A friend of mine recently advised me to relate some of the good work Israelis are doing for peace in this conflicted area of the world. Yes, she's right. I've frequently spoken about many inhumane collective policies of the Israeli government and military. It is a breath of fresh air for me, too, to tell the stories of some Israeli peace-filled activists who believe in a vision that corresponds so much with most of us Christian Peacemakers. Oftentimes we CPTers acknowledge that our work would possibly not survive without our Israeli allies.
Every Saturday, I meet with members of Ta'ayush, an Israeli organization striving with the Palestinians to end the Israeli Occupation and to achieve full civil equality through daily nonviolent direct actions. On a recent Saturday, more than 12 members drove from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Hebron in the heat to stand with the Palestinians in a nonviolent resistance movement to open Shuhada Street, which until 2000 had been the most thriving Palestinian street in Hebron. All Palestinian stores are closed now on this street, and concrete walls block all the streets that had been thoroughfares from the Palestinian neighborhoods.
Because it is now a settler-only street, the economy of the neighborhood and the Old City has suffered drastically. These Israeli friends marched with the Palestinians. They brought banners. They were willing to risk arrest. They helped bargain with the military at one point in the march when soldiers had grabbed a young, frightened boy who had thrown a stone. Their voices and actions with the Palestinians freed this minor who could have been hauled off to jail for throwing a stone.
I often meet with my Machsom Watch friends. These are creative, retired Israeli women who stand at checkpoints to monitor soldiers' actions toward the Palestinians and who often enter into dialogue with the soldiers. They are moms and grandmothers and have a rich understanding of the situation of the young soldiers, but who also know the situation of Hebron and especially the militarily controlled Hebron very well.
One of the ladies, especially, has become a good friend, has been a teacher at Ben Gurion University and was an avid journalist of African affairs with Israel. She and her friends stand aghast at some Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and desperately want human rights for them.
I also have a great respect for Rabbis for Human Rights. These rabbis appeal for human rights for Palestinians who have been charged illegally by the military or who have been prevented from getting to their land or have had their land confiscated by settlers. They do very practical things, too, such as accompany Palestinians when they pick olives or when they are planting or harvesting crops.
Sister Paulette Schroeder of St. Francis in Tiffin is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, Palestine.
One day, I participated in picking olives with the rabbis and their friends in a controversial olive grove. The settlers from a nearby settlement showed up and tried to disrupt the work. The rabbis intervened and took the brunt of the settler harassment and physical violence. This time, the olives got picked and the settlers went home unhappy.
We in CPT also work with Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, Peace Now, Peace Profile, Bet'salem and Combatants for Peace. Their websites illustrate they are hard-working Israeli groups who have "taken the blows" from the military by standing in the frontline of the action.
How I likewise marveled in 2009 when I traveled to the Gazan borders with a convoy organized by 20-plus Israeli peace groups to deliver food to the desperate Gazans. The call for human rights for all, the inclusive love of all human beings - these are traits deep in the hearts of all humanity.
Likewise, there are Israeli authors who work tirelessly to open the world to ideas beyond the ideological or ultra conservative Zionist viewpoints. Revisionist historians such as Ilan Pappe and Avi Schlaim have gone to the historical archives and now show a world of different understanding that has not been put out by the popular media.
I end with a powerful quote written by Eitan Bronstein, the president of Zochrot, an Israeli organization which works to help all people "remember" the Nakba, the experience of the Palestinians in 530 of their villages in 1948 when they were forced from their villages or killed. Zochrot remembers these villages, posts signs in Jerusalem to help remember these villages which were destroyed.
Our humanity is bound up with your right to return. The day we expelled you from your land, you carried a part of it with you. Only when you can return we will be able to restore our humanity. It is hard for us to continue in this way, with damaged humanities. It doesn't mean that all our humanity has left us, but as you know, we were left mainly with vulgarity, condescension, militarism and fear. Yes, we have some beautiful things, but about real humanity occupiers cannot even dream of. Actually, to dream of it may be possible. About a life in cooperation with you here in our shared land. It is a beautiful and moving dream.