American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Have You Ever Been a Witness?
Christel Jorgenson is the Youth and Education Secretary for the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. She traveled to Israel and the West Bank in February, with a group of Quakers from the US and Kenya, all of whom work in service to their yearly meetings. The delegation was sponsored by Friends United Meeting.
For me, it began on the taxi ride home from the airport. "Where'd you fly in from?" the driver asked. "I've been to Jerusalem and to Ramallah, in the West Bank, Palestine." "Oh, those terrorists!" he responded, without a moment's hesitation.
That scene, and others like it, formed the first purpose in my testifying to the truth I had seen. I asked myself: "How can I counter the half-truths and sensationalism that Americans pick up from the media?" I could see how the story of slow violence (the house destructions, humiliations, legal oppression, detention, manipulation) does not make the news; fast violence (bombing) does.
Yet, I have never felt that because of this I couldn't, or shouldn't, speak about what I heard and saw. Stories were entrusted to me and to our group, by people who don't feel their voices are heard. These include stories of Israelis who find the occupation painful, who are worried that the soul-searing violence and fear are undermining the moral foundation of their beloved people.
The way I have told the story has changed with the telling, however. At first, my stories dwelt on the deprivations, injustice, and violence endured by the Palestinians, which were usually news to my audience. Then I would find us mired in depression about the impossibility of peace, which seemed counter to my hopes. As Rabbi Michael Lerner says in Healing Israel/Palestine, the voices of the extremities of the conflict grow in popularity in direct proportion to despair on each side. Sustaining hope is part of the process of a nonviolent solution.
So my second question, in deciding what to say, became "How can I be an agent of hope and reconciliation?" This is not to downplay problems, but rather to remember it all: Buildings are being destroyed, but a botanical garden is being built. Unemployment is alarming, but there are bright children being equipped for constructive places in their society. The Israeli military is omnipresent, but there are "Refusniks" who decline service in the Occupied Territories. There is bitterness, but also warm hospitality and open-heartedness.
Another, deeper question for me is "What affirms the truth that all of us, the human family, are cut of the same cloth?" Some of the answer comes from showing the faces, hearing the stories. These are not demonic peoples, but people responding out of their histories and experiences and out of great fear. How can I convey this to people who are part of such a big, rich, powerful nation, who haven't had a war on domestic soil for well over a century? I go back to our history, though it's not the heroic image of the social studies books of my youth.
Many people in the US do not know about our own country's rejection of Jewish people fleeing Nazi persecution. Our self-glorified view of having saved Jews by defeating Hitler is the version of the story that the war machine would like to preserve. Many don't see the formation of the state of Israel as integral to our history. We can agree that the Jewish homeland idea is a just one, yet how would the American people have reacted if part of our own country, rather than someone else's, had been set aside for it?
I am living in the United States, a place that did not belong to my own ancestors. There were foreign powers which made land grants, giving away land that already had inhabitants. These inhabitants then became vilified, as not-to-be-trusted, violent and bloodthirsty, worthy of extinction if they did not leave voluntarily. My nation's heritage includes courage and resilience and inventiveness, as well as oppression, prejudice, and greed, themes that echo in the stories of the Middle East.
What can I expect of this witnessing? The world doesn't need more fear or guilt or despair. I feel the key is in touching our shared humanity. Going to a place of conflict showed me the human face of the conflict, making me care personally about people affected by Ôpolicies.' I really want Taleen to have a future in her homeland, for Nasser to have space to be a student, not a fighter. Above all, I feel deeply that if violence were a solution, Israel/Palestine would be a lot better off than it is. I want us to consider how dependent our government is on violence as a solution, and on financing other countries' violence.
Each time I tell about the trip,
people ask "What can we do?" For myself, I am an imperfect
activist, but I am trying to be involved in efforts towards reconciliation,
such as the Tikkun community (www.tikkun.org). I want to support
and encourage the institution that I'm connected with,
the Ramallah Friends School (www.palfriends.org). I think we can
all find positive movements toward peace and security, a way to
water the tiny roots of a peace that can spread even in the hard
soil of the Israel/Palestine conflict.