Article Peacebuilding

Reflections on Gaza, Israel and our collective pain

featured image | Levi Meir Clancy, Unsplash

I know that the situation in Gaza and Israel has impacted your heart and mind. Maybe, like me, you’ve alternately felt heartsick, angry, confused, judgmental, numb, compassionate, and more. I for one start with feeling humble and poorly informed before the enormity of the situation. I also assume that anything I say might draw criticism or disapproval from others because of my misperceptions and/or because of the deep trauma that has been triggered for so many of us. And there is no shortage of public commentary, anguish, horror stories, condemnation, and well-intentioned offerings out there already, so I don’t need to add my opinions. But I can’t help myself.

I first want to say that I stand with the people of Israel. And I stand with the people of Palestine. I deplore the violence that Hamas unleashed on Israeli civilians, and I deplore the violence that the Israeli forces have unleashed on civilians in Gaza. Neither Hamas nor the current Israeli government represent the deep aspirations of their people, which is to live in peace, without fear, with dignity and security. For now, I grieve for all the immeasurable loss, and do my best to listen well and to hold the situation with compassion.

Forgive me, in this tender moment, for looking beyond the horror in Palestine. I can’t help but be aware that our beloved world is being battered by massive gross injustice and suffering. Just to name a few that are also happening now: thousands have died in the Russian war on Ukraine; thousands more have died in the recent earthquake in Afghanistan; human-caused climate change is forcing millions of people to become refugees; hundreds of thousands are enduring arduous treks through jungles in Central America escaping violence or climate change to be turned back or mistreated at the U.S. southern border; nearly a million ethnic Rohingya have been driven out of their ancestral homes in Myanmar; 500,000 unhoused people sleep in the streets of the U.S. each night, and on and on. Meanwhile arms merchants are thriving; the worldwide war machine is surging; fossil fuel companies keep plunging the ecosystems towards collapse; big money controls our politics; wealth continues to concentrate so that now, in the U.S., one tenth of one percent of the richest Americans (160,000 families) own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Violence prevails in all these ways.

At least once a week I need to have a big crying session with a friend about how cut off we are from each other, how hurt we are, how we get born into systems of trauma, injustice, and violence (subtle and gross). There are an infinite number of causes and conditions for us being this far away from what I believe is our true home, and I don’t know the way home myself. As far as I can figure, we need three big shifts:

  1. a) transformation at the base of our economy from one based on profit to one based on sharing and communal well-being.
  2. b) transformation at the base of our collective consciousness toward realization that we are totally dependent on each other and the earth; that my well-being depends upon your well-being.
  3. c) deep healing of individual and collective trauma that keeps us scared and insecure and feeling separate and powerless.

These are huge human endeavors, requiring courage, patience, compassion, persistence, love, and faith in the underlying nobility of humankind. Daunting for sure. But continuing our present course guarantees more of the kind of thing that is happening in Gaza and Israel.

Thank you for listening. I did not expect to go on like that. Forgive me for diverging from the situation in Palestine to put that suffering in an even larger context. I do that not to minimize the pain in Israel or Gaza nor to equate it with other suffering, but to note that we are in a deep collective ongoing ocean of suffering. And the antidote is not more violence but listening, understanding, empathy, kindness, and love, along with mindful action towards peace and the beloved community.


Message to the International Plum Village Community for Peace in the Middle East

“With compassion, love, and wisdom in our hearts we can make ourselves available to listen deeply to the cries of those now in Gaza and Israel and elsewhere in the world—the cries of those undergoing the deep mental crisis of being trapped in a conflict zone, who are looking to keep their love strong in the midst of this horror. We need to lend them our strength. We all need to go beyond the delusive and destructive idea that we are separate from each other. 

Let us create islands of non-violence and peace in our hearts, in our homes and beyond, via email, phone and video. Let us live every moment seeing those we think of as the enemy as not separate from ourselves—as our own blood, skin and bones—and let us not allow hatred to take over. Let us come back and take care of our feelings with calm and clarity, holding our sadness, fear, anger, and despair and resist the temptation to blame, punish, and have to choose a side.”



American activist and filmmaker, Valerie Kaur

You will hear: ‘Our aggression is the only response to their aggression, our fear more justified than their fear, our grief more devastating than theirs ever will be.’

But oh my love, the hierarchy of pain is the old way. The moment we allow our hearts to go numb is the moment we shut down our humanity.

I don’t know the solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine, but I do know the starting point: To grieve ‘their’ children as our children. It’s the only way to break the cycle.

To my loved ones who are Israeli, Jewish and Palestinian: I see your searing pain. I love you and grieve with you and am reciting my ancestors’ prayers for protection as you search for your families and bear the unbearable. May love find you through the impossible.

To all of us witnessing Israel and Palestine: What does love want you to do? If you want to help but don’t know how: Begin in relationship. Who in your life is hurting from this? Offer to walk with them, listen to them.

There is no fixing grief, only bearing it together. Only then do we know what to do next. If you are falling apart: Your breathlessness is not a sign of your weakness, but of your strength. Of how deeply you feel the horror, how deeply you care. You still feel. And that matters in a world that wants us to feel nothing. Who can feel it with you? Breathe with you?

Opening our hearts to grief – others’ and our own – is how we hold our humanity in a world that would destroy it. It’s how we will begin to survive this.”

– valarie kaur


More Resources, curated by John Bell

And below are four more pieces that helped me understand some of the back story.

Palestinian Israeli solidarity statement
– Tikkun

The Nakba did not end in 1948
– AlJazeera

We must say an emphatic ‘no’ to Hamas a thousand times
– Reverend William Barber

Understanding Hamas’s Genocidal Ideology
The Atlantic

…with warmth and heartache in a troubled time, John

About John Bell

John Bell is a Buddhist Dharma Teacher who lives near Boston, MA, USA. He is a founding staff and former vice president of YouthBuild USA, an international non-profit that provides learning, earning, and leadership opportunities to young people from low-income backgrounds. He is an author, lifelong social justice activist, international trainer facilitator, father and grandfather.  His blog is and email is


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