From Oct. 11-24, 2012, we -- a historic delegation of twenty-three leaders from the nonviolent U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, younger civil and human rights leaders, social justice activists, peace builders and educators -- traveled to East Jerusalem and the West Bank to meet with leaders of the Palestinian grassroots nonviolent resistance movement and their Israeli allies. In the long tradition of inter-racial, inter-generational and inter-faith coalitions for freedom and justice, we were African-Americans and Jewish Americans; ministers and rabbis; prominent scholars and organizers. We ranged in age from 30 to 83. The delegation was sponsored by the Dorothy Cotton Institute (DCI), as part of its Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project. It was planned and led by Rabbi Brian Walt, DCI Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow, and DCI Senior Fellows, in partnership with Interfaith Peace Builders (IFPB).
We traveled to meet, engage with, learn from and encourage Palestinians and their Israeli allies who have committed themselves to nonviolent direct action to end occupation and oppression. The Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement which dates back to the tax revolts and general strikes against the British Mandate in the 1920s and 1930s, was used as the primary form of organizing during the First Intifada in the late 1980s and continues today. Although it is not well known in the U.S., we believe it is one of the most important tests of nonviolent principles and practices in the 21st Century.
We sought to develop ongoing relationships and solidarity with those in the nonviolent resistance movement; increase the international visibility of this movement; learn more about the practice of nonviolent direct action; and encourage and support efforts to bring justice, security and human rights to all people in the region. We also committed to help inform people in the U.S. about the situation and to bring attention to the role the U.S. currently plays in perpetuating the unacceptable status quo and, alternatively, could play in promoting a lasting peace with justice.
We had many life-changing encounters with Palestinians and Israelis who shared with us the history and realities of this region, as well as their hopes and fears and determined non-violent resistance to injustice. What we experienced and witnessed was both deeply troubling and profoundly inspiring. It was also frighteningly familiar to injustices in our own country, both past and present. We returned home with a deeper understanding of the struggles in this region and a powerful commitment to support our Palestinian and Israeli sisters and brothers working for a solution that ensures justice, equality and security for everyone who lives on this beautiful land.
What We Learned
First and foremost, we are inspired by the many people we met who exemplify the Palestinian commitment to sumud ("steadfastness") and the Jewish commitment to tikkun olam ("repairing the world"). They are working courageously, creatively and non-violently, not only to end domination and injustice, but to bring into being a new society based on justice and the humanity of all.
Our own history teaches us that changing seemingly intractable realities is possible. Those sisters and brothers we met are developing their own movement, unique to their time and place. At the same time, they are fundamentally connected to the ongoing universal struggle for justice and human rights.
They challenge with nonviolent direct action; participate in boycotts; document, witness and film; defend those who are detained, mistreated, and denied human rights; heal and empower, challenge lies with truth in their newspapers and blogs, and express outrage and celebrate hope in the graffiti that appears on the length of the Separation Wall. Their warmth and generous hospitality made us feel at home across culture, language and generations. Their stories and analyses gave us personal insight into the injustices, human rights violations and ongoing oppression that rarely enter American consciousness or discourse about the region.
We met young Palestinian activists in The Coalition for Dignity and Youth Against the Settlements – many of whom have been inspired by Gandhi and King – who are at the center of creative nonviolent direct action "occupying" segregated roads and protecting older Palestinian farmers from settler violence while harvesting olives, building connection to the land and understanding across generations. We talked with the leaders of the Popular Coordinating Committees and others in Budrus, Bil'in and other nearby Palestinian villages who, through daily nonviolent demonstrations, succeeded in moving the path of the Separation Wall and preserving some of their land. We shared many hours of thoughtful conversation and uplifting song with three generations in the village of Nabi Saleh; they have held demonstrations every Friday for more than 3 years -- in the face of tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and live ammunition -- to protest confiscations of their land and water.
We met equally impassioned young Israelis. Some, like the young Jewish Israelis in Anarchists Against the Wall travel to the West Bank, often in violation of Israeli law, to stand in solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters during unarmed protests. Others, like the women we met at New Profile have served time in Israeli jails for refusing compulsory military service; they are counseling other "refuseniks" and actively challenging the intensively militarized Israeli society. Still others, through Breaking the Silence, are offering up testimonies about the brutal work of military occupation.
We listened to both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian human rights lawyers who work tirelessly to win the release of Palestinians (including children as young as twelve) who are arrested in the middle of the night, held in administrative detentions without charge, criminalized, abused and traumatized within the Israeli military court system.
We grieved to learn that on the day we arrived home in the U.S., Bassem Tamimi, a key leader in Nabi Saleh, was arrested by the Israeli military for leading a non-violent demonstration in a settlement supermarket on the West Bank. His ribs were broken during his arrest. He has been sentenced to 4 months in military jail, with a 3-year suspended sentence. Bassem has already spent most of the last year in prison for his organizing. We also mourn the death of Rushdi Tamimi, a young man from Nabi Saleh who was shot by Israeli soldiers during a village protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza (Operation Pillar of Defense) and later died.
We met Palestinian Christians at Sabeel who develop liberation theology to renew the sense of Palestinian identity and promote peace, reconciliation and nonviolence among young people who know only occupation. Others at the Holy Land Trust draw from their deep religious commitment to nonviolence to create leadership development workshops to help women engage with the "impossible" and create new paths forward.
We also visited the Nassar family at the Tent of Nations, outside Bethlehem, who have fought continual court battles to hold onto the farm purchased by their grandfather in 1916. In spite of being surrounded by five Israeli settlements, Israeli army roadblocks, the settlers' destruction of 250 olive trees, repeated denials for permits to build, demolition orders and other efforts to force them off the land, they bring youth and adults together across cultures and nations to engage in creative, life-affirming, land-honoring projects.
Whenever we asked people "how can we help?", we received two answers. The first was, "Tell people what is happening here." The second was: "Talk to people in your own country about the pivotal role of the United States in perpetuating these policies. Ask who profits from this, and what you can do to change that."
Now that we have returned home, we are asking ourselves what it means to be faithful to these Palestinians and Israelis working to build a just and democratic society – both those we now call "friend" and those we have not yet met. While we are still answering this question, our work includes writing, blogging, media interviews, contacting the White House and Congress, and speaking to groups and individuals to inform the U.S. public about the situation and what roles they can play. We will share widely the experiences of those we met – both those mentioned above, and the many more we were not able to include here. We are also continuing to inform ourselves about history, current realities, and the movements working for peace, justice, and security for all.
In closing, we make the following observations:
The U.S. government provides $3 billion annually in foreign military aid to Israel. We call for the U.S. to condition this aid on an end to Israeli settlement expansion, occupation, and other violations of United States, international and human rights law. We support the United States church leaders who recently called for conditioning aid on Israeli compliance with United States and international law and upholding human rights and equality of all people.
We heard from many Palestinians and their Israeli allies about the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel’s occupation and against international companies that profit from the occupation. BDS is a nonviolent strategy for change widely supported by Palestinian organizations. We will support boycotts of and divestment from Israeli, US and European corporations that profit directly from continued occupation and oppression. We will also explore other actions we may undertake as individuals and/or as a group as part of the growing BDS movement.
We are heartened that President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the U.S. and Egyptian governments played a positive role in helping negotiate the recent cease fire in Gaza. No civilians in Israel or Palestine should live in fear of rockets and bombs. At the same time, arrests, detentions and violence against Palestinians engaged in nonviolent protest have risen, and the forces of occupation, oppression and war remain. We are paying attention to what is happening to individuals whom we met and finding ways to actively advocate on their behalf.
We are also committed to using fully our rights and privileges as U.S. citizens to challenge and persuade our government to end its support for and profiteering from racism, discrimination, oppression and occupation, in this region, here at home, and throughout the world.
Finally, we support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live with dignity and security. Like most of those we met on our travels, we do not see these rights as being inherently in conflict. We will continue to speak out about the humanity of all people, the preciousness of every human being, and our belief in working nonviolently for change.
As theologian Walter Brueggemann observed in The Prophetic Imagination, empires work by constricting imagination, managing reality and language, and spreading despair. They function by having people believe there is little or nothing they can do to change the conditions of reality.
Yet in spite of widespread fear, grief, anger, despair and the many political difficulties that must be overcome, our history teaches us that hope is not only possible, but justified. As we traveled, we carried with us our dreams of and lifelong work for "Beloved Community," an inter-dependence that recognizes the preciousness of every human life, and embraces and supports the humanity of all. We met with many people -- both Palestinian and Israeli -- who are engaged in the work of reclaiming imagination and possibility, who are struggling steadfastly to "build up a new world" ensuring justice and the humanity of all, and who refuse to despair. We heard that they were encouraged by our presence with them. We were most certainly encouraged by them.
We join with countless people -- in the U.S. and abroad -- who are already engaged in this important work; we invite those not yet engaged to join with us as well.
For more information, contact: Rabbi Brian Walt, DCI Palestinian-Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow, 508-560-0589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
or Kirby Edmonds, DCI Program Coordinator and Senior Fellow, 607 277-3401 TFCKirby@aol.com
For more information about the Dorothy Cotton Institute, visit www.dorothycottoninstitute.org
Read more about the delegates and the organizations with whom we met.
Read more about the delegates and the organizations with whom we met.
About the Dorothy Cotton Institute
The Dorothy Cotton Institute based in Ithaca, NY, USA, seeks "the full realization of a just and peaceful beloved community in which all people understand, respect, protect, and exercise full human rights." It does this by working to develop, nurture and train leaders for a global human rights movement; build a network and community of civil and human rights leaders; and explore, share and promote practices that transform individuals and communities, opening new pathways to peace, justice and healing.
Ms. Dorothy Cotton -- who was a member of the delegation -- is the former Director of Education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She was the only woman on Dr. King's executive staff, and is now a Distinguished Fellow at DCI, the institute that bears her name and is committed to carrying on her life work.
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Dr. Clayborne Carson
Dr. Alan Gilbert
Dr. Vincent Harding
Dr. Robert Harris, Jr.
Dr. Margo Hittleman
Reverend Lucas Johnson
Aljosi Aldrich Knight
Reverend Carolyn McKinstry
Dr. Marne O'Shae
Dr. Paula Rayman
Dr. Alice Rothchild
Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou
Dr. James Turner
Rabbi Brian Walt