Brit Olam has broken through into the media this past week here in Israel. We recorded a campaign song and it’s been played several times on the radio and on television – and interviews with candidates from the Brit Olam slate have been conducted on the mainstream Israeli TV stations.
Our meeting last Friday-between Brit Olam and the Arab Druze community-went very well. It was truly an auspicious event, to witness the beginning of what we all hope to be a fruitful partnership between Brit Olam and the Druze. It has been personal honor for me to have the opportunity to observe and participate. As I mentioned in an earlier report, Ms. Sohir Hmdan (4th candidate on the Brit Olam slate) is the first Arab Druze woman to run in an Israeli Parliamentary election (Knesset).
Ofer Lifschitz (chairman of Brit Olam), Ms. Kinneret Golan (#1 Brit Olam slate), Rebecca Tobias and myself drove north from Tel Aviv very early in the morning and arrived in the small Druze hamlet named Yano’ah. The small hillside village is located about ten miles inland from the coastal city of Nahariya and an equal amount south of the Lebanese border. After a couple hours of travel we approached the region of where this mysterious religious sect lives-you could see the unmistakable Druze flags flying with their characteristic five colors shining in the morning sunlight.
I’m driving a little tiny Hyundai Getz rental car, smaller than pretty much any other ride seen on the roads in the United States, unless you’re including what to Americans would be considered an ‘extreme-Green experimental vehicle’. Cars here overseas are tiny in comparison to the tanks and other various war machines occupying the roads stateside (read: Hummer et al), and if anyone knows me, the first thing they notice is that I’m not very petite. So the impact to an objective viewer might be like seeing an oversized kid tooling around in a go-cart. Four of us and multiple boxes of flyers and other promotional materials crammed into the Getz-mobile finally get directed by locals into the right section of Yano’ah. We approach a large three story cement edifice that has an Israeli and Druze flag flying together at the entrance of our meeting space. Greetings by dozens of Druze seemingly from all walks of life: religious, secular, young and old.
Immediate hospitality; we were offered a taste of a bitter Arabic coffee being heated by hot coals in an ornate brass serving tray and sweet dates, almonds and walnuts. We all sat around being warmed by the embers as a frigid wind blew into the open cement structure. It can be very chilly and windy in the mountainous regions of the northern parts of Israel.
I mention to our host, Sheik Said Hmdan, my latest saying in my personal quiver of foreign phrases, “Habiltay Ef Sharee, Ef Sharee.” The impossible is possible, I say in broken Hebrew.
He looks at me and says, “I don’t speak American”.
Mental note: work on pronunciation; what good is an arrow if it doesn’t fly straight?
We visit, chit-chat and wait for fellow Brit Olam candidates and staffers to arrive congregating one-by-one along with more and more Druze, each received with profuse amounts of affection, compounding the assembly. I’m a little nervous-as an American poised to give a speech in which I will be sharing an ambitious strategy of communal action for the Druze, a Levantine people with whom I’ve known for less than a week.
The Druze population in the Middle East lives in a mountainous region overlapping the national borders of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, not unlike the Kurd nation living in the unofficial contiguous ‘Kurdistan’ region in parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The Druze are a nation within the nations in which they dwell, they have not proselytized or sought out any converts to their religion since 1043, when the Druze became a closed community. For almost a thousand years, no outsiders have been brought into this secretive religious sect, not even through intermarriage. One has to be born Druze to be a Druze. For as long as they’ve been in existence, the Druze have been misunderstood and persecuted for their Spiritual and religious independence by virtually all the differing mainstream religious and political currents in the Middle East at one time or another. In the face of life-threatening discrimination, they have adopted a collective strategy of cooperation and a ‘blending-in’ respecting the laws and adopting the customs of whichever particular majority people or religion that is in power. In Israel, they serve with distinction in the Israeli Defense Forces and are valued as loyal citizens.
Like Jews, in many ways the Druze can be seen to have had a similar experience having lived as a minority within larger majority cultures. In 1995’s Sussex Academic Press publication, “Druze and Jews in Israel – A Shared Destiny?” author Zeidan Atashi shares this view as reported by Robert Brenton Betts in Middle East Policy,
The “shared destiny” between Druze and Jews in Israel that Atashi speaks of is based on their similar existence over centuries as a minority wherever they lived. Like the Druze, he says, the Jews “participated in all spheres of life… in their adopted countries,”… at the same time preserving and maintaining “their religion, heritage, language, culture and family ties.”
Throughout human history, the co-mingling of destinies for neighboring peoples has proven to be a successful peacemaking tool, either through intermarriage, trade or co-habitation. It is a very active and real peace-making. This is implementing the suggestion of using compassion and understanding to protect oneself as the only true antidote towards staving off hatred or escalating conflict.
Responding to violence with violence is the knee-jerk reaction to defend oneself, but fighting fire with fire alone is only one-half of a balanced security portfolio; to wit, fire can also be quickly snuffed out with water. Getting out of one’s comfort zone, pressing in and really thirsting for understanding, inclusivity and even belonging to the ‘other’ builds an emotional and spiritual bulwark against the runaway train of tribal blood-feuds and warfare. The point is, that being of value to your neighbor is the most successful peacemaking tool there is; trade, service, treaties, etc.
We’ve heard this before in the Sermon on the Mount among other places, to paraphrase, it’s been written to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but don’t even the lowest of the low do that? It’s instinctually easy to love those who love you, animals do this. But to rise above and love those who persecute and hate you, only this will act as a force for healing change in the world. Or as Mahatma Gandhi expressed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” These ideas are often dismissed as “platitudinal” or “idealist” by adherents of realpolitik-but we actually see these principles at work at the community and national level, you just have to unpack the cultural background and history to recognize the wars, conflict and bloodshed that have been proactively averted by these peacemaking techniques.
The Flip Side
The shared destiny or common stakeholder approach towards cooperation, sharing and generosity is in my opinion the best way to construct a narrative and common bond together for a prosperous and peaceful future, regionally and globally. In history, this approach is often arrived at when a people are threatened and have to think out-of-the-box and take on new ways to make friends. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is the axiom developed by the patron saint of war strategy, Sun Tzu, and in this case, war and peace s
But this is not the only way for a people to react after being subjected to ceaseless tyranny. There is also another and more common response a people can take to sustained attacks and continual systematic repression. An attack-back mode is triggered as pure self-defense at first, but then runs amok into a well-oiled machine of unbridled permanent vengeance. It’s a latch that gets stuck on an over-compensating doctrine of self-defense. This over-hyped aggressive mindset is blind to one’s own sense of moral propriety and fails to see the long term negative impact preventing any possible peaceful settlement from ever taking shape. A propagation of the cycle of violence continues with revenge killings, reprisals and posturing so hard-hearted that no trust or movement can even be recognized by either side, let alone be tolerated or embraced.
For example, the Puritan Christians of New England were once severely persecuted for their non-orthodox religious beliefs in England so they set sail for the New World and settled in what was to become the United States. For many generations, there was collaboration and partnership developing between the Native American tribes and the newcomers. In fact, without the Native American’s understanding of indigenous crops and other endemic survival techniques, the Puritans would have possibly perished.
But as the years went by, the cultural separation between Europeans and Native Americans was exploited into open warfare and ethnic cleansing, this combined with the resilient germs born from Europe’s plagues transported in the veins of the settlers themselves, decimated the Native American populations leaving thousands where once millions flourished. The Christian Puritan discipline and piety and morality did not apply to these others, the means for survival they had once learned at the hand of oppressive violence directed at them, did not evolve past the Spiritual affliction of repeating cycles of violence and subjugation. And so it goes today in other lands with other peoples.
These populations that are threatened have learned to defend themselves in unforgiving ways, forgetting and becoming disconnected morally from their own past state of oppression. Former victims will overreach past any sense of empathy for the plight of others in an exaggerated burst of militant triumphalism. A self-reinforcing, self-congratulatory frenzy takes place within the in-group lauding the members for their righteous and heroic deeds in defending against the enemy. The perversion of the mind through in group/out group thinking and racist conditioning bears its last and final fruits through the abomination of genocide. Today, this progression is taking place on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a cult of violence against innocents and terrorist acts being invested in at escalating levels.
This brings us back to our lovely Arab Druze community:
-An independent class of Arabs uniquely positioned as proven patriots to the State of Israel having served with loyalty and distinction earning the respect of Jewish Israelis and,
-Also being like the Jews in an historical sense having the depth of cultural understanding garnered from living, suffering and surviving as a minority community within hostile and potentially hostile majorities and,
-Being Arabs having a degree of political capital within Israel that could be used to bridge the gap between Arabs and Jews, bringing healing to a nation that needs the Druze’s cultural and spiritual wisdom to navigate through the rough waters, bringing Israel through her stormy adolescence.
Arab journalist Mahmoud Zvidat was the master of ceremonies for our gathering and introduced different members of Brit Olam. The Brit Olam candidates who spoke were of course Ofer Lifschtiz, Party Chair and Ms. Kinneret Golan along with Druze Sohir Hmdan and Hasidic Orthodox Joel Zeitlin and Breslev Orthodox Asa Caesar. An Arab Bedouin gentleman spoke in addition to our Druze religious leader and host Sheik Said Hmdan.
In my speech to the Druze, I thanked Sheik Said Hmdan and his son Raif Hmdan for their hospitality and making this meeting happen. I introduced my partner Rebecca Tobias (Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics), for recently joining us in Israel from the US only a few days earlier. I mentioned that I felt a Spiritual kinship with the Druze and affirmed our shared knowledge of one Spirit of Unity within our human family and in the Universe.
“I have travelled all the way from the United States to support Ofer Lifschitz and Brit Olam, he is a good man with a good heart.”
I then talked about the change in consciousness that is happening around the world and that Brit Olam is helping to spearhead this shift in Israel. The Druze flag and star symbol have five colors representing five principles of understanding alongside inspirational Spiritual leaders that they revere. Green is for the Mind, as I gestured towards my head allowing for the translation to be made. Red is for the Soul and I held my heart. Yellow is for the Word touching my mouth. Blue is for the intention or force of will-and White symbolizes the realization of the will or that intention being made real here on Earth. Leading up to this day, I had heard of Druze loyalty expressed towards Israel, towards the blue and white of the Israeli flag. “We serve the blue and white!” they would proclaim.
So in my speech I paused and echoed a Druze primary tenet,
“I want to speak the Truth, and want to speak the Truth from my heart. The Blue and White of the Israeli flag that you serve, for the Druze represents the force of will and the realization of that will, but if it is backed by fear and a lack of guidance, it will go astray. The nation of Israel needs healing and she is missing the mark. It is time for the truth to be known and for the Druze to speak the truth and bring healing to the land. God willing, Inshallah.”
There were nods and audible expressions of appreciation from those gathered, and as the day progressed, great ideas were exchanged about arriving at solutions to the intercultural and social problems that plague the State of Israel.
The Arab Druze possess the capacity to bridge the gap of misunderstanding that exists between Arabs and Jews, to help to assuage the fear that’s been exacerbated over the years, paralyzing both sides. With no eye on a workable long-term plan, this fight or flight mode carried by both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict guarantees a perpetual state of war. There may be periods of calm, even cease-fires or hudnas, but without material progress being made with our children from the bottom-up towards building a culture of peace between the two national identities, the calm will always flare-up into cycles of violence and revenge.
Part of the reasons for this political paralysis among the leaders of Israel is because the trauma and emotional aftermath of the Holocaust is still playing itself out. The victimized only see what’s for security, for us, today. What’s absent is a lack of care and concern for long-term planning for creating peace between Israel and her national neighbors; and between Israel and the Palestinian folks living in Gaza and the West Bank. There are also the Bedouin Arabs in Israel that are unfairly treated being forced to live in unrecognized shanty towns without any services and whose domiciles and/or crops can be razed by the stroke of a judge’s pen and often do. And the Israeli Arabs living in Israel proper often face unfair legal situations in which they are treated as second class citizens at best.
And shockingly, even Jewish Israelis face an untenable, unjust legal system with corruption running rampant and no real legal foundation from which to build upon – this house built on legal sand with no Constitution ultimately serves to encourage chicanery on the part of her citizens towards everyone.
In the United States we revere our sacred founding documents giving rights and equality to all-many fought and died to get it that way. I’m reminded of h
ow in Judaism you kiss the Torah and Tanakh; the God given sacred books of life and social law. Israel needs a modern legal Torah; a legal foundation, deserving of respect and reverence for the sanctity, equality and balance of its precepts and doctrine; a foundation with the capacity to be built upon. Problem is, today, deep down nobody really respects an unfair and inequitable make-it-up-as-you-go justice system that’s currently in place in Israel – nobody, even Israeli Jews, as evidenced by the proliferate corruption, kickbacks, paybacks, IOUs, behind closed door dealings, ‘prey upon the weak’ mentality that’s palpable to the observant.
We want to get to the heart of the matter. Brit Olam supports the establishment of an Israeli National Constitution based on the principles of freedom, equality and democracy for all. This will be the foundation to build an equitable future upon.
A house with a foundation built on rock, not sand.
This has been a long report, but there is much to share. Tonight we will attend a meeting of Arab and Jewish groups intent upon a new declaration of independence between Arabs and Jews. The meeting will be held in the space where independence was declared in Israel in 1948. Ironically, that location is on Rothschild Street.
I look forward to hearing your ideas regarding peace and/or personal examples of resolving conflict or anything else you’d like to share.
In your service,