Olives for Hope

If the world is ever going to come to peace,
humanity can no longer be recognized 
on a case by case basis.


What we can do? - I hope you dance!

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 7:10 AM

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance; And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance - I hope you Dance

Last time I wrote of the frustration I was feeling with the phenomenon I have witnessed of Palestinians internalizing the occupation. Sure Israel is no longer "enforcing" many checkpoints; they are not “needed”, because the checkpoints remain in the mind. Learned helplessness occurs when a person is repeatedly subjected to negative events that cannot be escaped. Eventually, the person will stop trying to avoid the event and behave as if they are helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action. This inaction can lead people to overlook further opportunities for relief or change.


I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance; Never settle for the path of least resistance. Living might mean taking chances but they're worth taking. Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth making.

Almost daily I hear the refrain “What we can do?” Sure life, especially life here, is not a country song, but for every person that has lost hope, there is another that fights for their life here, this goes beyond steadfastness – it is a refusal to bow to unrelenting circumstances that seek to change who they are - Palestinian. In the last week I have been talking with several of these people and asking why are they different. Several common traits became apparent. The first of these is a sense of faith…not religiosity, but a real sense that God is directly involved in their lives. The second is a sense of creativity. Perhaps creative people are just crazy enough to believe anything is possible. In the last week I met photographers, writers, film makers and dancers; all pursuing their dreams in the least likely place for dreams to take root.

Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter. When you come close to selling out reconsider. Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance - I hope you dance.

One of these new friends is Maher Shawamreh, a dancer and choreographer. He founded the Orient & Dance Theatre for contemporary dance in Palestine. He funds this project mostly with his own money, because his dream is to dance for Palestine. Any “reasonable” person would say he shouldn’t be here, living this life. First as a 14 year old he spent three and a half years in an Israeli jail, mostly in solitary confinement. His only time out of the cell was when he was taken out for interrogation and beatings. But in that cell his mind could take him away into the world of his dreams. As a dancer now he has the ability to leave this place for real, but instead he is choosing to help others find their own dreams.

“I dance to leave something behind. I dance here because I was born here. I am Palestinian. Everything here gives me the power to dance; the trees, the mountains, the people, even the occupation. My dream is to show the world that there is a people here that dance.”

*Lyrics adapted from "I hope you dance" by Leeanne Womack

This is the Life

Posted on July 26, 2012 at 2:05 PM

When was the last time you thought those words….even maybe said them aloud? Perhaps you were on a beach somewhere enjoying a cold one while the warm breeze ruffled through your hair. Or maybe you were at the wedding of a dear friend or relative, witnessing a partnership's new beginning. Was it during your last escape to the “cottage up-north”? Even if you do not have those memories, we all know and aspire to them – the “Good Life”. And everyone associates those words “this is the life”, with that feeling of peace, and freedom that we are supposed to feel when we have arrived at “the good life”. Everyone knows what those words mean. Even if you live in poverty and struggle for your daily bread, when you hear those words, you understand.

But what if you not only did not experience the good life yourself, but you never saw it around you either? What if your daily struggle was not only your struggle, and not just the struggle of your relatives and your neighbors? What if, all around you, all you saw was hardship? Maybe in some distant place you dreamed of a different life. Maybe occasionally you see glimpses “over there” and know things are different someplace else. But you understand this is your life, the life of your grandparents, and the life that will be for your children? What would the words “this is the life” mean to you then?

In Palestine I heard these words many times; usually in response to my questioning of some (in my American perspective) systemic craziness. In my time there I came to know and care about many people. All of them have unique stories, but they are all united by a theme of struggle. Often the struggle, to me, seemed beyond comprehension. “What do you mean there is no help from the government to fix the water pipes?!” [said by me after watching my neighbor tear up the road to fix a pipe himself]. “Ahhh, this is the life”, was the response.

There is a very American trait to want to make sense of the nonsensical. For people in general this is a facility of the mind – we fill in the pieces to “see” the whole picture. Many optical illusions are based on this truth. However, the degree to which we will go in our mental perceptions of events to create “sense” of them, I think, is uniquely American. Perhaps it is a product of our history, but Americans cannot tolerate nonsense. There must be a reasonable explanation for everything, even the unreasonable.

Sometimes I think it would be easier for Americans to understand the struggle in Palestine if it were simply a matter of poverty. Everyone knows what to feel when they see pictures from Africa illustrating the devastation created by a conspiracy of poverty and natural (and man-made) disasters. It makes sense. There is no question of the response demanded by seeing those photos. But how do you illustrate the degradation of spirit created by occupation? How can you understand “why” an Israeli settler would beat up a young Palestinian shepherd who was just tending his flock? You can’t make sense of it, so we create context where there is none – he must have thrown rocks at the settler – yes. that must be it – there has to be a reason for the unreasonable.

But while we try to make sense of it all, to put Palestine and Palestinians into boxes of reasonableness, they go on with their lives. If the government doesn’t fix the water pipes, you fix them yourself. If the checkpoint is closed, you find a path around it to get to school. If you want to pray in the mosque, you don’t wear a belt so you can get through the metal detector easier (which was set up at the entrance to the mosque after an American Jew took in an automatic weapon killed 29 people and wounded 125 at prayer - how do you make that make sense?). You continue to live your life the only way you know how. This is “semud”, steadfastness – This is the life.