Reflections From the Middle East Jam Planning Meeting

by Shilpa Jain

To be a part of the planning meeting for the Middle East Jam was such a gift and honor. Though I am not technically from the region (as we came to call it), I feel a great affinity for it... maybe since my ancestors interacted with people from here for hundreds of years, maybe because Arabic and Farsi are so mixed into my mother tongue, Hindustani, or maybe because everyone assumes I am Arab when they look at me!  :)  What I know is that this affinity only grew stronger by spending a week with my friends during the meeting.  I felt firsthand how much beauty and passion, strength and determination, diversity and complexity, exists in this land.  And what it will take for people to open their hearts to each other, to approach one another with the desire to see the humanity, brilliance, pain and wisdom in each person. I felt lucky to bear witness to these kinds of opening this week,and to feel them manifest in myself.
For me, I had always had a block about Israel -- ever since I met a Palestinian political prisoner when I was 14. And then, over the last several years, working and learning with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and having some very dear friends who are Palestinians, my concern and anger about what Israel was founded on and what it was doing just grew.  At this meeting, I realized something. That I was holding Israeli citizens to a level of honesty, sensitivity and caring that no other people in the world were actually living up to. Each of us are involved, implicitly or explicitly, in some great violence today -- whether poisoning our planet, or standing by while it is poisoned; stealing resources or enjoying the fruits of stolen wealth; putting ourselves or other people in tight-fitting boxes or categories... and so on...  Israelis not seeing or challenging the pain of Palestinians was, in a way, understandable, given how much effort goes into blinding our senses, killing our sensitivity and manipulating our sensibility.  
I also realized that the Jam was about bringing together those people who choose to see, who choose to feel, who are trying to act, in the face of great odds and often overwhelming pressure to conform to the toxic mainstream. And this is true for all of us, no matter which societies we are coming from.... I began to recognize how easy it is to demonize and how easy it also is to humanize, and how we all need support in bringing down those concrete walls and bridging to the other side.  So a huge weight was lifted from me.

Thank you supporters for making this meeting happen. It was so meaningful for me personally. When I traveled to Lebanon following the meeting, in order to reconnect with old friends there, I ended up sharing these insights and happenings with them. And I feel this helped to thaw some hardness in their hearts and open up the possibility to them for a meaningful dialogue across all these borders and boundaries, hate and ill-feelings, history and reality....  So wow! Thank you!  I think the Jam, when it happens in October 2008, is going to be a powerful event with effects, inshallah, that will reveraberate around the region...


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