31 October 2023
11 min read

In the anguish of what is happening in Israel and in Gaza, it’s hard to see a way out or through. I know that I do not have any real idea how it is to be there; in Israel or in Gaza right now. I know that I cannot see the way through, but I do know that I and we can pray - in particular for those who have died in shocking circumstances. We can add our prayers and voices for them and for those many others across the world who are dying through violence, to offer love, support and gentleness for their passage. I recognise that I don’t know if these prayers reach those in that great transition. But if there is the least possibility that this can offer something real and of value, then it is worth it. And so we do, every morning at 7am (UK time) for 5 minutes. Please join us if you will.

THE Trauma Vortex

As I understand it, what is happening now can be called a trauma vortex. A trauma vortex occurs when the level of trauma and activation in a situation hugely outweighs the inner and outer resources, and all sense of safety is lost. 

When this happens, the opposing “sides” can easily be caught in the adrenalised flight/fight/flock compulsion. In this state, you cannot think properly and things easily get simplified into opposing polarities: us and them, good and bad. Another aspect of this is the tendency to flock around the leader, even if, in less threatening times, one found that leader to be problematic. 

What has been tying me (and many others I think) in knots is that when one is in this state, being asked to empathise with the suffering of the “other” can feel impossible. If people you are looking to for support show their own empathy with the “other” then it so easily feels like betrayal; another one who doesn’t get it - one more seeking to blame us, who just doesn’t understand. 

And so often maybe, what is needed is simply this co-human “I feel your grief with you” - that simple reaching out to acknowledge the heart, the humanity and the horror. This being with, this simple “standing with” in human solidarity is not dependent on which side of which fence you or I happen to be on. And those of us who have the privilege of living in safer situations are offering this. 

Let’s first be clear

What Hammas did on 7th October is utterly horrific, utterly criminal and breaks all modern and humane codes of human behaviour. Though it is clear that the Palestinian people have many real grievances, these actions remain utterly reprehensible and should be condemned fully at every turn. 

What Israel is doing now in terms of collective punishment of a population for the crimes of their leaders and military is also completely unacceptable, horrifying and illegal by international law. How can we make a distinction between honouring the feeling and the action which arises from it and is almost guaranteed to perpetuate, if not exasperate the issue? 

I stand for peace - for Israelis and for Palestinians

 I don’t want to march for peace for one or the other, though I understand the protective, passionate commitment of those who are marching for one or the other “side”. 

What does it take not to take revenge? What does it take not to go into “You hit me, so I’ll hit you” endless cycles of mutually justifying violence and trauma?

I have been deeply moved by statements from some of the relatives of people killed so horrifically in the Kibbutzim, saying that revenge will not bring their relatives back and that more death, more killing won’t help. Though they are in deep pain and loss, they have managed not to go into that vortex. Here is one of them:

“I am lucky enough to find loads of silver linings in my situation. Yes, my brother got killed. Yes, my family got wounded mentally and spiritually, lost their homes and they need to start life from zero. Yet, so many of them were saved by no less than a miracle. Many times during those horrific 20 hours of satanic massacre I said goodbye to them. So I am almost in a privileged position to stay in the light, to refuse the impulse of revenge in this ongoing organised blood game. Yet, I can't judge any of those involved (Jews, Arabs, etc) who feel differently. How would I feel if…. ? 

And from this not knowing comes compassion. 

And from this not knowing comes a deep sense of sorry for all the innocents. 

And from this place of utter sorrow for all beings, I refuse to raise a flag. 

I refuse to turn my grief into propaganda. 

I refuse to be divided and ruled. 

I refuse to lose my humanness and deny the prayer in me.” 

Lino Vardan 

The historic Gordian knot of suffering

It seems to me if the tragedy of the clumsy creation of Israel has left both peoples with a Gordian knot of huge complexity and with so many threads; a seemingly intractable problem. The wish to create a homeland for the Jews who had suffered not just the horror of the holocaust but 1000 years of anti-semitism in Europe, is understandable and has merit. But the way that Israel was created without care and respect for the peoples who lived there has created a legacy of a terrible knot of suffering for both peoples. Do we know our history? I didn’t, but I’m learning and it’s not pretty and Britain and its so-called “Protectorate” is deeply involved. It feels really important right now to ground our awareness in self-education. 

And now this knot is raging again into the next massive maelstrom of deepening suffering, anguish and horror. 

So, yes, there are contexts. On both sides. But if you believe that a history of suffering condemns you to repeat it and mete out the same violence to others, we are all seriously lost. In this dilemma there is an existential question about human goodness and human choicefulness. 

Wikipedia says that a Gordian knot is used as a metaphor for a seemingly intractable problem which can be solved by exercising an unexpectedly direct, novel, rule-bending, decisive, and simple approach that removes the perceived constraints.

Tribal Benevolence & Universal Benevolence

As I write all this I feel unutterably sad. I feel a sense of the heart of the world and the hope of peace and compassionate humanity leaching away into a dark abyss of self-reinforcing pain, suffering and unending violence. And I choose to remember the sacred nature of life and of our lives and humanity itself and that I do actually believe in inherent human goodness. 

I believe in (and my work and life is based on it) the premise that we have the capacity to rise from the ashes of our suffering into new life. What if the “unexpectedly direct, novel, rule-bending, decisive, and simple approach” to the knot is to expand from caring about “our” people (Tribal Benevolence) to a concern that includes the well-being of all the people (Universal Benevolence) and that understands that this is also the way to the best outcome for “our people”. 

To me, there is much gravitas in the idea that we will not be safe until everyone is safe. We will not have true fulfilment on Earth until everyone has a chance for fulfilment. We will not have peace until everyone has the opportunity for peace. We do not have true dignity until everyone has the opportunity for dignity. 

Leadership for what and for who?

I perceive that those governing on each 'side' them seem to be willing to cast their own people away in the name of ideology and as a way to accrue political capital. When the enemy becomes more ferocious, more feared, then we tend to clump around the leader we have, and whatever their faults we tend to be more forgiving of them. It’s a survival thing. And it certainly is a survival thing for the leaders. 

So who gains from this conflict? Not the people of Gaza. Not the people of Israel as far as I can see. And it’s a road that (as far as I can see) goes only into further spiralling violence and revenge unless there is new leadership and unless enough people speak up and out on both “sides” with compassion for the apparent:"other'. I acknowledge that this is immensely difficult, especially when it is not the norm within your own group. And yet, it is happening. I bow to those with the immense strength of heart to do so. 

It may simply be that it is beyond those caught up in this (or at least, thugs win power) and that this will have to come from outside. I pray for wisdom and compassionate strength for those who may be able to help a movement in a more benevolent direction. 

A pragmatic path

My prayers are with all those in suffering in this dire situation and for leaders to commit to a pragmatic process towards long term peace and security for everyone. I would like to share these powerful words from the organisation Extend which connects international audiences with Palestinian and Israeli human rights leaders:

“Today, Israeli and Palestinian society are each trembling with the suffering brought by the misguided belief of the Israeli government that freedom can be achieved by subjugating another people.

Please join us in saying loudly and clearly: Israeli security cannot be achieved by denying security to Palestinians. Palestinian freedom cannot be won by murdering Israeli civilians.

In this moment of horrific violence, our hearts and our hope are with Extend’s partners across Israel and Palestine. Together, we must hold out hope that the future belongs not to those willing to kill civilians or subject another people to siege and occupation, but rather to the many courageous Israelis and Palestinians working to build just and democratic institutions that promise a future of mutual freedom.

Yes. There is light in the darkness. There are people who are deeply in it who, whilst abhorring violence, refuse to become polarised and refuse to give up their awareness of the humanity on the other side of the fence. Many of these who I am hearing are ex-military. They are the opposite of naive. I would call them “pragmatic visionaries” and I bow to them. 

In times like these, like many of you I am sure, I find the complexities of the situation so hard to grasp. And I know how hard I can find it to make peace in small ways in my life.  This conflict has brought me new resolve in my own life to take the steps I can and not to leave things unsaid or unresolved, where possible. The Embodied Listening skills I practise help so much, and yet they seem so small in the face of such horror. 

And under and above it all, in the end, I and we can only continue to do the best I can to find peace, bring beauty into the world, to offer spaces for our community to be grounded and resourced, to remember the wild sacredness of life and to dance. And for myself, to keep listening, both to the many voices and to the whisper from beyond the beyond of that which guides me. To keep attuning to the beauty that is here too, to attend to each moment. I bow to the mystery of it all,

With love,

Susannah Darling Khan

Resources:

Embodied Listening  

The Movement Medicine Study Hub

We offer a prayer every morning at 7am (UK time) for 5 focused minutes. Join us if you will. 

I have found these useful for understanding

Learning each other's historical narratives

I fought for the IDF in Gaza. It made me fight for peace. 

Benzion Sanders

I fought house to house in Gaza. I know force alone will not bring peace

Ariel Bernstein

Israelis and Palestinians are steeped in a history of trauma. It reproduces and continues 

Michael Segalov

Gabor Mate this week  (Youtube)

Extend Extend connects international audiences with Palestinian and Israeli human rights leaders (facebook group) 

Susannah Darling Khan

Founder
Susannah's life is dedicated to the quest for a world where beauty and compassion flourish....