Rich Forer, author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict




Beezone Interview

Published on Jul 2, 2015

Rich Forer, author of Breakthrough:
Transforming Fear into Compassion A New Perspective on the
Israel-Palestine Conflict, talks about the underlying and
unconscious issues that keep the Israel and Palestine
peoples in a seemingly endless irresolvable maddening war.




Interview with Yago Abeledo of


Yago: Recently you spoke at
Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) about your book,
Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective
on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
shared your personal transformation towards a new
understanding of your identity and of the Israel-Palestine
conflict. This blog aims to deconstruct the energy of
enslavement that penetrates today’s world in many
dimensions. In your witnessing, you expressed openly how we
can become enslaved by rigid ideologies, wrong perceptions
of the world and the illusion of being separated from the
world. The energy of enslavement can destroy the beautiful
gift of our humanity. Listening to you, Martin Luther King
Jr.’s words resonated deep within me: “As long as
the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free.
Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the
most powerful weapon against the long night of physical
slavery.” I would like very much to welcome your own
journey in this blog.

My first question is related to the
very origins of your life and how the
“indoctrination” took place. What do you remember
from your childhood that began shaping your mind and
identity in a clear dualistic way? What role did the
collective unconscious of the Jewish people play?

Rich Forer: Children are more
receptive than adults, more innocent. As children, we take
on the beliefs of our parents and teachers, our collective
of ethnic and/or religious groups, and our society. Although
much of our learning is taught to us directly, many of the
ideas we incorporate are taught to us indirectly. For
example, we absorb beliefs that are expressed, subtly or not
so subtly, through feeling, especially the feelings of our
parents or other caregivers. Just as we unconsciously model
our speech and physical patterns on these caregivers, our
view of the world is likewise influenced by these models. We
begin to develop an internal logic, a way of seeing the
world that is influenced by the people and institutions
around us.

This logic has a quality that is
unique to each individual. It also has a quality that is
unique to the society or collective each individual grows up
in. For example, when I was a kid I attended Sunday school.
I remember seeing, probably in my first-grade classroom,
photographs of David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann.
Ben-Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister and
Weizmann its first President.

At that time, about nine years after
the end of the Holocaust, the atrocities perpetrated upon
the Jewish people were very present in the minds of Jews.
Most of the Jewish adults I knew had relatives or friends
who were killed in the Holocaust. I absorbed their ideas,
their knowledge of the terrible suffering of the Jewish
people, their horror that human beings are capable of such
acts of hatred. When I would look at the photographs of
these great men, who had created the one safe haven for the
Jewish people, I saw men who wanted to protect and save
life, not men who wanted to destroy it. These were the
leaders of our people and they were making sure that another
Holocaust would never again happen.

Along with this thinking, this way
of interpreting the information that I, a kid, had
available, there seamlessly arose the view that Jews would
never do to others the shocking things that Adolf Hitler and
others had done to Jews. After all, it never occurred to me
to want to do such things. And the Jews I knew were
basically caring people, so it obviously had never occurred
to them to do such things. They were ipso facto incapable of
committing such crimes. What they were capable of was
planting millions of trees and turning an arid desert into a
land of milk and honey.

With a childlike faith in the
goodness of my people, it was a natural progression in
thinking to presume that the non-Jewish world, much of which
had remained silent while Jews were being murdered, was
different than the Jewish world.

In other words, for some
inexplicable reason, or perhaps because we were special,
Jews were more humane than non-Jews. When I looked at
Israel, it was obvious that Jewish soldiers were merely
defending their land from the irrational hatred of those
who, like Hitler, wanted to harm us.

Our internal logic colors the way we
see the world. It leads us to interpret the world in ways
that reinforce our mind’s conception of reality. The
logic of my youth continued basically intact into my adult
life. So, when I heard that Israeli soldiers had killed
children and other civilians, I automatically responded with
skepticism if not outright denial. My “logical”
mind explained what really must have occurred, which is that
these children and civilians were killed because Hamas or
Hezbollah, whoever the enemy was, embedded their soldiers
within civilian populations. Children were killed not
because of Israeli bullets but because these organizations
were so filled with hatred they were willing to sacrifice
their own children in order to murder Jews.

This is how the unexamined mind
projects its content onto the world and creates the way the
world is constituted.

Yago: During your childhood
and adolescence you were indoctrinated to see the world as
an enemy to the Jewish people. The horrors of the Holocaust
and the pain-body (collective trauma) of the Jewish people
were passed on, consciously and subconsciously, from
generation to generation. You mention in your book and you
just indicated that all your life you had an unexamined
belief system that operated and guided you at the
subconscious level. How do you describe that?

Rich Forer: Every human being
is born into a particular society and is given a name and
told who he or she is. In these and other ways, each of us
assumes the matrix of an identity. In my case, I was told I
was a Jew and an American, this is my family and this is my
history. These labels, which in truth are only concepts and
beliefs, delineated the boundaries of my worldview. My
thinking developed along a spectrum from idealism –
Jews are good and their leaders honorable – to cynicism
– others are neither good nor honorable. I had in fact
created a gulf between myself and others, and I was
extremely reluctant to question my worldview. The belief
that Jews are more humane than other people, that Jewish
people would never willfully harm other people became the
limit of my ability to see clearly. This was the boundary
created by my unquestioning acceptance of the conditioning
of my youth.

This was also a boundary on my
ability to feel. The fear and horror I felt when I read
about non-Jewish victims of atrocities could not compare to
the fear and horror I felt when I read about Jewish victims.
I was so identified with being a Jew, that I couldn’t
really put myself in the shoes of non-Jews. This selective
sympathy had become so habitual that it seemed perfectly
natural and justified.

I am convinced that the great
majority of those who defend Israel are in the same position
I was in. When they learn that hundreds of Gazan children
are being killed by Israeli bombs, their reaction is nowhere
near as agitated as when they learn that even a single Jew
was killed by a Hamas bomb.

The root of the limit on the ability
to see clearly and feel fully is one’s presumed
identity. Whether I am a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, an
Israeli, a Palestinian or American, whatever I may be, my
identity is the lens through which I perceive the

I say “presumed identity”
because the conventional worldview in which we identify
ourselves as separate and limited individuals is just a
presumption. It is not the truth of our existence. It is
more like an idea that is so axiomatic it is never
questioned. But it has the same limitation as any other
idea. It has nothing to do with knowing who we are. One of
the realizations that arose out of my spontaneous awakening,
which I write about in my book, was the recognition, the
knowledge, that I was as much Palestinian as Israeli or
American, as much Christian or Muslim as Jew, and that the
so-called other is an image in the unexamined mind. This
image of self and other is a primal error, and it creates a
world of us against them.

Let me interject something. I am not
denying that there are people who want to harm Israelis.
There are always some who want to harm others. In the case
of Palestinians, if you investigate the documented history,
you find that only a small percentage has used violence
against the state of Israel. And even that violence must be
looked at in the context of the history, of the taking of
Palestinian land and a brutal occupation.

What I am saying is that we distort
our ability to see clearly. We reduce things to a primitive
and inaccurate orientation. We create the other by
superimposing or projecting onto him the beliefs and images
we have absorbed and created within our minds, our
imaginations. When we look at the one we define as the
other, we don’t see who he or she really is. We see a
reflection of our beliefs about them superimposed upon who
they really are. How we see the other, how we interpret his
words, what we think he is thinking, what we think his
objectives are with regard to Jewish people, all of this is
a result of the indoctrination that most of us have accepted
without question.

A phrase I hear a lot in Jewish
society, especially among the ultra-Orthodox, including my
own family, is “all Arabs want to kill all Jews.”
This belief is part of the collective Jewish mind. If we
have not inquired into and seen the inaccuracy of the
belief, inevitably when we encounter Arabs we will
superimpose this belief upon them. Notice the projection.
When we fear that all Arabs want to kill all Jews,
wouldn’t we feel safer if our leaders incapacitated all
Arabs? And so we manufacture ideas that enable us to
rationalize policies that remove or even kill Arabs day in
and day out – until they are no longer a threat.
“All Arabs want to kill all Jews” becomes “We
want to kill all Arabs?” In fact, I’ve heard a
number of ordinarily good-hearted Jews express this exact
sentiment. Similarly, the fear of genocide against Jews
becomes genocide against Arabs. This type of language is
frequently encountered, in particular, amongst Israel’s
extreme right-wing.

I am virtually certain that the
principle reason it has been so difficult to solve the
Israel-Palestine dilemma, is that fundamentally we are not
dealing with a political problem; we are dealing with a
problem of identity. This is how it was for me. I could
never have understood the dilemma until I understood my own
mind and my presumed identity. In my book I describe what
motivated me to begin a thorough research of the conflict.
But quickly, I ran up against my presumed identity, a
lifetime of propaganda about myself and my so-called people.
The confrontation was shocking. The anger and shame and
sadness I discovered in myself were a raw wound. But the
wound was necessary; it was the doorway to the end of fear
and confusion.

It is hard work to examine our minds
and question our identities. Core beliefs are so ingrained
that we cannot conceive of letting them go. They are a part
of our mortal identities, and they cannot be talked away.
They operate in visceral ways, in the subconscious and
unconscious. To question them seems unimaginable. In truth,
we are terrified of letting go of these beliefs because
doing so means death. It means the end of our presumed
identity. This is why, rather than inquiring into the
patriotic beliefs and images tied to their American
identities, so many were willing to send their children to
Iraq in 2003 to kill or be killed. Their patriotic
identities were more precious than the lives of even their
own children.

Our identities are mental
constructs. From the awakened perspective, they are
fictional or illusory. When we let go of the limits set by
our indoctrination, we recognize our inherent oneness or
connection to all of life. And our prior way of relating to
life is seen as dreamlike, not fully conscious of what we
were doing or why we did it.

Yago: The unexamined belief
system goes with another expression of yours that we live in
a mental prison. Indeed, we can be slaves of our own minds.
This has been said throughout history by the wise men of all
traditions. In this regard, Gandhi stated that “freedom
and slavery are mental states.” What can you say about

Rich Forer: We may have all
the freedoms promised by any charter or constitution. We may
come into possession of the entire land of Canaan, and
populate it with Jews only, thereby fulfilling what we
believe is God’s covenant with the Jewish people. But
what if, in order to have satisfied this hunger, which is a
consequence of our collective worldview, we gave up our
personal integrity and sacrificed our humanity at the altar
of dogma and greed? Are we free or are we enslaved to an
unexamined mind?

If we had to choose between on the
one hand fulfilling all of our pseudo-religious and material
fantasies while losing our humanity and, on the other hand,
living as slaves, but with our humanity intact which is the
right choice?

So I would agree that we are slaves
of belief systems. Until we inquire into our core beliefs,
we will never be free. If, as we are bound to do, we look at
the world through the prism of unexamined beliefs and
images, our attention may not even accommodate an awareness
of what is most threatening to our self-images; and what it
is aware of will be limited and distorted. Thus, our
understanding or interpretation of the information available
to us will likely be biased and inhumane. In my book, I say
“where a man cannot look he cannot feel and where a man
cannot feel he has not really looked. Without both, he will
never understand.”

The goal of all spiritual work, be
it Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Judaism, is to
go beyond beliefs, beyond the separate selves that are
framed by beliefs. Once we release our attachments to these
beliefs, we will recognize our true nature, which is beyond
description, self-identification, or separateness. We are
all part of the whole. And because we are all part of the
whole, each of us contributes to the collective mind of
humankind and each of us is responsible for the suffering in
the world.

Yago: What role has the Holy
Scriptures, the Torah, played in your life? How did your
interpretation of the Torah keep you in a state of
indoctrination, caught in a mental prison? Could you
experience inner freedom and liberation through the

Rich Forer: Many people have
been brought up to believe that God is an omnipotent,
omniscient, infinite yet human-like Being. This belief is
the hardest to let go of because it stimulates and appeals
to one’s imagination. It is imbued with fear, mystery
and wonder, of a Being who created us and can destroy us.
This underlying belief resides in the

As I suggested a moment ago, many
Jews and Evangelical Christians believe Jews are the chosen
people to whom God gave the land of Israel. This belief is a
form of consolation that inflates one’s self-image
(identity or ego). They believe it because they want to
believe it. They crave the consolation. With this belief,
they can rationalize all kinds of abominations – the
theft of Palestinian land, the behavior of fanatical Jewish
settlers who raid Palestinian villages, poison their wells,
destroy their olive orchards, and abuse men, women and

Many, who take advantage of this
belief to rationalize such abominations, also claim that
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The two
ideas cannot coexist. Yet, the contradiction never occurs to
these claimants. Furthermore, any proclamation about
Israel’s political structure cannot magically disguise
the inequality and lack of democracy that is made possible
by these very people. Because they operate out of
self-interest, they promote narcissistic points of view that
care only about their personal identities and the collective
or tribe with which they identify. They are incapable of
compassion towards those who are not part of their

Let me add that a prominent rabbi
who was brought up in the ultra-Orthodox tradition and who
reads Aramaic and Hebrew, told me that the Torah does not
call Jews “The Chosen People,” it calls them
“A Chosen People.”

To your question if the scriptures
can guide us to inner freedom, I would say that sections of
the Scriptures can serve as guides on the path to freedom
but freedom can only be found when one gets in touch with
one’s heart and allows the heart to be the

We have to learn to trust our
heart-based intuition. This is not easy because we have been
indoctrinated into giving up our power and our reasoning to
religious texts and all kinds of authorities. We’ve
lost touch with our inner wisdom which, at its most
unobstructed, flows from the heart. No text or authority
figure, if only we would get in touch with our deeper
selves, knows our hearts better than we do.

Yago: Could you share how
your mind maintained its vicious circle of

Rich Forer: Growing up, I
experienced some anti-Semitism. I also experienced what I
construed as insensitivity toward me and my people. In
elementary school our classes would celebrate Christmas and
Easter, but there was never a celebration of Hanukkah or
Passover. I thought that was unfair. I saw it as an insult
to who my people were and to our long history.

The hurt I felt from being exposed
to anti-Semitic attitudes and insensitivity caused me to
retreat more forcefully into my Jewish identity. I became
more dogmatically loyal to my people. This loyalty, along
with the common belief in Jewish and American society that
the Palestinians were always sabotaging Israel’s
sincere efforts to make peace, reinforced my certainty in
the innocence of my people, which in turn contributed to the
certainty that I myself was innocent. It never occurred to
me that my unquestioning loyalty to Israeli policy played a
role in the subjugation of another people.

Instead, I held onto the idea that
Israel had always wanted peace but the Palestinians did not
and that the Palestinians were willing to sacrifice their
own children in order to drive the Jews into the

Even though I was not religious and
did not attend synagogue, whenever I would encounter someone
defending Palestinian behavior, or hear of a suicide
bombing, I would become more zealous in defense of Israel,
which was really a defense of my self-image or identity. I
concluded that Palestinian society was pathologically
hateful towards Jews. I generalized the activities of a
minority onto the totality of Palestinian

In the mid nineties, I read From
Time Immemorial by Joan Peters. I was led to believe this
book was a well-documented history of the relationship
between Israel and the Palestinian people. Without bothering
to validate the claim, I blindly accepted that the book was
in fact well-documented. I did so because what the book said
conformed to and strengthened what I wanted to

Peters’ main thesis was that
the Palestinians were an invented people. They never
existed. They were Arabs from other parts of the Arab world
who had come to Mandatory Palestine in the first half of the
Twentieth Century to work for Jewish landholders, who paid
them more than they could earn in their own countries.
Because the book added credibility to my belief system, it
became a kind of Bible for me. Whenever someone criticized
Israel I resorted to Peters’ book to refute their
argument. I later discovered that From Time Immemorial had
been thoroughly debunked by Israeli and American

Then, in the summer of 2006,
Hezbollah, the Lebanese nationalistic political/military
organization, crossed over into Israel and killed three
Israeli soldiers and abducted two. Israel immediately
retaliated with immense firepower. While many accused Israel
of disproportionate force and the targeting of civilians, I
insisted its response was necessary. In my mind it was
obvious that Hezbollah and the entire Arab world would stop
at nothing to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. Just
three weeks earlier, Hamas had captured Israeli soldier
Gilad Shalit on the Israel-Gaza border, so I saw the two
provocations as proof that my analysis that the Arab world
wanted to destroy the Jewish people was accurate.

Yago: Let’s move to the
awakening. What provoked this peak experience? How did you
manage to break the chains of slavery in your

Rich Forer: Hamas and
Hezbollah’s behavior and the war in Lebanon outraged
me. I complained to a couple of non-Jewish friends about the
Arab world’s hatred of Jews and its obsession with
destroying Israel. These were intelligent men, whom I
admired for their insight and wisdom. In the past they had
been critical of Israel but this time, considering that two
“terrorist” organizations had instigated
hostilities, I was sure they would see things from my
perspective. To my surprise and disappointment, however,
they disagreed with me. They said that Israel was using
disproportionate force, and that this was a continuation of
Israeli behavior that had gone on for decades.

Their response to my perspective not
only fortified my resistance to their perspective, it also
fortified my attachment to my Jewish identity. It made me
realize that only Jews can understand the suffering of our
people. This was yet another belief that separated me from
the rest of humanity.

A few days after those
conversations, a Jewish friend I’d known all my life
phoned to tell me he would be attending a Bar Mitzvah out
West and would be visiting me in New Mexico, where I lived
at the time. I then took the opportunity to complain to him
about Hezbollah, Hamas and the entire Arab world. I went on
and on for two hours. During my diatribe he mostly let me
talk. Occasionally he interrupted, usually saying
“that’s not right, that is incorrect,” but he
was non-judgmental, basically neutral and unemotional about
the subject.

Now, I knew that he had studied
Israel-Palestine more than I had, so when, at the end of the
conversation, he recommended I read two well-regarded
Israeli historians for a more comprehensive understanding of
the issues, I was open to his suggestion. Because he
didn’t resist my point of view, or judge or criticize
me, he opened up a space where I was able to say to myself:
“I can do that. I have never really studied the history
of the Arab-Israeli problem. Maybe there is something I
should be aware of.”

After we hung up, I went online to
Amazon to look for the authors he recommended. When you type
in the name of one author, the names of other authors in the
same discipline appear. So I compiled a list of books, my
chief qualification being that the author had to be Jewish.
I was afraid that if I read non-Jewish authors I would
suspect bias. I took this list to the local library, checked
out two books, came home and put them aside.

The next day I picked up Beyond
Chutzpah by Norman Finkelstein. I hadn’t yet heard of
Finkelstein, so I didn’t know what a controversial
figure he was. From the very beginning of the book, he was
critical of Israel, with no criticism of the Palestinians. I
thought this a little odd, but I wasn’t yet ready to
reject the book, especially because it was brilliantly
written and meticulously documented. I wanted to see where
the book was going.

I figured that since the Israeli
view was very well known, perhaps Finkelstein wanted to
present the Palestinian point of view. Alternatively, I was
also open to the possibility that he was a self-hating Jew
with a talent for distortion. And the subtitle of his book
is On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
I thought: “Who is misusing anti-Semitism, he or
I?” So I kept reading.

I read about awful things Israelis
were doing to Palestinians: home demolitions, stealing land,
the use of violence by Israeli soldiers in situations where
there was no threat of violence from the other side, lethal
violence against children and institutionalized torture of

At a certain point, I needed a break
from this powerful material. When I put the book down, I
hadn’t yet differentiated all the feelings I had gone
through while reading. I was aware I had experienced a range
of feelings but I had been so absorbed by the book’s
content that I hadn’t consciously registered

So I put the book down and closed my
eyes. The next thing I knew, I came out of a space that in
retrospect I call nothingness. I don’t know how long in
chronological time I had been in this timeless space, but
the first thing I noticed is that I felt cleansed and
purified. The negative feelings I’d experienced while
reading were completely gone, without a trace, but now I was
able to delineate those feelings. The contrast between my
new feeling and the feelings I had experienced earlier was
so stark that I instinctively looked around the room,
searching for my old feelings. I looked in my bookcase and
in the corners of the room, wondering, “Where is the
shock, where is the anger at Israel and at myself, where is
the shame and embarrassment, where is the sorrow for all
that the Palestinians have been put through?” These
were the specific feelings that had been stimulated while
reading, but now they were nowhere to be found.

So I just sat there, in a state of
bliss, in the Eternal Present, free of negativity, without a
desire to be anywhere or do anything. Then I felt a mild
pressure upon my eyes, as if a cloth was covering that part
of my face. I quietly acknowledged this sensation. After
about a minute, the cloth began to unravel in a spiral
motion, first uncovering the left eye and then the right.
There was a soothing quality to the unraveling. When the
cloth was finally gone, I saw that the world as it really is
is empty of all qualities, that in Reality it is a
reflection of my inner states of consciousness. I saw that
the world was my creation; it was a projection or
superimposition of my mind’s content. The veil that had
obstructed this recognition had fallen away.



Yago: In your book you
describe this process as moving from fear to compassion and
from confusion to clarity.

Rich Forer: Yes, the next
thing I noticed was that I could not find any attachment to
a particular identity. There was simply a feeling of
non-separateness. And in that moment I understood that I was
as much Palestinian as Israeli, as much Muslim or Christian
as Jew.

Next, I started seeing the dynamics
of how we project our perception onto the world and then
presume that the world we see proves the reality of our
perception. In a never-ending cycle of unconsciousness, we
persist in creating the same reality or worldview over and
over again. This process imbues our internal logic with the
deluding certainty that the world truly is the way we
perceive it.

When my core Jewish identity could
not be found, I was no longer imprisoned by beliefs and
images that had once emanated from and reinforced that core
identity. Nor was I compelled or condemned to identify with
one group to the exclusion of any other. Therefore, I could
see the world from any perspective, without bias. I
understood that the real enemy is the unexamined mind that
projects its own suffering onto the world and then blames or
scapegoats the world for the suffering.

Throughout my being, I felt a
tangible sense of peace and realized that peace cannot be
found in the world unless it is first found within
one’s self.

Fear is an inevitable component of
separateness, of the attachment to or belief in an exclusive
or limited identity. A limited identity implies the
existence of something outside its limits. Just as our
limited identity is presumed to be our self, whatever is
interpreted as falling outside our identity is presumed to
be the other and is seen as a possible threat. This is the
world of Us against Them or Good against Evil.

Having somehow let go of fear, I
realized that fear had been a lens that colored the way I
saw the world. And because fear prevents us from seeing the
world as it really is, it is always accompanied by
confusion. But once fear vanishes, we can more easily
empathize with the suffering of others. Thus, in place of
fear, compassion arises.

Compassion is the ability to stand
in the shoes of the other and see from all perspectives.
Thus, in place of confusion, clarity arises.

Yago: You describe your
transformation as a letting go of the mind and journeying
towards the heart. Could you explain what really

Rich Forer: Letting go of the
mind set free the natural intelligence of the heart. This
intelligence is always available, but in order to access it
we must first let go of the indoctrination that blocks its
access. A passage through the darkness of ignorance into the
light of understanding is a journey that each of us must
make at some point if there is ever to be peace.

Yago: It looks like a kind of
dis-identification from the thinking process. You were able
to discover that you were much more than your thinking

Rich Forer: Exactly! And
there is not a single thought that has to be believed. We
can accept thoughts as having relevance but we don’t
need to believe them as the absolute, as reality itself.
Anything we believe can be looked at and questioned. We can
ask of any belief: Is it really true or is there a
possibility that it is false or not always true?

Yago: Listening to your
transformation, I recall the words of Richard Rohr in his
book, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer:
“Real religious conversion can, in fact, take care of
years of therapy. To really experience the absolute is to
experience the essential pattern. When we are reconnected at
our core, we leap over years of problem-solving and years of
asking questions about ourselves (…) True religious
experience dissolves the fortress of ‘I’ by
abandoning its defenses.”

Life is a constant journey of
shadowboxing. I would like to know how you are integrating
and processing this new sense of identity and understanding
of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Rich Forer: I would say that
sharing my journey and the insights gleaned from it is
integrative and part of my commitment to peace. And although
the Israel-Palestine issue is the context through which I
share these insights, the insights are applicable to all
human beings under all conditions.

However, in my opinion
Israel-Palestine is the core foreign policy issue of our
time. It is an archetype of conflict and it can become an
archetype of peace. A just resolution can serve as a model
for future generations. The Book of Isaiah refers to the
Jewish people as “A light unto nations.” Well,
Israel and its Jewish supporters are certainly not operating
in the light now. But if they can penetrate their darkness
and come out into the light of transformation, they can
shine that light upon other nations and help the Palestinian
people heal from their traumas. For it is only when the
Palestinian people are healed that the Jewish people
themselves will be healed. And this healing can herald a
whole new consciousness of compassion for the

The key is education and critical
thinking. We need to find out for ourselves what is real and
what is false. People are mostly decent. Once they learn
what is actually happening, they will demand that Israel
make a fair peace with the Palestinians. For this to happen,
though, we have to stop relying on our leaders for answers
to our problems. Leaders are often the most attached to
their identities. Their status or sense of importance can be
a trap that lures them into a prison of inflated self-images
and hinders the ability to empathize with the

When we open to the possibility that
things are not always as they seem, and become curious as to
what the real history is, we will begin to see that the
behavior of people, no matter how bizarre or
self-destructive, does not take place in a vacuum. We will
recognize the necessity of taking responsibility for how our
inertia, obliviousness and apathy affect the behavior of
others, of our society and the world. We will see how
interconnected we all are.

Yago: During the last months
you have been invited to give talks, TV and radio
interviews. What impact are you having? (Link to latest TV

Rich Forer: I speak wherever
I am invited, though invitations are rare. I want to point
out that no matter which side of an issue people identify
with, they all have their own self-images to contend with.
And as I just said, leaders, and others who are looked up
to, tend to be more ensnared by their self-images than the
average person.

My message of self-inquiry
challenges self-images, but especially the self-images of
those who think they are more important than other people. A
sense of specialness or importance acts as a barrier to
fresh and unique ideas. The challenge I speak of makes it
difficult for me to be invited to speak at conferences
sponsored by organizations with a leadership hierarchy. Many
leaders have vested interests and are not interested in
someone who says that a spiritual problem, a problem of
identity, is at the root of the Israel-Palestine dilemma;
and that the antidote is inquiring within. They would rather
invite speakers who stick with the history.

Yago: You talk about the
difficulty of getting your voice heard. You also mentioned
the difficulty organizations have in accepting your
perspective. Let’s look at the positive impact you are
having. What kind of people and networks are you engaged
with? Who is welcoming and encouraging you in your honorable
task? What are your areas of influence?

Rich Forer: There are a lot
of ordinary people who’ve read my book, watched my TV
interviews or come to one of my talks, and they are
inspired. My description of how our attachment to a limited
identity affects the way we see the world helps them find

Further, my explication of what is
really going on in the minds of those who accuse me, because
I am critical of Israel, of being a self-hating Jew or
anti-Semite, makes a great deal of sense to my audience.
Briefly, what I say is that these accusations are, together,
a reflexive defense mechanism or projection that is used to
deny what my critics are afraid of seeing within themselves.
When, for instance, I criticize Israeli attacks on
civilians, Israel’s defenders automatically label me an
anti-Semite or self-hating Jew. This tactic lets them off
the hook. After all, if their label fits, my criticism must
be nothing more than slander founded upon an irrational
prejudice toward Jews. But what is really happening is that
my criticism functions as a mirror. These defenders cannot
look in the mirror out of fear that the face of inhumanity
will be exposed, that in persecuting the other the way their
people were once persecuted and in denying the humanity of
the other, they have sacrificed their own humanity. Looking
in the mirror would reveal that their criticism of me is
actually true of themselves. It is they who are acting out
of hatred and irrational prejudice.

I explain why it is so common for
those who justify Israel’s oppression of Palestinians
to equate concern for the lives of Palestinians with hatred
toward Israel. The dualistic mind works that way. It infers
that those whom it perceives as a threat possess qualities
that are opposite of the qualities it presumes of itself. If
you are pro-Palestinian, you must be

The dualistic mind supports
oppression as an apparent path to peace. People quickly
grasp the absurdity of this proposition. A mind of
oppression can never lead to peace, not in the world and
certainly not within one’s self. If we want peace we
have to go beyond duality, beyond pro-this and anti-that. We
have to go beyond labels and the effect labels have on our
perception of reality. If we must use labels, let us say
that we are pro-humanity, which is both pro-Palestinian and
pro-Israeli. That label at least points to the path to

Imagine the confusion that exists
within a mind that justifies oppression yet claims it wants
peace. This mind is so afraid of confronting its
self-destructive thought processes that it cannot comprehend
that when we oppress people and deny them their rights, they
have legitimate reasons to rebel. Instead, it labels the
rebellion as terrorism. At the same time, it is oblivious to
the terror that it, as an enabler of oppression, inflicts
upon a people who every day are denied the same rights it
demands for itself. The fear-based mind is not just
narcissistic, it is fascistic.

Yago: You talk about apathy
in today’s world, especially apathy from people who
govern. Many politicians appear egocentric and indifferent
to the suffering of the world. They protect themselves
within their own world of artificial well-being and small
pleasures. What can you say about apathy in today’s

Rich Forer: Apathy gives
leaders permission to disregard the consequences of their
actions and enables them to mislead us about things they
have already done. It encourages them to do things they
might not otherwise do if they knew the eyes of the world
were focused on their behavior and that they would be held

There is a great deal of economic
stress in the United States. When people have to struggle to
survive, they don’t have time to pay attention to
issues that do not appear to impact them directly. I doubt
that more than five percent of Americans have much awareness
of the effect the policies of their government has on the
Israel-Palestine issue. This is a shame, because if more
people became aware, for example, that America gives more
money to Israel to spend on its military than Israel spends
itself, the outcry would force the United States to change
to a foreign policy that focuses on peace rather than on
supporting the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. This
change would in turn free up resources that could be used to
alleviate suffering in this country.

Yago: Before, you told us
about the role of the Torah in your life’s journey. Could
you share with us the role your understanding of the Torah
(Jewish Holy Scriptures) plays in the on-going conflict
between Israel and Palestine?

Rich Forer: Instead of
cultivating beliefs that conform to the wisdom of their
scriptures, people commonly make the meaning of scriptures
conform to their pre-existing beliefs. They pick and choose
passages that seemingly support their beliefs while ignoring
passages that challenge them.

Although the Torah, which is
considered the word of God, is used primarily by Jews, it is
also used by Christians. Many Jews spell the word G-d. The
missing letter acknowledges that God is a mystery,
incomprehensible to the mind. Yet many of these believers
claim with conviction that they know God’s intentions,
that He intended to give the land to the Jewish people. They
justify the dispossession of an entire people and the
humiliating tactics used to facilitate the dispossession by
resorting to this dogmatic and self-serving

Likewise, they ignore the many
prohibitions in the Torah against scheming, stealing and
breaking contracts. And they pay no attention to the
practice of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, in which
every Jew is obligated to rectify injustice. They wait for
the coming of the Messiah, but they ignore the very practice
the Torah says will make the world a dwelling place for the
Divine. Is there anything less Jewish than denying God a
dwelling place by exploiting His word so that the
covetousness of one people can be satiated at the expense of
another? In my talks I emphasize that, rather than resorting
to dogma, opening ourselves to the intelligence of the heart
is how we prepare a dwelling place for God. This is Tikkun
Olam, and it is the same wisdom all the great scriptures of
mankind intend to transmit.

Yago: In your book you make
reference to the Book of Deuteronomy, quoting the passage:
“You shall love the stranger;” and you also find
similarities between the Koran and Torah. You are pointing
out a common message in the three monotheistic traditions.
Could you elaborate on this?

Rich Forer: Some form of
“love the stranger” is found in every religion. In
Christianity “love thy neighbor” is a core
principle. A Muslim friend of mine, who read my book, told
me that I had made a mistake in citing the Talmud as saying
“Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though
he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a
single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the
entire world.” She told me that the quote comes from
the Koran. I learned that this wisdom exists in both
religious traditions.

Over time wise people in all
religions have discovered basic truths, including the truth
of our real nature, beyond the mind or separate

Yago: Your transformation has
allowed you to compassionately enter into the worldview of
the other, in this case the Palestinian people. Looking back
at your life before the transformation, what does it mean
and feel to be imprisoned in indoctrination or, in this
case, the collective pain-body of the Jewish people? How is
your compassion and sense of oneness reflected at the level
of feelings towards Jews who are still caught in a narrow
and partial view of the conflict? Do you know in your own
living experience what they are going through?

Rich Forer: I do know what
Jews are going through because I went through the same
thing. Nonetheless, I sometimes become angry when I hear
someone exclaiming: “Palestinians are terrorists who
want to kill us all,” or when I hear people justifying
the killing of children. It is difficult for me not to
become angry. And although mine may be a righteous anger, I
know that I can be more effective in encouraging people to
look into the history when I discipline myself and remember
their point of view, which was once my own situation. So it
is important that I stay aware of my thoughts and

I want to emphasize that my goal is
not to convince someone that my point-of-view is more
accurate than theirs. I often say in my talks that I do not
want anyone to believe what I say. Rather, I want them to
find out for themselves the history of this subject. Only
personal investigation, with an uncompromising intention to
discover the truth, allows one to take responsibility for
their role in the suffering of others.

I need to add, though, that I have
not met a single Israeli loyalist who has impartially
studied the actual history. If they had the decency to do
so, most would discover that they have character
assassinated the Palestinians and expedited their
misfortune. The real conflict for these loyalists is not
Israel versus the Palestinian people. The real conflict is
the inability to integrate the hard-to-believe but
inescapable awareness of Israel’s treatment of non-Jews
with unquestioned loyalty to the Jewish state. One
consideration recognizes Israel’s dark side; the other
denies the dark side exists.

Only by committing myself to the
truth was I able to apprehend the astonishing reality that
criticism of Israel was never my principal concern. I had
never defended Israel, at least the Israel that actually
exists. I had defended an idealistic image that was
projected onto the real Israel. This projection enabled me
to repress and deny painful revelations that I would have
learned about Israel and myself if only I had looked without
the influence of an unexamined mind.

Denial and projection go hand in
hand. What I denied about Israel and about myself, I
projected onto the other, who automatically and necessarily
became my enemy. My reaction to criticism was motivated more
by the fear of taking on the challenge that criticism of
Israel posed to my identity than by fear for Israel’s

Yago: We are invited to face
and dialogue with conflict with a Yes of “basic
acceptance” of what is occurring, but at the same time
to say No to the injustices that undermine a human
being’s true potential. To be able to combine both
attitudes simultaneously, we need to integrate that sense of
oneness that you experienced in your transformation, to
incorporate a compassionate, non-dualistic mind in our
journey in the midst of conflict.

Rich Forer: It would be naive
to expect people to go through as radical a transformation
as I underwent, though it may occasionally happen. Most
people are capable of applying themselves in pursuit of the
facts of history. This is why I emphasize that the most
effective path is to find out the history for oneself. If we
do, we will finally figure out that we have been deceived by
propaganda and one-sided belief systems. We will recognize
that we have supported injustice and we will understand the
various forms that Palestinian resistance has taken over the
years, both violent and nonviolent. This is a more
compassionate view of the world. And the compassion
liberated in our new understanding of this particular
conflict will affect the way we see conflict in

In a peaceful world people will be
less anxious. They will be more capable of self-inquiry.
Mankind’s journey toward a more humane consciousness
will accelerate and our materialistic society will move
closer to spiritual values as greed and acquisition begin to
lose their seductive allure.

Yago: We are moving towards
the end of the interview, I know you were in Gaza in
November, 2012. What is the current situation

Rich Forer: Gaza is virtually
unlivable. The economy is dying. Between 1996 and 2000,
exports averaged 1,736 truckloads per month. In 2011 exports
averaged twenty-five truckloads monthly. I am not kidding. I
did say twenty-five.

The Israeli blockade only permits
enough food into Gaza to keep its residents at a subsistence
level. Anemia, malnutrition and stunted growth afflict
substantial portions of the population. Eighty percent of
residents are dependent on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and
Works Agency) for food. Israel has created buffer zones
inside Gaza that seal off access to thirty-five percent of
Gaza’s agricultural land. If a farmer dares to venture
inside or even near these zones there is a high probability
he will be shot. Gaza used to have thriving citrus and olive
industries. Neither industry exists anymore, destroyed by

Ninety percent of the water is so
polluted it is undrinkable and the availability of clean
water is limited, so that per capita water consumption is
well below the minimum standards set by the WHO (World
Health Organization). Ninety thousand cubic meters of sewage
is dumped into the sea every day, yet Israel does not allow
Gazan authorities to build water treatment plants. High
levels of nitrates and chlorides, related to blue baby
syndrome, kidney disease and prostate cancer, are found in
the water. Every one hundred meters along stretches of the
Mediterranean are wells from which Israel takes clean water
for its Jewish residents, none of which is available to

Over 100,000 tons of garbage sits on
the streets of Gaza. Everywhere I went I saw garbage. Israel
does not permit the government to import garbage

The Oslo Accords stipulated that
Palestinian fishermen could sail twenty nautical miles out
to sea to harvest their catch, but Israel reduced the limit
to three nautical miles. To catch the large fish, fishermen
have to go at least eight miles out to sea. After Operation
Pillar of Cloud, which ended in November, the fishing limit
was extended to six miles. Nonetheless, just as happened
prior to Pillar of Cloud, Israeli military vessels
frequently confront fishermen within the limit, force them
to swim to the Israeli boats, strip off their clothes and
swim back to their vessels.

The effective rate of unemployment,
when you include people who have given up looking for a job,
is over fifty percent. Young people with college degrees
cannot find work. They are prime targets for recruitment by
extremist groups.

There are nowhere near enough
construction materials, schools, houses, medical supplies,
hospital beds, doctors, nurses, etc. I could go on and on.
According to UNRWA, by 2020 Gaza will have reached the point
where life is untenable. All of this is economic warfare,
collective punishment at its worst. And none of it adds to
Israel’s security. If anything, by flaunting its
contempt for non-Jewish life, these restrictions inflame
anti-Semitism throughout the world.

The international community has to
insist that Israel abide by international law. For the sake
of Palestinians, Israelis and Jews worldwide, it must demand
that Israel’s government respect the dignity of human
life. Think about it. If all countries adhered to these
laws, which have evolved over centuries to safeguard the
well being of all peoples, the vast majority could look
forward to a future for themselves and their children. This
vision may be idealistic on my part but it is a future we
all must work towards.

Yago: Are you networking with
Palestinians or Jews who have gone through a similar
experience of integration of a compassionate and
non-dualistic approach to the conflict? Or do you feel alone
in this process?

Rich Forer: I do feel alone,
but there are a lot of people who appreciate my point of
view; and even though they haven’t had such profound an
awakening as I had, they understand that peace can only
prevail when both peoples are treated equally.

One of the things I often say is
that the human rights movement, at least with regard to the
Israel-Palestine issue, is very small. There is a need for
many more people so that we can reach a critical mass where
our support for the rights of all, not some, will begin to
be felt within the halls of Congress and other centers of

Another thing is that people, who
are into non-traditional types of spiritual practice, such
as Buddhist meditation or A Course in Miracles, as well as
teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie, must get
involved in human rights. The world needs their wisdom and
their support. Their numbers probably exceed by a wide
margin the numbers found in the human rights field. I think
the two fields should be combined so that one completes the
other. Spiritual seekers need to understand that their
search for enlightenment, liberation, happiness, whatever
they call it, cannot truly be fulfilled if it is merely
about them. They need to understand that we are all
Palestinians. Of course, we are all Iranians, Americans,
Chinese and Israelis too. And, as I said earlier, we are all
responsible for the suffering in the world. But the
Palestinian people, to a large extent, have become an
archetype for loss and suffering. As such, their healing can
play a critical role in the future of the planet.

People involved in human rights, and
there are some amazing people, need to work toward a deeper
insight into the nature of reality. They need to combine
their activist approach with self-inquiry or
self-reflection. If they fail to do so, the ancient paradigm
of victim becoming oppressor, of one group being made a
scapegoat for another will continue.

Yago: My final question is in
line with your last words, which for me are fundamental.
Could you summarize the characteristics of a peace builder
in the context of today’s world?

Rich Forer: We have to become
more self-aware and we have to acquire self-understanding.
To acquire self-understanding we need to inquire within and
discover how our indoctrination influences the way we see
the world and how it convinces us to favor one group over
another. This is how we find our real humanity. When we find
our humanity we will recognize the humanity of everybody
else. We will see that we are all in this together. If we
engage this process, prejudices we were never aware of will
reveal themselves and be resolved.

Next, we need to put our new
understanding into action by finding out, in the case of any
subject that affects people’s lives, the actual
documented history. Regarding Israel-Palestine, this
commitment will take us beyond the myths and false beliefs
that are so characteristic of the issue.

I always tell people
“Don’t believe what I tell you. If you simply
believe what I tell you without finding out for yourself,
you may believe the next person who comes along, especially
if he is more persuasive than I. And that person may be
promoting a self-serving worldview.“ So we need to
initiate a practice of doing our own research and finding
out, as best we can, the real history. This is not as
difficult as it seems. Israel-Palestine is the most legally
documented conflict in Mankind’s history.

If we do our research we will
understand why people behave the way they do. We will see
the effects of fear and greed. We will understand the
despair and hopelessness that can lead people to commit acts
of desperation. We will discover how, by denying the
humanity of the other, we lose our own humanity; and we will
recognize the internal logic that induces us, in the name of
security, to brutalize the other. We will have acquired
greater compassion and clarity. The world will begin to
transform itself into a realm where each of us has the
opportunity and the resources to pursue our

Yago: Rich thanks a lot for
the wonderful contribution to this blog.

Rich Forer: Thanks to you,



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