The situation in Palestine/Israel and especially Gaza was very much in the news as Quakers gathered in Bath for YMG. There was much concern among Friends and a huge desire to DO something. Quakers have taken a lot of interest in the situation in the region over many years, administer the EAPPI programme on behalf of Churches Together and support the Friends School at Ramallah. In 2011 we took the more controversial step of announcing our support for a boycott of goods from the occupied territories. While doing this we have tried, nationally and locally, to maintain good communications with Jewish and Muslims groups. In my own small way I am involved in my local interfaith group for whom I arranged a speaker from the Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum and I try to buy products from Zaytoun (olive oil etc) to support positive trade relations with Palestine.
That’s the background, but here we were in Bath with a huge crisis in Gaza and it was too late to put the issue on our agenda because we hadn’t time to ensure that we all had the facts to hand to consider the matter properly.
Fortunately an opening was created. We were offered a time in the big top to hold a meeting for worship to ‘hold in the Light’ the situation in Gaza and in other areas of conflict in the world, of which there are too many, some of which have considerably worsened since.
So on the evening of Thursday 7 August several hundred of us gathered to uphold those in Palestine, Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere. Despite tiredness and many fascinating alternative activities I felt that attending this meeting for worship was an important thing to do. There was much heartfelt spoken ministry, but what I was most aware of was a change deep in myself.
I went to this meeting distressed by the human suffering: death, maiming, bereavement, fear. As I sat in the silence I realised that while these things are very upsetting and people need support to cope with them, they are part of the human condition. Dying is part of life, injury is part of life, though it being inflicted in war and conflict should not be. They are not good things, but they are not evil, not inherently wrong in and of themselves. The infliction of suffering by shooting; firing rockets; dropping bombs; ordering the use of weapons; sending troops into war; planning attacks; manufacturing and selling armaments – these are all wrong, they are evil. They are evil because of the damage they do to the perpetrators as well as to those killed and injured. I suddenly saw the need for love and compassion for those who do these things, especially the leaders. I found that I could send love and compassion to the fighters, leaders and politicians as well as to the injured and bereaved. And, as the days have gone by, I continue to send love, compassion, metta to those people in my daily upholding prayer. It’s a small thing, but better than nothing, and a valuable addition to sending money, via the DEC, to help relieve the suffering.
In Quaker terms I yielded my concerns to God’s guidance, held them in the Light, and they and I were transformed. In Buddhist terms I looked deeply into the situation, meditated on it and saw it more clearly. There is clearly room for more transformation, for deeper understanding, but each small step encourages me to continue the journey.
The day after the meeting for worship, Yearly Meeting Gathering was able to agree a public statement (subject to a careful, Quakerly rechecking so that we didn’t cause any unintended offence to any party) on the situation in Gaza. So now I need to contact my MP to encourage action by our government in line with our requests in the statement. And to uphold our politicians as they are pressured towards supplying arms, and possibly military intervention, in other places too.