Jerusalem Journal #3: Letting Go of Who Did What to Whom and Who Did It First

Jerusalem YMCA
YMCA, headquarters for the IAPSP Conference (author photo)

[Note: In October, 2014, I accompanied Jonathan on a trip to Jerusalem. He was going to the annual meeting of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP). He spent much time in meetings while I was free to travel, visiting sites within Jerusalem and beyond. I have posted two times already about this trip; you can see those postings by clicking on these dates: October 31, 2014 and January 5, 2015. I also posted on a related topic, namely an important book, The Lemon Tree. Click on the title to see that post.]

I had intended to write much more about my impressions from last October’s trip to Jerusalem, as well as to continue reflecting on this bedeviled conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Partly, preparations for moving, and the move, from Richmond, VA to Greenbelt, MD got in the way.


But more, I think, was my growing realization at how I despair over two things that must happen: that Israel will shift its mindset and strategy and the Palestinians will respond productively. Someone has to change, significantly, if this perpetual, and seemingly self-perpetuating, crisis is to shift from a deadening into a life-giving mode. I believe it is incumbent on Israel to engage in a major shift. I say that because it is my belief that it is usually, if not always, the more powerful party in any dispute–certainly one in which both parties have legitimate concerns and interests, as is true here–that has to move the most.

Just as disempowering as my despair was my fear that many of my Jewish friends in the United States–not to mention those Israeli (and other) Jews I met at the conference whom I admire greatly–would become angry at me, perhaps even cutting off our friendship, if they understood that and other points I feel compelled to make (I will reflect another time on my continuing struggle to stop being governed by my fears of what others will, or do, think).


But let me be clear. This is not a one-sided conflict. Both parties, all parties (certainly including the government of my country, and thus me), bear responsibility for the mess that now exists. There is more than enough blame to go around. Somehow, we have to get beyond the blame game.

This was brought home to me with great power during one part of the international conference. Prior to the formal sessions, I joined Jonathan and other conferees and spouses on a trip to Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, situated 15 Kilometers southeast of Tel-Aviv, near Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to the conference organizers, Lud, “despite the enormous potential of this ancient-contemporary city . . . has been plagued by a poor image for decades: its population of 75,000 people is constantly struggling with social, economical, multi-cultural and ethnic problems that make the city an example of the painful term – ‘social periphery.'” 

NY Times
NY Times

Indeed, the session was billed as “Self Psychology and Weakened Populations: A Tour of Lod.”  Weakened populations, as I understand the organizers, are places where all of us, not just the subject peoples, bear responsibility for deterioration. They are communities where empathy is required, but empathy that helps create concrete action for change. This action involves more than just the weakened group; it must include those who have been party to the weakening. To my way of thinking, this is the situation in the United States among white people, as we need to make concrete changes to lift our social boot off the backs of the still-weakened African American, and Native American, populations.

It is appropriate that IAPSP is involved in this new understanding, because at the heart of self psychology is empathy. The IAPSP tour organizers wanted us to see what will become the new headquarters of the Israel Association for self Psychology and the Study of Subjectivity (the Israeli affiliate organization which hosted the conference), and they also wanted us to hear from a diverse group of local people about the efforts to build a new society in Lod.

Houses in Lod
Houses in Lod

Included in the local people were the leader of a local program to teach agriculture to students, both Palestinian and Israeli, and a teacher in the program. Part of the goal is to teach the students how to share the land, how to treasure it together for the benefit of all.

Both educators were amazing in their ability to convey, despite language difficulties, a deep desire to create a truly multi-cultural community in Lod, and to help this ancient area recover from serious decline over the past several decades. The teacher, a woman, was the most articulate. During question time, I asked her, a Palestinian whose family lived for generations in that area, how she felt about the participation of Jewish people in this work, given that her family had been displaced by the Israelis more than once. She said, “We will never move forward until we choose to let go of who did what to whom and who did it first.”

I cry right now as I write about that moment–empathy at work in her, breathtaking in its simplicity and power.

seeing with the eyes of another

So often, people who speak in or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pronounce from one box or the other, talking past the people in the other box. Wisdom comes in refusing to be put in one box and learning what to believe and say from your own space (which contains parts of many boxes), and at the same time hear the other, with empathy and a desire to understand.

But it is not enough to speak and listen with care, vital though that is. That we must act on what we know seems clear, even as our actions must be laced with empathy and a desire to understand others.

My training, and engagement, in Christian liberation theologies, feminism, and political theory, as well as my understanding of Judaism, lead me to act based not only on ethical perspectives but also to engage in power analysis to aid in promoting productive action. In future posts, I shall explore more of this trip, as well as reflect on new learnings, with the goal of contributing to a dialogue for peaceful, life-enhancing change in the haunted land of Israel and Palestine.

For now, let us remember empathy, indeed, let us be empathic.

2 thoughts on “Jerusalem Journal #3: Letting Go of Who Did What to Whom and Who Did It First”

  1. I agree that both sides need to change. What I see as naive is putting the onus on changing on Israel. Israel has given land, has compromised in many ways over many years and have not received anything in return. I believe that the Palestinians need to stop incitement to violence in schools and media and create a climate that moves towards peace. That requires the acceptance of Israel’s existence. When Palestinians talk about occupation, they are not talking about 1967, they are talking about all of Israel. I believe that if anything, Israel has shown too much restraint. There should not be a level of violence that is acceptable. Couching the problem in David vs Goliath with Israel as the Goliath is specious. Please show me any statement that the Palestinians have made that was made in Arabic as well as English ( for our consumption) that shows a desire for peace that involves any compromises or sacrifices on their part. No one in the world desires peace more than the Israelis who have already made many painful sacrifices for peace. I am particularly distressed that the press reports every indignity suffered by Palestinians while not reporting the deaths ans injuries of Israelis which happen on a daily basis. The lopsidedness of the presentation of the issues in the larger world (outside the Jewish press) only furthers intransigence on the Israeli side. It feels like no one stands with Israel and they must do what they must do to protect themselves. Robin, I like and respect you and not consider you harboring any antisemitism. I generally believe that those, including some main stream churches, that do not have a balanced view in my opinion, are uninformed, being manipulated, are hypocritical or are antisemitic. While I believe that there are individual Palestinians who see peace with Israel of benefit to everyone, the Palestinian leadership does not begin to approach this view and the many years of incitement against Israel and Jews has led to a generation that does not see that as a possibility or even desirable. I have written several rather lengthy comments, but have not seen any of my points addressed. Is that because you are so totally rejecting of everything I have written?

    1. Stan, I hear all that, and I think you raise good points. However, I see more to Israel’s actions than overtures for peace. Nor am I naive, a charge always made against those who think there is more than one way to solve conflicts. I think those who seek change on both sides are far more realistic than those who seek change only on one. As to your many points, on Facebook, I do not have time to debate each point. Nor do I think that the way you present the issues really encourages debate. It feels to me that what you seek is total victory.
      What I will do is to raise the issues that have arisen for me out of my trip to Israel and my reading, and my reflection, and welcome you and others to comment. I will do my best to respond, but I simply not able to do so, partly because I am still learning and partly because this is not my style.
      I am sorry you think holding the more powerful party responsible for change is specious; it is this thinking that continues to get the United States in trouble. We think everyone else has to change, or at least that is what many of our leaders (practically all in one party running for President) think. It is something I admire about President Obama, that he seems to get that we live in a multiply constructed world and we don’t own it. I wish Prime Minister Netanyahu and many other Israeli leaders could grasp that point. The exception I see now among Israeli leaders is President Rivlin. I admire his desire to see the multiple realities and to seek to live among them and promote greater awareness. Debating does not get us there; listening and empathy do.

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