From the edges of Britain and Ireland, 35 special people were drawn to the heart of London to gather together into a community with two connected and common denominators: a deep friendship with the members of The Villages Group and a commitment to bearing witness, in one form or another, to the occupied people of Palestine, particularly those forgotten people of the South Hebron Hills.
The gathering room in the Quaker Meeting House buzzed with delight as these friends met over coffee, sometimes for the first time, asking each other the questions, “When or where did you first meet Hamed or Erella?” Erella and Hamed introduced the morning session, both expressing deep gratitude for the friends gathered and the commitment shown to the shared common cause: the imperative to continue building trusting relationships between even a small group of people of Israelis and Palestinians in the midst of an Occupation that seemed to have an imperative to divide. What followed, over those next six hours was testimony to the value each person present placed on being willing to enter into that vulnerable space of trust in the ‘not yet known’ in order to experience relationship at a deeper level.
Although many of the names on our name tags were known to each other, our faces were not! And this was the purpose of The Gathering: to meet – face to face – all of those special people whom we had heard about through Erella, Hamed and Ehud, and whose names we had seen in emails or on Facebook, but with whom we were not yet acquainted. Everyone engaged with a few exercised designed to enable us to meet the people behind the names, and then to explore even more deeply beyond that…
We quickly learned who came from where and how many times each of us had visited the area of Israel/Palestine, and then moved on to how we dealt with conflict at the personal and then the socio-political levels. Then we were encouraged to gather into small groups based on the contemplative practices we use to ground ourselves daily, which in turn, enable us to turn outwards to engage actively with our local communities or those further afield in Israel/Palestine.
We explored briefly what the words HOPE, GRATITUDE, and RECONCILIATION meant to each of us. You will see from the photos of this exercise that there was a broad spectrum of voices and perspectives but each was graciously heard and respectfully noted — without comment or analysis or question.
We then entered into a session of gracious listening as we sat in two concentric circles facing each other, then in pairs, asked of the other: “what question would you like to ask me?” With only a few minutes for each to answer, there was an unspoken understanding that to remain on the superficial would mean missing a golden opportunity to let another know us more deeply in the hope that our vulnerability and trust would be reciprocated…. and it was… in huge measure! Each encounter became a gift that was given and received as we moved one seat to the right again and again. By the end of the morning, we agreed that what had happened over those two short hours before lunch was a breadth of inter-connectedness and depth of understanding that surprised and delighted us all.
People continued to share stories and memories over lunch before gathering again to share the gifts of song, poetry, story and image that they had brought with them, as requested in the invitation. The offerings were astounding: some brought awe, others laughter and many brought tears. All were deeply deeply moving and spoke of the generosity of spirit evoked by the work of the Village Group and the respect for the people in the communities and villages they are in relationship with. And as Erella reminded us towards the end of the day, it was the people of the Villages that were at the heart of our day together; it is about their stories and their resilience and their willingness to be friends in spite of the occupation, that we honour. So, to end the session on ‘gifts’, as an extra special gift to each of us, David showed us a video he had done within the previous days of an interview with a young woman doctor from one of the villages, who spoke with a remarkably deep wisdom about her work and the people amongst whom she lives and moves. We knew that her story, if we ever needed a reason, is what will keep each of us in touch with each other and involved, in smaller or larger ways, with the work and life and spirit of The Villages Group.
The day was wrapped up by Hamed and Erella, noting once again, with gratitude, what the day meant to them. We were then asked what we might take away with us, in one word, and it was summed up on the chart you see in the photo. But the words did not convey the deep sense of interconnectedness that we were feeling by that time, and when the day was declared ‘ended’… no one moved! We sat in a delicious silence for a moment or two before the room exploded with people wanting to exchange names and email addresses to keep in touch. Hugs were given and photos taken. And the conversations continued… and continued… until we were thrown out of the room!
Many returned home but there were still a few that found their way to a restaurant across the street and continued the conversation for another hour or two before parting at the end of a most extraordinary day!
THE REPORT IN PDF FORMAT (INCLUDING MARVELLOUS PHOTOS):