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News From the Middle East

A Campaign for Peace
The 2015 Report of peacebuilder Richard Martin, D.Min.
Work in Israel-Palestine 7/3/15 – 8/5/15

Was I a success or a failure at building peace and harmony in Israel-Palestine this July-August?  How can I tell?  

Was it enough that I overcame my fears of failure (or assassination) to place the option of non-violent communication before people engaged in chronic warfare since 627 c.e.?   Was it enough that I got half-way through my plan for that?

It was into the cauldron of dispute over conflicting claims to the Holy Land that I flew for the 11th year on July 3rd, 2015, to take up, (again) a month of peacebuilding between Jews and Muslims––Israelis and Palestinians––overtheir rights to what I think of as “my Holy Land, too.”

For ten years I have worked closely with a peace agency known as “Tent of Nations,” located on a hilltop farm in the Arab village of Nahalin, a couple of miles south of Bethlehem, adjacent to the famous Israeli settlement known as “Gush Etzion.”  In recent years I have helped mostly by teaching conflict-resolution and peacebuilding to the staff of some 20 college-age “counselors” who gather each summer at Tent of Nations for a two-week “children’s camp” serving young people of the area.

I planned to do that (in a fresh format) this year, as well.

Carrier of the Dream

But this year, I also carried a dream. Having watched the friction-points between the Village of Nahalin and Gush Etzion––such as settlers blocking with boulders the straight road from Nahalin to the main highway (Rt. 60), or aggressively laying claim to each other’s acreage––I kept seeing myself mediating between the mayor of Gush Etzion (whom I knew from the internet) and the mayor of Nahlin, to moderate some of their points of friction.  I could see exactly what to do to ease the representatives into getting acquainted, “speaking of the unspeakable” in terms of mutual irritations, and picking points at which to lessen the harm they are doing to each other, and increase the helpfulness.

So, after settling-into my affordable Bethlehem “hostel” (Hotel Alexander), and recovering from jet-lag, I met with my ToN director, Daoud Nassar;  my mediator-mentor, Huda Abu Arquob (regional director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace/a conflict-resolution expert); and my beloved Elayne (teacher of med- itation to Palestinians).  Then I was off to Gush Etzion to try to make an appointment with David Perl, the settlement’s well-known mayor.

Quite to my amazement, I caught a ride from the bus stop to the mayor’s office on Yellow Hill in a military police car, described my mission to an interested assistant named Yehuda, and then was ushered into an immediate audience with David Perl, described as “He’s only got five minutes before his next meeting.”

It’s not just that Etzion has an awesome reputation from 1948, when its roughly 500 defenders immobilized for days the entire Arab Legion marching on Jerusalem from Jordan…until the settlers ran out of ammunition.  Popular Mayor Perl is a kind of friendly whirlwind of energy, and quite appealing.  After hearing my proposal for a “meet-up” with the mayor of Nahalin,” he simply said, “Sure.  If they want to talk, I’ll talk.”  What about a “neutral location”?  He replied, “Many places.  There’s Roza’s Restaurant, outside the security perimeter.”  And there’s also the interfaith “Roots Project” with its meeting place on public ground not far from the bus-stop.  My time was up, but I felt I had hit the ground running.  

The mayor of Nahalin was another matter.  Following some misinformation, I met first with the former mayor of the village (chairman of the town council), who actually came to my hotel with his wife and a translator.  We had a good and affable conversation.  

By the time I got to the present mayor, however, I found myself talking to a tired old man, reluctant to get involved.  Both village mayors made it clear that they would have to get permission from the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to speak to the mayor of Etzion.  And the present mayor made it clear that he would have to put up with criticism from the “anti-normalizers” of the village for “speaking to the enemy.”

So, after several tries at being persuasive, and with time running out, I gave up this year’s dream of bringing the “sides” together around local matters––leaving the mayor and council of Nahalin a friendly letter pointing to the future (with a copy to Mayor Perl, who left a meeting to shake my hand and wish me bon voyage.)  

I risked a touch of frankness in the Nahalin-letter: “As a trained and experienced mediator, I would like to leave with you (since I am departing Palestine/ Israel August 5th) my offer to mediate between representatives of Etzion and Nahalin, when the time comes that both parties have found the courage to solve problems rather than nurse grudges.”  Sometimes honesty can be attractive. 

Did I succeed?  Did I fail?  I did the very best I knew how, and in this 1,388-year dispute, laying a groundwork for next year may be “success”!  It feels like it. 

Embracing Non-Violent Communication

Last year’s Summer Camp at Tent of nations was marred by war––rockets from Gaza, bombs from Israel, and local assassination of three Jewish teenagers.  Participation in the Summer Camp was cut by over 50%––half the children (whose parents were afraid to send them) and half the usual counselors (similar reasons).  “Nothing good happens in time of war” is one of my mottos. 

This year things were back to normal, and I tried––using a condensed agenda––to teach some new things to the counselors.  One was to include Non-Violent Communication (NVC, a la Marshall Rosenberg) in a conflict-resolution format known as “NVC Mediation.”

NVC is a different language.  It calls for dropping all words conveying judgment, insult, put-down, accusation, demand, etc.––words used as “weapons.”  Instead it calls for (1) observer language, describing events objectively; (2) emotional language, describing how events make us feel (negatives such as fear, pain/hurt, sadness––sometimes leading to anger; positives such as hope, joy, gratitude––leading to love); and (3) clear requests for (or offers of) help, ––based on “universal needs”––all leading to beautiful win-win compromises.  We role-played multiple conflict-resolution scenarios, especially with the children.

I also taught a session on “Authentic Happiness”––the end-goal of peacebuilding––professionalized by Martin Seligman.  Dr. Seligman posits a multi-point checklist of ingredients toward a life of “lasting fulfillment,” based on dealing fruitfully with (1) the Past as a learning experience, (2) the Future as an optimistic plan built on our “signature strengths,” and (3) the achievement of certain basic pleasures and 
higher “gratifications.”

Thrilling to me was the fact that Dr. Seligman asserts the importance of certain “cardinal values” (similar to my own) which each person must acquire to be really happy:

(1)  Unconditional Love
(2) Scrupulous Honesty
(3)  Fearless Courage
(4) Eagerness to Learn––Curiosity
(5)  Fairness & Equality––Justice
(6)  Moderation in all things––Balance
(7)  A Spiritual Path (expanding Consciousness)

Following the example of Dr. Seligman, I created a questionnaire for my students touching on all the ingredients of “authentic happiness,” encouraged them to complete it, and allowed them to ponder and to share.  In Evaluation, some found that highly stimulating.

I always give a class on how to meditate (Centering Prayer).  Some students even found that to be the high point.  We also took time to “check in” at each class, finding out daily how people were doing with the immense stress of working with the children.


I loved teaching these angelic souls the techniques of resolving conflict into harmony, serenity, and happiness; I was excited to come so close to getting Arab and Israeli to sit down together at the bargaining table.  And, of course, being with my beloved Elayne was a taste of heaven on that one day a week which we called “our own.”  Even a trip to Qumran (the “Dead Sea Scrolls”) inspired new thinking.

The pressures on both parties here to “meet in the middle” are increasing––the Arabs continuing to lose land confiscated for settlements (and unable to rebuild Gaza from the latest war of rockets and bombs) ––and the Israelis reeling from the worldwide Boycott/Divest/Sanction (BDS) movement.  

And I am committed to returning every year (or when called) until peace is “at hand,” and the “kingdom/queendom” comes.  Arriba!

As the finale of the musical Les Misérables (adapted) sings:
Will you join in our campaign?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond-the grip of greed, there lies a world  
Of generosity.
Do you hear the people sing? 
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is harmony we bring
When tomorrow comes!

Richard Martin
(Doctor of Ministry
in Psychology)

179 Summer St. #4
Amherst, Mass.




Psychotherapist to individuals, couples, 
and families



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