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Lions Roar : March 2016
THIS DHARMA LIFE The Long Path to Peace At a time when peace in the Middle East seems further away than ever, Israeli Buddhists are using the tools of mindfulness and empathy to bring people together. SHIRI BARR, STEPHEN FULDER, AND AVIV TATARSKY tackle the mind of conflict. THE GREAT BUDDHIST teacher Shantideva said, “Put- ting yourself in the shoes of the other is a sacred act.” There is something deep and holy about reducing our limited self and expanding ourselves to include the other—whether they smile at us or shout at us. Soon after the first intifada, we brought small groups of Israelis together with Palestinians for deep dialogue under the title “Transformation of Suffering.” Our Palestinian partner, Rawda, was a social worker and a Reiki teacher who’d spent eight years in an Israeli jail for being a political activist. She organized the two-day workshops, which we held in Palestinian homes to push the participants out of their comfort zones. The Israelis had to overcome their sense of fear—“We are in the middle of Nablus and the Israeli army is not here to protect us”—and the Palestinians had to feel we were coming into homes as human beings, not as occupiers or soldiers. The first day of the workshop was dedicated to creating a sense of safety—relaxing, reducing fear, creating familiarity. On the second day, we worked in dyads, a Palestinian and an Israeli. Each would tell the pain of his or her life within the conflict, and the other would listen deeply and empathically. Participants reported that after this experience they couldn’t go back to the old story of labeling and blaming the other side. Israelis would say at the end of the workshops, “I never realized that Palestinians suffered so much, from us.” A Palestinian kid said, “For the first time I see Israelis as human beings, not as sol- diers. I never knew you were like that, and it helps me believe in the human heart again.” After seven years of these dialogues, we felt that we needed to do something more public. These were the days of the second intifada that followed the collapse of the Oslo peace process, and the levels of fear and hate within Israeli–Jewish society ran high due to the threat from Palestinian suicide bombings. A group of Israeli Buddhist practitioners felt the time was ripe to bring peacefulness and mindfulness into the streets, and we started organizing peace walks. We walked from a few LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 25 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE