One morning I came to light incense for Kwan-yin, the goddess of compassion, and found a branch lying neatly at her feet. It had to be Henry, the small chihuahua mix, who always loves to bring branches for you to throw. Maybe he was hoping Kwan-yin would throw it for him, and maybe she did. It was a sweet gift to put there..

On Monday, Presidents Day, I watched a webinar put together by OPIS (Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering) which featured four peace activists, two Israeli and two Palestinian, speaking about what they’re experiencing and doing in this dark and violent time in their history.  One had lost his parents on October 7. Another’s father had been killed by the IDF. Still another’s family had lost their property in Jerusalem.

The webinar was inspiring and deeply moving, especially at this time, because most of the participants were young and saw this present moment not just as catastrophe but also as a huge opportunity for change. They’re clearly ready to pick up the mantle of an older generation of peacemakers. You can see the video of that webinar here.

The words of one stood out. May Pundak co-leads A Land For All with her Palestinian counterpart, Dr. Rula Hardal. I’m paraphrasing what she said:

I’m doing this work for me, not on behalf of anyone else. I’m doing this because one day I woke up and realized: There are two nations living here and nobody’s going anywhere. I don’t have a different home, so don’t tell me to go to Europe or the United States. The Palestinians don’t have a different home, either. If they’re not here now they’re living in refugee camps or in Gaza (Palestinians living both in Israel and the West Bank almost all have relatives in Gaza). NOBODY’S GOING ANYWHERE, SO WHAT ALTERNATIVE DO WE HAVE TO PEACE?

May Pundak’s father, Ron Pundak, helped write the Oslo Accords many years ago and led the Peres Peace Center till his early death. Now the next generation continues the work.

Her statement was so simple, so sensible, and most important, so realistic.

All around me, people say that action towards peaceful co-existence is unrealistic given the extreme bitterness and trauma people have undergone. My brother was recently in Dubai speaking with Muslim leaders. Before leaving, he told me that he doesn’t tell too many people in Israel where he’s going because they’ll say he’s crazy. When he returned, he told me that his counterparts in Dubai told him that they didn’t tell anyone they were meeting him and his work partner because they’d be told they were crazy.

The financial support he depended on for day-to-day living has evaporated because supporters feel his work may be unrealistic. But tell me, who’s being unrealistic here? Who’s being impractical?

I’ve long ago run out of patience with those who say that people who work for peace and social and economic justice are starry-eyed idealists who don’t know how to put one foot in front of another. You want to see the results of those who’re being “realistic?” Take a look at the Middle East right now.

What choices do we make in our life? Short-term gain vs. long-term? When we think that the most important thing is to take care of ourselves and nothing else is practical, where does that leads us?

I recently had lunch with a friend with a long-time business career, working in big corporations almost his entire adult life. He’s taken care of his family, providing for their needs, and lives a comfortable retirement. I appreciate that life; who are we if we don’t take care of our families?

But tell me, was he more practical than Bernie or me or so many others who work to take care of ourselves, our families, and this entire One Body? We’re free to make decisions about what to do with our one life (and are very fortunate to have that), but please don’t label those who live one kind of life realists and the others pie-in-the-sky idealists.

If humanity doesn’t burn up and go extinct as scientists worry, we have those idealists to thank. If we actually take care of the gang warfare in countries like Haiti or Ecuador, if we find a way to bring peace to Ukraine, it’ll be because of those activists, along with governments and corporations who also have a role to play. Bernie always said that we need everything and everybody; he refused to jump on the corporation-bashing train so many progressives ride.

The bigger the problems, the more help we need from all sectors of life. What I object to is the framing of one side as unrealistic and the other as realistic. We are all in this together because we have nowhere else to go.

This is true everywhere, not just in the Middle East. Even before New Year’s Eve, when Henry was attacked by a neighbor’s dog, she and I had an ambivalent relationship because her German Shepherds were never fenced and would rush at whoever walked on the road. As I spent 4 hours that night in the veterinary hospital, she called and screamed in my ear.

But we’re both living on the same road, in the same town, in the same state, in the same country, on the same earth. We’re not going anywhere. Can I afford to carry that rancor with me? Can she? We have to find a way to make up because each of us is needed to do something no one else can quite duplicate. We bring our own tastes and flavors to this enormous life, and—WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE.

Peaceful co-existence is the most practical goal to work towards. See the webinar here, it’s very moving.

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