Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Response to the Bombings of Gaza

As you can probably imagine, the sentiment among Palestinians in the last days, is very emotional. People are in mourning, people are angry, people want to respond. What happened in Gaza was a massacre, the images of killed babies and children is running on television all day long. As I came into Hebron yesterday, many youth were throwing rocks, chanting, and burning tires in response to the massacres. Roads were blocked with stones and tire fires raged and youth paraded with Palestinian flags. The Israeli military was responding with live ammo, concussion grenades, and teargas. As I came into the Old City of Hebron, a kind gentlemen showed me an alleyway towards my house, which would avoid all the teargas. I was able to avoid much of the teargas but my eyes were still stinging from the lingering teargas in the air.

Leaving Hebron today, the scene was very similar. One youth grabbed my arm and pulled me into an alleyway. Just as we rounded the corner, a sound grenade went out, scaring the hell out of me. I thanked him for this gesture, and he proceeded to ask where I was from, I said, "Ameerka." Instantly I could tell that this wasn't a popular answer at the present moment. He asked me if I had said seen the pictures of babies killed in Gaza. He said that America is responsible for those dead babies. He told me that America needs to be destroyed. He demanded to know if his statements were true or false. "Haada mazbuut," this is true, I said. He told all his friends around him that I was "Amreeki," which garnered many grunts of disapproval. Another sound grenade went off nearby and I figured it was my time to leave.

As I walked away from this situation, I became immediately upset, with the United States' unconditional support of Israel, especially their recent claims that the conflict needed to end, with Hamas ending their rocket-fire into Israel. Yes partially true, but you aren't going to say anything about the 350 Palestinians that Israel has killed by bombing one of the most densely populated places on earth? After my emotive thoughts, I wondered why these youth had such a negative reaction to me. I realized that I am the closest to an American representative that these youths have seen since the bombing of Gaza. I don't think they viewed me as personally responsible, but I am seen as closer to the source, closer to the money flowing from the U.S. to buy Israeli F-16s used in the bombings, closer to the decision-makers giving Israel planes the green light.

And about America needing to die. I don't think he was saying that all Americans need to die. The sense I get from people, is that America as we know it, needs to die. The America that has funded an apartheid regime like the State of Israel, and provides the financial and military resources to occupy the Palestinian people for 60 years, that America needs to be destroyed. If that's that what this young man was saying, "mazbuut," that is correct.

As I boarded the bus to Bethlehem, where I change buses to go to Jerusalem, I got into another conversation with 3 men. One man on the bus looked remarkably like Yasser Arafat, and other men in the bus were giving this man a hard time and trying to get him to do an impersonation. Incidentally, he already had a impersonation of Yasser Arafat saved on his phone, brilliant. I got into the conversation when they asked me if I was a good impersonation, I thought it was. They then asked me where I was from. When I said America, they again asked about Gaza, if I had seen the pictures and the videos. They then asked what I was doing here. In my limited Arabic, I explained that I work near Yatta, in a village called Tuwani. I struggled to find the words to describe the work..."I live with Palestinians who have many problems with Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers. The foreigners with me, we have video cameras, and we try to help, and try to tell our country about what's happening." There was some conversation among the men as I think they attempted to put together the pieces of what I said, and what they think my work is. Then the 'Yasser Arafat look-alike' reached across the aisle to shake my hand. "You are welcome here in Palestine," he said to me, in the first English spoken in the conversation. The other men shook my hand and asked what my name was and where I was going. After I told them my travel plans, they insisted I come with them in their friend's car and they would drop me off in Jerusalem to catch the bus. Upon entering the car, the driver offered me food and tea, and told me I was welcome here.

These two encounters strike me as profound. The more I think about them, the less I think about them in terms of one being positive and one being negative. The second story really tells about the kindness, hospitality, generosity, and humor of these people. They refused to let me take the bus but instead went out of their way to give me a ride which meant I didn't have to stand in the rain. They also gave up food which had been made specifically for them, to feed a strange foreigner with long hair. So so generous.

The first story is more difficult, but I am starting to see it in this way...that I was an outlet. So often the only face of the oppressor that Palestinians see, is Israeli soldiers. Often settlers are distant and Israeli or American politicians are a world away. These youth wanted to speak to someone who is partially representative of the oppressor that has held their people down for 60 years. That's fair, I can't argue with that. If I was in any small way I target of that response, that's ok with me. It seemed a healthy release for these youth to be able to tell an American citizen, that the America that supports these bombings and these killings of their sisters and brothers, needs to shrivel up and die.


Life goes on in the West Bank, as it limps along in Gaza. Palestinians are angry, they want answers, and they want their voices to be heard. The trouble is that the international community has created an system where the voices of Palestinians in regard to this conflict, are so rarely heard. I pray that Palestinians take up a movement of nonviolent resistance. I fear that rockets and suicide bombers of an imminent third intifada will be used as justification for the bombings of Gaza and the continued occupation of the West Bank. La rèsistance nonviolente!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Day in Palestine


I awoke to the sound of light rain on the tin roof. Quite pleased after checking my watch and realizing I slept in much longer than usual, I stepped outside to find an unusual morning. Light rain was falling and fog had enveloped the valley in which At-Tuwani lies. The Palestinian town to the north was obscured by the fog, as were Ma’on and Havat Ma’on, an Israeli settlement and illegal Israeli outpost, respectively. The South Hebron Hills, the name that denotes the greater area of which At-Tuwani is a part, is usually marked by clear skies and clear visibility for miles. This Christmas morning, the scene was different as Ma’on and Havat Ma’on were seemingly disconnected from At-Tuwani due to the fog.

The residents of Ma’on and Havat Ma’on are significant perpetrators of the system of oppression that makes life difficult for Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. Ideologically-driven Israeli settlers inhabit these areas and often carry out acts of violence and terror against Palestinian farmers, shepherds, and schoolchildren.

As I stood in the fog and stared into the grayness which covered Ma’on and Havat Ma’on, I was struck with the significance of this image on Christmas morning. The Christmas morning fog obscured the locus of violence, oppression, and hatred in this area. Instead, all that was visible were signs of life: rain watered the parched land, children played with marbles, and villagers constructed a room that will display pictures of the nonviolent resistance in this area.

These images were especially significant on this Christmas morning because the incarnation of God, celebrated on Christmas, dealt a decisive blow to the powers of violence, oppression, and hatred. Nonetheless, these ugly powers haven’t been completely vanquished in our world; they still are manifested against people like these farmers, shepherds, and schoolchildren.

The Christmas rain continued to fall throughout the day, providing the possibility for life and for growth in this land. The incarnation of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, was a means of offering the possibility of life to a world dominated by violence, oppression, and hatred. May the Kingdom of God continue to break into these powers and systems of violence. May God’s Peace reign.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Come O Come Emmanuel

O Come O Come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appears.

As I sat in a church in Jerusalem listening the words of this beautiful Christmas song, I became immediately uncomfortable. Living in a place where immense injustice is perpetrated in the name of, and by, Israel, the hymns and Old Testament references with almighty and righteous Israel make me uneasy. I understand it's a gross misreading of Scripture to equate 'Israel' with the State of Israel, in fact, it's much more accurate to equate 'Israel' with the people of God. But nevertheless, the word Israel conjures up some negative feelings and emotions inside of me because of my experiences in Palestine/Israel. But, as the verses progressed and eventually came back to repeat the first verse, I was struck by the power, hope, and the significance of these words.

It's clear that "captive Israel" is a reference to the Roman occupation of the Israelites in 1st century Palestine. Palestine was probably full of Roman soldiers imposing curfews and checkpoints. I imagine this Roman occupation made the life of the people in Palestine very difficult, the Israelites wanted a way out.

The situation in Palestine today, 2000 years later is very similar. Palestine is still under military occupation, not Roman but Israeli. Land is confiscated, populations are segregated, curfews are imposed, walls are built, people are killed. The Israeli occupation has made the life of the people in Palestine very difficult, and Palestinians want a way out.

The words of this song ring true today, as they did 2000 years ago. The holy land of Palestine is still under occupation, but it's the Palestinians instead of the Israelites who are now held captive under occupation.

This Advent Season I pray that the captives of this occupation are ransomed, that the refugees who mourn in lonely exile will be allowed to return to their homes. I pray for the Son of God to appear, for the Kingdom of God to break through in its fullness.

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace.

One Country

An excerpt from Ali Abunimah's One Country, in which he calls for one country, a bi-national state made up of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. Abunimah finds the two-state solution not viable at this point, and makes good points as to why. I tend to increasingly agree with Abunimah as I spend more time in Palestine.

"One of the things that the violence-obsessed media coverage conceals is that nonviolence is and has always been integral to the Palestinian resistance. The word for it in Arabic is sumud - steadfastness. When Israeli walls and roadblocks prevent people from moving, and yet children and old women, workers, students, mothers each day, every day climb hills and mountains to get to where they need to go, that is sumud. When Israeli occupation forces uproot trees and farmers replant them, that is sumud. When Israel uses every administrative and legalistic means to force Palestinian Jerusalemites to leave the city for good, but instead they stay, even if it means being painfully separated from family members in the West Bank, that is sumud. Millions of Palestinians practice nonviolence everyday, yet this is ignored by the media and by politicians and is totally invisible to the vast majority of Israelis."

The excerpt really speaks to the situation in Palestine, specifically the West Bank. It certainly speaks to my time spent in At-Tuwani. Sumud is immensely pervasive in Tuwani, as villagers resist the occupation each and everyday.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From North America to the Middle East: Honest People Trying to Make a Living

The South Hebron Hills often remind me of the San Diego/Tijuana region.

I recently visited Jinba, just 1/2 km north of the Green Line (the border between Israel and the West Bank). Contrary to much of the West Bank, the separation wall is not constructed in this area. The reason that construction of the wall hasn't been completed in this area is most likely because of a string of settlements which lies 5km north of the Green Line which would be included in the West Bank, not Israel, if the proposed wall route is completed.

From Jinba you can see the rolling hills of the desert trail off to the south, beautifully unhampered by 30 foot high concrete walls. Yet, the scene isn't always so beautiful in Jinba and the South Hebron Hills. Due to the open land in the area, the Israeli army acts as the wall.

The village of Jinba is a major conduit for Palestinians trying to travel into Israel to find work. Unemployment rates are high in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and work is much easier to find in Israel. Therefore, many Palestinians cross to work for the week and return home for the weekend. To curb these 'illegal workers' from entering into Israel, the Israeli army heavily patrols the area. We often get reports that the army damages cars (smashing windows, puncturing tires, removing license plates), confiscates IDs, and physically assaults people who are caught crossing the border illegally. Something that hasn't got any press that I am aware of is the Israeli paramilitary groups that patrol the area. These paramilitary groups don't have the same accountability as IDF soldiers especially given that they are in unmarked cars and don't wear uniforms. From the reports we have received, it appears the mission of these groups is to use physical violence against Palestinians crossing into Israel as a deterrent to these 'illegal' crossings.

After visiting Jinba, I couldn't help but think of the US-Mexico border and the countless workers that try to cross into the United States with the hope of some financial security. The U.S. economy is very dependent on workers from Mexico, but treats those crossing very harshly. Work is more abundant in the United States, and it pays much better than Mexico. Replace Mexico with Palestine, replace the United States with Israel. Very similar situation.

Shortly after we had arrived in Jinba, we heard shouts that the army was in the village. We ran outside to see that the army had stopped a vehicle as was removing the license plates. The villagers told us that often the army is much more violent and forceful with people, but maybe because internationals and cameras were present, only the plates were removed.

As we returned to Tuwani, several army vehicles were seen patrolling the area. Each army vehicle swooped down the hillsides towards the vehicle we were traveling in, each time taking a good look at the vehicle and passengers and speeding off when cameras were seen. Also along the journey, every time two Palestinian vehicles passed each other, they stopped to ask one another whether they had seen the army, and if so, where. It's an area where avoiding the army is crucial, because of the potential consequences of running into the army in this sensitive area.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Question of Palestine.

UN Headquarters , New York, 24 November 2008
President of UN General Assembly

Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to open this plenary session in which we take up the Question of Palestine. This morning, with heavy heart, we observed the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I joined the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, H.E. Ambassador Paul Badji, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to voice our ongoing concern for the terrible situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and express our solidarity with this long-suffering People

We heard the comprehensive report of the Chairman on the current situation of Palestinians living under occupation. As well, the Secretary-General summarized the complex initiatives that are being undertaken by the international community to move forward peace talks and the establishment of the Palestinian state.

I urged the international community to raise its voice against the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, a policy which we cannot tolerate. We demand an end to this massive abuse of human rights and call on Israel, the occupying Power, to allow humanitarian and other supplies to enter the Gaza Strip without delay.

I spoke this morning about apartheid and how Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories appear so similar to the apartheid of an earlier era, a continent away.

I believe it is very important that we in the United Nations use this term. We must not be afraid to call something what it is. It is the United Nations, after all, that passed the International Convention against the Crime of Apartheid, making clear to all the world that such practices of official discrimination must be outlawed wherever they occur.

We heard today from a representative of South African civil society. We know that all around the world, civil society organizations are working to defend Palestinian rights, and are trying to protect the Palestinian population that we, the United Nations, are failing to protect.

More than twenty years ago we in the United Nations took the lead from civil society when we agreed that sanctions were required to provide a non-violent means of pressuring South Africa to end its violations.

Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its violations.

I have attended a great many meetings on the rights of the Palestinian People. I am amazed at how people continue to insist on patience while our Brothers and Sisters are being crucified.

Patience is a virtue in which I believe. But there is nothing virtuous about being patient with the suffering of others.

We must endeavour, with all our heart, to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian People.

I have great love for the Jewish People and this has been true all my life. I have never hesitated to condemn the crimes of the holocaust or any of the many abuses committed against our Jewish Brothers and Sisters.

However, their suffering does not give anyone the right to abuse others, especially those who historically have such deep and exemplary relations with the Jewish People.

Having said this, I would like to remind our Israeli Brothers and Sisters that even though they have the protective shield of the United States in the Security Council, no amount of arm twisting and intimidation will change the Security Council resolution 181, adopted 61 years ago, calling for the creation of two states.

Shamefully, there is no Palestinian state to celebrate today and the prospects are as distant as ever. All explanations notwithstanding, this central fact makes a mockery of the United Nations and gravely hurt its image and prestige. How can we continue like this?

I call upon our dear Brothers and Sisters at the decision-making level in our Host Country to end the policy that only retards justice in the Middle East.

The international community should spare no effort in assisting both Israelis and Palestinians to reach a solution that will fulfill the goal of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. The United Nations has an ongoing responsibility to resolve the question of Palestine in all its aspects and in accordance with international law. Let us be sure that this not become a permanent responsibility.

The enmity between our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters is a bitter and self-perpetuating tragedy. We must find new ways to defuse this enmity, to enable both peoples to reassert their historic bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.

I urge the international community to defuse the political deadlock that cynically perpetuates this hatred, isolation and abuse. Our solidarity must prompt concrete action to realize those elusive rights that most of us can take for granted.

Thank you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Um al Kher Demolition

The Israel military rolled in with bulldozers and demolished homes in a Palestinian village named Um al Kher. It's incomprehensible and completely inexplicable.

I won't write extensively about the demolition because there are news agencies that covered it and CPT released an
urgent action. I wanted to post a picture, because I think it says everything. The picture shows a woman and young child sitting on the rubble of their demolished home. In the background are the newly built homes of the illegal Israeli settlement that sits adjacent to Um al Kher. The settlement homes are large, protected from the weather, and vacant.

I cannot convey the injustice of this image.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Shepherd Snapshot

K., from the village of A-Tuba, had kept his flock out an unusually long time this morning. The sheep and goats were probably happier than usual because an inch of grass has grown in some places because of the recent rain. Although, the grass is just short enough that the sheep have a tough time eating it. It reminds me of eating a pomegranate. It takes so damn long to get those little kernels out, and after you eventually get them all out and eat them, it doesn't even put a dent in your hunger. You probably lose calories eating a pomegranate.

So after some hours of grazing, some of the goats found shade under rocks and some of the sheep found a cozy spot in the dirt to lie down. K. tied up his donkey to a fence post and took some items out of the bag that hung off the donkey, a sort of makeshift saddlebag.

K. scoured the area for dried brush. Once he had a sufficient amount he searched for stones. Assembling the three stones in a triangle, he placed the brush in the center of the triangle. Out of K.'s sack next came the corner piece to this puzzle, the tea kettle. The rest of the process was pretty straight forward. Cistern water in a canteen was poured into the kettle, along with a healthy Palestinian amount of sugar, and finally the tea leaves. K. lit the brush and manicured it to keep the flame under the blackened kettle. Once the tea was ready, K. called Sean and I over. We had been accompanying him and his flock this morning and he graciously insisted on sharing his lunch with us.

We feasted on hard-boiled eggs, freshly picked olives from K.'s recent harvest, fresh bread, dried goat cheese, with tea to wash it down. Throughout the meal, K. urged, "kull," meaning, "eat!" This is very common in Palestinian homes. Hosts will insist that you eat, eat, eat, until you assure them several times that you are full. Offering a humdulilah (praise be to God) will usually terminate the playful negotiation.

K. packed up lunch and told us he had kept his flock out so long because he was going to milk them today. I gathered that the strategy was to graze them a long time, feed them well when they get home, let them rest, and then milk them. I can't make sense of this, but I fully trust K. to get the best out of his flock.

This is what shepherding in the South Hebron Hills is supposed to be, it at least seemed closer to normal than is often the case. K. wasn't harassed by settlers or chased off the land by Israeli soldiers. In fact, as we sat to eat lunch in the cooling November air, it seems that we momentarily forgot about the outpost and the settlement behind us. Instead we enjoyed our surroundings, the food, and the company of one another.

Praise be to God.

Wall Art - Ayda Refugee Camp

Ayda Refugee Camp lies on the border of Bethlehem, and is a camp for Palestinians who were displaced from their lands in 1948. Ayda Refugee Camp is also bordered by the Separation Wall (also referred to as the Apartheid Wall).
The dwellings in the camp are crammed together and don't seem to be built in any consistent manner or form. People are left to build what they can. Trash litters the camp, especially the area near the wall.
Despite, the trash, the wall is one of the most captivating parts of the camp. From a high rooftop in the camp, you can see the illegal Israeli settlement which lies on the other side of the wall (yet still within the West Bank). There is a stark contrast between the modern, clean, and roomy homes of the settlement and the shantytown that is Ayda Refugee Camp.
One of the forms of resistance in this camp, is art (read: grafitti). The ugly wall boxes these people in and separates them from lands to which they should have access. Nevertheless, much of the wall has been transformed in a wall of resistance. It has become a place to voice your anger, concern, frustration, or your dreams of a revolution. Some people paint pictures, some write phrases, but all seem to challenge the status quo. All the art points at the injustice that this wall is and that this occupation is. Here is a sampling of the art of Ayda Refugee Camp. Enjoy.

This one really got my thinking, when people ask me whether I support the one-state or the two-state solution, as a Christian I should say, "I support the no-state solution. God's kingdom isn't divided up by people groups, walls, or nation-states. I support coexistence. I support love."

Both of these show the image of the key. Many Palestinian families were told they needed nothing more then their house keys because they would return in a matter of days. The key also represents the belief that one day, Palestinians will return to their homes and villages.

And finally...turning this occupation upside down.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Hebron Circus Comes to Town

Being terribly sick for most of the last week, I was eager to get out into Hebron and do something before I head back to At-Tuwani tomorrow. I had heard about a Breaking the Silence tour of Hebron this morning and decided to participate. Breaking the Silence is a group of veteran Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied Territories, largely during the second intifada, who give their testimonies and their stories of service in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories) to a wider audience. Breaking the Silence voices the stories of these soldiers to force Israeli society to address the reality that Israel has created in the OPT.

Part of the continual work of Breaking the Silence is giving tours of Hebron, a large city in the southern West Bank, to both Israelis and internationals. As you may be able to predict, Breaking the Silence has had a difficult time giving their tours in Hebron. Many of their scheduled tours have been stopped before they started because the army has declared the route of the tour a 'closed military zone' to restrict movement in the area. Settler violence has also provided difficulties for these tours. Recently, after appeals and legal proceedings, the Israeli high court has ruled that Breaking the Silence must be allowed to give tours of the city of Hebron.

The tour was set to begin in Tel Rumeida, an area just above the Old City of Hebron that has been taken over by settlers, with the exception of two resilient Palestinian families remaining. When the tour bus of tour-takers arrived with their police escort, we proceeded into Tel Rumeida with little trouble. I would estimate there were 50 people their for the tour and rougly the same number of soldiers/police (both were present and providing escort). We headed up the house is Haani, a Palestinian man who has faced years of harassment, property destruction (his olive grove has been totally destroyed 4 times), and physical attacks against himself and his family by the settlers of Tel Rumeida. Upon leaving Haani's house to continue into Hebron, we were met with a wall of 15-20 settlers.

Many of the young settler girls had whistles. Whistles, what the hell? Right, I was thinking the same thing. I will shed light on the whistles later. Yehuda, a ex-soldier who served in Hebron, who was leading the group turned to us and said, "stick as close to me as possible so we can stay in a tight group in case there are instructions you need to follow." So the crowd of people began to push forward, and at first it was just a mess of bodies and I couldn't distinguish anyone from the next person.

After moving a distance we stop and gather for Yehuda to give some background on the area. By this point I am realizing that our group is completely surrounded by police. The police have formed a circle around us and are creating separation between our group and the settlers.

By this point, I am able to recognize the settlers that are just outside the circle of police and are directing their angry shots and gestures in our direction. As I am able to distinguish our group from police and police from settlers, something splashes at my feet. It's an egg. I look up in time to see some settler youth smiling and throwing eggs at our group. The whistling becomes more and more prevalent and overwhelming. There is also a settler with a megaphone, shouting in Hebrew. The whistling, shouts, and megaphones are obnoxious and make it difficult to hear Yehuda, but we sure aren't stopping the tour. About this time, the leader of the settlers lays himself on the ground in front our group to try to impede the progress of the tour. He is yelling and screaming as he lays on the ground surrounded by police (in order that we may walk by without him kicking us, which he was attempting to do). I asked the women next to me who knew Hebrew what he was saying. She said he was calling out, "YOU ARE FACIST NAZIS WITH THE BLOOD OF JEWISH BABIES ON YOUR HANDS!! HOW MUCH MORE BLOOD? HOW MUCH MORE BLOOD DO YOU NEED? YOU'RE ALL NAZIS!"

The tour proceeded onto Shohada St, just below the settlements, which was a thriving thoroughfare and marketplace for Palestinians until the second intifada (around 2000) when the road was closed to all Palestinians. Now the road is used solely by settlers who are headed to the synagogue. All entrances from the Old City to Shohada St. are blocked by large concrete blocks and spiral barbwire fence. As we proceeded, we were told stories about the mental training that soldiers go through when they arrive for service in the OPT. The leader of the settlers in Hebron comes to talk with the soldiers about their role to protect the Jewish residents, and how Arabs fit into the picture (or don't). For the duration of our two-hour tour, the settlers followed us down roads that are usually their own, and are closed to Palestinians. They continued with their whistles and their megaphone. The megaphone is illegal to use on the streets without the permit, but that wasn't so much recognized. Many of the settlers who tried to disrupt the tour were young adults, 10-16. These had no respect for the police and often yelled at and pushed the police whenever they were thwarted from pushing their way into our group.
*Notice the whistle of the young settler. Also, notice the earplugs of the policeman. Hilarious.

Several things struck me during the tour. First, where the hell am I? This is seriously a circus. Whistles and megaphones? We have the blood of jewish babies on our hands and we're facist nazis? This is a big joke. I can't believe that someone just walking us through this area and telling us the history elicits this response from the settlers. Second, I thought about this kind of behavior in the U.S. The police probably wouldn't allow these people to continue to move along with our group. Also, pushing a police officer would get you handcuffed quick. Third, I think about these kids. What are they learning? So impressionable at this age, and they are learning to hate people. The older men with them are shouting racist slurs against all Arabs. People walking through their neighborhood are called facist nazi pigs. Oh my heart breaks for the young ones. Third, and most important, I think about our tour contrasted with the times when settlers come cruising through the Old City of Hebron. When settlers decide they want to come through the Old City, life stops for Palestinians. Soldiers declare the entire area a closed military zone: shops close, Palestinians are forced to leave the streets, windows and doors and forced closed, and soldiers walk with guns drawn shouting and threatening anyone in the streets.

Settlers simply rule the land. One of my teammates was told by a soldier recently, "if I ever even touched a settler, I would be DONE as a soldier. I would never be promoted again. I would leave the army the same rank that I am now." The settlers are able to say and do anything they want, and the policy of law enforcement is to let it happen.

Similar to our tour, when it comes to Palestinians and settlers, the policy is separation. More than that, the policy is to push Palestinians back and remove them from the situation, so that there is no contact. So if there is violence at the vegetable market? Bye bye Palestinian vegetable market, hello settler side street. A settler massacred 29 Palestinians who were praying at the main mosque in Hebron years aho, so half of the mosque was converted to a synagogue because apparently the attack on Palestinians happened because the settlers didn't have a place to worship. In addition, Shohada St. was closed to provide settlers a clear path to the synagogue.

As our tour draws to and end we reach the Ibrahimi Mosque, that holds the tombs of Abraham and Sarah. Near the mosque, a gate is placed in the street, Palestinians on the left, settlers on the right. Palestinians proceed through metal detectors and frisking before praying, settlers walk freely into the synangogue. This is a sick sick circus with whistles, megaphones, and racial slurs. This is apartheid. Maybe I should change the title of my blog, "The Hebron Apartheid Circus Rules the Town."

Monday, October 20, 2008

John Howard Yoder on God's People and Nationalism

I have been reading from Original Revolution by John Howard Yoder, a series of essays on Christian Pacifism. This excerpt struck me as so relevant for the Israel/Palestine conflict. Especially for those who make claims (often called Christian and Jewish Zionists) based on the Hebrew Scriptures, that Jews, and no other people groups, should live in the Holy Land. This piece by Yoder helps me to understand how "God's people" becomes a more inclusive term, even in the progression of the Hebrew Scriptures.

"From the ancient Hebrews through the later prophets up to Jesus there was real historical movement, real 'progress'; but the focus of this progress was not a changing of ethical codes but rather in an increasingly precise definition of the nature of peoplehood. The identification of the people of Israel with the state of Israel was progressively loosened by all the events and prophecies of the Old Testament. It was loosened in a positive way by the development of an increasing vision for the concern of Yahweh for all peoples and the promise of a time when all people would come to Jerusalem to learn the law; it was loosened as well in a negative direction by the development of a concept of the faithful remnant, no longer assuming that Israel as a geographical and ethnic body would be usable for Jahweh's purposes. These two changes in turn altered the relevance of the prohibition of killing. Once all people are seen as potential partakers of the covenant, then the outsider can no longer be perceived as less than human or as an object for sacrificing. Once one's own national existence is no longer seen as a guarantee of Jahweh's favor, then to save this national existence by a holy war is no longer a purpose for which miracles would be expected. Thus the dismantling of the applicability of the concept of the holy war takes place not by the promulgation of a new ethical demand but by a restructuring of the Israelite perception of community under God."

Quotations from 21st Century Palestinian Wise Men

The first quote comes from a serveece (big taxi) driver in Yatta. He assumed I was from Tuwani because foreigners in Yatta are very rare unless they are from Tuwani. Our conversation continued.

"Min ween inte?" - Where are you from?
"Ana min Ameerka." - I am from America.
"Ah, Ameerka! In Americans, the people, good. But in Americans, the politics, very bad."

Pretty profound. It got me thinking...the U.S. definitely sees Israeli politics as good and Israeli people as good. If only the U.S. would see Israeli politics as bad. The U.S. sees Palestinian people as bad, and their politics as bad. If only the U.S. would see Palestinian people as good.


My second encounter with a wise man was in the CPT apartment in Hebron. We began to speak about the upcoming elections. Palestinians are generally very well-informed about US politics and particularly the upcoming elections. Most Palestinians would like to see Obama elected, despite not holding much hope for him changing anything for Palestinians. At one point in the conversation the United Nations was mentioned. The second wise man quickly retorted, "when talking of the plight of the Palestinian people, there is no United Nations, there is only United States."

I raised my eyebrows and could only muster a descending, "yeah."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Self Preservation

A consistent theme has popped up in two movies I have seen recently. The first film was The Counterfeiters, a German film about Jews in concentration camps forced to produce counterfeit money for use by the Nazis. The second film, Cassandra's Dream, follows two brothers down a dark path of justifying their own violence in order to save their own hides.

The theme that I saw most vividly in these films was the theme of self preservation. In The Counterfeiters, one man being forced to work as a counterfeiter was sabotaging the work because he couldn't contribute to the success of the Nazi regime. His wife had been killed in a concentration camp and he simply couldn't assist in making fake money so the Nazis could sustain their tyranny and kill more Jews. In this film, another character wanted to live, and creating fake money in order to preserve his life was the decision he had made.

The need to survive and to preserve oneself isn't destructive or evil in itself, but what was evident in both films was the danger of self preservation in excess. Self preservation in excess leads to a mentality of, my life at all costs. In Woody Allen's film, one of the characters exemplifies this when he becomes willing to kill his own brother to preserve his own life.

Much violence perpetrated in the world is justified because our "own lives" are to be protected, even if that means killing another human being. As Christians, our view of self-preservation is dramatically different than that of the world's. We are called to lay down our lives and take up our cross. Taking up our cross isn't crazy and it's not suicide, because Christ conquered death on a cross, death isn't the last word.

Self preservation was clearly offered to Jesus in the desert. The temptations were offers for Jesus to save himself, and to assume a position of security, wealth, and power. The road towards self preservation was avoided by Christ in the denial of the temptations and further when Christ condemned Peter for attacking his arresting Roman officer.

Self preservation in excess ends up justifying violence. It also assigns certain lives more value and worth than others. Christ shattered this need for preservation in the resurrection. Fear of our own death doesn't hold us. As John Howard Yoder says well, "personal survival is for the Christian not an end in itself."

Fear and Clouds of Dust

Alena* turned to us and asked, "Will you tell the soldiers to get out and walk with us? I am scared." As my teammate and I try to flag down the jeep to make a special request, the jeep accelerated kicking up rocks and dust. I stood there in the dust cloud and thought to myself, if only it were that easy, if only Alena's request mattered.

The Israeli army escorts the children of A-Tuba and Magayer Al-Abeed to school in At-Tuwani each morning, per the order of the Knesset, the high court in Israel. The order states that the soldiers will walk with the children. The huge majority of the time the soldiers do not walk with the children. More often than walking with the children, the jeep revs the engine to make the kids hurry up.

When Alena asked us to relay her message, I could hear the fear in her voice and I could see it in her face. This isn't routine for her. Walking by the settlement brings up some powerful feelings and emotions for her. This walk illicits enough fear, that she finds some degree of solace in the Israeli military; a foreign military force that occupies her family's land, harasses her brothers as they graze the sheep, and often sides with the very Israeli settlers who have attacked her on the way to school.

The fear of facing sticks, stones, fists, spit, and shouting on your way to school is incomprehensible and unacceptable. I don't think the military escort is a solution to this problem, in fact, it's a poor poor band-aid. But nonetheless, I find it hard to believe that a heartfelt request for a sense of safety from a small child, is met with a cloud of dust.

*Names have been changed

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Phirst Palestine Post

You like that forced alliteration? I knew you would. (You can tell I am severely sleep deprived, based on the fact that I even thought of that alliteration.)

So I am posting from Palestine. I arrived yesterday in Israel yesterday and successfully passed through security. I spent the night in Jerusalem at the Hebron Youth Hostel, a quality place for 30 shekels (8 bucks). I was dead tired around 8pm, from having only briefly napped uncomfortably on a plane in the last 30 hours, so I headed to bed, only to wake up at 3am. So I laid in bed and listened to music for a few hours.

I attended the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem this morning, a Lutheran church with an English speaking congregation. It's always a neat place to go because there are a lot of North Americans working in Israel and the West Bank for worthy causes that attend that church. Mennonite Central Committee, Ecumenical Accompaniment Palestine Project, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Sabeel, and so on, were all represented this morning at church.

After a schwerma (lamb, pickles, arabic salad and other goodies in a pita) we got on a bus to Hebron. Later this afternoon, I am headed down to At-Tuwani, my new home. I'll be happy to arrive because it means I will be done traveling for a little while.

I was sorry that the Cubs got swept. My condolences go out to all Cubs fans. Nate, I hope you can have some healthy grieving moments. Oh and, Go Chargers.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Support Letter

Here is my Support Letter for my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Included are ways to participate with me in this peacemaking work.

Some highlights are:
  • Project updates sent out via email by CPT. The team name will be in the subject line, my team is called the At-Tuwani team.
  • Read the letter for information on financial donations. You can also follow this link to learn more.
Thanks for reading and coming alongside me in spirit, to Palestine.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Statement of Conviction

Here are my beliefs. Beliefs about God, peacemaking, Israel/Palestine, and the intersection of those three things. These are my convictions about serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the village of At-Tuwani in the West Bank. I am welcome to questions, comments, and dialogue.

Oh, one more thing, click on the far top-right button of the document window to see the document full screen.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dangerous Assumptions

Just war theory has become a very malleable and subjective theory. Those desiring to provide a justification for a certain war often find any reason that provides "legitimate" justification for the use of lethal force. The problem is that the just war criteria is exactly that, a set of established criteria. Seven points need to be satisfied to establish the right to go to war. Often when Christians attempt to cite just war theory, these seven points are not met, or even acknowledged.

Even more, certain assumptions are usually made by proponents of this personal "just war" theory. Walter Wink, using the work of John Howard Yoder, identifies these assumptions. Wink identifies "that one's own family, friends, and compatriots are more to be loved, or are more beloved of God, than one's enemies. It assumes that the life of the attacker is worth less than that of the attacked. It assumes that responsibility for preventing evil is an expression of divine love even if it involves the death of the aggressor. And it assumes that letting evil happen is as blameworthy as committing it. It also assumes that tyranny is worse than war; that national sovereignty is essential for national identity and integrity; that the intention of liberating one's people from despotic rule authorizes the use of unloving methods; and that God is so interested in our nation and its political and economic system that everything must be risked to preseve it."

A starting point for us may be to actually use this criteria for just war. I am certainly willing to concede that Christian ethicists and theologians abiding by this criteria will avoid some unnecessary wars. Yet, Walter Wink pushes us further. Wink proposes that "we terminate all talk of just wars...'just war' sounds too much like 'war is justifiable'...Christians can no more speak of just war than of just rape, or just child abuse, or just massacres."

These suggestions are difficult, but we have seen in our history how very slippery the slope becomes when wars begin to be justified.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Life (version 2.0)

I am committed to working with Christian Peacemaker Teams for the next 3 years. I am headed to the South Hebron Hills in Palestine (also known as the West Bank or the Occupied Palestinian Territories). The village where I will be living is called At-Tuwani.

The work of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine involves accompanying shepherds, farmers, and schoolchildren as they face the threat of violence while going about their daily lives. We also call the oppressors and the armed actors to accountability.

Of course there are more specifics and more things I don't know about the work yet, but that is the skeleton.

I'll be roughing it in the village, no running water, 5 people sleeping in a room, limited electricity...but I am eager to do this work. I am eager to practically engage the question:
What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?"

p.s. Shortly I will be posting two things: [1] A statement of conviction (why I am called to do this work) and [2] A support letter. So be on the lookout for those.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Civil Disobedience Matters

(You should read the previous post to understand the context of this post)

As I was being handcuffed by an undercover officer from the Chicago Police Department, he looked at me with disdain and posited, "Why are you making us arrest you? You made your point, the media saw it, the congressman will hear about it. What's the point of getting arrested?"

I had thought about this question before I made the decision to risk arrest. It seemed a logical question to think through given that I was going to remain in the office until the congressman signed the pledge. Nevertheless, the officer's question got me thinking even more about the importance of arrest in civil disobedience.

I believe unequivocally that protesting war and violence is of utmost importance, everything from reducing (or eliminating) your use of gasoline, writing letters to politicians, engaging in nonviolent work, etc. These forms of protest are good, but the rubber begins to meet the road when talk about demonstrating and risking arrest come into play.

There was a crucial decision to make when the CPD officer (who happened to be drinking a slurpee while he handcuffed me and was later smoking a cigar while he processed me at the jail) stated that everyone who didn't want to be arrested should leave. If we were to leave at this warning, and thus didn't force the officer to remove us by force, our message would be compromised.

Protesting violence and war up to the point of arrest and then acquiescing to the state (police in this case) legitimates the violence used by the state. It legitimates the effectiveness of the state to use coercive violence to silence citizens. If we were to get up from the ground at that point we would be giving credence to the state's ability to silence our voice with the threat of violence and arrest.(1) On the contrary, protesting war and violence nonviolently and forcing the state to use violence to attempt to silence that voice is truly a witness to the power of nonviolence. Through forcing the state to silence nonviolent protest with violence, we are bringing shame to the state's only recourse to respond to protest -- violence.

Jesus Christ calls his disciples out of the world, our of the system of domination and redemptive violence that our world is built upon. In the same breath, we are called to speak truth to that system that oppresses and marginalizes people. We are called to speak truth to the reality that is war and to the way that violence demeans the image of God in people.

By speaking truth to the system of domination and violence by nonviolent action, we force the system to show its true colors. We force the system to attempt to silence our voices with violence. But those voices won't be silenced. Nonviolence wins. Love wins.

(1) Yeah this is a footnote on my blog--The other serious result of leaving the building before arrest is abandoning your representation of those who have died as a result of the war. Resurrecting yourself because of the threat of arrest does a pretty grave injustice to those you are trying to represent.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Public Witness and Arrest

Tuesday, July 22nd, we gathered at the office of Congressman Rahm Emanuel's to testify to the death and destruction that the Iraq war has caused. Emanuel, a democrat, has consistently voted to support funding of the war in Iraq.

Our public witness (also called a nonviolent action or demonstration) was planned around the theme of delivering to Rep. Emanuel what he has ordered through his votes. Through those votes he has ordered death and destruction. We brought that death to his office as 9 CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams)trainees served as bodies which symbolized the deaths of Americans, Iraqis, soldiers, and civilians. We also littered Emanuel's office with symbols of the destruction of Iraq: rubble, broken toys, smashed telephones, broken pieces of cars, shredded school books, etc. The purpose of the action was to urge Emanuel to sign a pledge stating that he would no longer vote to support funding of the Iraq war. As a part of the Occupation Project, started by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, we planned to occupy Rahm Emmanuel's office until he agreed to sign the pledge. The alternative option was to sign the invoice for the delivery that he ordered. We wanted to make the consequences of Emanuel's voting record less abstract, so we attempted to show him the death and destruction that results from the war. We wanted to show Congressman Emanuel that there is an alternative to war, the way of peace, the affirmation of life.

Once the office staff gathered that we planned to stay until Rep. Emanuel signed the pledge (which we were told Emanuel doesn't do as a principle, except his oath to office), the police we called to remove us from the office. Once approximately 10 policeman arrived, they gave us a final chance to leave the building before we were arrested. We were subsequently handcuffed and escorted to a police wagon. We were then taken to the 17th district Chicago Police Station on Pulaski and Lawrence. We spent a relatively short time in jail, from about 5:30 to 8:30. We were charged with criminal trespassing, which is a misdemeanor. The women who were imprisoned spent much more time in jail, 13 hours, and were subject to some fairly dehumanizing treatment.

The reason we did the action was to testify to the myth of war, and to the truth of peace. You can't condemn violence perpetrated by the other and then overcome that violence through violence of your own, that is the myth of redemptive violence. As Derek Webb sings, "Peace by way of war is like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution." We wanted to testify to the reality of war, for soldiers in Iraq and for the people of Iraq. Although the message about the reality of war is incredibly important, we also wanted to lace our message with the alternative, the redemptive and transformative way of peace.

Soon I will write about the connection between Christianity and civil disobedience, how I see nonviolent resistance to the state and the systems that oppress people as an integral part of Christianity.

Monday, July 07, 2008

NPR Interview

I was interviewed by NPR - These Days in San Diego regarding my recent trip to the West Bank. The interview was live on July 7th @ 10am. Follow this link to listen to the interview.

The interview is a really short highlight reel of life in the West Bank. It's like when ESPN shows highlights from a soccer game but doesn't even show all the goals in the game. Metaphor aside, it helps to begin to paint the picture of life in the West Bank.

Thanks for listening :)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hope: The Reordering of History

I think it’s appropriate to start off a series of posts about my time in Palestine and Israel with a quote. As I was flying over the Atlantic on Delta flight 776, I read something in Shane Claiborne’s new book, Jesus For President, which speaks profoundly to the situation in the West Bank.

“Too often we learn history through the lens of redemptive violence, memorizing dates of wars and battles. We’ve ordered history by the reigns of kings and presidents. But rarely do we remember how nonviolent movements have markers history and how the saints of the church have transformed societies and peoples. And we define news as acts of violence rather than the hidden acts of love that keep hope alive.”

It’s very easy to define the history of this land (the land that is now Israel and Palestine) by the dates of wars and global shifts in power. 1948, the year of Nakba (catastrophe) for Palestinians; yet that same year is the year of independence for the state of Israel. 1967, the Six Day War, when Israel gained more of the holy land including Jerusalem which is their holy city; yet that same here forced more and more Palestinian families from their homes and sent them scurrying as refugees. We can go on with ordering history by the prime ministers that have led Israel and what those prime ministers have meant for Israel.

As important as these dates may be for understanding this land, the stories we heard of people’s resilience, determination, and love, in the face of desperation and frustration was much more definitive for me.

I think of my friend Atta Jaber, a Palestinian man who has had his home demolished twice by the Israeli military. In addition to that devastation, his family’s land has been almost totally confiscated and during that confiscation process their fruit trees were uprooted and their olive trees were chopped at the root. Atta’s brother built an extension onto their parent’s home to add additional room for the children. Predictably, this extension was also bulldozed by the Israeli military. Atta’s brother and his family are now crammed into a 2 bedroom home with more than 7 children.

Atta has rebuilt his home 2 times and continues to face harassment by Israeli military and Jewish settlers who live illegally in the West Bank. These settlers have confiscated his land and harass his children. Atta told us that at numerous times, his life has been a living hell. I ask Atta what he sees in the future, where does he see for his family and for the Palestinian people.

Atta hesitates, takes a few draws on his cigarette and responds, “I must be a man of hope. If I don’t have hope then what do I have? At times this situation seems hopeless, but I must keep hopeful, because if I don’t, then I have nothing.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

There Has to Be a Method to My Madness

As I began to think about how to best recount some of the stories and events from my trip to the West Bank, my palms started to get sweaty. There's SO much information, and not only that, but so much history and current policy that needs to be explained so you can get the full picture of what's happening in the West Bank. Frankly, I don't think that's feasible over a blog, to give you the ENTIRE picture.

Instead, what I will do, is provide snapshots. This may involve telling stories of people we met, or organizations we learned about, or policies aimed at Palestinian people that we encountered on a personal level. On the next several weeks, most of my posts will be these snapshots. Feel free to do your own research, or contact me, to fill in the holes. I will also post some links to sites that have good information on the occupation of the West Bank.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Israel/Palestine Updates Coming Shortly

I know I have been home for almost a week and should have some things posted about my trip. But unpacking, wedding, laundry, groceries, getting back to work, etc, have kept me extremely busy.

I have also been thinking through how to best convey my experiences in the West Bank. Rest assured I will work on it this weekend and get something up next week.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Letter to Friends and Family

See document below. Click top right icon to see the document full screen.

Read this doc on Scribd: CPT Letter

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Rant...

It really bugs me when people believe that they somehow have more worth than someone else because of where they are born. The illegal immigration issue came up this morning on the radio. As usually, there were various opinions on the issue. One man called in and proceeded to talk about all “these illegals.” To paraphrase, he said that “all these illegals are sneaking into this country and stealing all the jobs in the construction business. It’s ridiculous because all the employers ask you whether you have a criminal record, not whether you have the papers to be in this country. And since I have a record I can’t get a construction job, but all these illegals can. That’s the border’s fault man. If they could keep all these illegals out of this country, then I could get a job.”

I don’t even want to respond to that, it doesn’t deserve a legitimate response.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Odd Sort of Nationalistic Community...

Anyone who knows me very well, probably wouldn’t call me a patriot. I don’t get warm fuzzy feelings when I see lots of stars and stripes. I don’t get chills when I hear the National Anthem. More accurately, I usually get a tinge of discomfort when I am in settings with an abundance of national pride. The reasons for this discomfort are the topic of a whole different blog, I just hope that no one would be offended before they speak to my nationalistic misgivings.

But nonetheless, I had a moment this morning that some may call ‘mildly patriotic.’ On my morning break, I walked through the San Diego Concourse, which is a big open area surrounded by San Diego City offices as well as community theatres. The concourse was full of people, most were seemingly of Hispanic descent, and more people were spilling into the concourse from the theatre. Amidst the masses were countless people with voter registration forms. Everyone I saw with voter registration forms was busy talking someone through the process of registering. There were also large booths with Hilary Clinton signs, stickers, and information. The same size booths were also there for Barack Obama. I became more and more curious as to the nature of the gathering and soon found out that a Naturalization Ceremony had just finished.

An unexpected smile came over me as I saw hundreds of people walking out of this naturalization ceremony with an American flag pinned to their chest and a huge smile plastered to their face. As they walked out of the ceremony they were greeted with the opportunity to register to vote, an act previously denied to them. In addition, there were representatives of presidential candidates (only Democratic, interestingly enough) on hand to inform new voters about the presidential candidates. There was something neat about a group of people being officially incorporated into a nation in which they had lived for quite sometime. This also meant that they could sign up for their voice to be heard in the upcoming election, and all elections to follow.

(Note: I feel weird about writing this because it’s so unlike anything I usually write, or even think. Mostly, it was a moment where I saw a lot of people happy. And regardless of how evil I think borders, nation-states, and immigration policies are, there were a lot of people happy to become Americans. And as atrocious, neglectful, and unjust as I think many of the domestic and foreign policies of the United States of America are, it’s cool that a group of people that were left of the margins in terms of their immigration status, are now included (at least officially). And democracy is good in the sense that those people can effect some change through voting. Ok I’m done, that’s as patriotic as it gets.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Peace: The Way it Has to Be.

As some of you may know, I will be going to Palestine/Israel in 2 months with an organization called Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). This organization, as the name suggests, works as peacemakers in areas of the world that are engaged in large-scale conflicts.

As a result of my application to serve with this organization, I had to read their policies regarding a situation of kidnapping or hostage-taking. This may seem a bit over-the-top, but it’s not. In 2003, following the shock and awe campaign in Iraq (which must be up there for the most horrible name for a military campaign in history), CPT had peacemakers on the ground in Baghdad. 4 of their members were kidnapped and the leader was executed.

In the unfortunate circumstance that one of CPT’s people is kidnapped or taken hostage, there are very strict guidelines about what CPT will and will not do. In summation, CPT will not respond violently or support any form of violence in order to have the kidnapped released. This also means that CPT will vehemently reject any action involving force by the United States or United States military. That’s pretty intense. I can imagine that if a US citizen was kidnapped, especially with the threat of execution, that the US military would respond. It’s crazy to think that CPT would tell United States forces, “we do not support the recovery and release of this individual through the use of force. We would ask you to not be involved in efforts to have this person released because your strategies will ultimately include the use of coercive violence.” My initial reaction to that is, “thanks a lot, CPT.” It’s scary to think that probably the most sure-fire way to get released without suffering harm will be strongly rejected. But then I start to think about it, and that’s the way is HAS to be.

Why does it have to be that way? Because that’s the way that God would respond. Because that is the way that God DID respond. God refused to save the world through violence. As Christ was taken captive and threatened to be executed, he did not respond violently. Most called his actions foolish, especially those who believed he was the Messiah. He could save himself, he could save Israel, if he would bring himself down from the cross. Rather, through his actions, Christ undercut any previous notion of human power or human authority. Christ remained there on the cross to save Israel, to save the world.

As Hauerwas has helped me to understand, the words, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are so profound to us because Jesus seems to be abandoned. Hauerwas says that “we do not want Jesus to be abandoned because we do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God.” It is seen as abandonment because we understand power and authority in the terms of the world. We are frightened when we find God to be a God who refuses to save us through violence.

By deferring to the desires of the United States government in a situation of kidnapping or hostage-taking, we are succumbing to the world’s notions of power and authority. Nation-states see power as an advantageous amount of arms, troops, and force. Authority is seen as a demonstration of strong hegemony that supercedes any ideology or authority previously in place. As a witness to God’s plan to redeem the world, CPT must take a policy of non-violence. For this world will not be saved through violence, but through a peaceful redemptive revolution, through the Kingdom of God brought in Christ.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beneficiaries and Aging

Grandma Hazel Ruth, a volunteer for the Foster Grandparent Program, stepped into my office today to fill out some paperwork. One of the forms she needed to complete was an insurance beneficiary form. The purpose of the form is to designate an individual who would receive some monetary compensation in the case of the her death while under the Foster Grandparent program.

Hazel Ruth looked at the form with a puzzled expression. She blurted, "Well I can't fill this out." Inquisitive, I ask her why.

"Well I have no one to designate as a beneficiary."

I find Grandma Hazel Ruth to be one of the sharper volunteers in the program so I hesitate to explain to her some possible options, such as family members or close friends. My hesitation proves wise as she continues, "I don't have anyone who would receive this money. My son told me not to give him any money or put his name on any forms because it creates complications with the Sherrif's Department, his employer."

"Grandma Hazel Ruth, who did you have on your form last year," I question.

"Well I had my teacher from the classroom I work in because she was the person I knew the best. I suppose she was my closest friend. The problem is that the teacher has left the school and I am working with someone new. I would guess the new teacher would find it odd if I designated her as my insurance beneficiary. I don't know anyone well enough to put on this form."

We decided to leave the form blank but the whole encounter struck me with profundity. Age and relocation brought with it isolation and lack of intimate relationships. Besides the time that Grandma Hazel Ruth spends at a transitional homeless shelter in downtown San Diego, she doesn't spend time with other human beings. If she does, she doesn't really know them and they don't know her. Those relationships at her place of volunteering, 15 hours per week, are the most important relationships in her life. I hope someone is there to be on my insurance beneficiary form when I am old.

Introspective Questions

I have been working on applications for international volunteering. Primarily I have been looking into organizations that do peace-related work in the third world. One of the Christian organizations I am applying for asked a few questions in the application that caught me off guard. It's not often that I think about the tenets of my faith, about what I truly believe. It took me quite awhile to shed all the layers of thoughts in my head, and here's what I came up with...

What do Jesus Christ and the Christian faith mean to you?

The Christian faith and the person of Jesus Christ provide me with hope. Amidst a world with so much pain, struggle, and suffering, I know that redemption and restoration lies in Christ. Death will not have the last word; on the contrary, the kingdom of God is at hand, and coming in its fullness, and life in its fullness will reign supreme. This hope that lies in Christ compels me to work towards the restoration of creation, by loving human beings and caring for the Creation.

What is your concept of Christian witness?

God is love. Therefore I believe Christian witness to be the demonstration of that love. Christ’s ministry was to serve the least of these with unconditional love, and as imitators of Christ, that is our Christian witness, to serve others with the love that is God.

Describe significant factors in your development as a Christian. Explain how this related to your desire to serve.

The majority of my development as a Christian came during the years of my undergraduate studies. Through my study of theology, as well as sociology, I was challenged to step outside my wealthy-suburban-American paradigm and see the world through a different lens. My studies, coupled with various experiences with the homeless, the developmentally disabled, refugees and immigrants, the mentally ill, and other marginalized populations, tore my beliefs regarding Christianity to their foundations.

I began to struggle with the disparity between a North American Christian’s lifestyle compared with that of a Christian in the third world. I saw beliefs taking precedence over actions and this became a concern for me. Rather than excepting the primacy of belief, I came to understand loving others with the love of Christ as the primary display of my faith. Maybe the most important aspect isn’t the specific belief I hold about the trinity, but maybe what’s most important is emulating the life of Christ and proclaiming freedom, liberation, and restoration to humanity through works of mercy, justice, and love.

As I continued to gain knowledge about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the first world and the third world, the majority and the minority, I desired to make a difference. I desire to be an instrument of God’s justice and peace to those in the world who need it most.

What is your attitude toward the use of force in resolving conflicts or achieving objectives, whether personal, group or national? What is your attitude toward the military and participation in war?

I am vehemently opposed to the use of force in resolving conflicts. The ends do not justify the means; but instead, the means are inextricably tied to the ends.

I believe that violence will not overcome violence, but will instead breed greater violence. Contrastingly, love will overcome violence and when love has won its victory, peace will reign.

I believe that we are all created in God’s image and I see violence towards my neighbor as contrary to the message of Jesus Christ and to the will of God.

In terms of the military and participation in war, I am opposed. In participating in the military my primary allegiance would be with the United States of America, which I believe is sinful. My primary allegiance should not be to any nation-state which is defined by artificial borders and people groups; instead, my allegiance is to the kingdom of God. The purpose of the military is to protect the interests of a nation-state through the use of coercive violence; I believe this institution to be the single greatest purveyor of evil in the world. My participation in the military would contradict my allegiance to the kingdom of God, and would also contradict my brotherhood and sisterhood to my fellow human beings.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mi Casa es su Casa

I work for an agency called Catholic Charities. Casa San Juan is a program of Catholic Charities that operates a facility that houses undocumented persons going through immigration trials as material witnesses. These persons are in the custody of the US Attorney and are being held to testify against smugglers from Mexico.

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting this facility. I was graciously given a tour of the building which consisted largely of rooms filled with beds for the residents. A common room, kitchen, and dining room were located downstairs, and were where the residents spent most of their time. Each resident usually spends approximately 3 weeks at Casa San Juan as they await their date in court to testify. These individuals are testifying against individuals involved in the smuggling business, often times against the very drivers who crammed them into compartments built into trunks, seats, and engines to elude detection. These precarious transportation arrangements don’t uncommonly result in serious injury.

As I walked through the halls, heard the stories, and saw the faces of those housed there, I was struck by their humanity. I saw past their numbered sweatsuits and noticed their smiles, even if they were smiles and giggles at the white boy touring their temporary apartment. Their stories were real and their reasons for attempting an illegal border crossing seemed compulsory. The dream of being able to provide for their hungry children was too close at hand to forget. $1500 will get you a shot at the United States, and the “American Dream.” However ill-informed their notion of the American Dream may be, their impetus for attempting to cross the border seemed noble in many cases I heard.

What was most beautiful at Casa San Juan, besides the faces of the women and children, was the display of hospitality. Hospitality is complicated and profound, and something that Jacques Derrida has taught me a lot about. It was refreshing to experience an environment where those who have been apprehended by border officials are treated as people who are inherently deserving of dignity and respect and utmost hospitality. So often politicians and media personnel, and the whole of society, lose sight of the fact that undocumented immigrants are as much human as any of us. Unfortunately, they are simply labeled as 'illegal aliens.' There are certainly (created and false) distinctions between the women staying there and those of us who live in San Diego. They must wear sweat suits, they are at the beck and call of attorneys and officers, and they have experienced an often-harrowing journey to the United States. But it seems that many barriers between 'us' and 'them' have been pulled down at Casa San Juan. It's profound that the 'us and them' distinction is blurred at Casa San Juan given that the immigration system is built upon that distinction.

The mission statement of Casa San Juan is profound: Casa San Juan exists to provide housing in a home like setting, treating its residents with dignity and respecting individuals cultures while creating an environment that gives hope.

Hospitality shown to the undocumented persons housed at Casa San Juan is hopeful. Hope amidst a time of crisis. I believe that hospitality and hope is a glimpse of what our world was intended to be.