Friday, June 3, 2011

From Interfaith Peacebuilders

Report Four: Like No Other Place -- Nonviolence and Resistance
Reports from IFPB's 36th Delegation

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports.
Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports. As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals. Trip reports to not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations. We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.

Nonviolence in Bethlehem
The first day we went to Bethlehem we visited the Holy Land Trust, a group in Bethlehem dedicated to the practice and implementation of non-violent civil disobedience. The speaker from this group, Sami Awad, was one of my favorite speakers of the trip so far for many reasons:
1. He shared his personal family story more than any other speaker.
2. His narrative really illustrated so many parts of the Palestinian experience from 1948 to the present day.
3. His unyielding commitment to and faith in non-violence, and his calm, compassionate, patient, clear headed approach was utterly mind-blowing to me.
Sami's grandparents and parents lived in Jerusalem in the time of Israel’s creation, in a town like many towns in Palestine, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived together as neighbors in peace. During the 1948 war however, Sami's grandfather was killed by the Jewish militia, shot by a sniper as he was trying to put a white flag over his house. The military then forced the Arabs in the neighborhood to leave despite the fact that their Jewish neighbors fought against this racial expulsion.
Despite the fact that the militias had killed her husband, Sami's grandmother was a steadfast believer in non-violence and taught her kids that they should love and never retaliate against their enemies, even the one that killed their father. After the family fled, Sami's grandmother had to send her children out to various orphanages. One of Sami's uncles actually lived in an orphanage on a hill overlooking his old house that he could never return to.
Sami's father was adopted and brought to the United States, returning in the 1970s to get married to a woman in Gaza. The couple settled in Bethlehem where Sami grew up learning more about non-violent resistance from his uncle, Mubarak Awad, who some consider the Gandhi of the Palestinians. As the first intifada began, his community organized weekly creative forms of non-violent civil disobedience acts. One that stuck out to me was during the daylight savings the town didn’t change the hour like the Israelis in order to “free” an hour of their time. The idea behind this was for the Palestinians to run on their own “Palestinian time,” a way to metaphorically resist the logistical control that Israelis had on their life. Israeli soldiers caught on to this, started asking people what the time was, and would beat up and arrest people that refused to change it back. At the end of the first intifada, Mubarak Awad was arrested and deported, despite efforts by an Israeli Jewish Professor going on a hunger strike to convince the government to let him stay.
After his uncle’s deportation, Sami wanted to step up in leadership of the nonviolent resistance movement but was sent to the US by his father until things calmed down. In the US Sami studied Peace Studies and returned in 1996—threeyears after the Oslo Peace Accords. He pointed out to us that during the peace process Palestinian life became more restricted than ever and the settlement expansion grew heavily so it was seen as a failure in the eyes of most Palestinians. In 1998, Sami helped establish the Holy Land Trust, which aimed to strengthen the community and to figure out how to resolve challenges facing it. As the Second Intifada started, the group continued to educate the community in ways to promote non-violent resistance.
The last part of Sami’s story was amazingly touching. I’m not sure what year, but he joined a Peacemakers Circle International delegation, in which a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian go to visit Auschwitz together. The experience shocked and changed him in many ways, but there were two things that influenced him the most. First, the three delegates actually asked permission to spend the night in one of the bunkers. Sami described how though he had plenty of blankets, the bunkers were still bone-chilling cold, and he couldn’t imagine how the people who had nothing in these camps survived.
The second thing that affected him was that he overheard Israeli tour leaders talking to Israeli kids about the camp. Time after time, Sami told us, he would hear the guides telling the kids that what they experienced here at the camp was why it was so important that they fight for Israel, and that the Arabs would do the same thing to them as the Germans if they could. At this point, Sami told us, he gained more understanding and compassion for Jewish people than ever. Walking up to a soldier now, he could understand their narrative and their fear. He believes that an imperative part of the struggle against the occupation is to fight for the human rights of Israelis, to liberate both the oppressor and oppressed from oppression. He also believes that the international community “hasn’t given the proper respect to the true Jewish pain of the Holocaust,” and instead has given them complete political power and billions in guilt money. Any true peace process, according to Sami, must be active in the healing process of the pain of both the Jewish and Palestinian people. I’m not sure I could ever reach this kind of spiritual maturity, to have experienced so much violence, hate, and oppression and come out of it with such a positive and humanistic mindset. I’ve met many activists here like Sami and it is immensely inspiring…
--Kim Nesta