Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Percussion grenades and NVC

I woke up at 2:30 a.m., tossed and turned for an hour, my throat and lungs feeling like a porcupine had crawled in there and died and finally gave it up to come down here and blog for a bit .... which may not be the wisest thing to do. When you're feeling sick and you wake up in the middle of a sleepless night, your mind tends to stray towards a more dour and bizarre thoughts. So take this all with a chunk of salt, OK?

Tonight (or rather last night), we heard a huge booom! To my ear, after months in Baghdad, it sounded very close but didn't sound like a conventional explosion (conventional?) ... more like a heavy metallic crash, but very, very big. Perhaps a percussion grenade. We ran up to the roof and saw soldiers, guns at the ready, shouting commands below us on our street. Then they took off running towards Avraham Avinu, one of a string of four, small, fortified Israeli settlements here in the heart of Hebron. After that we could see little going on and went inside only to hear gunfire in the distance a short while later.

Everyone say that things have calmed down here in Hebron ... gone are the days when you took your life into your hands by risking the Israeli snipers to cross the Bab iZaweyya intersection in downtown Hebron (there were also snipers taking potshots at Israelis from the Palestinian-controlled Abu Sneineh neighborhood of Hebron). But it is still an occupation and you feel it everyday when you see the patrols or cross through the checkpoints. A few days back, a CPT delegation member and I were talking to an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint into the Old City, which was also near the entrance to Avraham Avinu. A settler walked out of the settlement, passed us by and just before turning the corner shouted back, "Why don't you just go home!"

Hmmmm, another case of DbMo, Drive-By Mouthing Off, I thought (I've used this term for a long time to label this phenomenon but I don't really like, perhaps someone can suggest an alternative?).

And tonight, as I tossed and turned thinking of these things, I kept returning to the story that was told to me today by a young man named Jamal. Jamal lives on the road used by the Settlers to connect the Qiryat Arba settlement to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Synagogue and the other smaller settlements nearby. Jamal told me that almost everyday, settler boys going down the road throw rocks at his family's house (I had heard this from another Palestinian family on this same road a few days before).

'Here's a twist,' I thought. We always hear of the rock-throwing Palestinian youth, but never of the rock-throwing Israeli youth. True or not, I started wondering how you would deal with such a situation nonviolently and I recalled the work of Marshal Rosenberg (perhaps I have the name not quite right?) who wrote a book on Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Now I'm new around here and still naive in the ways of Occupation Israeli-style but it seems to me that here in Hebron, as throughout the Occupied Territories, the Peace Process has been about finding ways to separate the Palestinians and the Israelies ... and for the most part, in this one respect the Peace Process has succeeded. Palestinians and Israelies don't communicate with one another (rock throwing aside), don't interact with one another (except via the Israeli Military), and in general don't want to have anything to do with each other (they even have different roads for the Settlers).

I just finished a book written by a Hebron settler woman who has lived here for 20 years. She said that before the first Intifada and before the Peace Process, Israelis and Arabs used to be on good terms (although from a Palestinian perspective this might illicit a sneer). Settlers used to shop in the Arab markets and they were friendly with their Arab neighbors. The Peace Process, according to this woman, ended all that.

But if we are trying to build a lasting peace, it seems that we would need to resist this temptation to sever ties and instead create as much dialogue as possible on as many levels as possible. Some say the problem is intractable. Palestinians and Israelis have competing interests. But in thinking of Jamal's problem with the rock throwing settler boys and in trying to adapt the methods of Nonviolent Communication to the issue, it occurred to me that such dialogues can occur in sneaky, even passive ways.

The formulaic method of Nonviolent Communication (look it up on the web to get a better description) is Stimulus/Feelings/Needs/Actions. For example, when some specific thing happens (a person hits you), you develop feelings (anger and sadness), because you have needs (safety and respect), and so you request a specific action (asking that person not to hit you anymore). It seems stilted, I know (and this is the general beef that people first have with NVC plus I have greatly simplified it) but let's give it the benefit of the doubt and apply it to Jamal's case.

Jamal speaks Arabic and not Hebrew, so he can't communicate directly with the Settler boys and he never knows exactly when they will show up, but he could have someone make him a banner in Hebrew to hang outside his house. And perhaps, in Hebrew, that banner could read:

"Dear Settler Boys, When you throw rocks at my house, I feel sad and afraid, because I need to feel safe in my home as I am are sure you would as well, so would you be willing to refrain from throwing stones at my house? - Signed Jamal"

Now again, I've greatly simplified this (and left out the whole portion about building empathy for it's probably true that these Settler boys have had rocks thrown at them by Palestinian boys in the past) and maybe these boys will just laugh and continue throwing rocks. This is after all the ravings of a sick, sleep-deprived woman. But in my opinion, the prospects for peace will never blossom unless we can keep the lines of communication going as best we can, using any and every method at our disposal.

Ok, maybe I can go get some sleep now.


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