Apr 18, 2015

Bethlehem 3-15I’m just back from a 6-week whirlwind of amazing work, including two weeks again in the Palestine Occupied Territory and Israel.

Once again, I had the honor to work with members from women’s rights organizations, both Palestinian and Israeli. Not only are these women managing and overcoming the daily struggles of living in such a volatile environment – including raising children – they are also committed to the arduous task to challenge the current patriarchal social and religious structures and advocate for the rights of women, children and the disabled.

It is awe-inspiring to be in the company of these women; I could say that I don’t often encounter people with such dedication, perseverance and resilience, except for the veterans with whom I also work. While they would never say so, I certainly see them as heroes/heroines. While I don’t think I could endure what they have endured, I am happy to have the opportunity to give them tools, insights and encouragement to be more effective with what they do and with less effort.

My biggest reward was the opportunity I had to hear their stories – during the trainings, at meals and during breaks. As you have heard me say in my workshops, the key to lasting change is our commitment to engaging and connecting, and the quickest and easiest way to do that is to be curious and listen to someone’s story.

And I have found that with every story I hear, I learn something new – about myself and about life.

Here are some of the impressions that have stayed with me. Please listen with an open mind and a courageous heart:

The dancing revolutionary: the founder and director of one of Palestine’s prestigious women’s advocacy groups (I worked with her IMG_4131organization in November and she insisted on attending this conference in order to work with me again) attended a peaceful protest on March 8, Woman’s Day, at one of the most turbulent checkpoints in the region. The protest consisted of both Palestinian and Israeli mothers and grandmothers meeting on each side of the barrier to dance and sing as a form of protest. At some point, Israeli soldiers started shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the Palestinian women. This woman couldn’t run away fast enough and was hit by 6 rubber bullets and suffered from the effects of the tear gas. She had to be hospitalized. Luckily she was well enough to attend our training in full spirit and open-hearted exhuberance, dancing and empowering us any opportunity she had.

The elegant foot soldier: during the first break during my training with women from various Israeli women’s rights groups, one of the young women came up to me. She works for an organization that combats human trafficking and the selling of women as slaves. With great respect, she said to me, “Joe, I must apologize, but I must keep my phone on and near me because we just got a lead on a woman who is being kept in captivity and I am organizing the mission to rescue her.” She spent the day shifting between engaging with the fellow participants and me with an open, joyful heart and orchestrating a potentially dangerous operation with such grace and power. (I never heard if they were successful with the operation, but after seeing this woman in action, I have no doubts)

The pint-sized Olympian: the conference in Bethlehem for various Palestinian organizations included an organization that supported people with disabilities. One of the women from this group who attended suffered from a neurological disorder that effected her muscles, nervous system and spine. She could walk, but with her crooked spine, it was difficult. I was wondering how she would do with Elephant Walking. She was nervous at first but managed to do well when going forward. Then she found that she could walk with ease when going sideways and backwards, as if she had no ailment at all. This was a big discovery for her. And by the way, she could do a split like nobody I have ever met!

She told me a bit of her story. She started getting the neurological disease as a young girl. She was almost completely paralyzed by it. Her family was very poor and couldn’t afford a wheelchair. She had to crawl up and down stairs with just he strength of her upper body. Her parents told her that they weren’t planning on getting her help to rehabilitate because they couldn’t afford it and were content with the fact that they had other sons and daughters who would prosper. However, she was determined to train herself how to walk again. One day she took an old television cord and used it train the muscles in her legs and pelvis. After a year or two of diligent training on her own, she was walking! And now she is advocating for the rights of other disabled people.

I learned many things from these women. They have certainly left an imprint on my heart. I walked away learning more about myself.

One thing that they have proven to me is that when Personal Power combines with Heart Power, anything is possible – there is hope! 

I bow to them with honor and respect, as I think of all the times I have complained about how hard my life is. Thinking about these women have helped me to look at what we are currently facing on this planet with strength and the courage to persevere.