1 May 2024
10 min read

I am writing just after my 60th birthday. 60 feels different. Something deep down has changed and I can’t exactly say what. It’s visceral. I feel it like a lightness in my belly. A sense of calm. A deeper knowledge of my own mortality and that of everyone and everything I love. 


Since I began my own journey in my late teens, I have come to understand that healing is always a possibility. My understanding is not abstract or solely intellectual. It comes from having had the privilege to work with people for nearly 40 years from all kinds of backgrounds and situations, including some of the cruellest kinds of experiences human beings can inflict on one another. Healing doesn’t change the past but it can and does change the meaning we make from it. And it shifts our sense of self from being identified as the victim of our experiences to the one who has the personal power and resources to make something genuinely transformative from them. People who have taken that journey and chosen the road of empowerment and responsibility are uniquely positioned to help others who have suffered the same or similar challenges. 

working in israel and palestine

When I began to work in Israel, I was following a vision. I was very clear that I wanted to work in Palestine as well as Israel, and through Ben Yeger, the UK representative of the brave, bold and visionary organisation, Combatants for Peace, this became possible. The vision I was following is the foundation stone that all our Movement Medicine work rests on. Namely, that like the mythical phoenix, we all have the capacity, given enough safety, will and support, to rise from the ashes of our suffering, and create a new narrative that dignifies our experience and empowers us to make use of it in a positive way. Rising from the ashes, or genuine healing is a long-term project. In my experience, it requires enormous courage, effort and creativity. 


As a nation carved from the ashes of unspeakable tragedy, in my eyes, Israel used to embody the dream of a safe haven for Jews worldwide. Yet, the very foundation of Israel is mired in trauma. As a Jew living in the safety of South-West England, a descendant of Eastern European refugees and someone who has worked in Israel and Palestine for over 20 years, I have witnessed the cyclical nature of violence exacerbated by unhealed wounds. The Naqba, a word apparently unspeakable by many Israelis, and the effect of the ‘never again’ narrative on the Palestinian people over the past 70 years is beyond tragic and has peaked in the recent 6 months in Israel’s cruel and deadly response to the horrific events of October 7th. As a human being and as a Jew, this is unbearably painful to witness. Since that day, and all that has followed, the current ongoing massacre of innocent humans, animals and the land itself, has coloured every day for me with bloodshed. 

My whole working life has been dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of identifying solely as victims. In Israel, I have witnessed how the collective memory of past persecutions, including the Holocaust, pogroms, and centuries of marginalisation, left unhealed, fosters an ever-hardening conviction that is deeply ingrained in the national psyche. This is not true of everyone. Not by any means. I have met hundreds of good people in Israel and in Palestine who do deeply courageous peace work. Remarkably, they still are.

The religious fundamentalism on both sides only adds to the massive harm done in the name of one God or another. As Gandhi said, ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

A Long Journey

From the moment in my early 20’s when I had the terrifying experience of remembering dying in Auschwitz, my work started to come into focus. I wrote about that in depth in Jaguar in the Body, Butterfly in the Heart but suffice to say, the journey that was catalysed by that experience is ongoing. It taught me about how deep the trauma river runs but it also taught me that, with practice and support, it is possible to swim safely and to good effect in that river, climb out, shake myself down and make medicine from the experience. 

Like for many others, the last 7 months have been really difficult as I bear witness to the tragic unfolding of activated trauma in Israel and man-made humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. At the same time, I have been deeply inspired by people like Mira AwadHamze Awawde, and Magen Inon, three human beings who have every reason to be enemies, who have chosen to work together for peace. People like Chen Alon and Rana Salman from Combatants for Peace, who spoke so powerfully at our Spring Equinox ceremony.

And people like the Bereaved Families Forum who continue to work across the divide, refusing to use the death of their children as an excuse for revenge. We are doing our best to organise for Mira, Hamze and Magen to visit our Long Dance ceremony in July. Though it's not certain that they can be present, their inspiration will be.

“You’re Just Like Walt Disney”

My first organiser in Israel, a wonderful woman called Aviya, used to jokingly call me Walt Disney because, she said, the visions and dreams that inspire me seem so far from reality. Our indigenous friends in the forest have a different view based on the knowledge of how important our dreams are. Creating spaces in which we can dream about what has not yet come into form is what shamans do. Our Movement Medicine rituals are designed to keep the dream of healing, evolution and as yet unseen possibilities and outcomes alive, whilst simultaneously holding space for what is true now. This creative tension between acknowledging what is and being in touch with what may be is an important aspect of our work. And the more spaces and ways there are for the ongoing work we all need to be doing to bring a new dream to earth, the better. 

I am consistently developing my capacity to have a foot in two worlds. One foot grounded in the mystery of life and the miracle that we are here at all. And the other, fully engaged with the physical realities and challenges of being human in a body on this earth. 

I take time every day to deepen my connections to what our Sapara friends name as the Spirit of Neutrality or Tsamaraw. Neutrality does not mean refusing to name injustice. It means holding the door open to as yet unimagined possibilities that embrace polarities and bring them to a new resolution. In my world, it matters a great deal that we both acknowledge what is happening now whilst also daring to keep dreaming of a future that seems impossible right now. Yesterday, in a dawn ceremony, I looked up and cried deep tears of gratitude as I watched the first house martins dancing in the low cloud, their beautiful song heralding the continuation of life. One thing I know is that whilst I have the strength, I will remain committed to nourishing the hope that feeds inspired and grounded action and doing whatever I can to keep that hope alive in me and in our world. 

Divine Intervention

In my work, I get to witness the divine capacity we humans have to acknowledge what we have done and what has been done to us, to forgive, to create something magnificent that comes from what we have learned from our suffering. I have seen people who have experienced the worse kind of human suffering refuse to be broken by it, refuse to take revenge in that inevitable and important stage of healing from trauma called fury. Instead, they use that fire to say: ‘Never again for me AND never again for you, never again for ANYONE.’ And then they give their lives to that dream, refusing to lose hope. I’ve seen it again and again. And it’s a choice. Not an easy one, but perhaps the only genuine possibility we have of finding peace.

All of that good stuff that we assign to the many ways we have of seeing, relating to and imagining the divine, is deeply obscured by the form of racism known as religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the ultimate in human arrogance and stupidity. I think we can all understand the need for some kind of certainty in the face of the Unknown. But a rigid certainty that we are right and you are wrong is the basis of war. There is nothing divine about it. It’s the human ego taken to the extreme and presented as holy. Wherever it appears, suffering is close behind. 

It is my job to go on creating spaces in which we can keep on nourishing visions of what might be possible when more and more people recognise that violence does not create the long-term peace that we humans need to thrive. 

The history of the Israel-Palestine conflict reveals exactly how violence begets violence. For peace to be a possibility, I believe the realities of the past and the enormous harms done, must be acknowledged and digested in order to create a new ground of justice and security for all. 

A Bi-national therapeutic approach

I believe that alongside whatever as yet unimagined political solution, and once the basics of survival have been firmly and safely established, both Israelis and Palestinians will in time, need a national therapeutic approach—a funded process that supports people to come to terms with the devastating traumas that we are witnessing so that they can in time, heal. I know it seems impossible but there are so many brave human beings who are doing this right now and we have to find the way to enable as many as possible to make that choice. Without it, whatever peace is eventually negotiated will not last. We all need to have our experiences heard, seen and acknowledged. Only on that ground could we develop a constructive dialogue around healing that could pave the way for co-existence and a lasting and just peace. 


Maybe this all seems like a Walt Disney dream to you. But we are much more unlikely to find solutions and create a better future if we cannot dream of it and take whatever steps we can towards it today. I will go on holding the vision and prayer every day that Palestine and Israel can achieve a genuine and lasting peace, not just with their neighbours but within themselves, turning historical and current wounds into stepping stones for a future built on mutual respect and shared humanity. And I pray that first of all, the violence ends now. And in time, I pray that I have the opportunity to play my part in making the dream of peace real. That's Phoenix medicine. And that is Movement Medicine. The spring is here. Life is returning. And alongside despair and pain, hope is alive and well in the world. I look forward to seeing you on the road or online soon. Check out what I'm up to here. Shalom. Salam. Peace.

Ya’Acov Darling Khan. May 2024

Ya’Acov DK

Ya’Acov Darling Khan, is the author of ‘Jaguar in the Body, Butterfly in the Heart...