Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Stephen Fulder: An Israeli Buddhist's Resistance to Occupation

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Stephen Fulder: An Israeli Buddhist's Resistance to Occupation

Article excerpt

Toufik, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Bartaa, belongs to Middleway, an Israeli/Palestinian anti-occupation and dialogue group founded by the Israeli Buddhist teacher Stephen Fulder. Last year, an ambulance carrying Toufik's critically ill mother to the hospital was delayed for three and a half hours by soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint. She died at the other side of the checkpoint when she was finally let through.

Fulder recalled the response to the incident by a meditation group in Safad. "They said, 'Oh, there must have been a reason why the soldiers did that. They had to have seen something wrong for them to do that/ Here, society lives by the mantra, it's not them that's suffering, it's us that's suffering," he explained. 'It's a total brainwashing. Even people on the left, people who are spiritual, support actions that should be opposed."

For more than 30 years, Fulder has been a meditation teacher in the Theravadan tradition of Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. A contemplative by nature, he nevertheless came to the belief that "When the ship is sinking, you have to do something political."

Middleway is the offshoot of Fulder's first group, People to People, which he founded in 1996. It brought Israelis to Nablus to dialogue with Palestinians. "We were engaged in non-political education rather than a political or community action process," he said.

The group was dissolved in 1999, shortly after coming under criticism from the Palestinian Authority, which questioned its efficacy, claiming that dialogue divorced from action was a waste of time.

The PAs criticism forced Fulder and the other group members to examine what was lacking in their approach. "Dialogue was not enough, we realized," he said. "It needed to be combined with action, with compassionate engagement in the conflict."

The 61-year-old biochemist from the UK created Middleway along activist Unes, while deepening the crucial component of dialogue. (Listening to the other is important to Fulder, who now dialogues with members of the Palestinian Authority.) He made silent peace walks throughout Israel part of the protest landscape. True to its Buddhist principles, one of Middleway's objectives in staging the walks is to equate the occupation with the whole problem of violence.

Fulder had his group establish a free holistic clinic in Bartaa run by Palestinian and Israeli volunteers. …

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