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The Middle East Peace Research Village
Leila Dregger interviews Benjamin von Mendelssohn, the co-ordinator of a project that is exploring practical strategies for making peace in the Middle East with ecological design.
he Peace Research Village (PRV) is based in the ecovillage, Tamera, in Portugal. It is working towards building a peace village in the Middle East for Israelis, Palestinians and Internationals. The main objective of the project is to actively research, study and create an effective and durable non violent social model for a peaceful culture that can be replicated in other areas of conflict the world. The unique elements of the project are its active concentration on humane sustainability and the placement of such an experiment within the global context of our time. The Peace Research Village aims to become a place of education where the elements of truth, trust, tolerance and our very human responsibility for the care of the world is rediscovered, and solutions found that are based on concrete strategies. Leila Dregger interviewed one of the core organisers of the project, Benjamin von Mendelssohn. A small group of you at Tamera started the Israel/Palestine Peace Village project in 2001. What was your motivation? It was the suffering of the people in Palestine when the second Intifada began. We wanted to find a way to help. Compassion – the almost childlike wish to really do good when you dare to face the suffering of the world yet again – is a strong motivation in the whole project. Tamera is a global peace project and there are many historical/political facts that make the Middle East a crucial place www.permaculture.co.uk
in relation to the question of whether we will have a planet of peace or of war. There are therefore strategic reasons for our strong involvement there. Although there are huge parts of the world in which people suffer more, the Middle East has a much stronger continuous global media attention. We often view our political activities as the search for the right acupuncture point in the whole of the organism Earth. The current attention as well as the decisive cultural impulses deriving from there for over 10,000 years now, makes the Middle East such an acupuncture point. Also I come from a German Jewish family, and as such I cannot deny that I am keen to do this. The protection of my family during the Third Reich was, in some ways, a miracle. The privilege of coming from such a background and the fact that I am able to criticize the politics of the State of Israel without immediately being called anti-Semitic, also gives me a certain responsibility to engage myself in this conflict for a change to the better. The Israeli government is engaged in a psychological reproduction of its peoples’ past trauma of the holocaust. On the whole and in many details, the historical parallel cannot be denied any longer. I remember the sensational news about two years ago when pictures were published showing Palestinian prisoners of the Israeli Army with shaved heads and numbers printed on their bodies. The historical and psychological chain of violence needs to be broken. No. 43 Permaculture Magazine 27
This year, the project’s name has changed to Peace Research Village (PRV). How is the PRV different from the Israel/ Palestine Peace Village Project? It isn’t really. We just became more aware of the public associations which the name ‘Peace Village’ triggers – too much of a settlement ‘how-to-live-our-own-life-character’. The term ‘research’ widens the context and avoids the associations of a ‘private arrangement’ with the situation. Also it implies the fact that we do not have a solution but desperately need to research it. Peace Research needs as much public and financial support as war research has received for centuries to make peace a viable alternative. Also we want to emphasize the educational aspect, comparable to a university, while retaining the importance of a concretely lived and experienced peace through the word ‘village’. ‘Peace Research Village’ makes it a lot clearer that it is a pioneering project entering new realms, not promising a comfortable life, but requiring the willingness to deeply change oneself. A non-violent technology and ecology is very important especially for this semi-arid region. For example, this requires a basic change in paradigm from exploitation to co-operation. The water irrigation methods which made Israel famous were progressive but old fashioned in principle – conquering the desert. At the moment the development of the Solar Power Village by Jürgen Kleinwächter (see PM42 for details) in combination
with new social structures of Tamera is a strong focus. Non-violence also requires more independence from multinational corporations in solar technology and a move towards regional self-sufficiency because this dependency always means profit oriented violence towards the Third World. This can be fulfilled through the cyclical principles of the Kleinwächter technology. In non-violent ecology we need a deep rethink. Most biological and even some permaculture projects still consider certain plants and animals as weeds or pests for example. How do we free our self-image, in thought and action, from the idea of ‘enemy’? The other aspect to the PRV is its growing co-operation with people from the Middle East, which became concrete at the peace camp held in Tamera in August 2004. Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi, founder of the Hamakom Community, in particular made the decision to dedicate himself to the project. This is an important element in making the project viable in the Middle East. The peace camp was a real turning point.
‘WE REFUSE TO BE ENEMIES’
Theatre is just one of the performing arts that has the ability to surpass the very direct and personal nature of long running conflicts. It is a medium that allows the audience to witness the multiple positions evident in conflict. To allow yourself to adopt this position of witness, to understand the position of others is ultimately to find compassion. In 2001 the play ‘We Refuse To Be Enemies’ was written by Leila Dregger and Sabine Lichtenfels as a response to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Using a didactic style of images the play illustrates the historical, religious, political and especially the human roots of the Middle East conflict. The ability of the play to show these images in an impersonal and non-biased way allows the audience, on all sides, to understand the conflict in its wholeness and complexity. In late autumn 2002 the theatre group of the Peace School Mirja performed the play with great success at venues in Germany and Switzerland. In summer 2003 the Peace School were invited to accompany the Peace Concert Tour, with Yair Dalal and Palestinian musicians, with the play. This culminated in a performance at the Institute for Global Peace Work’s annual summer conference in Tamera, Portugal. It was here that many Israeli and Palestinian peace workers first saw the play. They were both moved and inspired by the political sensitivity of the play. For many, the hope and vision was that the play would be performed in Israel and Palestine. The Peace Research Village plans to tour ‘We Refuse to be Enemies’ in Israel and Palestine in Autumn 2005.
What were the practical methods the project used in the camp that made it so successful? The whole ‘Middle East group’ fully participated in the Tamera Summer University with its wide spectrum of lectures and inspiring information. Peace workers from all over the world studied and brainstormed the importance of non-violent cultural models for a new global Peace Movement. We discussed how these ideas and concepts could be applied in the Middle East and what modification they would need. We also performed the theatre piece, ‘We Refuse To Be Enemies’, which tries to show the situation in Israel and Palestine in an objective way (see Box). There were many thoughts arising from this and a deep wish from the participants that the piece be performed in Israel and Palestine. But the most important aspect this year was our Forum work. Forum is a method to create transparency and trust in a group (Forum is described in PM39). This is an absolute requirement for a political group with such high aspirations as founding a Peace Research Village in the Middle East. You have to know and deeply trust each other.
Parallel to the Forum work we attempted to live as much as a group as possible – to experience community living. This allowed us to come closer to the themes that rest at the basis for all of us as human beings. For example, how children grow and develop, education, love, sexuality and so on. We were able to find a level that went beyond our cultural, religious or national identities, and begin to see each other as human beings. One example of this was at the end of the camp when a participant, who strongly identified himself as Palestinian, described how he could now see so many other aspects of himself as a human being in the world – his identity was changing from a national identity to one of the world. How then would you describe the community structure? We are working on a true basic democracy with transparency, truth and trust being the keywords. To a certain extent this means a circular structure, but it also includes a natural hierarchy that is built on humane and complex knowledge, not on superior power by position. This is an interesting point in every group and so many aspirations of free community have failed with this: when you try to simply eradicate formal hierarchy you deny a reality which every one nevertheless unconsciously perceives. In a community of trust, the person who is given the most trust by most members is at the top of the hierarchy. When people learn to be more aware
Title page: The Peace Research Village, Tamera, Portugal. Centre left: Benjamin von Mendelssohn. Boxed item: Performing ‘We Refuse To Be Enemies’. Above: A mindful listening session.
Centre top: Moses Mount. Centre: Jahalin Bedouin camp. Centre right: Lunch at the peace camp. Above: The Sinai, a possible site for a future Peace Village.
of this, the quality which moves you up in the hierarchy is the ability to think for the highest benefit of most members. This is the most complex and comprehensive knowledge. I often think of the fantastic ideals in the beginning of communism/socialism. It definitely lacked the mature people to realize these concepts. Now we need to train ourselves to live up to them. To make all people equal by rule is an illusion and additionally kills the beauty of diversity in the long run. The concept that each individual has its own unique place and task and that the community is there to support the individual find it is a very different one. A group living in basic democracy demands the highest degree of personal individuality and self-responsibility of each member. This is a long-term goal. Apart from touring the theatre piece in Israel/Palestine, what are your other plans for 2005? We need to further deepen the trust in the growing core group for this project. We also need to lobby in higher political and economic circles for support with this concept, especially within the UN. We will build up the prototype of the Solar Power Village in Tamera. People from the Middle East will have the opportunity to learn more about sustainable ecology and technology in Tamera. We are especially looking for a stronger Arab involvement. At the same time we will keep our eyes open for the right piece of land. For some years we have been financially supporting the Jahalin Bedouins and we are considering sending a group of eco-builders from Tamera there to help them build the new settlement they were forced into by the government – in more ecologically sustainable ways. We also plan to organise a peace camp in Israel in the autumn which would be a significant step in our co-operation with the land and its people. This idea arose from a recent trip to
Israel and the Sinai where we further built up our co-operation with members of Hamakom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Palestinian members of the network and the land. There were many highlights to the trip – one special one was the visit to Sinai which could be the place for a future Peace Village. Why Sinai? At a certain point we asked ourselves why do we need to do it in the midst of the hurricane of Israel/Palestine? The historical Holy Land is much more. There is still lots of space in the Sinai. And again, let’s not forget the historical meaning of the Sinai. This is the place of the Exodus and the reception of the 10 commandments. It has a strong symbolic meaning to cross the desert now in the opposite direction and ‘turn history’. But the location is not certain at all yet FURTHER INFORMATION For more information and how to support the PRV please contact: , Kate Bunney Tamera, Monte do Cervo, P-7630 Colos, Portugal. Tel: +351 283 635 306 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Benjamin von Mendelssohn is the co-ordinator of the Peace Research Village. After working in a number of political organisations he strongly felt that, while the principles of the organisations were good, their application within the organisation itself (i.e. truth, transparent communication etc) was questionable. He set out to find a way of remedying this. After co-founding the Peace University in Berlin he began working for the Institute in 1998. Due to his German-Jewish family background he has a strong personal connection to Israel/Palestine.
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