By Deena Metzger
After ten years of dreaming about war, Ayelet Berman Cohen dreams again of her commanding officer in the Israeli army. Synchronous with that dream, I call her on Passover. I say that as freed slaves founded Liberia, and as Israel has trained members of the Liberian military, this would be a good time for Israel to offer a different kind of aid. [Christian Bethelson, who now works with everyday gandhis in Liberia, was once an officer in the Liberian army. Later he became ‘General Leopard’ in the rebel army during Liberia’s civil war. He told us that he had been trained in brutal anti-terrorism techniques in Israel.] I suggest that Israel might donate the 30 million dollars still needed for a new national health care system. Our dear colleague, Tornorlah Varpilah, a wise and skilled peacebuilder, is a deputy minister of health in Liberia’s new government. He was recently fundraising in Washington DC for the healthcare system that he is also responsible for planning.
The subtext of this story is a particular idea that has been developing among us who constitute the Topanga Daré (Council), and who are working with everyday gandhis. This idea is rooted in Council, in African tribal cognition, and in ecological thinking. (Topanga Daré is an improvisational spirit-based community that has engaged dream telling and council for more than nine years.)
Ex-combatants, child soldiers, civilians and refugees who are the victims of war, as well as veterans of the numerous wars, can best receive and integrate healing by engaging in processes that combine education, service, reparation, and community building, by also engaging in traditional ritual activities of cleansing and purification, attending dreams and making offerings, and by training as peace-builders. Also, the healing of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), soldier’s heart, or shell shock, occurs best when the soldier or ex-combatant enters into a reciprocal relationship with the former enemy, making amends for his or her actions, and becoming a guardian of peace and/or the natural world.
What has become clear to us is that psychology and modern medicine are far from sufficient to restore the rampant and horrific injuries of war. Long after the truces are signed, wars continue in the form of land mines, radioactive, polluted soils and water, the devastation of economic and social structures, and the terrible memories of what one has seen and done.
Health care services should include the restoration of the souls of former soldiers, in conjunction with the restoration of the environment that has also been devastated by the war. Peace building, healing, and restoration of the land are intrinsically related to each other. The old wisdom ways, and the activities of true elders holding those wisdom ways, become precious and necessary contributions.
Ayelet responds to my idea about requesting money to support a new health care system in Liberia by calling her former commanding officer, a General now engaged in non-military, government work. While the conversation about Liberia only lasts a second, they become engaged in a conversation about war, trauma, and the on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine. But, as is clear from Ayelet’s dreams, no Israeli can be outside of that conflict until it is resolved. “The war is IN me,” Ayelet says again and again. “I am trying to heal the war that is In me,” she says.
Ayelet’s commanding officer – whom we will call Dalet -- seems amused by her phone call, and suggests that they talk when he comes to Los Angeles. She invites him to sit in Council with us, and to her surprise he accepts.
He dismisses giving money to Liberia, saying, “If there is anyone that we should give money to, it is the Palestinians.”
“That would be very good,” Ayelet responds quickly. She is astonished by this admission and begins to imagine that a true peace council may occur among us.
Ayelet watches her dreams. In a dream she has just before our meeting, she is given to understand that Dalet, like most soldiers of modern war, suffers from PTSD, and that he has the habit of speaking in one way and hiding what is most true deep within. War stories, she is told by the dream, mask the reality that must be spoken. We are gathering to heal PTSD, she tells me, as we wonder whether we can offer Dalet a circle where he will feel safe to speak what is hidden, what must be spoken.
The dream that Ayelet told to Dalet was about a contest that was held to determine whether a woman would awaken at ‘the eleventh hour’. In the dream, a man is skeptical about whether the participants would, as required, create images of her awakening. To his surprise, they do. Then he himself asks Ayelet to awaken him at the eleventh hour. “That man is you,” she told Dalet.
Dalet means door. Will the General become a door to peace making?
A small group gathers. Ayelet and her husband, David Aaron Cohen, who knows Dalet. David’s dear friend, Elias Matar comes directly from the airport; his parents are returning to Syria for the last time. They are Christian Arabs and Elias, who is married to a Chinese woman, refers to himself as a Buddhist. The rest of us who are present are members of Topanga Daré, involved with everyday gandhis. We try to prepare ourselves to meet the General with integrity. It would be so easy to see him as our ‘enemy’ and to try to convert him. But we must meet the General with love and respect in order to ask him to enter into a peacemaking alliance with us.
We have invited you, we say, to sit with us in a peace council at the eleventh hour of the planet.
“Israel is not at the eleventh hour yet,” he answers.
“The planet is at the eleventh hour,” I answer, and he agrees.
Though we do not speak of it openly, we assume that General Dalet knows that he has, at least in the dreamtime, asked Ayelet to awaken him at the eleventh hour. This is part of the function of this peace circle now.
We open with the peacebuilding stories we have lived in Liberia. The story of William Saa, who chose to become a peace builder and trauma expert, rather than seeking revenge; and who is in the process of finding and asking his brother’s killers to be his brothers. We tell the story of his living brother, Nat, taking back a contract he put out on their brother’s killer, after participating with everyday gandhis in dream councils composed of those who had been enemies to each other; sharing his own dream in which his ancestors, including his dead brother, forbid him to kill the enemies. We speak of what it means to be in such intimate circumstances with those who, just years before, were slaughtering each other in abominable ways. We speak of what it means to listen to each other’s dreams of peace making.
Later Dalet says that he knows such stories from Israel, stories of his friends who have lost their children and will not seek revenge. Dalet says that everything changed when he and his generation saw that they were not the only ones going to funerals, but that their children were going to one funeral after another.
Though Dalet described himself as cynical when accepting the invitation, he proves himself not cynical in the usual sense, but heartbroken and fearful that a great catastrophe will be necessary for the conflict he is living within, and that is living within him, to be resolved. After that catastrophe, he says, the people will not want any more war.
I do not know what catastrophe the others in the room are imagining, but suspect the catastrophe he is imagining is the potential and near catastrophe that calls me/us to say this is, for all of us, the eleventh hour.
Dalet tells a story. He tells what is perhaps the story of his life, the story from which he has become who he has become. As a young man, he was sent to Germany, only eighteen years after the end of World War II. There he was trained as a helicopter pilot at the base that been Hermann Goering’s, the Nazi commander of the Luftwaffe. The father of Dalet’s trainer was a Nazi. As part of his flight training, Dalet flies over what was once the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Having lived such a story, he is confused. The simplicity of a constant and recognizable enemy has disappeared.
As Dalet speaks of his confusions, Elias observes how much Dalet resembles his uncle, his father’s younger brother. Elias laughingly repeats, “You are like my father, my uncle. You are like a brother.” Elias extends his naked arms, “We are the same. How can we be enemies?”
Dalet distinguishes for us the focus and direct action that is required of him as a General from the confused heart of the man who knows from his own experience that the mysterious activities of peace making are real, and that Elias’ insistence on their kinship is true.
In the course of the Council, Dalet says that he never hated the enemy. He speaks of the necessity, always, to respect the one who is considered the enemy. He speaks of diversity, that we are the same, and we are also different. He speaks of the value and strength of the differences
Elias tells us a recent dream. He is running and running from the enemy, with his young son and his friend, until the young boys cannot run any longer. He stops, terrified that they will be captured by the enemy. But when the ‘enemy’ appears he is an American Indian chief from Seattle.
“I am not running after you,” the Indian chief says.
“I am running with you.”
When he awakened, Elias tells us, he experienced a profound sense of joy. Was this Chief Seattle himself, we wonder, to whom is attributed a strong statement on the ways the white people ignore the sacredness of the earth and all its creatures?
More dreams are told. Together they form a dreamscape. They chronicle war and the resolution of conflicts. Then toward the end of the Council, Danelia Wild asks Dalet how he would understand his experience in Germany if it had been presented to him as a dream. He does not answer, but we see that this man who had been suspicious of these ‘spiritual’ people, has understood something through her question. Though General Dalet has told this story many times, we are hoping that understanding it, this time as a dream, will deepen and refresh his understanding of it … that the teachings implied will carry him further toward the necessary, ethical responses to the reality of this eleventh hour.
We reach the inevitable moment. What is required, we see, is our refusal to have an enemy
“But,” Dalet asks, “who will be the first?”
Elias says that he has come to the point in his life where he refuses to have an enemy. It is, however, easier for him. He lives in the United States. He is not in Syria or Israel. He is not a soldier, a public figure, or a spokesman. He is not a General.
The General pauses. He cannot refuse to have an enemy and remain a General, a General who is being pressed to assume a high public office. That is not how a General acts. Yet, we see that his heart is whispering that he must do so. We know that in his heart he has already done so. That is why he feels his heart is so confused.
Perhaps he is beginning to understand that the actions of a General at the eleventh hour may be different from the General’s actions before that moment of such a crises.
Dalet has entered the Council. He has become an ally in the process of peacemaking.
“We are not naïve,” I say to him. “We know that we have to find ways to make peace that are entirely different from the ways that happen in the halls of governments. We have to find the ways that are different from the ways that have not worked for these thousands of years. We need your understanding and participation at this eleventh hour.”
“Perhaps your heart’s confusion is not confusion. Perhaps it is your wisdom. Perhaps it feels like confusion because it is an on-going Council, in which all the different voices and possibilities are held and being heard. A Council holds all the different voices until, together, the collective wisdom emerges from all those voices. But we have not yet learned to live from that collective wisdom of Council mind, to find the action that is the sum of all the voices. We do not know how, but we must learn how. We can only learn this together.”
Together, we are coming to understand something. The wisdom of Council has descended upon us. We do not know what difference this will make, but we know it will make a difference.
I go up to him and put my hand on his heart. “We offer you a circle to hold you, a circle for your confusions.” In Daré we have seen that we cannot become who we are being called to become without a circle, without a Council for our confusion, and the many voices that call to us to transform on behalf of the eleventh hour. We cannot do what we must do unless we have a circle that will hold us and give us courage. We offer Dalet what we have together, what holds us up, the strength of our connection.
General Dalet says that he will come again. He will come to us when he returns. We know this is true and look forward to being with him. We are like a good and reliable family. As he leaves to make his plane, the General stops at the doorway to tell us a story of finding himself with a head of state from an enemy country, urinating together in the desert, and laughing
General Dalet says he would like to meet Elias in Syria. Elias says he wants to come to Israel. Dalet says, “You can stay at my house.”