“There is perhaps no surer road to peace than the one that starts from little islands and oases of genuine kindness, islands, and oases constantly growing in number and being continually joined together until eventually they ring the world.” ~Father Dominique Pire (1958)
It has been almost a year since I embarked on my trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories. My intention when I left was to wade through the propaganda, gain some insight, and pass my own judgments about the situation. The experience in and of itself was surreal. There exists pieces of me that continue to reside there and some that never went.
My intention was to write about what I saw and I have not. I have held the experience inside myself for many reasons. Feelings of being overwhelmed overcome me any time I attempt to explain, especially in writing. Of course, there is also the extreme racism against Arabs in the psyche of many and I often find myself called some of the most abhorrent and misdirected names when I speak out against the violence perpetrated on them. It is a misguided claim, that those whose hearts bleed for the Arabs do not bleed for the Jews. The accusations I have heard or read are directed at human rights organizations, the international community, and individuals like me.
For example, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning Israeli military operations that unnecessarily displaced and killed civilians during the 2006 “war” with Hezbollah fighters. Uproar came from the Jewish community that this organization was anti-Semitic and favored terrorist organizations. A simple search of Human Rights Watch’s website (where numerous reports condemning Hezbollah for targeting Israeli civilians) clears up this erroneous claim.
Please excuse my digression.
Somewhere between the propaganda, the violence, and media reports lies a diverse and changing truth and that truth resides with individual stories and those who tell them. The single consistent message from both Arab and Jew for me was to return and tell those stories. Reflecting back now, there are many I have not told. I was reminded of this when I read my e-mail this morning and read a piece published by Deborah Agre who is there now.
As I read, I could picture in my minds eye the sights and sounds of everything she had written about. I knew the room she was in when she read her e-mail, I knew the bus that had its windows blown out by the sound bomb, and I knew the restaurant she spoke of and the stairs. However, what I am most intimate with are the feelings of helplessness and despair that come with living with a military occupation. It is a feeling that regardless of position of occupier or occupied, race, gender, or religious belief demeans, degrades, and de-humanizes all.
As Americans occupying Iraq, we have much to learn from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is a lesson draped in simplicity and truth – peace is only obtained through the creation of a stable society. Oppression and violence simply undermine this goal.
While in the city of Hebron, I floated upon an island of peace, an island where Father Pire’s vision was evident. Underneath an Olive Tree, I gathered with an Arab family and two young Jewish men who had served with the Israeli Defense Forces.
With the heat of the day brushed away by a shade cooled wind, we discussed ways to empower the people of the city. And while we talked, I wondered why no one around the world was paying attention.