Breakthrough – Chapter 3 – Awakening – Richard Forer


Reprinted with permission from the author.

– Chapter 3 –


And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. – John 8:32


hen I began my study of the Israel-Palestine conflict I was determined to read the works of Jewish authors only. I knew that if I chose non-Jewish authors I would suspect bias. First, I went on the Internet and scanned reviews of books by Israeli professors Baruch Kimmerling and Tanya Reinhart, the authors Sam had referred me to.[1] I also glanced at a number of other works on the Israel-Palestine conflict, quickly segregating Jewish authors from the rest. Then I noticed a book by an American professor, Norman Finkelstein. The writer’s surname met my chief requirement and the title drew my attention: Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. That was enough to encourage me to add the book to my reading list. After compiling a few other possibilities, I drove to my local library.

Browsing through the bookshelves, the first book I found was The Palestinian People by Kimmerling and Joel Migdal. Since I trusted Sam’s advice, I didn’t bother to inspect the book. I had already decided that I would borrow at least one book written by Baruch Kimmerling. Then I discovered Beyond Chutzpah. I perused the inside jacket. To my simultaneous surprise and horror, I read that Joan Peters’ book From Time Immemorial had been “exposed as an academic hoax.” Given my enthusiasm for Peters’ work, the statement was provocative and threatening. As I was beginning to recover my balance, the jacket held another surprise: it said that Finkelstein was highly critical of the Israel-Palestine analysis that Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz communicated in his book The Case for Israel. Although I had not read that book, I had always regarded Dershowitz as an independent and fair-minded thinker. I had admired him, along with Peters, for a long time. I had barely begun my investigation, had not even read a single page of either Kimmerling or Finkelstein’s book, yet was abruptly faced with the prospect that long-held, nearly sacred beliefs were about to be deflated.

One thing was now clear: my inner turmoil had pushed me into a corner. Seeing something I almost wished I hadn’t, the forbidden fruit as it were, I was repelled and attracted at the same time. In the face of this unforeseen impasse, I was left with no choice but to borrow Finkelstein’s book from the library as the only possible relief from my dilemma. Then I remembered a fragment of a brief conversation I had put out of my mind: eight or nine years earlier, Sam had warned me that the book I had invested such faith in, From Time Immemorial, had been debunked by a Jewish scholar years before I first learned about it from my sister-in-law.

After I returned home the awareness that I was about to venture into terrain that did not appear to be as clearly demarcated as I had always supposed became more pronounced. Feeling somewhat anxious, I realized that I was shocked enough for one day, so I decided to sleep on my decision and see how I felt after a night’s rest.


The following morning I sat alone in my living room. It was very quiet outside. There was nothing to distract me, nothing I really wanted or needed. At ease, I was finally ready to uncover any evidence that might clarify the issues that had caused such consternation. Resigned to the fact that I was about to discover new and unsavory details about Peters and Dershowitz, I picked up Beyond Chutzpah. What I never expected, as I began my journey, was just how forcefully the book would rebuke Israel’s policies in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Over the ensuing days, I read Finkelstein’s words with as much tolerance as I could muster. There was no doubt in my mind that I was studying the work of a brilliant scholar who possessed a great deal of confidence in his arguments. Furthermore, Finkelstein was meticulous about documenting the evidence he was presenting. Because of these qualities I restrained myself from abandoning his book, sensing that my endurance would lead to some kind of resolution, though I had no idea what form it might take. Most of the time my reading was marked by an inner struggle: on the one hand, a desire to get to the truth and alleviate my torment; on the other, a curiosity to ascertain whether Finkelstein was in fact a disturbed academic and anti-Semite – an ironic possibility, given that the book was purportedly about the misuse of anti-Semitism. For me the question became: Who was actually misusing anti-Semitism, Finkelstein or me?

In his introduction, Finkelstein compared the policies that grew out of Zionism to South African apartheid and the conquest of the American Indian.[2] He pointed out that the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict up until the formal establishment of the Jewish State was no longer a point of contention among serious scholars: Zionists had denied Palestinians the same rights they themselves had fought for, and were responsible for the expulsion of the indigenous people from their native land. This may have prepared me for further explosive arguments yet to come, but it did not resolve my primary question: What were the Jewish people supposed to do in a hostile world that wouldn’t let them live in peace?

Part one of Beyond Chutzpah was entitled The Not-So-New ‘New Anti-Semitism.’ Here Finkelstein tackled the modern Jewish penchant for ascribing “any challenge inimical to Jewish interests” to anti-Semitic tendencies. He criticized a wide variety of Jewish sources for their blind and uninformed support of Israel and their attempts to silence voices that spoke out against its policies, even when those voices were respected human rights organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. He especially ridiculed the hypocritical stance of some prominent Jews in defending Christian fundamentalist leaders, like Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority and Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, because they backed a “militarized Israel,” while ignoring the fact that their theology “reeked of anti-Semitism.” For Finkelstein there were no sacred cows. He criticized leading Jewish institutions like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and its leader, Abraham Foxman; the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its leader, Marvin Hier; and Jewish Holocaust survivor, author, and Nobel Prize laureate, Elie Wiesel, one of the most revered men in Jewish society.

I could not help but be impressed with the clarity of Finkelstein’s reasoning but I was not fully persuaded. Although I was beginning to recognize that I was one of the uninformed whose views he was deconstructing, I remained very sensitive to the undercurrent of anti-Semitism in my society and the threat it posed to the Jewish people. And even though I disagreed with Christian fundamentalist leaders on almost every political and social issue imaginable, I was relieved that the one issue they did get right was Israel. I kept coming back to this question: Why was Finkelstein so one-sided, his message so critical of Israel and the prevailing Jewish ethos, with almost nothing negative to say about the Palestinian ethos? Some speculative answers I contemplated were: 1) He was simply stating the facts in order to restore reality to the discussion of anti-Semitism and its relationship to the Israel-Palestine issue; 2) He felt great empathy for the Palestinian cause and wanted the same quality of life for their society as that enjoyed by Israel, so he avoided discussing their acts of terror; or 3) He was really an anti-Semite who had a talent for distorting any issue and using it for his own reprehensible purposes. My confusion had not subsided. I saw no alternative but to continue reading.

By the third day, I began to experience a succession of distinct emotions, but was so engrossed in the book that it took awhile before I could articulate them. When I eventually shifted my attention onto my mental-emotional state, I remembered the feelings of shock and disbelief that had come over me upon reading that Israel had bulldozed hundreds of homes in the Palestinian areas, sometimes with the inhabitants still inside; that Israel was siphoning off flagrantly disproportionate amounts of water from those areas for its own use; that collective punishment was a common practice; and that Israel was the only country in the world that legalized torture.[3] As a Jew, I was acutely bothered that human beings were being mistreated in my name and in the name of my people. Considering that I had never treated anyone with such brutality, it seemed unfair that I should have to carry such a burden of culpability.

Pausing, I put the book down and tried to find some respite from this onslaught of disturbing information. After taking a few deep breaths, I forged ahead, only to discover that Israel frequently appropriated Palestinian-owned land in the Occupied Territories for Jewish-only settlements, thereby “‘drastically restrict[ing] the possibilities for economic development in general, and for agriculture in particular.’” Then, from a study by Amnesty International: “‘Palestinian vehicles and passengers [in Gaza] have been stuck between . . . checkpoints for hours, unable even to get out of their cars for fear of being shot . . . . Members of the Israeli security forces have frequently resorted to lethal force to enforce restrictions, killing or injuring scores of Palestinians who were unarmed and presented no threat.’”

Forcing myself to continue, I learned that in 1994 Human Rights Watch reported that “‘the number of Palestinians tortured or severely ill-treated’ – often without even a pretense that these detainees were guilty of wrongdoing – ‘is in the tens of thousands.’” On the same page, B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) was quoted as accusing Israel of being the only democratic country in the world that regarded “political liquidations as a ‘legitimate course of action….’” [4]

After reading the allegations of these respected, mainstream human-rights organizations, my disbelief and shock turned into anger at my Israeli brethren for their unjustified and inhumane deeds. My anger then turned inward as I reflected on my past failure to pay attention to this struggle. My face flushed with heat and a righteous fury seethed within me for the suffering of an entire ethnic group that I had continually ignored. The cries of millions had never even touched me. Waves of remorse passed through my body and I shuddered at the thought that I had rejected Palestinian claims of persecution as propaganda and lies. I was ashamed that I had demonized an entire culture and judged its people as irredeemable. In acknowledging my heartlessness, I was obliged to silently confess to my history of delusion and denial. Many of the positions I had taken on behalf of Israel and against the Palestinian people were factually incorrect.

These positions, so prevalent within my culture, had appeared reasonable, even unassailable. They had taken shape during the impressionable years of childhood and were suffused with the common accounts of my parents, rabbis, Sunday-school teachers, relatives and friends. Most significantly, they were founded upon two interconnected, governing beliefs, which were the substratum out of which all other judgments arose.

The first was that Israel unfailingly acted with integrity in its dealings with others. There was never any doubt in my mind that when mistakes were made, Israel’s overriding rectitude ensured that the mistakes were redressed. The second and more prominent belief was one that had wielded its authority from the deeper recesses of my mind, indifferent to the fact that I had never been a religious Jew: God had promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people and, at last, after thousands of years of persecution, that promise had been fulfilled. And, just as the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had acted under God’s guidance and protection, so too had Israel. Thus, the judgments I had regarding the Israel-Palestine issue – empowered by holy writ – were so unshakable there was never any thought of deserting them.

Under the influence of these beliefs, I had further rationalized Israel’s actions with other, subordinate beliefs that I presumed were equally incontestable. Among these were that Israel, when forced to retaliate against its enemies, did so with great reluctance; that Israeli soldiers did not violate civil rights or kill indiscriminately, principles which I later learned are embodied in the IDF concept of purity of arms; that Israel’s Supreme Court was a bastion of justice for all citizens, including the Palestinians; and that the reason the Palestinians always subverted Israel’s sincere attempts to establish a fair peace was because their true goal was to push the Israelis into the sea.

Since I had always believed the United Nations was the primary arena for resolving conflict around the world, I was chronically upset with its myopia to the truth of what was happening in the Middle East and its insensitivity to the suffering of the Jewish people. Only anti-Semitism could explain such ignorance. I also couldn’t comprehend why some Jews were convinced the Palestinian cause was just. That reasoning was nonsensical to me, so I had attributed their confused logic to misguidance and misinformation.

But now my mind was in the crosshairs, its conception of reality threatened by powerful reasoning and compelling research.

My shame and embarrassment receded, and a heavy sadness enveloped me for the oppressive treatment that so many Palestinians had endured.

Although I had always considered myself capable of clarifying most matters on the basis of my own scrutiny, I saw that when it came to Israel I had brushed aside challenging questions in favor of an irrational but emotionally satisfying appraisal: I had believed what I wanted to believe. As I got more in touch with this insight, a startling awareness emerged: not one trace of the emotions I had been experiencing only minutes before was anywhere to be found. The entire constellation had apparently fallen apart; yet, I could not distinguish a point in time when these emotions, either singularly or collectively, had faded from awareness. Nor did I have a clue as to the manner in which they had left. Was their dissolution gradual or instantaneous? There was no way of telling.

Uncertain if my pain might return, I noticed that a distinct feeling of freedom had taken its place. Somehow I had drifted into a restful space of emptiness where there was no inner conflict and no reactive thinking. My curiosity took over and I tried to decipher how this transformation had come to pass. Plumbing my memory, the only thing I could recall was putting the book down and pondering the incriminating charges I had just learned about.

When I concluded that an answer to my inquiry was not forthcoming – and since I wasn’t in a state of mind to care one way or the other – I dismissed the exercise and sat quietly, waiting. There didn’t seem to be anything else to do. Although I had no idea what I was waiting for, I was utterly patient. There was no struggle, no doubt and no dilemma, only sitting and basking in this blissful state. There was no past and no future, only the Now. Perhaps a sign would appear to confirm that this incomprehensible reversal of my usual consciousness was real. There was no need for any answers because I had no questions. There was no resistance to my state of being. Not looking for one experience or avoiding another, I was perfectly neutral.

A minute or two passed. I was the same person I had always been, yet I felt so different, as if I was connected to a source beyond my body. My body, or the pressure inside my body, felt like it was dispersed over a wider area, which produced more spaciousness throughout my being and filled me with a profound feeling of satisfaction. My sense of self had transcended the ordinary limits of physical form.

This fresh sensation brought to mind the image of a balloon. A balloon is distinguished from the space in which it resides by the elastic boundaries that give it its shape and definition, or existence. These boundaries, however, are impermanent. If the balloon is punctured, the air that was inside the balloon equalizes with the air outside the balloon and there is no longer any separation, only oneness; and the balloon is quickly forgotten.

In one seamless and timeless “moment,” I had moved from a state of constriction and suffering to one of newness, as if the world around me was pure and untouched, its atmosphere rarefied and, like my mind, empty of all qualities. This transition felt so natural that for a few seconds I wondered why I hadn’t always lived this way. Compared to my new sense of self, it was as if I had been asleep or in a trance for most of my life and upon waking was not burdened by the emotional pain I had been carrying. I felt lighter and more unguarded, and the pain I had borne appeared to be nothing more than the content of a long, drawn-out dream. Within the dream, the pain had persisted for a lifetime, but in this newly awakened state it was only a dim and distant memory.

Where had the pain gone? Still unsure of what had just happened, I scanned the room in search of my emotions, wondering if they might have a solid life of their own and were hiding in some physical location, not particularly bothered whether I found them or not. Nothing I had done could have induced them to leave. In fact, even if I had formulated the thought that I didn’t want these emotions impinging on my consciousness, I would have had no idea how to extinguish them, short of mind-numbing drugs. My experience could not be denied. The painful emotions were gone.

My attention was then drawn to my face. Running horizontally along a line just below my eyebrows and, parallel to that, along a line crossing the upper border of my cheekbones, and spanning the distance between the lateral orbital bones of my eyes, a rectangular-shaped area felt as if it was covered by a soft, gossamer-like material. Lightly pressing against my face, the “material” slowly began to unravel, moving delicately from left to right in a spiral pattern, freeing one eye and then the other from a gentle pressure I had never felt before. In the short time it took for this strangely soothing sensation to appear and disappear, a new world had arisen, so that whatever my vision rested on was literally displayed in a brighter light, enabling me to see with a sharper clarity; and I grasped that the world was an unqualified reflection of my ever changing states of consciousness.

The Hindu religion uses the concept of Maya, the veil of illusion or ignorance, to refer to the activity whereby we superimpose our mental content onto the world and presume that what we see before us is Reality. That, at least, is how I would have defined those terms prior to this event. Now I could see and feel how the veil of illusion was much more than a figure of speech that points to a mysterious error in cognition. The veil is an actual psychophysical manifestation: a commanding – though unconscious – refusal to see the world as it really is without the addition of an entire belief system.

This realization quickly passed when, unexpectedly, I observed that I could not detect an exclusive identity, or “me,” differentiated from anyone or anything else. There was no evidence of an attachment to, attraction toward, or merging with a Jewish self. Given my customary outrage at the world’s non-acceptance of my people, it was hard to believe at first that I was evaluating my experience accurately. Briefly I speculated that such an evocative ending to a core identity should be accompanied by dramatic emotional, mental and physical overtones. But that was not the case. And too, as hard as I tried to reanimate my Jewish identity – not out of fretfulness, but to confirm the validity of my unanticipated observation – it would not return. So, I surrendered to the inevitability of the moment and calmly accepted that I was not separate from members of other religious or ethnic groups. I had lost my individual identity as a Jew and discovered my common humanity with all people. I was as much Palestinian as Israeli, as much Muslim or Christian as Jew.

My Jewishness had never felt like a burden to me. It was “who I am” or so I’d thought. But now that I was no longer bound to one identity and separate from another, I felt a great relief. This new consciousness of non-separation gave me the freedom to reflect upon the lifelong dominion my former identity had held over me.

Initially, my reflection took the form of a simple exercise. I relaxed and settled into my body. Then, from that calm space I began to compare the new self-sense with the old. At a certain point I noticed an almost imperceptible sensation in my upper abdomen, around my solar plexus. As the sensation captured my attention a memory arose from early childhood. The memory took the form of subtle bodily recoil at the communication that who I was could be defined by others, that I was Jewish and an American. This recoil, which I experienced as doubt, was a natural response to the delimiting of my being – to being informed who I was and, therefore, who I wasn’t. It was a warning from my deepest internal perception that by capitulating to a limited identity my most basic understanding of myself would be undermined. But the warning disappeared as fast as it had appeared and the communication became a part of how I would come to identify myself. I had made a choice, but the choice was not borne of thought; it was borne of innocence, vulnerability and trust. It was a decision from the heart.

As I matured into adulthood my identity became more entrenched within cultural and social boundaries, beyond which I had no awareness or understanding. These boundaries were analogous to having bridle reins connected to the sides of my head, prescribing how far I could turn in any direction. I could see only that part of the world the restraints permitted and was so habituated to the restraints that I didn’t even know they existed. As a result I took for granted that the world I saw was all there was to see. With such a worldview it was not possible to comprehend the motivation for the behavior of those I perceived as threats to me and my people. What was possible was to label them “terrorists.” My irrational fear had reduced them to objects intent on my demise. Only after I was free of irrational fear did I become aware that I had objectified anyone.

Now I could see just how primitive my thinking had been. A reasonable need for safety had been transformed into an irrational fear that could be satisfied only by incapacitating or destroying the objects of my fear. Only then would no harm befall me. Fear persuaded me to deny the humanity of others and to condone their destruction. By interpreting the world through the prism of fear, my mind had created enemy images and then superimposed those images onto other people, unconsciously presuming that they actually existed as reality. I had played God by determining the substance of a man or a woman without even knowing that man or woman. Those whom I defined as enemies, as threats to my being or way of life, were transmuted by my fear into soulless creatures, whose potential for violence could never be discounted.

I recalled a statement made by President George W. Bush during his address to Congress after the tragedy of September 11, 2001: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Like most Americans I had agreed with the President, convinced that the uncompromising position he was taking was the path to safety. Bush also said that the terrorists wanted to kill Americans because they hated our freedoms and values. At first I wasn’t sure I agreed with that statement, but after further consideration and taking into account that Bush had access to intelligence I wasn’t privy to, I decided it was an accurate assessment of the mental processes of fanatical individuals and the culture of hatred they had grown up in.

With insight into my own mental processes regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, I now understood that Bush’s declarations were not grounded in reflective analysis. They were about revenge. His reaction to the attacks of 9/11 by Islamist extremists was similar to my reaction to the attacks by Hezbollah that had precipitated the Second Lebanon War. Bush was pandering to the fear and confusion that had inundated the consciousness of America, just as I had pandered to the fear and confusion that had inundated my consciousness.

In the midst of the horror of 9/11, my emotions seduced me into tolerating policies that were not only contrary to my own self-interest and to the values Bush spoke about, but catastrophic to incalculable numbers of people who wanted to live their lives in peace. By dividing the world into opposing camps, Bush was propagating the illusion of a united Muslim-Arab conspiracy. He made it clear that America was about to embark upon a “crusade” against a strain of religious extremism that was dedicated to eradicating the principles America’s founders had fought and died for. Bush’s divisive mentality was fated to breed fear, confusion and hatred and, inevitably, more violence. What I had failed to consider for myself was that by demonizing others, others would learn to demonize me; and that by judging entire societies on the basis of the attitudes of a few depraved individuals, entire societies would judge my society on the basis of my attitudes.

Deceived by a belief system consisting of antagonists and protagonists and aligning myself with the presumption that one part of the world represented sanity and the other insanity, I was supporting indiscriminate and massive destruction; in a word, insanity. This careless choice emanated from a single error in consciousness: my unquestioned devotion to a limited identity. Until I acknowledged the profound influence of this primal error, my participation in the generational reenactment of hatred and retribution, of chronic hostility and mistrust, was destined to continue.


I noticed that I didn’t seem to suffer a fear of terrorists. Where once there had been fear, now there was emptiness, and this emptiness manifested as the absence of any impulse or desire to judge or define the other. My curiosity was stirred, so I designed an experiment to check the accuracy of my observation. Like someone who pinches himself to see if he is really awake, I visualized a series of horrifying scenarios that were similar to news reports that once stimulated great agitation within me. My objective was to see if I could rekindle my former feelings. I imagined bloody atrocities against innocent children and meditated on nightmare visions of my brutal death at the hands of Islamist extremists. Surprisingly, the physical and mental stress that normally sprang from such images did not appear. What materialized instead was a feeling of equanimity. There was an immeasurable relief in knowing that the rage extremists felt was not based solely upon irrational hatred. With this understanding they became human, and the irrational fear and anger I once felt for them were translated into compassion, equal to the compassion I felt for Jews. To me, this was strong evidence that without labels we would see all people as cut from the same cloth. How many of us would feel sadness at the sight of a man in obvious pain, dying? How many of us would not feel a thing if we were told beforehand that the man was a Muslim fundamentalist? Compassion became the doorway to understanding the suffering of my former enemy.


In classical psychology projection is defined as “the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects; especially: the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.” Although I was familiar with this defense mechanism, I had really only understood it with my intellect. Now I understood it with the natural intelligence of my heart, and I found myself able to inquire directly into the grievances that catalyze the anger of others.

I realized that my past appraisal of the motivations of the extremists had more to do with me than it had to do with them. Believing that my fear and hatred were justified, I had been certain that my intentions arose out of fairness, while theirs arose out of hatred. That was pure projection. Their anger simmered and then exploded because my culture withheld the fairness they longed for. Now I had to consider the possibility that they didn’t become our enemies because of who we were; they became our enemies because of what we did.

Before, I had scoffed at their torment and ridiculed as pure fiction the reasons they gave for their anger. Now I could feel how callous that attitude had been and I understood why the level of violence in parts of the Muslim world had grown over the years and why my fellow man could act with such murderous intent and disdain for life. After years of frustration, of being shunned, of not having his hopes and needs considered, he was enraged. Demoralized by the deaths and mutilations of family and friends and anguished over the persistent inequality between his people and their occupier, he was intent on ridding his homeland of an unwelcome and foreign presence. Once I understood how these feelings ignited his passions, I knew that what the Palestinian people truly wanted was not the gratuitous deaths of Israelis but the implementation of the same God-given rights on which the State of Israel was built – self-determination and equality.

Notwithstanding my continued abhorrence for premeditated acts of violence, I had to admit that no matter how coldhearted I judged their behavior, the extremists had adopted the only means they knew to pursue the quest for justice that was hidden within the heart of their struggle. They had as much right to self-determination and equality as anyone else. Also, I understood why so many Jews and Americans were emotional, even hysterical, in their condemnation of Islamist extremists and how – as I had once done – they generalized that reaction to include all of Islamic society.


Our beliefs beguile us. They tell us how the world should appear. When we look out at the world, if it does not conform to our beliefs – and especially when we see conflict and violence – we suffer fear, anger and despair. We struggle with these emotions. Usually, we deny them in one of two ways: either we suppress them and disavow our humanity; or we find suitable individuals or groups to project them onto and disavow their humanity. Neither choice satisfies. But there is another choice that gets to the root of the problem: we can examine our beliefs, lay bare their emptiness and let true compassion awaken. It is my experience that this choice leads to peace.[5]


Epilogue: Reflections on Awakening

Before anything is emanated, there was only The Infinite. The Infinite was all that existed. Similarly, after it brought into being that which exists, there is nothing but The Infinite. You cannot find anything that exists apart from it. . . . If there were The Infinite would be limited, subject to duality, God forbid! Rather, God is everything that exists . . . present in everything and everything comes into being from it. . . . There is nothing but it. Zohar: The Book of Splendor, 1:57b1

My realization happened spontaneously, like an unexpected gift or inheritance that one could not have foreseen. It expressed itself as identification or connection with all beings. This sense of non-separateness had always been present – as I am sure it is with everyone – but it was hidden beneath layers of attachment to beliefs that supported and shaped a limited identity. When fear ceased to enliven those beliefs, non-separateness revealed itself. My new sensitivity came from the heart, beyond the duality of the mind, and it manifested without any conscious effort on my part. The relief it brought was not indicative of a talent that set me apart from anyone else. I was certain that my mind could never have created this dawning of clarity and freedom. The gifts I received, in the form of insights, did not result from the engagement of conventional thought in order to solve a problem, seek a resolution, or gain reprieve from suffering. Although my mind registered the insights, the insights were the fruits of a transformation that took place when the mind let go of a belief system that had held me in its grip for most of a lifetime.

A few weeks after this event I began to share my new condition with friends. Some asked how I could have been so abruptly converted from blind tolerance of almost any Israeli conduct to unmistakable recognition of the agony suffered by the Palestinians, and advocacy for their right to equality. My friends were looking for an historical narrative. Their request felt a bit awkward because the breakthrough itself was an unknowable event that “happened” in the eternal present. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how it had come to pass.

Non-ordinary occurrences like mine do not easily lend themselves to common language because they are not experiences in the usual sense of the word. The identity we ordinarily refer to as “I” or “me” can only exist within the framework of time; and time, with its past, present and future, is inseparable from experience. Since my transformation took place outside of time, in the Now, there was no separate self, or me, having an experience. An equally valid way to describe the occurrence is to turn the previous sentence around and say that because there was no separate self-sense having an experience the transformation took place outside of time. The lack of a separate self and the transcendence of time are interdependent and coincident. This unique physics is why I did not recognize the dissolution of emotions that happened while reading Beyond Chutzpah. There was no separate self able to record their disappearance and there was no period of time during which their disappearance could have been recorded. Words such as awakening or breakthrough imply the passage of time. Taken literally they are misleading, but as pointers they offer glimpses into the inexpressible.

A good analogy to awakening, or transformation, is the instant before the Big Bang. The world-to-be was a self-existing, infinitesimal speck that, mysterious unto itself, contained, or was the potential for, time and space but was itself not within time and space. Then its creative potential was released, giving birth to the universe. In my awakening it was as if I had reversed the historic order and returned to the zero point of non-differentiation, before the one becomes many, prior to the creation of separateness (and in my case, identification as a Jew or American).

My understanding is that the non-separate state is in truth the only state. It is beyond all relative phenomena, and yet contains all relative phenomena as itself without separation. All other states are impermanent and arise out of and decay back into this always-existing source of existence. From this perspective, my conditioned beliefs had been an illusion that never truly existed or had any substance in the first place. Like all things, they too decayed and were absorbed back into their original state. Although my narrative implies that a transformation occurred from non-awakening to awakening, in fact, when the awakening “occurred,” there was the intuition that the awakened state is always already the case, that it is primary, that there is no other state; nor could there be another state because there is only this: the unchanging and eternal Present.[6]

Finding a way to describe my actual transformation has been and remains a challenge. One discussion that required less effort was an explication of the factors that pushed me in a certain direction, to a place from where I could fall more easily into the timeless moment. Here I was able to satisfy my friends’ request for a linear explanation of the events that culminated in transformation.

To begin with, I pointed to Bill and Westley’s repudiation of my portrayal of Israel’s rivalry with its neighbors. Even though I knew where they normally stood on this issue, I was sure that both of my friends would finally side with me over the egregiousness of Hezbollah’s operations, especially coming just weeks after Hamas’s capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from the Southern Gaza/Israel border. If the aggression of one terrorist group couldn’t persuade them that Israel was an innocent victim of hatred, I figured the aggression of two groups would. But my emotional response to the start of the Second Lebanon War had led me to misjudge Bill and Westley, and their lack of empathy for my point of view stoked the fires of frustration and hopelessness.

When Sam unexpectedly called, I was near the peak of this anguish. By letting me speak without judging or arguing with me, he helped me let go of some of my pain. Then, in a relaxed manner, he offered me a chance to learn more about the roots of this latest belligerence. From that time on I resolved to carry out my own exploration and establish, once and for all, whether or not my assumptions were rooted in fact.

My decision led me to Norman Finkelstein’s book. As I read Beyond Chutzpah, the empathy I acquired for the Palestinian people broadened my vision to include all people, without a preference for one group versus another. That serendipitous expansion showed me that my commitment to a limited identity and its beliefs and judgments had left me incapable of real compassion and clarity. The outcome of that understanding was a breakthrough in consciousness.

My characteristic need for justice was also fertile soil for transformation. To profit from a superior stance based on false evidence would have felt unprincipled to me. Similarly, I was unwilling to avoid real evidence that might undermine my position, simply to maintain my dogmatic convictions. In that light, and given the potency of Finkelstein’s discourse, I had no alternative to undergoing a crisis that brought my personal integrity into alignment with the persuasiveness of the material I was reading.

In truth, I will never really know how this awakening came about. The most honest statement I can make is that if there was a specific cause, my mind was, and is, unable to conceive what that cause may have been. However, neither knowing the cause of change nor undergoing a change as dramatic as mine is a necessary precondition for developing clarity about the disagreements between individuals or groups of people. All that is required is the willingness to assess one’s beliefs with honesty and to follow wherever the facts lead.



[1] Baruch Kimmerling (1939-2007) was professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of various books on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Tanya Reinhart (1943-2007) was Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Comparative Literature at Tel-Aviv University and guest lecturer at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. She authored Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of ’48 among other books, and wrote for various publications including Yediot Aharanot.

[2] Zionism is a worldwide Jewish movement that began in the late nineteenth century. Its goal is to establish and preserve a Jewish homeland. There are religious Zionists and secular Zionists. Some Zionists believe in a two-state solution with a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Others believe that in addition to Israel proper all of the West Bank belongs to the Jewish people.

[3] Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled in September 1999 that the Internal Security Agency (ISA) could not use “physical means” against detainees. In their ruling, the HCJ shielded interrogators from prosecution in “ticking bomb” situations. According to a joint report by Israeli human rights groups, B’Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, “Absolute Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees,” May 2007: “This ruling implicitly legitimized these severe acts, contrary to international law, which does not acknowledge any exceptions to the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment.” Torture of Palestinians is still commonplace.

[4] B’Tselem is Hebrew for “‘in the image of,’ and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27 ‘And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him.’”

[5] Epilogue: Reflections on Awakening provides a brief analysis of possible catalysts for the awakening.

[6] I am again indebted to Adi Da for the words “always already the case,” which apply to my understanding.