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