Holy Land Lab

As this year draws to a close, my thoughts go out to my family and friends, Israelis, Palestinians and internationals, who are experiencing a challenging period and for whom I wish a calmer, clearer and co-creative new year.

Last week, after returning form a trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv, I sat down and wrote some of my experiences and observations of people from both sides of the conflict.

Observing how Israelis experience reality, there is one emotion at the base of almost every impression, and that is fear. A fear that is not caused by any particular threat, but rather exists as a constant anxiety, fueled by actual incidents of terror and by a non stopping flow of alarming news. The main need, arising from this fear, is security.

The majority of Israelis vote for a leader who addresses their collective fear, connects it to a concrete threat, and promises to provide security in the face of that threat. Whenever this view of reality is challenged, more security measures are often the response of choice. Visiting a main West Bank junction last week, where Palestinian and Israeli residents normally cross paths, and where several violent incidents had recently taken place, I witnessed an unprecedented number of soldiers stationed around this civic space and pointing loaded guns at every direction.

Palestinians experience reality through an overarching feeling of oppression, which prevails at checkpoints, prisons and homes, and most importantly, in people’s minds. When asking Palestinian activists to imagine a future where Israeli security forces are absent, they experienced a temporary influx of energy, but were not able to visualize a future without oppression. The main need, frequently expressed by Palestinians, is freedom (from oppression).

People will go to any length to assert their freedom, even if only symbolically. One ex-prisoner retold the joy he felt when realizing the number of soldiers stationed at his village was temporarily reduced by half. The Palestinian president is investing much of his energy in pursuing recognition for an independent state, and presenting his people with symbols of freedom.


All Nations Cafe Gathering in Walaja
European volunteers holding a Palestinian baby and an Israeli baby © 2009 All Nations Café

The third type of stakeholders I observed, consists of Jewish newcomers, mostly from USA, UK and France, who recently relocated to Israel, and of international activists and humanitarian organizations, mostly from Europe and North America, who came to work in Palestine. Unlike many locals, who have become worn down under the ongoing pressure, these fresh stakeholders have ample resources and enthusiasm to help the Israelis and the Palestinians, respectively, and are therefore a major source of new energy for the system.

Asking myself what could be the most effective way to be of help, I think that cultivating a more objective and emphatic view of ourselves and the others, as well as the system as a whole, can lead us out of the cycle of violence and into a co-creative state that will benefit everyone.

I envision an upcoming ‘Holy Land Lab’, where people from all around the world, along with Palestinian and Israeli stakeholders from different sectors, work together with local leaders on a new way of seeing, feeling and acting.

You’re welcome to join.

Wishing you a happy new year,

Dhyan Or


A Letter from Jerusalem

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you from two places, where my heart and mind are present now. One place is in Europe and the other is in Jerusalem.

What a big difference between the two! But under the surface – they are the same. Same people, same hearts, same hurts, same fears, same longing, same hope.

It is getting clearer and clearer to me that the escalating violence is a widespread, well acted, and very convincing drama. Behind the scenes something real is happening, but does not get our attention.

What is going on?

Since I got involved in the Israeli-Palestinian story, I keep hearing a clear and true voice from many – if not all – my Palestinian partners, saying:

We are ready to drop the past, let go of all that happened to us, leave our suffering and pain behind, and look forward to the future with an open heart.

This message is coming from different people of various backgrounds, living in the West Bank and in Gaza, in refugee camps and in Israel. It is very subtle and it took me a long time to decipher it. I had felt that something was different, but only after a while I managed to understand what it was.

This also explains the violent reactions. The old habitual forces that are constantly pulling people’s attention and energy away from the real thing. Taking many lives and many more minds.

I am asking you, people of all nations, who are closely following the events in the Middle East, with deep care and compassion, to send your loving energy to the positive change that is taking place right here and now.

In your hearts, look through the drama and hear through the loud noises. Look for the small signs of hope and listen to the subtle sounds of change. A shift in consciousness is under way in Palestine and Israel!

My contribution to delivering this new energy is to co-create, together with close friends from Israel, Palestine, Switzerland, Romania and the rest of the world, a meeting place on the borderline of Palestine and Israel.

In a small village not far from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we are going to use the stones and the earth and make a place for all people – Palestinians, Israelis, people from all nationalities – to meet, sip coffee together and reconnect. And a place for children to play, socialize and build friendship and trust.

We will have a one week camp where volunteers from all nations will stay together, learn, share, work, design, build, play, dance and make music and theater. I invite you to be part of this new creation.

You can come and join us, give us physical support, send us your loving thoughts and pray for us.

 Letting the Light Shine,

Dhyan Or

All Nations Café 2006 (a Place to Relax)

a Vision for an Emerging Future in Jerusalem

by Reeka Oemisch

Welcome to the AllNationsCafé 2006 !  Nice to have you here ! Are you visiting us for the first time ? Come join a tour on our site… to see the place, the rooftop café, the permaculture garden, meet interesting people from all over the world, enjoy a cup of original fairtrade coffee on the terrace or take some time to browse through our small info-bookshop supplying you with the latest activities from networks in Israel…&Palestine or lean back on one of the fluffy sofas and just listen to the Arabic music compiled by a young Palestinian DJ. The AllNationsCafé experience picks you up wherever you need it.

You make your way up the hill. The Mount of the Olives is welcoming you with a walk up the steep road. Takes you past the entrance to the gates of the Garden of Gethsemane and the AllNationsCafé-Guest-House right next to them.
You look up and are surprised. The big ‘AllNationsCafé – welcome friend !’ metal sign above some stairs shows you that you have found the place you want to see. You have read about this place in your Lonely Planet for the first time, have followed the event list on the web-site for weeks and heard about it on the Hebrew radio on your first day in Israel… a place, famous for its unconventional concept, its unique multicultural program and a profile that stands for quality and taste. And now you’re there !

You climb up the stairs, shaped in organic curves and covered with colourful mosaics by local artists.
A small terrace opens before you. It is nice and cool up here, a roof of green leafs covers the wooden plateau and a composition of big terracotta pots with Oleander, bamboo plants and flowers creates an almost forest-like atmosphere. Small groups of tables and chairs, all handcrafted by artist woodworkers, and sofas with red fluffy cushions offer you to take a seat… not many are vacant. You see people of all ages sitting and laughing, playing board-games or exchanging thoughts in a concentrated conversation. Small sculptures and pieces of art-work from all over the world draw your attention – this place has been visited by many international life-artists who have felt the urge to leave a gift !

You make your way through to the open entrance door, towards the music playing inside, an interesting fusion of Arabic Traditionals and electronic subculture beats. The scent of Turkish Coffee and narghile welcomes you as you enter the coffee shop. Only now can you see how small a place the AllNationsCafé is – a tiny house built from local stones, into the slope of the hill. ‘Almost like a cave !’ you think as you proceed to the bar – and immediately like the friendly atmosphere inside.
A modern and yet tastefully chosen interior design pleases your senses on first sight. Main colours are white, red and black, the colours of the AllNationsCafé. Two large windows open to the terrace and in the back part of the room an open door leads to the garden and the ‘rooftop garden café’. Light wooden tables and chairs match the small bar and the buffet displaying dishes and cakes of the day. A modern Syrian painter’s pictures are exhibited on the wall, showing scenes of the everyday life in the capitols of all Middle Eastern Countries. The room is clean and well set up.
Shelves on the walls contain books, handicrafts and frames with pictures and poems. One corner is set up with a wooden notice board displaying the work of activists of all parts of the country: a strong network has grown between organisations and initiatives – the ‘New Jerusalem Vision Initiative’ is now reaching out to both the Knesset and the Ramallah Headquarters, joining negotiations with new and fresh concepts of coexistence and cooperation.

You sit down at one of the tables next to the board.’What is your order, please ? ‘. The friendly face of a young Indian girl appears in front of you: Sheila, 18, born in Puna as a Jew, now in Israel with her family –and the first of her friends to withdraw from the Army Service ! Doing two years of voluntary service in non-profit projects instead: The AllNationsCafé is the first one she chose. ‘The diversity of the program and its openness for any kind of creativity fascinated me from the first moment I heard about it.’ she tells you later. ‘I joint the team… and it really changed my life !’
The international AllNationsCafé-network is a perfect opportunity for anyone to find the right connections for his personal project: Artists, writers, journalists, political activists, religious and secular, all are connected through the AllNationsWeb, a medium that has reached international standards and is informing about AllNationsCaféActivities in Israel, Palestine, Europe, Canada and the US… an exchange program is now being set up for more volunteers who want to share their free energy with the world.

A first glance at the menu makes you ask for a moment to consider. A range of international dishes and local specialities sounds too good to be true – all made from organically grown fresh ingredients and bought through Fair-Trade organisations.
You order a ‘Kenya Highlands Ice-Coffee’ and some fruit cake and lean back in your comfortable chair, taking a rest from all the new impressions.…

After an hour of contemplation and conversation with Sheila, she takes you outside to see the garden and the rooftop.
‘It’s a permaculture garden’, she explains, ‘showing the simple principles of self-sustaining systems put into a design for small units of land. Basically suitable for any land-owner of a small  property… could be an existential contribution to the life of many… and would really make a difference in our ecological crisis !’
She shows you around: herbs and flowers for bouquets frame the paths through mixed beds with small bushes and veggies. A ‘Chicken tractor’ draws your attention: a large cage without a floor keeps 5 chicken inside. ‘Only for two hours a day !’ she assures– ‘they loosen the soil for the new beds, so we don’t have to do it.’
The compost is situated in a distance from the building – a new system using Effective Micro-organisms and the chicken dirt to turn the kitchen waste into highly nutritious and fertilizing soil within less than 4 weeks– without using any chemicals.
You can hardly see any irrigation pipes, because the ground is already after 1 ½ years covered with shrubs and mulch plants. ‘We only irrigate 3 months a year in the hot season. The rest of the time is maintained with a watering system that uses grey water from the village above and runs it in pipes under the surface. The organic plant sewerage beds on its way clean it so well that we could even drink it.’
A young forest of fruit, nut and olive trees leads you down again.

A small wooden bridge leads to the second terrace on the rooftop of the building. The sun is going down – can you believe it, so late already ! – and the cotton sun shades have been taken down. Sinai atmosphere welcomes you with carpets, pillows, mattresses and low tables. Some people sit together and play music, others take a nap or read one of the brochures from the bookshop.
You find a free space on one of the pillows and decide to stay for a bit longer. Instead of meeting your friend downtown later, you call him and order him to come here instead… and get to know a magical place with an incredible potential.

After you indulged a large dinner with your friend and stayed for a presentation on a school program that is organized by local parents, you get on one of the regular AllNationsCafé-Shuttle-taxies… another good idea that secures the financial existence of young local drivers and ensures a constant access to the site – because even in critical times, AllNationsCafé-cabs are allowed through roadblocks.

You reach home and review your day. A very inspiring experience you’ve had. Not the last time – that’s for sure !