I always gain so much from the Spirit of Peace evenings at the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester. Over the years that this event has run, a fraternity has built amongst those who attend (a shifting population though it is) which carries an energy of great hope and possibility.
May 22nd was no exception. As well as eating wonderful food provided through a shared meal, and catching up with others on a similar wavelength, we were blessed by a most profound talk by a former Israeli soldier, Ben Yeger. He told the moving story of how he came to see that there are no ‘Us and Them’, no ‘Enemy’, but simply, US. The epiphany for him was when he found himself pointing his gun, at point-blank range, at a Palestinian prisoner whom he was guarding in a transit vehicle. He was instructed to shoot this man dead if he were to try to escape or became violent. Seeing the terrified state of this fellow human being, Ben knew that if he were to shoot him, he would also kill his own humanity. Mercifully, he did not have to shoot him and it lead to Ben leaving the army and to him becoming a Combatant for Peace (now the European representative for the organisation), along with other Israeli former soldiers and, even more impressively, with Palestinians of the same persuasion.
The talk was about Ben’s personal journey and the work that is going on in Israel and Palestine in the direction of peace. It is painstaking, difficult, risky and slow work. I was filled with admiration for the courage and determination of those involved.
The focus was on Israel and Palestine, but the message was more universal than that. Who are our personal ‘them’? Ben was keen to stress the importance of our own inner work in recognising how we all make ‘them’ out of other people. We need to become aware of this dynamic, question it, and work to overcome it. He was also keen to say that everyone is at the particular stage that they are in this regard and that we are in a process of change that cannot happen overnight.
It is daunting to know what an enormous and profound work this is. But it is also inspiring to see such wonderful efforts being made in the direction of peace and to know that we can make a significant contribution by who we become in our own lives, day by day.
– Judy Clinton