Trusting in the Big Hands of a Gentle Giant

When the facilitator announced that we would be silently working in clay with our partners, I felt a bit of panic well up in my gut. “How could we decide what to create together without even a word of consultation?”, I thought to myself. But without missing a beat, before I even realize what is happening, Fadi’s big hands are molding the small block of clay that sits between us on the table. I am confused. “How can he start without telling me what he wants to make?” Ah yes, he cannot. No words.

Fadi works intently, with resolve. I have no choice but to join him. I place my hands on the cold clay and follow his lead, doing on my side what he is doing on his. And then I am awash with this pleasant sense of surrender, of being led. And as my finger movements imitate his, I find silent words for what I am experiencing. Trust. And partnership. I feel secure. It feels so good.

For at least the past year I have seen Fadi around at the Dignity Center that we have established not far from my home in Gush Etzion Israel. He is a big guy, very reserved. We had never spoken. I did not know that we could. Only a month or two ago did I learn that in addition to Arabic, he speaks Hebrew quite well. Only I few weeks ago did I discover that he even understands English.

I wanted to get to know him, and was pleased that he had been chosen – and had himself chosen – to participate in this first Roots leadership retreat. That’s why when we were told to pair up Palestinians and Israelis, I motioned to Fadi that he and I would be working together.

So work together we did. I am content to follow along, not knowing where this is going, until, in a flash, it came to me. It’s a tree. I understand that we had smoothed out the ground together and now we were taking from the edges of the earth to collect the material for the trunk.

But after the trunk was standing, instead of working on branches and leaves, Fadi concentrates on the roots. And so do I. Lots of roots, running deep into the earth. I take the lead and fashion a second tree. As the time limit runs out, we intertwine the roots of the two trees and then the branches.

Who could have imagined? Two and a half years ago I had never met a Palestinian as an equal. I had no idea who they were. Ignorance, prejudice, and generalizations had dominated my thinking. Fear controlled me. And then I become swept up in forming Roots, the Local Israeli Palestinian Initiative for Understanding Nonviolence and Transformation, and in creating the Dignity Center as the physical host for Roots. Indeed, I have been transformed, together with hundreds of other Israelis and Palestinians.

In the closing circle of the retreat, after two days of intensive group dynamics and movement building, I told the story of Fadi and me. Looking across the room at him, I saw the emotion. He put his hand over his heart, deeply touched. Afterward we embraced in a long hug.

Neither of us is going to disappear. We both have deep roots in this land. Not only our roots, but our branches as well, are intertwined. There is no way around it, so we better get used to it. Roots is showing the way.

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