Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gaza Flotillas, Borders, and Living with Grief

Feeling pretty melancholy this morning. I'm sitting next to a pair of middle aged white guys talking about how we should set up a demilitarized zone all around the United States to stop undocumented immigrants. They've even brought up the idea that maybe imposing marshal law across the U.S. might be a good solution. These are two well dressed, business guys sitting in an urban coffee shop - not some armed militia members doing training exercises in the woods.

Yesterday, I had a discussion over Facebook with a Jewish friend and her father about the situation in Gaza. They are defiantly pro-Israel, to the point where her father was speaking about "those terrorists" on the flotilla and how "Arabs" just don't want peace. I didn't take the opposite stance. There was some back and forth about the specifics of this current situation, and then I finally said:

I guess I'm more troubled about how quickly sides get chosen when it comes to Israel and Palestine, and how people rarely move from their positions once sides are taken. Every action gets placed in the wider context of being attacked by the entire other group (i.e all actions by any Palestinians or friends of Palestinians are attacks against all of Israel, or all actions done by Israelis are an attack on all of Palestine (and by extension Islam)). Both statements are false. And this kind of all or nothing thinking is why there hasn't been peace over there for decades. Something has to change.

And the response was more of the same about how Israel is constantly under attack.

There's nothing more I could say. And nothing I could say to the guys in the coffee shop here, who have moved on to discussing something else.

I'm realizing that when these kinds of situations come up, I often am responding out of grief. Grief from an awareness that I can't fix things right now, can't offer the magic words that will help people see things in a larger context. That all I can do is sit and bear witness to the misery of greed, hatred, and delusion around me.

It's a good lesson in conserving energy for a time when something I can do or say might actually have a beneficial impact. But it's painful when you become aware that the walls present aren't coming down right now. That you just have to hang with your grief and sadness, as well as the words and actions around you which are creating more suffering in the world. And yet, this is a major part of our practice, an opportunity we get fairly often to rediscover our true place in this world.

*photo of flotilla activists following their release.


Brikoleur said...

My wife is Lebanese, of Palestinian origin. Middle East news often hurts. During the 2006 war, I was shocked and deeply depressed to find that I, too, have a deep pool of rage and hatred that is all too easy to tap.

At times like these, I work hard every day to try to let go of that hatred and rage—but, Nathan, it's not easy. Not easy at all.

Nathan said...

I hear you Petteri. It's no easy thing - I'm trying to take this current situation as an opportunity to respond differently. But I'm struggling with it all too.

Adam said...

This is what bothers me so much about politics in this country. Its always "100% our way or the highway" all or nothing politics, like we've seen recently with Rand Paul. its ugly, and I understand your feeling of grief. Before the Kerry-Bush election, I remember there was a serious movement of people trying to start a "middle" party, but now such a thing is a whisper in the wind. Probably because compromise doesn't sell newspapers.
And peace in the middle east will never stir peoples passions like war will. I think a part of us enjoys clinging to the strife we create and watch on TV.

Algernon said...

I'm glad you said that -- it was well stated and it might sink in at some other time, perhaps when that person is ready to actually look at the situation and ask, "What is this?"