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Islander will blog from trip to Middle East

In Israel and Palestine, violently juxtaposed voices, cultures and ideals collide.

Islander Maria Cook is traveling to the region to simply listen.

On Sunday, Cook will join 20 people from the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom for a 12-day trip to hear the stories of residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and surrounding areas, with nonprofit agency Compassionate Listening Project.

The group, founded on Bainbridge in 1997 and now based in Suquamish, trains volunteers to listen to both Israelis and Palestinians. When trusting relationships have been formed, the group brings those members of the two groups together for dialogues, in an effort to promote understanding.

Cook, a natural healing and acupuncture specialist, is a member of Compassionate Listening’s board of directors and has participated in its weekly listening practice sessions with other group members.

This will be Cook’s first time traveling to the region.

“I’m not going expecting to change anyone’s mind or offer any solutions,” she said. “I expect to be moved by the depth of the human dilemma.”

For Leah Green, the founder and director of Compassionate Listening Project, the trip will be the 26th she has led to the Middle East.

Green said she reads Middle Eastern news sources daily, and makes note of people on both sides of the conflict who would be candidates to have their stories heard.

Throughout the years, members of her group have met with Jews and Arabs from all walks of life, including leaders who have since been assasinated. In the upcoming trip they will meet with several Israeli fathers, whose teenage children were killed in a suicide bombing aboard a bus.

Green readily acknowledges that in most cases trips leave more of a lasting impact on the volunteer listeners who encounter people who maintain a “richness of spirit” in a region torn by war.

“They go in with an image that they’ll help the people in a conflicted area,” said Green, who lives in Suquamish. “They come out feeling that they have gotten the gift from those people.”

In addition to training empathetic liaisons for the middle east, Compassionate Listening offers classes in countries around the world, teaching better listening and peacemaking skills.

“It’s something not generally included in school curriculum,” Green said.

Read Cook's blog at www.healingandmore.com. Compassionate Listening Project is online at www.compassionatelistening.org.

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