Door Not Opened

Israel and Palestine: The Search for Peace

Elias Jabbour and Dan Booth Cohen

"Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
~T.S. Eliot."

Elias Jabbour and I presented a workshop titled, “Israel and Palestine: The Search for Peace” at the U.S. Conference on Systemic Constellations on October 4, 2007 in Asheville, NC. Elias Jabbour is founder and Director of the House of Hope International Peace Center in Shefar ‘Am, Israel. I am a Jewish-American Constellations facilitator and long time advocate for reconciliation between Jews, Germans and Palestinians.

Personal Histories and Efforts

In my introduction to the workshop, I said that my father, Henry (born in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents), had been an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army in WWII. Immediately following the War, he became the Director of the UN’s Föhrenwald Displaced Persons Camp for Jewish Holocaust survivors. In this role, he was instrumental in assisting the underground transport of survivors to Palestine. Following these experiences, he became an ardent Zionist and financial supporter of Israel.

Growing from my father’s experiences, I have been an advocate for reconciliation between Jews, Germans, and Palestinians. I lived in Germany and Palestine and participated in countless projects and events over the past 25 years. I first met Elias Jabbour and visited the House of Hope in 1983. We have remained close friends and colleagues since then.

Elias JabbourElias introduced himself as an Israeli-Palestinian-Christian-Arab. His family traces its Christian heritage in the Galilee to Biblical times. For centuries, his ancestral village of Shefar ‘Am had been inhabited by families of four faiths: Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Druze, who lived peaceably together as neighbors under Ottoman rule. After the First World War, the Jewish residents relocated to Haifa at the urging of the leadership of the Zionist movement.

Elias recalled being raised as a subject of the British crown. In 1948, the British evacuated from Palestine and the armed forces of the incipient Jewish state occupied Shefar ‘Am. As the Mayor of the city, Elias’ father (Jabbour Jabbour) received the troop commander. In a moment of tension, the two confronted each other. The senior Jabbour told the soldier in a friendly, but firm tone, “We were here during the Roman times and have been ruled by Persians, Ottomans, the British and now you. When your rule is over, we will still be here.” The takeover went peacefully, without creating Palestinian refugees, as was the case in many Arab villages throughout Israel.

Following in his father’s footsteps and in memory of the long period of friendly coexistence that preceded British and Israeli rule, Elias has devoted his life to promoting peaceful relations between Palestinians and Israelis. For the past 30 years, Elias and his wife Heyam have operated the House of Hope International Peace Center. He has written a book on the traditional Palestinian peacemaking process, called Sulha. Despite the difficulties arising from being a second-class citizen on his native soil, the collapse of the political peace process, and the economic impact of Israel’s War-against-Terror, Elias continues to advocate for peace and reconciliation.

The Constellation

I offered to facilitate a Constellation for Elias and the House of Hope. In the 60 years of Israel’s existence, Elias and Heyam have witnessed the societal and political landscape drifting further and further away from their vision of peaceful co-existence and reconciliation. In 2007, they are near the age of retirement, with their life’s work unfulfilled and their children disheartened and disinterested in carrying on the work of the House of Hope.

I asked Elias to begin by setting up a representative for his father, and one for my father. (Ordinarily a facilitator will not bring his own father into to someone’s Constellation. Given Henry Cohen’s role in aiding Zionist migration in the 1940s, it seemed to fit here.) The two representatives faced each other, but did not connect with their eyes. The representative for Jabbour Jabbour appeared weak, looking downcast. After some time I brought in a representative for Elias and one for the first generation of Sabras (Israeli-born Jews) of European descent. Next, I set up representatives for the grandchildren, the Jewish and Arab young adults who are the recipients of these lineages.

As is familiar in the Constellation process, once these representatives were settled in and had time to feel, the observers were presented with an image of the issue in its problematic form. None of the six representatives were in supportive contact with any of the others. Along the Jewish generational line, the representatives were each disconnected and over-burdened, though in different ways. Along the Palestinian line, the representatives were more stable, but also discomforted. Elias’ representative was alert and eager to reach out, but found no receptivity in any direction. His father appeared absorbed in loss, his child was agitated to the point of rebellion, his Jewish-Israeli peer was nearly dead on her feet, absorbed in her own pain, with no capacity to receive Elias hand.

The question became; what can we add to the system that can contribute to creating a healing movement? The representative for Jabbour Jabbour offered a clue. He said that he felt what he described as a stone wall at his back and felt a powerful yearning for a missing person in front of him. He asked Elias, “Did your father have a close Jewish friend whom he lost in the aftermath of the Jews leaving Shefar ‘Am?”

Elias responded that his father had many close Jewish friends in his youth. He added that there is a centuries-old synagogue in Shefar ‘Am. The building was abandoned when the Jews of Shefar ‘Am relocated to Haifa, but the villagers have maintained it in the spirit of philia [Gr. brotherly or neighborly love] for more than 80 years. The building is painted, candles are refreshed, the floors swept, and prayer books maintained, so that visiting Jews can enter at any time to hold a minion service. In fact, one woman, whose grandfather was a member of the Congregation, comes regularly to visit and support the House of Hope.

I placed a representative for this woman/synagogue in the space between the two lines. With that, the healing movement began. Henry Cohen’s representative softened; Jabbour Jabbour became enlivened, moving towards her like a man reunited with his great lost love. The representatives of the middle generation took hands and swayed to a silent dance. The grandchildren strengthened and saw each other, as if for the first time. The Palestinian grandchild said, “We will do it in our own way, not according to the dictates of tradition. We feel connected now, and stronger.”

I said to Elias, “It’s the synagogue building and the descendants of the Jews of Shefar ‘Am who hold the memory of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Tree of Life I asked one more representative to step into the field, “Find your place and see who you are.” She slowly moved with the group, before settling herself at the front, creating a configuration which was reminiscent of the Tree of Life. She said, “I am timeless. I see it all.”

Elias, Heyam, and I each stepped into the field as well, taking our own places. I felt especially pleased to see my fathers’ open-heartedness towards the synagogue, and through that building towards the each member of the circle. Though my father’s politics were different from mine, we share compassion towards our heritage and a determination to leave the world having contributed something positive.

We ended the Constellation here. The traumatic conflicts of the past century continue to fuel fear and violence. Those of us who are dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation find ourselves pushing our hands against the tide. In one sense, our efforts are empty gestures, for the ocean is so vast and powerful and our hands so small and insignificant. In another sense, all human creation is the product of such small gestures. When a hand pushes the ocean the entire ocean moves.

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