By an anonymous researcher I am reading through my field-notes, getting immersed in the life 4.200km from here. Back from researching a peace project in the West Bank, I feel touched by both precarious lives and people’s good intentions.
EcoME (“Ecological Middle East”) assembles Israelis, Palestinians and foreign visitors and offers them a space to meet in the middle of intractable conflict. Sustained by volunteers, it promotes a simple lifestyle and activities respective sustainability, non-violent communication and arts. The project has a holistic approach, aims to cover spiritual, social, economic and environmental aspects. It draws on ideas from the global ecovillage movement.
EcoME has created a network of friendships, trust, and dedication among its entrants, its pitfalls of cultural encounter withal. Campfires, open microphone nights, shared work and meals weld together a struggling, but resilient community. On the ground, life in EcoME can be characterized by its density of meaningful conversations and the everyday occurrence of cultural confrontations. Despite EcoME’s reflexivity, it happens that the eagerness for progress on the side of Israelis and foreigners catches Palestinians on the wrong foot. Impositions of community life as well as safety concerns collide with Palestinians’ feelings of respect and hospitality.
Furthermore, the outside realities: fear and abuse, systematic separation and surveillance society – frequently swash into the idealistic “bubble”. They leave behind traces of bewilderment and confusion, mistrust and insecurity. The fragile project is searching a way into a paradigm of connection, whereas contact between Palestinians and Israelis is still stigmatized as “normalization” by mainstream Palestinians and Israelis. Also, many outsiders scarcely have the energy for grassroots endeavors.
Palestinians I met are torn between staying and leaving. They deem their treatment by politicians, military, police and security services as inhumane. Many are deeply critical of their own society as well: the coercion of Islam, rigid gender norms and internal violence. Yet they feel, just as Israelis, a belonging to their land and they wish to contribute to and change their society. Palestinians are longing for freedom and trust (especially from Israel) to prosper. However, not all necessarily want to be in a dialogue.
Israelis I got to know in turn range from passionate creators of models for peace and activists to individuals who are not taking all the heaviness of the conflict on their shoulders, recover from being activist or are existentially scared from attacks by Muslims. Numerous Israelis are in a process of finding their position, daring to overcome separation and confronting their fear.
Foreign visitors in the project also feel the rug is pulled out from under them, the more they dive into the unsettling realities, while striving to understand and support. Some want to shake up the locals not to give up hope. One German-Palestinian unflinchingly carries the sophisticated vision of “Falafel Country” – one country for Jews and Palestinians worldwide – to everybody he meets.
Connecting Israelis, Palestinians and outsiders through the quest for a new life, EcoME can generate unusual discussions amid the big debate of the ‘peace process’. These are opening wider perspectives, create moments of hope through seeing each other as simply human, where guns and ‘othering’ rule the lives of people.
The foreign visitors never really leave… like me. I still feel connected now through sharing this text with the inspiring people I met, with you.
Written by a master student of anthropology at VU Amsterdam. At the moment she is writing her thesis about the EcoME Center for Peace and Ecology in the West Bank.