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The Arabs/Jews Event, 2006: A Tale of Hope

The other night a friend of mine was discussing the Arabs/Jews event in 2006, and Stephen asked her to send it to him in an email. The following is one Israeli woman’s view of that event.

It was a night like any other night—except it wasn’t and I knew it wasn’t—because I was greatly anticipating an event that was about to take place at the university. It was an evening designed especially for Arabs and Jews by Byron Katie, and all day long I felt I was thinking about it and wondering who the heck is going to show up, because on that same night Pink Floyd were getting back together again to play a concert for peace in Israel, and anyone who was even remotely interested in coming to the event with Katie decided, of course, to go to the concert instead.

Not me, though. I felt strongly that a truly fresh new thing would be happening, and there was no way I was going to miss this. I had heard Pink Floyd so many times, and as great as they are, it was history, and here was Katie, who I only saw on the web, coming to do something for peace that had never been done before, and I felt truly interested. So I managed to convince a good friend to join me, and off we went.

My friend let me know that she was only coming for that one night, just to keep me company, and anyway—the workshop Katie was offering for the next few days was sold out, and even the overflow room was sold out. As my friend was talking and while we were driving, we saw a young woman on the sidewalk who looked like she needed a ride, and I had a sense she was heading in our direction. “Stop,” I said. “Let’s give her a ride—I bet she is going to the event.” Sure enough, she was, and when she got into the car, she thanked my friend for the ride and said, “I’m in charge of the overflow room in the upcoming workshop, and I can add your name to the list of names, though the room is almost full.” Needless to say, my friend came.

When we entered the hall, it was completely full, and the whole front of it was filled with Arab villagers, Arab dignitaries, women with their faces totally covered in black (Katie had sponsored buses that brought them to the event), Jewish students, political activists who came because they saw it was an Arab-Jewish thing and had never heard of Katie before, and all kinds of other people—and the place was full and noisy. A man was standing on the stage speaking in Hebrew, and on the side of the stage I saw a woman standing, and I realized it was Katie (I recognized her face from her pictures).

Katie began working with an Arab man, the principal of a secondary school, who was dealing with his stressful thoughts over the Israeli occupation. The noise and restlessness in the hall was almost embarrassing to me. An Israeli left-wing political activist behind me was yelling at Katie, “Go home, you American, this is not a soap opera, this is a real occupation.” I turned to her and said, “Be quiet,” and my friend said, “You be quiet, you’re making more noise than anybody.” “My goodness, what a mess,” I thought, “what Katie must be thinking about us —probably that it’s such a third-world country.” In that moment Katie turned around to the audience and said, “Let’s just do the best we can with what we have. This is a first, and there are a lot of things to work through, but if we do, then from a resolution here, something will benefit the whole world, and in my experience what happens beyond what we can see is very powerful, so I am okay with the noise, and let’s just be with it.” Then she turned back to the man she was working with. I felt relieved and was able to hear and appreciate how hard Katie was working to hold the space so that the man on the stage could get a glimpse of the truth that it was his thoughts about the occupation that were causing his suffering. Finally, with Katie’s patient and gentle help, he did the turnaround: “The occupation is not the worst thing.” It was amazing to see him even consider this, because he seemed to believe with all his heart that it was the worst thing, and many of the Arabs were shouting that it was the worst thing. He had a hard time opening up in front of his peers, and yet he said, reluctantly, that maybe, just maybe, murdering somebody might be worse for him than the occupation. I don’t know what he understood in that moment, but he seemed to be very moved.

The second person to volunteer to do The Work was a Jewish Israeli who had been very angry at a group of Arabs (he called them “terrorists”) who had severely beaten him and his friend when they were fourteen years old.

“Tell us what happened, honey,” Katie said. So the young man began to describe his ordeal. He and his friend were walking through the field one sunny day when a group of Arabs jumped them and beat them up so badly that he had almost died. And he went into each and every gruesome detail. He spoke in a very calm tone in spite of the noise in the hall, and the audience became quieter so that they could hear him. He described how they broke his bones and put a knife through his neck.

“What were your thoughts in those moments, sweetheart?” Katie asked.

“Well”, said the young man, “all of a sudden, a thought flashed through my mind: ‘I’m going to die,’ and in a split second I found myself hovering over my body, looking down. I was just being a light or something. It was amazing. Meanwhile, the terrorists thought I was dead and ran away, and my friend ran off to get help, and in a flash, I was back in my body.”

“What if I told you, honey,” said Katie, “that the only way for you to experience that you are not the body was to go through this ordeal—would you be willing to go through it again?”

“Yes,” said the young man very clearly, and a total hush fell upon the audience. “I would go through it again in a second. It was the single most important experience of my life. I’ll never forget it. It totally shaped who I am.”

“Without the terrorists,” Katie said, “how could you have had that experience? And did you send them a thank-you note?”

The young man smiled.

I felt that everyone, Jews and Arabs, came together in that moment, and that a new understanding was being born. There was total silence, and then there was loud applause. “My God,” I heard myself think. ”She did it. She penetrated something old and stale and got to people’s hearts. Unbelievable.” Even the rowdy activists in the crowd had to agree.

As we were leaving the hall, we were all much more relaxed. Arabs and Jews were even mingling. I found myself walking alongside the Arab school principal who had done The Work with Katie, and he said, “She is doing cognitive psychology. I am sure of that.” “Maybe,” I said. And we kept talking. Then all of a sudden, he said some political thing, and I could feel an argument rising up inside of me, but before I had a chance to say anything, the activist I thought of as “rowdy” came along and said to him—right in my face—“Don’t even bother talking to her” (meaning me). “She always has to be right.”

“You know,” said the Arab man, “you’re right. She has no active listening.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and was just about to react when it occurred to me that maybe I needed to really hear what they had said. Maybe wisdom was speaking to me through these kind people and reminding me that we had just spent time in the company of a very wise teacher who had opened up a whole new way to communicate by listening inside, and I needed to listen. I backed off and thanked them for telling me that, and I left the event a much different person than the one I’d been when I came.

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