thoughts about the peace train - part six
NOTE: For the next week, I am going to post my thoughts, reflections, concerns as well as an alternative action to the current BDS strategy of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning all of Israel in pursuit of Palestinian justice Not only does the BDS shotgun approach denigrate the whole of Israeli society rather than focus upon the ugly actions within the Occupied Territories, I believe the movement's ambiguous goals can all too easily be manipulated to advance genuinely antisemitic objectives. Further, as a Christian contemplative, I have been persuaded that a bold people-to-people strategy - along with prayer, creative economic incentives and real political pressure directed towards US legislators - introduces effective, albeit costly nonviolent strategies geared towards long-term change rather than symbolic actions that create the illusion of righteousness without significant results. Let me state at the outset, however, that I don't pretend to have a monopoly upon wisdom. I also recognize that people of good will are likely to disagree with my conclusions. I welcome your insights but ask that you share them in the spirit and tone of peace and respect.(This is part six of a six part series.)
For the close of this six-part series re: my reservations about the BDS movement, let me change directions and offer some qualified support for Palestine as well as some alternatives to BDS. As should be clear to all, as a 21st century Christian, I accept our unique responsibility to oppose and even heal aspects of the historic antisemitism that has polluted the Christian tradition since early in the first century of the Common Era. That is why I am ever cautious and deliberate in my endorsement of ways to engage the quest for justice when it comes to Palestinian statehood.
Like many I condemn the continuation of Israel's presence in the Occupied Territories. I recognize that for a variety of reasons - some honest and others deceptive - Israel has not moved expeditiously towards supporting Palestinian autonomy. Since the collapse of the Oslo Accords the willingness to move towards peace has become nearly non-existent - and sometimes overly violent, too. This is not to say that Palestine has been blameless or victims during this agonizing stale-mate. Provocation, frustration, the inability to embrace Israeli security as an existential issue to say nothing of the internal mistrust that defines their own political leadership has relegated most Palestinian efforts towards peace and stability to the dung heap of history. With rogue elements of Hamas in Gaza sending periodic missiles into Israel to destabilize the current joint conversations about a truce; with IDF acts of violence towards unarmed Palestinian civilians taking place with some frequency; with right wing religious elements in the US and Israel funding the agenda and propaganda of Israeli settlers; and with an increasingly demoralized population of radicalized Palestinian youth on the rise, the prospects for change and peace seem nonexistent.
A deeper truth exists under the obvious, however, for people of The Book: God never quits what God has started. The overwhelming message of the Abrahamic faiths is that even when God's people are sinful, the Lord remains faithful, just and loving. Further, the more God's heart is trusted, the more the possibilities for peace and compassion grow stronger. So let me first offer two small examples of how people-to-people efforts embody the way of redemption and hope. And then outline a comparable strategy - with Palestinian allies - to advance the cause of peace.
One path on the road of redemption that is currently being paved is taking place in Music inCommon. Their work strikes me as a creative alternative to BDS in the spirit of Yusuf Islam ‘s “peace train” that unites hope with personal acts of creativity. A recent article described their mission like this:
A Berkshire-based nonprofit, that works to promote tolerance and teamwork through music, plans to bring three Jewish Israeli, four Arab Israeli and two Palestinian students from the Middle East, to engage in song making on the Great Barrington campus of Bard Rock at Simon's College, in August. "Working together on a creative activity is such a powerful force for people," said Lynnette Najimy, spokesperson for Music in Common, of the determination that MIC's Summer Youth Summit not be derailed by the escalating war between Hamas militants in Gaza, and Israel."This is the first year we are doing the summit. We have made four trips to the Middle East over the last four years, and have done similar programs in United States' schools, but we wanted to bring all those students together in one place." Founder Todd Mack, a Sheffield-based musician, added the "increased conflict fuels us even more to do it. It is the reason why we do it. There is another way to figuring out the problems that exist between cultures and faiths because of differences, and figuring out the things we share in common is a good starting point,"
Last summer I had the chance to speak with these young people who, together with a similar number of US youth, were learning the hard work of peace. It starts small. It is a slow process. And not a lot changes in any discernible way. But as the seminar was drawing to a close, one young woman said: “Next year I will be drafted into the IDF when I come of age. I know the fear and anger alive between Jews and Muslims. I know the danger of being on patrol and the hatred born of that whole experience. But after my time here, working and creating with my new friends, I can no longer see just “the enemy” – and I don’t know what I am going to do.”
Another project, Artsbridge, Inc. in Williamstown, MA, uses the visual arts to help Israeli Jews, Arabs and Palestinian youth to find their voice in pursuit of peace. By bringing young people to the United States, these youth are given a chance to be creative with peers they are often segregated from in contemporary Israel. They, too, suggest a path beyond BDS that makes connections rather than furthers isolation. I do not want to see such long-term commitments to solidarity diminished by current frustrations and short-sighted strategies.
Rather I would like to build upon a suggestion - and amplify it with political action in the US - that was first articulated by Rabbi Arthur Waskow. He has asked activists to fashion a positive grassroots movement with specific goals that could include boycotting selected products from the Occupied Territories and definitely would include bringing Jews, Christians and Muslims - Israelis, Palestinians and Americans - together for a series of conversations about history, daily life, religion and our shared call to shalom/salaam. I would add to Rabbi Waskow's suggestion:
1) a commitment to a vigorous lobbying of US elected officials to hold Israel
accountable for the current stale-mate – especially as it applies to the occupied territories;
2) an honest discussion/study of anti-Semitism in the Christian and Muslim traditions;
3) periodic travel/study events to Israel and Palestine;
4) and the purchasing Palestinian goods as part of a campaign of solidarity.
Rather than pass resolutions at national church gatherings that have almost no impact upon local congregations, why not use our time and resources to develop measured study resources and focused lobbying actions? Why not outline a three year commitment for local churches that would embrace study/discussion; travel and conversations in Israel and Palestine; and bold and consistent lobbying of US legislators?
+ One group working along just these lines i Churches for Middle East Peace. (go to: http://www.cmep.org/) One need not re-invent the wheel with this group as they offer study material, study trips and advocacy.
+ Another is Americans for Peace Now (http://peacenow.org/).
+ A third is Interfaith Peace Builders (http://www.ifpb.org/)
+ And I would be remiss in omitting Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org/) a fascinating and important Palestinian resource.
I also believe using the financial resources of a congregation to purchase Fair Trade productsfrom Palestine is a creative and informative way to engage in this struggle for peace, too. Here are a few trusted markets:
+ Zaytoun (http://www.zaytoun.org/home/the-zaytoun-story/) a collective offering a variety of excellent Palestinian products.
+ Canaan Fair Trade (http://www.canaanfairtrade.com/) another trusted resource.
+ Palestinian Fair Trade Association (http://www.palestinefairtrade.org/)
+ And in the US the people at Koinonia Farms in Americus, GA are offering Fair Trade items from Palestine, too. (http://www.koinoniapartners.org/catalog/)
Earlier this summer I was introduced to another fascinating, creative and important resource: The Gaza Kitchen. Telling the stories of ordinary Palestinians as they try to live into their culture and tradition in the midst of the Occupation, this book is quietly subversive in all the best ways. It nourishes compassion and solidarity. It does not demonize. And it is something the opens the feasting tables of our various traditions to the way of the peace train. Learn more here at:
When I first began to explore the way of peace-making after seminary, I discovered two things: 1) my heart was changed when I actually knew the people my country/ideology/fears labeled as enemy. Being in their loving presence impelled me to become active on their behalf. And 2) the more my heart and eyes were opened, the greater the common ground. I remember in what was once Soviet Russia seeing a small girl about the age of my own daughters at a Christmas Eve rehearsal outside of what was then Leningrad. I was stunned - she looked just like the little girls I would hold in my laps and read stories to each night - just like the children I cherished and prayed for daily. It was unconscionable to not work for peace as I meditated on this connection.
The more I trust “the peace train,” the more I have to opt for more creativity and community-building at this moment in time. And that is why I am unable to support the BDS movement.