“Where Are the Nonviolent Palestinian Activists?” They’re here.

Rabbi Robin Podolsky Image
Rabbi Robin Podolsky
on June 9, 2017

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“But where are the nonviolent Palestinian activists?”

I hear this question often from pro-Israel people who are skeptical about the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and who wonder where Palestinian partners for peace might be found.

I have good news for them  — pro-peace nonviolent Palestinian activists are organizing in numbers. Along with other J Streeters, I met some of them during a trip organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV). Together, built the Sumud (“steadfastness”) Camp, a place created at the site of Surura. Surura is a village in the South Hebron Hills that Israel demolished to make way for a “closed military zone.” They left the Ma’on settlement next door intact.

Sumud Camp was founded as a place for Palestinians, Israelis and Jews from around the world  to gather, learn one another’s stories and explore nonviolent methods of opposing the occupation in ways that honor the humanity and dignity of everyone involved. The camp is a project of an historic coalition created by members of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, Holy Land Trust, Combatants for Peace, All That’s Left, the Popular Committees of the South Hebron Hills and Youth Against Settlements.

The coalition is notable for its political, ethnic and religious diversity. Some people in the coalition favor a two-state solution while others favor a single secular state. Some favor BDS, while others oppose the tactic. Some are religious people—Jewish, Muslim, Christian or adherents of other traditions—some are firmly atheist. All of us believe that the occupation—the disenfranchisement and military domination of one people by another—is an intolerable obstacle to a just and lasting peace.

As Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust observed, “The holy land is a land of stories.” There are those for whom 1948 was a miracle.  There are others for whom it was a “naqkba” (a catastrophe). Rather than wait until the (impossible) moment when we all agree on one narrative, Awad argues, we need to come together around the reality of simultaneous narratives — two peoples inhabiting same geographical space who live different truths.

Can we start from there? From an acknowledgement of what CJNV calls, “belief in the shared humanity and full equality of Palestinians and Israelis alike?” The purpose of the Sumud camp is to live this ethos in practice. Palestinians, Israelis and diaspora Jews put up tents together. We worked in concert to create viable housing, hoping to  return families who had been expelled from their land. For days, we danced together, sang and prayed. Some of our new Palestinian friends joined us for Shabbat.

One older Bedouin gentleman gave, in Hebrew, a Dvar Torah on the teaching that each of us: Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and everyone else, has a portion of the earth given by God and that it is possible to live well without displacing or harming anyone. We were visited on Kabalat Shabbat by members of “Shoreshim,” a group of Palestinians and settlers, who want to create a grassroots context for neighbors to simply get to know one another, with the hope that that the politics that emerge from such a process will lead to a genuine solution. We made Havdalah together and our Palestinian friends – our partners for peace — hosted a barbeque.

Later that night, the Israeli military came, took the generator which powered the camp, smacked some people around and tore down the tent. They claimed to be acting on orders, but would not produce any paperwork. They seemed content to ignore the nearby radical “hilltop settlers” who hook themselves up to the power grid illegally and with impunity.

This all left me with a question: Does the Israeli government actually want a nonviolent partner for peace? If so, why do they seem to crush or alienate any Palestinian movement that honors the equal rights and humanity of Palestinians and Israelis alike? Why are they not overjoyed—maybe even humbled—to see that, out of the most abjected, disenfranchised sector of the occupation, such a movement is emerging?

We have Palestinian partners for peace, and we must make sure that their voices and stories are heard.