To create peace there is a need for a whole system change with regard to all aspects of life. Faced with the reality of war I decided to help initiate a vision camp in the West Bank together with friends from the Tamera peace village in Portugal. We gathered together about fifty peace activists from Israel, Palestine and around the world under the title “We refuse to Be Enemies.” For one week we worked on creating a foundation of trust as a model for a new culture. The same structures of enmity that exists between states and nations can be found in a group of fifty people who live together for a while. We had the wish and the readiness to take these structures of war and change them at the root. For a week we dived into intensive community life. We had deep conversations and sharing times, prayers in different languages, singing and discussions on the way to end the war. We investigated how we can join our forces. We investigated how a true vision of peace can gain the power in our minds and in reality. Every day we listened to the news, after which we took a few minutes of silence. We practiced listening to the news with an open heart. What does it mean to evoke compassion in times like these? We tried to open up a gap where inspiration could enter. We tried to find the voice that challenges the horrific reality.
On my way home as I returned from the camp, I saw the street corners of Jerusalem covered with banners quoting the Psalms “I will pursue mine enemies, and overtake them; neither will I turn again until they are consumed.” (Psalm 18:38). In recent years I have worked a lot with the Psalms and I published a book of midrashic Psalms entitled “”Ho My Soul Praise Being!” in which I created interpretations of the phrases that that gives them a very different meanings. In response to the banners I saw on the streets of Jerusalem I created banners of my own, of the same size, with the text: “”‘enemies'” meaning: fear, hatred and greed” I wanted to challenge people to ask themselves: what does it mean to chase the inner enemy and consume it? Etty Hillesum, who was murdered in Auschwitz during the Holocaust, wrote about this in her diary: “There is no other choice but for every one of us to concentrate on himself and destroy within himself the things that make him want to destroy others.”
Another verse in the Psalms calls us not to pursue the enemy, but to pursue peace: “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it”. (Psalm 34:15). Pursuit refers to the commitment and responsibility to work for the reality we want to create. The word “enemy” in Hebrew is remarkably similar to the word “lover”: change one letter and the meaning is reversed. But actually one can see the same dynamic in love relationships as in war. Both address high energy, intensity, and friction. One can actually see how the deepest passions often turn into boring routine or even hostility. The wars are awakening us and moving us away from indifference. I often wonder how a way of living can be created that does not need wars to awaken us. What is a peaceful way of living that is filled with energy no less than the energy of war?
We mounted the banners in the streets of Jerusalem, in the City of David. The original verse and the interpretation form a dialogue with each other and the tension between them raises questions. One women who saw the sign asked me, “I understand how hatred and fear are our enemies, but what is the connection to greed?” And I told her that wars would not break out if there was no-one who wanted them, and no-one to pay for them. Many countries say they oppose the war but actually send weapons to maintain it. Our economic system is collapsing under the burden of war, but there are those who profit from it. What would happen if we had an economic system that would invest its resources in peace and not in war? How would the reality in the Middle East be if the money now invested in the arms industry would be instead invested in the establishment of peace research villages? And what effect would it have if such a vision camp such as the one that we held did not end after a week but continued as a place in which visions become reality, where fear, hatred and greed no longer dictate our lives?
Rabbi Emma Sham-Ba Ayalon: member in “Rabbis for Human Rights”, giving spiritual accompaniment, founder of the Peace Research village Middle East project (prvme.org).