Ilana is a warrior who uses her heart as her weapon.
“When you meet a person who has inner authentic presence, you find he has an overwhelming genuineness, which might be somewhat frightening because it is so true and honest and real. You experience a sense of command radiating from the person of inner authentic presence. Although the person might be a taxi driver or a garbage collector he or she still has an uplifted quality, which magnetizes you and commands your attention. This is not just charisma. The person with authentic inner presence has worked on himself and has made a thorough and proper journey. He has earned authentic presence by letting go and giving up personal comfort and fixed mind.”
~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Meet Ilana Meallem, 34 years old, garbage collector, toilet cleaner, dishwasher, gardener, cook, group facilitator, meditation leader, dreamer, visionary, peace activist, and fore mostly a woman with an overwhelming authentic presence. She is the powerful, bright-eyed driving force behind a center for “unique multi-level peace work” in what is called Area C in the Palestinian Territories. Land that falls under the Area C category are the only places that are accessible for both Palestinians without needing a permit and Israelis.
The center is held by a small group of Palestinians and Israelis who refuse to accept the current reality of separation, injustice, mistrust and fear and strive for personal, social and ecological sustainability amidst of the conflict. To acknowledge this mission as a grave and difficult one is an understatement. One would not expect a young Jewish Israeli woman to be the driving force behind this project. At least, that is what I feel while typing this down. When I look at the weight of the task I immediately think of a man. But this is just the habitual mind at work, which thinks in primitive fear and power driven paradigms. Not only is thinking that this is a men’s job a projection of prejudice, it is probably completely missing the point.
I remember times that I would be fighting in high school and some girl would intervene in a way that would not feed my ego but made me feel utterly ashamed. Immature men want approval for what they consider manly behavior. When a powerful woman pierces through the illusion and reveals the insecurity, we shrink and surrender.
When I look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the region I see a lot of immature masculine energy. And from that perspective it makes a lot of sense that what is needed is a warm, motherly, loving, embracing, feminine aspect. Ilana treats something that is very heavy very light. She brings joy into the equation, and caring and listening. I haven’t witnessed it but I can imagine hardened men crying in her arms or shaking hand in embarrassment because she tells them so.
One of Ilana’s turning points in life was when she decided to live alone in a camper on the beach of the Dead Sea. This place was also a place where Israeli’s and Palestinians could come. And for some reason, and probably because of the command she radiates, people started showing up. Sometimes over a 100 people would meet over a weekend at her camper on the beach. When her van was stolen she took it as a sign that she was ready for a more permanent manifestation of her calling to welcome people.
She and her partner and co-founder Itamar created a their center literally on the edge of the conflict. The center is located at a junction in the desert. It is raw, hot and dusty. The highway symbolizes a scar, a boundary, continuity and a lifeline. It is a source of pollution, noise, people, diversity and movement. Close to the perpetual traffic of the steel cages are the frail fences and curtains of the center. In the midst of the pollution you will find a place where water and human manure is recycled, where the day starts with meditation and the vegetarian food is blessed before eating. The answer to violence and rigidity is showing the strength of vulnerability.
Ilana has “earned authentic presence by letting go and giving up personal comfort and fixed mind.” She, Itamar and the other co-founders live in tents on their premises. The letting go of comfort and traditional safety is tangible, the power that comes from it too. Every morning I would meditate in their sacred place and I would feel her energy passing by, towards the shower. As if a breeze of joy would touch my cheeks. I never opened my eyes but I’m sure it was her. (Ok, this sounds very mystical. It is true but it is also true she confirmed that she saw me meditating when she was on her way to the shower and when she came back).
Ilana’s biggest teaching to me was when she told me that her project was bigger than her. She has no choice than to grow spiritually to be able to carry that responsibility. It is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of surrendering to our calling and trusting that the Universe will provide is with what we need. It made me decide to go to Iraq, no matter what.
Ilana is a warrior who uses her heart as her weapon. Her heart works together with her voice. Her words seem to flow softly and gently from a deep, limitless source, every word reaching it’s destination in the hearts of others. After walking me to the bus stop she gave me a long warm hug and whispered her blessings in my ear. The only thing I remember is that I had tears in my eyes after 4 sentences and that I felt a river of goodness coming over me, so overwhelming that my concern became not to drown her and soak her shoulder.
Listen to her message:
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.