Capitol Letter / A Roadmap to Inner Peace?

The Dalai Lama's idea of getting past pain to find compassion could work in the Middle East.

During his visits to the U.S., Defense Minister Ehud Barak used to grumble that Israelis would love to have Canadians for neighbors. This week, during the huge Kalachakra for World Peace in Washington D.C., I thought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would probably love to have the Dalai Lama, who was leading the event, as his partner for peace, and not the Palestinians. He would probably also prefer peace activists who go to pray for 10 days with the Dalai Lama at the D.C. Convention Center over flotilla and fly-in activists.

His Holiness spoke at length about the need to turn the 21st century into the "century of dialogue," following the bloodshed of the previous century. He complimented the Americans and their abilities and values.

dalai lama - Reuters - July 12 2011

But the main idea he stressed was the beginning of world peace at an individual level, with each one finding inner peace by feeling compassion. Those who are self-centered, the Dalai Lama told the crowd on the west lawn of the Capitol on Saturday, "their mind is so narrow, for them even small problems that involve them seem unbearable."

"I've lost my independence and my country," the leader continued, "but I think I've succeeded to sustain my inner peace."

It seems quite safe to bet neither Israel nor the Palestinian leaders reached their inner peace yet - and it seems also that the Dalai Lama's compassion and open-mindedness is not necessarily their strongest suit.

The Dalai Lama added that the enemy could be your best teacher, if you are willing to make the effort to look at things from another perspective. Compassion gives one confidence, he said. But in the Middle East, it seems, leaders keep away from compassion for fear of losing confidence.

With the recent turbulence in region, it's easy to dismiss the Dalai Lama's words as high-falutin philosophical abstractions, but with all due respect, we do not own the monopoly on grievances. As Buddhist Lilly Scudder told Haaretz: "If he with his biography succeeded to overcome the hatred and reach inner peace, - to me it means his way works." Of course, that's easier said than done.

The Dalai Lama himself admitted that "physical change takes long, and mental change takes even longer."

Mughrabi, Marcus and Yale

It's not easy to feel compassion for cases like Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative who in 1978 led an attack on a bus traversing the Coastal Road, killing 37 civilians, a third of them children.

For Israelis she is a terrorist, for the Palestinians, a national hero. Recently a Fatah summer camp for children kids divided its campers into three groups - one named after Mughrabi, another after Yasser Arafat and the third after Abu Jihad, who planned the 1978 bus hijacking.

Itamar Marcus from Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli research institute that monitors and analyzes Palestinian media and textbooks, has half a dozen of other examples of Mughrabi's glorification at the ready - from naming sporting events to city squares after her (she was killed during the terror attack ).

The Palestine Liberation Organization Mission in Washington last week declined to comment on Mughrabi; though in the past Palestinian officials were happy to praise her. "Honoring them this way is the least we can give them, and this is our right," said Palestinian Authority Culture Minister Siham Barghouti last year.

The State Department made their position on Mughrabi clear back in March, when a State Department spokesman said the U.S. is "disturbed by reports that a town square in the West Bank has been renamed in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, we condemn this commemoration of terrorism and have conveyed our deep concern about this incident to senior officials in the Palestinian Authority and have urged them to address it."

For Palestinian representatives, the devil is Marcus himself. Using PLO letterhead, the head of the U.S. Mission, Maen Rashid Areikat, wrote to Yale's student paper last year complaining about a conference there by school's anti-Semitism studies institute, that raised the subject of Arab and Muslim hatred of Jews. Yale recently shut the institute, with some claiming the move was a response to charges of activism leveled against the school by Arabs and left-wingers after hosting the conference.

Areikat dedicated a large part of the letter to Marcus personally. "Marcus lives in the Jewish-only West Bank colony of Efrat located on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law," Areikat wrote. "He heads a propaganda outfit known as Palestinian Media Watch and is also closely tied to the New York-based Central Fund of Israel, which supports some of the most extreme and violent elements of Israel's settler movement. He has spent much of the past two decades producing dubious reports claiming to document Palestinian incitement against Israel. As a colonist living on stolen land, he has a vested interest in demonizing Palestinians and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. As such, Marcus and the views that he represents pose a threat not only to the lives, rights and property of Palestinians, but also to the official policy of the American government."

Marcus was invited to speak to Congress on July 26, during which he will probably stress the message that there is little difference between Hamas and Fatah as long as Fatah leaders support glorification of persons such as Mughrabi.

Maybe instead of the peace conference in Paris, Moscow, Cairo or Camp David, it would be more useful to invite the leaders to participate in the Kalachakra for World Peace. To date, the results of comparing the peace plan drafts and pouring sand into the Potomac river do not seem too different.