CONTRAST IN OCCUPIED PALESTINE: BEAUTY AND HORROR

 

by Celia Ringstrom

Words become a dysfunctional, contradictory, confining, and frustrating medium of expression for me when I try to convey my thoughts, experiences, and memories of Palestine. When asked by a friend if I was enjoying myself in Palestine, I couldn’t respond. I wasn’t not enjoying myself but I also felt weird saying that I was enjoying myself. I later realized that it was impossible to describe because our feeling adjectives are singular and about the self. What “I was feeling” wasn’t what I actually was feeling. It was much more communal than that, and our language has no vocabulary for these sorts of feelings. Witnessing conflict, trauma, violence, war, and death has a way of erasing the borders between what I feel and what you feel.  This is why I have instead attempted to show rather than tell what I saw, through an assortment of photographs. These photographs, though easier than words, also harbor their own faults. Through photography I invaded and occupied the personal space of others, sometimes without their verbal consent. To say I didn’t struggle with my immoral actions would be a lie. Yet some feelings, thoughts, and histories become visually shrouded in awareness. Though this still might not be justification enough, which I completely understand as well, these feelings, thoughts, and histories are crucial in the conveyance of the unspoken human language of suffering and oppression (from both ends of the spectrum). Both written word and photographs instill myself as the dominant force in the narrative, skewing objectivity and proliferating self-centeredness, but photographs do so, I believe, much less. Also I feel that it is photographs that are the strongest propagators of empathy, a crucial tool in an asymmetrical war and ethnic cleansing not taken seriously by so many in the world. I hope that through these photographs, I can relay the lack of self I felt so strongly and be able to give others an understanding of something almost impossible to capture in the English language.

1

The contrast shocks and contradicts.  The eye twitches back and forth as it tries to decide what to grasp. There’s the electric, other dimensional, yet simple beauty of the patterns and colors dominating the right side of the photograph, seducing the aesthetic-ravenous senses. But the utter destitution and patchy mosaic of a street suffocated by oppression and war stuns the hidden current of liquid emotion running deep in the passageways of your compassion.  Can one truly grasp both of these realms at the same temporal moment without total confusion and guilt? This is Hebron and this is the reality of Palestine: the total contrast of beauty and horror in the same conscious thought.

2

 

A different scene in Hebron does not have the visual contrast so much as the conceptual contrast. This destitute “ghost town” or any ghost town for that matter has an all encompassing aura of decay and doom. Yet somehow, someone somewhere managed to overcome the debilitating physical and mental state of living in an apartheid system and bestow the simple message, “hope”, on an area that seems anything but hopeful.

3

A cage for a street. This is one of the numerous corridors that interconnects to comprise the Hebron market. The situation is so dangerous for those living in Hebron that they are forced to cage themselves to avoid trash, rocks, and weapons being thrown at them by the settlers living above. This is a contrast between the freedom of the open air above and the forced self imprisonment of the grates beneath that freedom.

4

A less obvious contrast, but a contrast nonetheless, there is the neutral image of an apple core statue in an art exhibit on the right, and the unsettling presence of IDF soldiers in a space usually divorced from such company.  This space of what should be artistic freedom is instead prostituted as a weapon of indoctrination and propaganda. During my visit, this museum was overcrowded with IDF soldiers, outnumbering regular civilians about 10 to 1, if i want to be conservative. Thus the picture does little justice to the real demographic of this museum while I was there. I found that the contrast in this photograph was expressed in what should be the freedom and beauty of artistic expression against figures that symbolize the theft of any sort of freedom and beauty, the IDF.

5

This is a photograph depicting one of the numerous murals painted on the occupation wall separating Bethlehem from Israel.  The ability to produce art from something so ugly, so nefarious in purpose is an amazing feat seen repeated in various contexts in occupied Palestine. Here contrast is a form of non violent resistance.

6

 

 

Instruments of death positioned next to the ultimate symbol of life, water. In this context, however, it is because these two symbolize opposites, death and life, that one dominates the other.  Israel has been using water discriminatory policies to deny Palestinians control over their own water resources since the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank. Yet another weapon to further displace and marginalize Palestinians from their land.

deadsea.jpg

This is the Dead Sea. The contrast here is more so visual: the expanding salt banks sucking up what’s left of the ghostlike haziness of the Dead Sea. The various lines drawn on these banks represent the numerous times Israel has stolen portions of the sea for water and for minerals, putting the unique ecosystem at risk, an ecosystem that by international law does not rightfully belong to Israel.

7

 

The image on the right of a proud father beaming in absolute happiness towards his child and ultimate gift of life, almost cancels or denies any negative question as to what those gleaming canisters of silver could possibly represent, resting ever so gently on a casual, empty bottle of water.  Art perhaps? A toy of sorts? No, these are a miniscule fraction of the numerous bomb and tear gas canisters collected by Iyad Burnat on his olive tree farm, who is the smiling father and leader of Bil’in’s non violent struggle against the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land. These seemingly non-lethal canisters are not limited to just destruction. Iyad explained how a week previously, during one of their non violent protests, one of his good friends had been shot in the chest by a tear gas canister and died a couple of hours later. Do not let naivety convince you that this was an accident.  Once again beauty and horror are juxtapositioned to force the imagining of such a shocking contrast.

8.jpg

 

This photograph I will explain plainly. There is a playground full of children in the lower left hand corner and a skunk water canyon on the margins of the occupation wall in the upper right hand corner. This cannon has been used and will most likely continue to be used for testing on the children that were or will be in this playground. In other words, chemical warfare is used on Palestinian children to intimidate and terrorize them. The beauty of innocence contrasted against the horror of creative violence.

9.jpg

 

I’ve decided to end this series of photographs not with another mentally taxing image of contrast, but instead, a reified message of hope. I took this photograph in Hebron, seeing the very hopeless look on the face of this small child and the irony of her standing in front of a big “HOPE”. But now, instead of seeing an image of total contrast, I see her presence as the actual hope which is merely suggested through symbols behind her. Despite the deteriorating situation of Hebron and many other cities in Palestine, Palestine survives through its children. But Palestine also can only survive through the proper education of our children.  We need to revolutionize the way we see this very asymmetrical war so that our society wakes up to the harsh reality of the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine and finally stands up to Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ideal Higher Education Model in Palestine

by Mohammed Arafat

I can remember well when my granddad told my father, when he was 30 years old, “Show me your certificates so society can know you!”

My grandfather said that to my uneducated father when he lost his job as a builder due to the second Palestinian-Israeli catastrophe in 2000. I was just about nine years old, and those words curved the EDUCATION word to my ears and my mind, and it`s still locked in my memory.

My grandfather died and I completed my tertiary education with a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from The Islamic University of Gaza, yet, I’m still unable to find employment.

Yes, apparently I could succeed in achieving what my granddad and father dreamt of, but I couldn’t achieve what I dreamt of myself! Therefore, hopelessly, I say, there is no difference between me and the uneducated people even if I have the English language qualification, but… who cares??  Moreover, a lot of uneducated people got jobs through their crafts, like drivers, waiters at restaurants or cleaners, and they could have a good life with a wife and a home.

Everyone knows that education is that which transforms a person to live a better life and even in a social wellbeing. Education helps a person to show their best with their mind and spirit. It plays a vital role in a person`s success in their personal growth. The more knowledge you have, the more you grow with having a better future and a good job, and then a family, but…. It`s different in Palestine, especially in Gaza.

Life in Gaza changed the definition of education. It was education with its known meaning in the days of my grandfather as he was totally right when he asked my dad about his education, but it`s completely different these days. It`s complicated, but I will try to define it step by step.
What does Education in Palestine look like?
Palestine has been known to be the only country under occupation since 1948. Most of the country was destroyed, including the population, land, and infrastructure and of course the education system.

During the 1948 catastrophe, 70% of Palestine was occupied by Israel, and the people of those lands were forced out to other parts of the world leaving their lovely memories in their farms and under the willow and olive trees to begin new lives in other parts of the world, where today, they still live as refugees.

Some of those refugees left to live in the remaining 30% of Palestine “Gaza and the West Bank”, and they began to have a new life with new education for themselves and their children.

Their life became stable with good traditional education. The educational system was normal and free like most of the third world countries`. Graduates used to graduate from colleges and universities, and then, directly, they could find acceptable jobs so they could continue their lives, until the second catastrophe in 2000.

After 2000, everything changed. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict affected all Palestinians. It weakened the life in Gaza. Education went down and down reaching the lowest level possible. Graduates finished their college and university degrees, finding no jobs, but staying at home like uneducated people, most of whom had jobs doing physical labour earning minimum wages.

Most of those graduates thought of leaving Gaza to other countries so they could find good jobs to form their future, but the crossings were closed. However, the fathers asked their children not to educate themselves, since they realized that degrees means nothing in Gaza, so they advised them to have a craft so they can have a job in social careers, such as builders, painters, carpenters, drivers or even cleaners.

As a result, Gaza reached to a dangerous level, with unemployment in the coastal enclave at the highest in the world. The siege on Gaza has negatively affected all forms of employment, with all the crossings close all the time, and almost nothing and no one coming and going in or out. People had no choice, so they came back to schools hopefully they could graduate and have jobs.

What are the Education struggles in Gaza?
1- In 2008, 2012 and 2014, Gaza had three harrowing killing wars that destroyed a lot of schools, and stopped thousands of students from going to schools. On the other hand, a lot of families, whose homes were destroyed during those wars, stayed at schools which prevented thousands of students from getting an education, and those families are currently still living in those schools.
2- Closure of the crossings prevented hundreds of students from furthering their education for masters and doctorate degrees outside Gaza which made the education process slower and slower.
3- 68% of schools don`t have corridors for people with special needs.
4- 68% of schools don`t have soap in bathrooms for children.
5- 50% of schools don`t have enough sinks.
6- 46% of schools don`t have school gardens.
7- 67% of schools get noise from the militant activities.
8- 67% of schools don`t have air conditioners or fans.
9- 27% of schools don`t have libraries.
10- 33% of schools don`t have science labs.
11- 37% of schools don`t have computer labs.
12- 67% of schools don`t have sport facilities.
13- 95% of schools don`t have medical kits.

So, what is the ideal education in Palestine?
The ideal education for Palestinian students is, merely, to have a simple education! But how? Well, it`s as follows:
1- The Palestinian students need to be assured that they are able to find work after graduating so they can feed their families and start families to continue their lives like everyone else, and this can happen through:
A- Knowing what the most needed specializations and studying fields are so students can know which field to join and which one to avoid. For instance, let`s say that Gaza has twenty labs, and those labs need forty chemistry teachers, but the problem is that the universities in Gaza don`t offer degrees in teaching chemistry, so this is a problem. Therefore, universities need to know what the most needed fields are so that students can know what to study.
B- Opening new places for graduates, like schools, labs and colleges so they can have jobs, and this can`t happen unless:
– Rebuilding the destroyed homes so that people living in schools can go back to their homes.
– Focusing on sponsoring schools, colleges, universities, labs, hospitals, clinics and even kindergartens so graduates can have available careers.
C- Considering education as a priority, and making every student know that the country can`t stand without education.
D- Giving students hopes so they can complete their education without worrying about finding jobs or how to feed their families, and of course that can happen through giving workshops, free courses, previous experience of how other stricken countries could have development after having wars, like Japan.
2- Palestinian-Israeli conflict must stop, and both sides must know that peace is the only way to live. They have to know that we are born to live and then to educate, and then to develop our country, but not to die. This can happen through:
– Showing other countries how much we need peace, and we do deserve life like others.
– Making the international institutions, like the UN and UNESCO, have a look at us and to stop the fights to protect education.
– Separating education from militant and violent activities.
– Protecting the Palestinian education internationally.
– Opening the closed border crossings so students can complete masters and doctorates degrees outside Gaza.

To conclude, I would like to narrate a poem I just wrote about how every student in Gaza feels towards the education model in Palestine.
-I want to sing loudly with my band,
-Palestine without education will never stand,

-We have been dreaming and we want to dream,
-We are born to live, and to have a future with a beam,

-We are tired of killing and fighting,
-Peace is our solution and lighting,

-We are human, and we deserve life,
-We need future with family and a wife,

-We don`t ask for an ideal education,
-But for normal one into our nation,

-Building Palestine, is our aim,
-We don`t need highness or fame,

-Why don`t we learn like others so we can gain?
-Why don`t we live stably and get rid of this pain?

So, I would like to say that the ideal education model in Palestine is the normal EDUCATION in other countries.

~~ Mohammed Arafat ~~

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I am Muslim… I am not terrorist

The word “Islam” nowadays became a scary word for so many people all round the globe, especially in the Western countries. The fear of those people has transferred to others and occupied their minds and hearts. As a result, hatred spread around those people, and so many stories have been witnessed about the hatred that, causelessly, was planted into most of the countries that had terrorist attacks.

Well, many hate Islam and Muslims, but when you ask them why, they would say they don`t know. It`s a short question, and the answer is too long but simple in the same time.

The past few years after the crises in the Middle Eastern countries, a lot of extremists, who call themselves Muslims, emerged using the name of Islam in their activities and actions, and Muslims can do nothing to stop this for they are in a weak status this time.

Those terrorist groups started to use verses from the Holy Quran that are out of context, and then they understand it according to their bad way in order to kill and murder the innocent people all round the world, especially in the non-Islamic countries.

A week ago, I was talking to a political person who really hated Islam and Muslims so much, and he supported the idea that says Islam is a religion of terrorism. I did not blame him for that because actually he did not get the real meaning of what Islam is and what it means. Furthermore, the one to be blamed is the media that, as an old wise man living in the days of technology, once said, “Media pisses on the people, and they believe it`s raining!!”.

While talking and attacking Islam with his sharp words, he showed me a verse from the Holly Quran that says, ” And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers”. (1:191). He asked me to read it and to see, according to him, how dangerous and terrorist Islam is!!

Apparently, anyone reads these lines thinks that they urge Muslims to kill the non-Muslims wherever and whenever they are, but actually that`s not what the holy book needs Muslims to do. Those lines are out of context and are not talking about these days.

Like any other holy book, which, to be understandable, you need to interpret it and to know the reason of why those lines were written and to whom and for what, the Islamic book also has interpretation that we all have to understand wisely.

Regarding the previous mentioned Quranic lines, the reason of why those verses were descended from God is that the prophet Muhammed (PBUH) was being tortured and chased by those who hated him and the small Muslim group that followed his religion in the first days of Islam 1437 years ago. They forced those Muslims to leave their homes, businesses and families secretly, and they could make them suffer until God descended those lines.

The verses urged the prophet Muhammed (PBUH), to fight and protect him as it`s normal to protect yourself if there is an attack on you, or if someone wants to kill you. It`s exactly like if there is a battle happening nowadays between two countries, and the fight is really hard. The fighters urge each other to fight and kill who fights and kills, because, simply, it`s a self-defense from the attack, and after the end of the battle, the fight ends.

That`s what happens in the mentioned lines of the holly Quran. Those lines were said in an event in the past before hundreds of years, and that event finished, and everything was done, so these lines have nothing to do with what`s going these days. Those verses are not something universal, but something specific specified in one place, one time and one situation that has finished years ago.

What we see in the West and the East these days of extremists cutting heads, mutilating bodies, killing children, women and men in streets, raping innocent girls in public places, uprooting trees and burning bodies is not an act of Islam. Our prophet (PBUH) once said, “O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well!!  Do not commit treachery, or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful…”.

Those rules can tell us how peaceful Islam is, and what the difference between Islam and the extremists groups who call themselves Muslims.

Another situation happened with me when someone told me that Muslims kill whoever refuses to be Muslim, but I stated what the Holly Quran says directly, “Invite  to  the  way  of  your  Lord  with  wisdom  and  good instruction,  and  argue  with  them in  a  way  that  is  best. Indeed, your  Lord  is  most  knowing  of  who  has  strayed  from  His way, and  He  is  most  knowing  of  who  is  [rightly]  guided”. (16:25).

The above stated proofs from the Holy Quran can now obviously urge us to understand the real face of Islam after it was given a fake dirty face by those terrorist groups, whose main goal is to kill, rape and destroy the humanity and fill it with hatred and corruption.

The attacks that occurred every day in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and recently in Saudi Arabia are a real ugly image that proves those attackers are not against the non-Muslims only, but against the whole humanity, and they only aim to destroy the world.

You can easily identify what`s going on if you imagine this; Islam, Christianity and Judaism have been together since hundreds of years, but why did the terrorists emerge only these day? Why in this time? Is Islam changed with a new holy book that urges to kill and attack? Is Islam nowadays different from the past? Islam has been a religion since 622, and it has never been involved in terrorism, but why this time? Think about it!

Ask yourself a question; you may have a friend, a neighbor or even a relative who is Muslim. If you say Islam orders Muslims to attack the non-Muslims, then why does not that relative or neighbor of you hurt you? Why does he love you? Why does he live around you peacefully? Dear, use your mind before having your heart full of hatred!

The bottom line? Islam has nothing to do with the terrorist attack that happened in the USA, France, Belgium and the Arab countries. Those attacks are not from Muslims but from people full of hatred and arrogance. However, people who hate Islam are on the rise since there are people everywhere trying to promote Islamophobia and fake Islam`s image. Islamophobia, race and hatred is on the rise because people having problems are being offered reasons for their problems, and they say –Islam is the problem-.

Pray for the victims of the terrorist attacks all round the earth ~~Mohammed Arafat~

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What Shall I Tell My Son’s Son?

By Mohammad Arafat

I was grey-haired sitting with my grandchild,
Telling him about the past and the present,
We were happy laughing, but he hoarsely murmured,
He wanted to talk about something I know,
Something I missed and really need,

He asked me about the right of return,
He asked me about the beautiful painful past,
I became silent and nodded my head,
I really wanted to send him to his bed,
But I wanted to tell him about how we left our villages,
About the beauty of the coastal towns, and the breezy downs,
The high mountains and the natural fountains,
The green hills and the churches` bells,
The five prayers in the historical mosques,
About my childhood,
And how I grew in my beautiful neighborhood,
And how I could not forget the wooden swing,
And when my dad used to beautifully sing,
I wanted to tell him about the milky goat and the big cow,
And how I wanted to live the past and to never ask how,
but…
but… I could not…

I did not know what to tell him about,
Shall I tell him about those who sold our lands?
Or who blew up the mountains and silenced the bells?

He did not know how they chopped the trees and the my swing,
And how they offered the strangers our past,
My goat was milked, and my cow was killed
The mosques were desecrated,
Immigration was, intentionally, created,
Gangs came, and began to blame,
They ruled us, and sellers governed us,

We were forced to forget our lands,
To forget the history and the tired hands,
To forget the towns and the calm dawns,
They wanted us to forget the villager and the peasant,
And we were forced to only think of the present,

They muted us with some conferences and donations,
And from behind the curtains, they began the exploitations,
They enslaved us, and made us protest,
They wanted us to never resist or exist,

The power was cut, and poverty was spread,
They wanted to take the past out of our head,

We protested, but we were arrested,
We did not know why, and we were not rested,

They wanted to replace our minds,
And to make all of us deaf and blinds,

For them, our main matter had to never be Palestine,
But they wanted us to worship them as a shrine,

And to watch how they sell and trade,
How they kill and make us afraid,

But… what shall I tell my son`s son?
Shall I tell him that we no longer have a past?
Or that the coming years will be the last?
Shall I tell him that I am ashamed from what they made?
Or about the high price all of refugees paid?
Shall I tell him that they only wanted to have fame?
Or that only was a crazy game?
…what shall I tell my son`s son?

 

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The War on Curls

By Kali Rubaii
Silwan: What year is it?  It doesn’t matter. What day, what month, the story is the same. Today, whichever one,  3 demolitions took place in Silwan, near Jerusalem.

Yesterday I was with Sami, our friend from California. It’s nice to see people you love and know in new places, in entirely new contexts, and to partner up together interviewing this family so delicately, so tenderly… We interviewed a man and his 5 daughters after their home was demolished in Silwan (a province of Jerusalem).

It was the first time I interviewed a child, and I think I did it with all the taste and intimacy one can muster in a situation where poverty porn, war tourism, and bearing witness collide in an uncomfortable way. It’s a tender thing to do, and yet, they wanted to talk, these little blonde girls, with ringlets haloing their faces. To not ask them about it would be to deny them their experience.

The oldest girl speaks for the younger ones. 5 heads with little blond curls in varying tightnesses depending on Age, which is a force that straightens out curls and quirks with gravity and other burdens of being stronger and taller each day.

She and her father described living in a cave, the difficulty of doing school work, the lack of a play structure they once loved, the death of their baby horse’s mom, the mangling of their hens, and being split between two homes in the neighborhood…

What do you want for your future? To die on this land. And what is this life, what is hell? This, dying over and over again on this land. I am being killed over and over again.

To speak so openly with and in front of a child about death and for her to really, truly understand what she is saying when she talks about Death, to know that she is acquainted with Death personally, not as a relative who disappeared but as a personality she faces in daily life, as a presence that is part of the walls, the water, the flesh, the machines… she is standing side by side with the Phoenix, not conquering it, not fearing it, just there with it in all its forms. Fire, ash, revision… Death, after all, is the brother of sleep. And sleep is peace. Neither good nor evil, neither pleasurable nor disturbing— death, this personality in the rubble.

Her father, Khalid, has that look in his eye, that look of a man who cannot feed his children, terrorized by his duties as a father. Not desperate– something after that. Distraught, which is the feeling after Desperate, when there is nothing left to beg for of pray for or plea for. Only new foundations to lay.

What was the brand of the bulldozer that came? -Two of them, JNC.
What cement will you buy to rebuild your home? Nesher.
Yes, Nesher. I have an interview with Nesher on Wednesday. Their website says: We built the nation of Israel. I think they produce the settlement walls, but I’m not sure.

There is also Rijah, Jordanian. I hear they build the separation wall.

Each company fills its web page with vision of the future, a full and urban future, a robust future with bunkers and bunker busters, with fortification and tools to destroy fortifications. They put facts on the ground, set them in cement, make the temporariness of Palestinian presence permanent, make the permanence of Palestinian life temporary.

They build the dreaded and hoped-for certainties of Palestinian girls with blonde curls: death on this land. Is it about land or about futures? Is it futures as in stocks, things in the abstract that we can purchase and bet on? Or is it futures as in the prophetic, the foresights, the visions and dreams?

What a brutally honest world this is: there is no lie sitting between daily consumption and death. You buy it; you break it.

 

 

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Examining Religion and Resistance in the Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

By Alexa Klein-Mayer

Over the past couple years, I have been studying and attempting to practice the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen master known for his peace activism (for which Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967) and his articulation of “Engaged Buddhism”. Last summer, I spent two months working on a research project at his main retreat center in France, where over 200 monks and nuns live and lead retreats, and this spring, I completed my senior thesis on the relationship between Marxist ideology and the Engaged Buddhisms taught by Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. While this work and experience has yielded many insights, challenges, and questions, I would like to briefly share some of Nhat Hanh’s perspectives on the relationship between religious life and resistance, which I find especially relevant and powerful for activists today. In thinking specifically about the application of Nhat Hanh’s teachings to Israel-Palestine activism, I am following in the footsteps of many before me. During my time at Plum Village last summer, I met Neta Golan, one of the co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement, and Issa Souf, a Palestinian peace activist; I also learned that American human rights activist Kayla Mueller spent the summer of 2010 at Plum Village before traveling to Palestine, where she worked with ISM. Inspired by and thankful for their resistance, I share these thoughts.

For Nhat Hanh, living in modern society means existing in an atmosphere in which “one feels that [they] cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself.”[1]  Religion operates ideally when it responds to these problems by serving as a foundation for communal resistance. Resistance, as he broadly defines it, is not only resisting against war, but also resisting against “all kinds of things that are like war.”[2] Resistance means maintaining the “capacity of being oneself” as a way of opposing “being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system.”[3] Moreover, he defines the aim of resistance as “the healing of [one’s self] in order to be able to see clearly.”[4] Although Nhat Hanh recognizes that his definition of resistance as inner healing “may sound as though it falls short of a positive act of resistance,” he claims that without first dealing with “the painful feelings we carry inside us,” “we may inadvertently cause more suffering when we’re trying to relieve it.”[5] He writes,

You may think that the way to change the world is to elect a new president, but a government is only a reflection of society, which is a reflection of our own consciousness. To create fundamental change, we, the members of society, have to transform ourselves.[6]

In this way, Nhat Hanh advocates a hypergrassroots approach in which personal transformation is required to produce social transformation. Social and political engagement without commitment to personal change remains reactionary, trapped in a cycle of superficially addressing only “the symptoms of suffering, not the roots”.[7]  In contrast, Engaged Buddhists aim to “deal with suffering realistically and at the roots,” and therefore “need to be [their] best selves in order to be able to handle the suffering.”[8] Within his own experience, Nhat Hanh acknowledges that the trauma he and his followers touched through their social work during the Vietnam War was “so deep that if we did not have a reservoir of spiritual strength, we would not have been able to continue.”[9] Resistance, then, both constitutes and requires spiritual practice.

Nhat Hanh grounds his approach to resistance in the example of the Buddha, noting that “[t]he Buddha didn’t begin his first teaching with the suffering of social injustice, poverty, and hunger, although he cared very much about these things;” rather, “he began with the lack of peace within our own bodies and minds.”[10] To this end, Nhat Hanh radically reimagines religious communities as “communities of resistance,” places where “people can return to themselves more easily,” and where “the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness.”[11] He observes that the church was “first founded… as a community of resistance,” but that during “era[s] of glory and prosperity” both the Buddhist Church and the Roman Catholic Church were “invaded and possessed” by “undesirable elements who want[ed] to trade in influence.”[12] Because of the corruption of religious institutions, Nhat Hanh calls for “new communities of resistance… to begin again.”[13] The monastery in Nhat Hanh’s Engaged Buddhism functions as one such new community of resistance.

Nhat Hanh describes monasteries as “a kind of laboratory” where “one works out spiritual matters, like laboratories where scientists work on new discoveries.”[14] They should be places where people can go for “one year, or two or three years… just to live, to look into themselves in order to see things more clearly.”[15] However, he emphasizes that monasteries and the monastic life are “not an end, [but] a means.”[16] The goal of the monastic life is not to spend one’s entire life in a “quiet, totally detached way”, but to actively train in being one’s self in order to “go elsewhere and be with other people.”[17] Indeed, he understands resistance to be so integral to monastic life that he suggests, “If in many monastic communities people are praying and meditating but do not resist, maybe it’s because they do not pray and meditate properly.”[18] Again, “being one’s self” is not passive non-action. Rather, it is a radical action, for, in order to “be ourselves,” Nhat Hanh asserts that both religious communities and religious individuals “should oppose any government,” and “be a kind of permanent opposition.”[19] Moreover, resistance as articulated by Nhat Hanh extends beyond the political realm to include “social conditions” and “economic systems”; he writes, “If we try to do things faithfully, in accord with our best instincts, we have to go against all of these forces.”[20] Sharply departing from a model of collusion between state and religion, Nhat Hanh calls for religious communities to exist in constant counterculture to the state and society at large, and centers the monastery as a key site of resistance.

Many of the quotes I have included above are from a dialogue between Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan, recorded in the book The Raft is Not the Shore. In the foreword of the most recent edition, bell hooks writes of her search for “ways to unite spiritual quest and radical political activism”; “this dialogue,” she shares, “not only answered all the questions troubling my heart but also offered new insights for me to contemplate.”[21] This excerpt from her book Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black similarly offers answers and inspires new contemplations on the need for reflection and inner work:  

It is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation. [22]

These are some of the questions that arise for me as I engage with these words and works of bell hooks and Nhat Hanh:

  • How can we practice to embrace suffering within ourselves and in the world? How do we make that a communal effort?
  • How do we do the work of self-healing while remaining in the midst of trauma? Is that even possible?
  • Are our movements supporting reflection, inner work, and the deconstruction of the dominant and oppressive aspects of ourselves?
  • Are our activist and religious communities healing? Are they places where “people can return to themselves more easily”?[23] If not, how can we create such communities and spaces?
  • How do we treat self-healing as a form of and an integral piece to resistance, rather than an optional aspect to be set aside when the pace quickens, when the path becomes more difficult?
  • Especially for religious individuals and communities, how do we go about maintaining and nurturing a critical, creative, and perpetual tension with dominant social systems and beliefs?

May we find ways to individually and collectively embody peace, justice, and joy!

 


[1] Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh, The Raft Is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2001), 129.
[2] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 129.
[3] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 129.
[4] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 129.
[5] Thich Nhat Hanh, Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 2012), 19.
[6] David Chappell, ed. Buddhist Peacework: Creating Cultures of Peace (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1999), 156.
[7] Nhat Hanh, Good, 13, 19.
[8] Nhat Hanh, Good, 13, 19.
[9] Chappell, Buddhist, 161.
[10] Nhat Hanh, Good, 19.
[11] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 133.
[12] Thich Nhat Hạnh. Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), 14.
[13] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 130.
[14] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 108, 125.
[15] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 108.
[16] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 125.
[17] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 107, 125.
[18] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 134.
[19] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 95.
[20] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 38.
[21] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft vii.
[22] hooks, bell. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston: South End Press, 1989.
[23] Berrigan and Nhat Hanh, Raft 133.

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I had a home

By Mohammad Arafat

I was living happily with my lovely family,
Life was fine and loving,

I had a small swing,
I used to sleep under the olive tree,
beside our home in Haifa.
My father was a simple villager,
He loved his trees and plants,
His smiles never left his face,
Especially, when my mum prepared his breakfast,
The white cheese from our huge cow,
The thyme from the shrub under the willows,
The olive oil from that Suri olive tree,
The bread from the brown wheat flour,
We were having our breakfast under the shadow of that tree.
The first bite was yummy,
The second one filled my tummy,
The third one… The third one I screamed and said mummy!!
I cried…
then cried…
and cried…

-I was five years old-
I saw her blood… His blood… Some of my blood,
The trees were gone,
the breakfast…
the oil… Our cow…
the thyme…
the willows…
the wheat flour bread…
the small farm became a farm of mines.
I was forced to leave my days,
my moments,
my memories,
my dad.. My… my… my mum… my lovely mum…
I was alone… by myself alone…
I grew alone… by myself… alone,
I wanted to cry and moan,
but I did not want my mum to hear me in her tomb,
I did not want my dad to feel I am still a child,
I did not cry!
I lived in a refugee camp outside Palestine for years,

long years…

the longest years…

the darkest years
I was promised to go back to my land,
to my parents` tombs,
to go back to see the shadow of the willows and the olive tree,
to go back and smell the breakfast we had,
to go back and eat from the thyme,
to go back and breathe the breeze of Haifa,
but…
but… that was a fake promise,
They cheated on me,
They went to the United Nations,
I thought they would get me back to my land,
but it was another plan,
It was a plan against me,
against my land,
against my father’s farm and his trees,
It was against Palestine,
It was the PPP,
It was the Partition Plan for Palestine.
I am still living in this camp,
waiting for fake promises,
I became 75 years old and still waiting,
I am still living with the key of our old home,
and will die holding it,
before I die, I have a will to say,
I want to be buried under that olive tree,

beside my swing in my old farm,

in Haifa,

in Palestine.

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