who asked to do worskhops in my area - interfaith yoga workshops, compassionate listening, reiki, etc. etc.

But whether I can get a local group going from my home or not, or whether these grass roots movements will grow into tens of thousands of people or not didn't matter in the end. What did matter was the fact that whenever I do attend these gatherings, my heart is filled with so much hope and joy, that it just spills over to everyone I come into contact with, and I wonder if they notice how happy I am. My son certainly felt it and spent the day cleaning up so I came home to a spotless home. Now that is certainly worth something, isn't it?


thatdudeyouknow said...


Alex said...

Your readers may be interested to listen to Meir Kahane's views firsthand. They can download his videos here: The downloads are full DVD and sound quality is way better than on google video or youtube.