As I prepared for my trip to Haifa in the beginning of the year , I had many questions about the history of violence and conflict present in Israel, a country located on land that has experienced extreme clashes for thousands of years. I also wondered how members of the community reconciled trauma and healed. While Boston is a very different place from Haifa, we too experience violence and trauma in our communities. I hoped that my trip to Haifa could broaden my understanding of violence and healing, and give me new inspiration to bring back home to Boston. Here’s what I learned…
Understanding Conflict and Moving Forward
Before you can understand the conflicts in Israel, I learned that you must absorb the context of time and space in Middle East culture. Paul Liptz, a scholar from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew Union College, taught me that the concepts of time and space are important variables within Israel. Time is seen as relative. So, 5000 years ago is really “the day before the present.” Some conflicts present in Israel today originated from 1000 or 2000 year old incidents, but to those involved it is as if occurred yesterday. Space is also a powerful concept. Land is rare and therefore does not change hands as frequently as in other parts of the world. Land can have religious affiliations but may be divided for political reasons or by political allies. Therefore one must consider the concept of “holy time” and “holy space” as different to secular time and secular space; and this complicates planning for a future that is different from the past.
While Boston may not have the same associations with time and space, I think many of today’s conflicts here are caused by timeless issues. For example: racism, class inequalities, and gender or sexual preference discrimination are conflicts that are motivated by issues and beliefs from many years ago. Yet, these issues for some many continue to inspire present day conflict. Just as the Israelis find planning for a different future a complicated task, we too may find it hard to move forward with progress if people hang on to past ideologies and conflicts.
Healing from Trauma
One of the most inspiring elements of my trip to Haifa was witnessing the way people recover from trauma and deal with uncertainty in their everyday lives. It amazed me that the average Israeli is living their life, in spite of events that could force many to live in fear. Evidence of this appears in many forms. For example, I visited one area between Jerusalem and the Old City that was at one time not so long ago occupied and quite dangerous to walk through. Today, the space has been transformed and art now lines the street. The art reclaims that space and creates beauty where once stood barbed wires. While art may seem like a simple gesture, it has great impact. And I think art can be an incredible way to heal from trauma no matter where you live in the world!
I also spoke with one mother in Haifa who explained the challenges of recovering from trauma to me. She shared a story about witnessing a bus explosion directly in front of her on her way to work one day. She described it as a feeling deep inside of “things not being right.” But, she explained, you still have to get up and live your life. She said that it is hard to figure out what to tell your children, because you want them to know the truth but also not live in fear.
Perhaps the most powerful embodiment of this mother’s message was found when I got international students perspectives on this issue while talking to a group of High School students in Haifa. The students talked about their dedication to helping their community. They spoke of the value of service and working for one another. Despite conflict and trauma, the values they take away from living in Haifa are to help others as much as possible in times of trouble. I think their message is powerful and inspirational to anyone who deals with daily struggles. Instead of living in fear or worry, turn your energy towards helping others also in need.
Those high school students left me a special message to bring back to Boston. I hope it inspires you too!