This is the second in a series of writings about my trip to the Middle East in May 2015
Al Aqsa Mosque sat on top of the Western wall of the Temple that many centuries ago was the site of the great temple of Judaism. A few yards away from the mosque was the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, the 14 Stations of the Cross where Jesus made his painful journey to his crucifixion.
The power in the region is so great that many seers say that there is a portal over Jerusalem as a spiritual center of the world. I have even speculated that it might be an inter-dimensional vortex of the collapse of time where the battle of the Bhagavad Gita continues to be fought between the light and dark forces. The question here is…who is the light and who is the dark? Could it be that this portal is the Yang/Yin that symbolizes the light within the dark and the dark within the light, from individual to global.
The day after arrival, our group was whisked away from Jerusalem to the West Bank. The multi-tiered freeways astounded me. They were in better condition than ours in the U.S. Again I struggled to transcend comparisons.
We passed by walls and fences of barbed wire that looked like internment camps. That’s Bethlehem, our Palestinian driver pointed out with dispassion. Oh God I thought, here it goes again, another comparison. My memory of Bethlehem never looked like this.
We arrived at the checkpoint expecting to be held up for one or two hours, but our van was waved through without even stopping. We were all pleasantly surprised and even shocked! We entered the town of Ramallah where we were to teach the next morning. Again, my surprise was evident. The old small buildings built with Jerusalem stone were gone. In their place were gleaming white high-rise apartment buildings spreading across the hills and mountaintops. And, Israeli settlements dotted the skyline here as in West and East Jerusalem. These were the “settlements” that were built, despite several rounds of “Middle East peace talks” when it was agreed that no more settlements would be built. There is a biblical statement that says, “He who controls the mountain tops … controls the valleys beneath.” They were the monumental gestures of a conqueror who had vanquished a marginalized foe.
Three in our group were staying at a very modern Palestinian Bed and Breakfast. Sraddha and I were staying with the first woman we communicated with at the beginning of this project, one and a half years ago. It is always a feeling of success when one’s vision manifests on the physical plane. Her apartment was beautiful and spacious with white tile and marble floors, white walls, white Egyptian cotton and white floor-to-ceiling drapes that billowed with the breezes from the balcony doors. The view from the deck stretched to Tel Aviv and on a clear day, it was possible to catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. A nearby Islamic Minaret belted out its Arabic prayers five times a day in the call to prayer.
This is the first is a series of articles about my trip to the West Bank in May 2015
Throughout my years of travel all over the world, I have been asked many times, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose to live?” Without missing a heartbeat I always replied, “Jerusalem.” After many visits in the l990s, I had not returned for nineteen years. The reason for this was that my inner journey was greater than the outer journey.
In our work in dialogue and conflict resolution the emphasis is on keeping the balance. But after several years of working in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the West Bank and Gaza, I felt I had failed. I had to withdraw from a conflict that was the most difficult in the world, and central to the Mideast issues. I had to withdraw to heal my own heart from the perceived injustice that I witnessed each day there. And yet, it was one of the best-kept secrets in the world. How my heart ached for the people in the Israeli occupied territories. How my heart ached for the fear, terror, anger and rage of the people on both sides of the “Green Line.” However, over the years, the color green dissolved into varying shades of grey, as borders frayed, bleeding into one another seeking new lines of demarcation. They fluctuated and changed with what the U.N. called illegal settlement building on Palestinian land.
[Source Wikipedia: “Green Line” refers to the demarcation lines set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between the armies of Israel and those of its neighbors (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The name derives from the green ink used to draw the line on the map while the armistice talks were going on. From Israel's perspective, the territories "beyond" the Green Line came to be designated as East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. The Green Line became especially significant in Israel after Israel captured these territories in the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israeli maps contained the Green Line. These territories have since 1967 often been referred to as Israeli occupied territories.]
My teachings in conflict resolution and Citizen Diplomacy about holding the balance between two or more parties in conflict were challenged. I had pondered for years, “How can one hold the balance in an unbalanced situation?”
Now, I was returning after two decades, this time to teach yoga teachers in the West Bank of Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem, and possibly Gaza. Sraddha Hartung, founder of 7 Centers Yoga Arts (www.7centers.com) in Sedona, Arizona was partnering and travelling with me just as we did more than ten years before in Afghanistan. Somehow, we both seemed drawn to war zones, finding a center of peace internally and externally in the eye of a storm. Rob Schware of the Give Back Yoga Foundation (www.givebackyoga.org), of Boulder, CO, had established our hosting connection in the West Bank. The Foundation is using Yoga in working with our Military Veterans for what is now commonly diagnosed as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Rob’s wife, Alice Trembour traveled with us, along with a teacher who is on their board of directors, Suzanne Manafort who works directly with the returning Veterans of war in their healing.
The Give Back Yoga Foundation and Seven Centers Yoga Arts are both models of Yoga, in that they both believe that the methodology of classical Yoga (including Asana, breathing and meditation) is a tangible tool for transforming human consciousness. Their vision is in alignment with the great Masters and Rishis who have given humanity a vast gift of the practices and philosophy that have been passed down for thousands of years. I relate Yoga to the tenants of Citizen Diplomacy. “A Citizen Diplomat is one who transcends his or her own boundaries of separation, and diversity, in the remembrance of the ‘Oneness’ of all Beings and the belief in Human Unity.” The Give Back Yoga Foundation and Seven Centers Yoga Arts also recognize the fundamental unity of all nations, states and peoples. As Rob said, “A foundation supports the underlying connectedness among all Beings, communities, nations and relations.”
“Give Back Yoga” had sponsored the Yoga center in Ramallah by helping them acquire Yoga mats, blocks, blankets, belts and other Yoga props and by supporting their formation. The West Bank founders named their studio Farashe, which means butterfly. What a beautiful concept I thought, remembering theories of chaos and interconnection, “When a butterfly flutters its wings on one side of the planet, the ripple affect can impact the entire planet.” What a perfect name for the chronic tensions that the people in the West Bank and Gaza live under, at times seeing no hope! Perhaps their wings will flutter, changing their lives and who knows, perhaps the world. The Farashe vision is: “Yoga is a catalyst for transformation and growth within ourselves, families, communities and world.” How wonderful that we are all in alignment, I thought as the airplane found it’s destination in Tel Aviv.
Our arrival in Tel Aviv was uneventful. After passing passport control, we glided through customs, with no one questioning us or checking our luggage. I was shocked. The new airport was magnificent! Huge fountains and ceilings stretched skyward inviting huge beams of light into the space. The off-white marble floors gave an imposing, palatial feeling as we entered into Israel. It was obvious that, over the years, they were attracting more tourists into the region. I could not help but remember the old airport that was small, built of plain grey cinder blocks, with two turnstiles. In those days it was a little dirty and extremely confusing when we jostled our way between Jewish travelers and Arabs with long flowing kaftans. The changes in the airport were the first of many that I was about to observe.
Our car was waiting to take the four of us to the YMCA in Jerusalem. I envied the members of our party who were visiting this area for the first time or even the second time. They would not have the painful experience of comparing the past to the present.
My memory was racing as we were whisked from Tel Aviv on beautifully maintained freeways, sometimes double-tiered. There were no freeways 19 years ago. We had travelled the road from Tel Aviv “Up to Jerusalem”, which was the ancient road of Emmeus, where Jesus appeared to his disciples in his transcendent form after he had been crucified. How I missed the old simple road. As we approached the beloved city that gave birth to the world’s three major religions, it was difficult to recognize Jerusalem. Huge high-rise buildings hid the golden Dome of The Rock that was once the second mecca of Islamic pilgrimages. The old city, that once stood on a hill and was visible for miles around, like the Golden Dome, was a symbol of hope and faith for the traveler making their holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Now the Mosque too was buried in a sea of white monolithic high-rises that stood as gleaming symbols of the conquerors’ claim on a land that had changed hands many times throughout the centuries. The Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives could now be seen as a little green patch in this sea of white citadels. How my heart ached for the past, while viewing the changes of the present.
We arrived from our long, overnight flight before noon and longed for a place to lay our head. The Moroccan arches in the lobby of the YMCA were a colorful reminder of the rich heritage of the Arabs who once occupied this land. The hotel was over l00 years old and seemed to preserve the past within its hallowed walls. Their food was wonderful in dishes that reflected the Jewish as well as Arab cultures. After a swim in the basement pool, I retired for much-needed sleep, with the old memories of Jerusalem drifting through my dreams.
East Jerusalem was once exclusively the Arab territories while West Jerusalem belonged to the Israelis. Now the lines are blurred as West Jerusalem is absorbing East Jerusalem like a lion devouring its prey. The Muslim call to prayer that once filled the Jerusalem days and nights was replaced with silence.
One thing that had not changed was the Jerusalem twilight that turned the sky the color of a blue lotus. The twilight slipped into night, while the evening breeze wrapped itself around me like a cloak of violet velvet. Yes, I could live here even now, in a sea of gleaming white stone and cement.