Yesterday morning in Jerusalem, Ben Scribner and I met an American named Mike, sitting on the steps of the Damascus gate with his backpack and sunglasses. He, like the other internationals who arrive each day, was jazzed and ready to join the Palestinian struggle. Paul from Canada rode his bicycle in from Jordan, and then cycled into beseiged Bethlehem. John from Seattle, still jetlagged, awaits the delivery of phones to the new office space that internationals are creating to receive one another. Craig from Cairo, with the sunburned nose, raced off to begin the new wave of internationals in refugee camps. British Jenny wiped the mud of Nablus from her boots, and jumped in a convoy of supplies headed for Nablus, a convoy that is being led by our own Brian Wood. Gary Anderson has been working intimately with the Palestinian Water Authority, glowing from the alignment of his work and his heart. Ben and I have been coordinating with Israeli peace organizations and leftist ! groups, organizing a potentially massive non-violent demonstration in Tel Aviv in front of the US Embassy. Our message to Colin Powell: The US has the power and the key to end this battle, in the same way that they now perpetuate it. Why do we do nothing?
As I was finishing one errand and hurrying to another, I slipped into a store of olive wood carvings. For a moment, the stillness of the shop, the shelves filled with Christian icons, seemed a sweet escape from the bustle of the street. The shopkeeper made small talk, showed me some rosaries. He asked if I had been to the Church of the Nativity. Instantly suspicious, I tried to nonchalantly brush off the question, not wanting to admit to a stranger that I had been in Bethlehem. I am now cautious of who might be listening through whose ears. “No, nobody can go there,” I answered. “It’s too bad, because I really wanted to.” I tried to avoid his eyes and seem like a regular tourist. Should I say–Yes! I saw smoke and heard gunfire surround the Church for over a week! I feared for my life like you fear for yours everyday!?
The shopkeeper is not fooled by my shopping facade. “They kill a priest today,” he says in a lowered voice. My eyes soften and my reserve weakens. “I hadn’t heard that. But I had heard that the people in the Church are down to a quarter of a pita a day for rations.” He nods, sadly. “They try to starve them out. It is very bad.” I feel the rage begin to rise up my esophagus. I pay for my purchase, the shopkeeper insisting to accept fewer shekles than we had originally agreed upon. “You have a special gift,” he says to me, looking very seriously into my eyes. “You smile. The people here need to see your smile.”
As I walk through East Jerusalem, I feel safe. I smile at the orange and artichoke venders, the cigarette stands. The rains are gone, and the spring sun warms the broken land, seeps in the cracks of the broken city. I cross the honking, busy streets, past the flea market style drugstores, and bags of lentils and garbanzos. I smell frying falafel oil and bundles of fresh mint and sage for sale on the bustling sidewalk. Every twenty feet, traditional Arab music blasts from a storefront. I bob and flow with the crowds of beautiful scarved women holding the hands of children. On a dumpster I see the scrawled words: Free Palestine Now. Isn’t that the real point?
I have realized that the International Solidarity Movement, and the world attention that has been stirred towards this oppression and injustice, is no longer a two-week campaign. Two weeks is a field trip to an ongoing situation. But two-week blocks of round the calendar presence from thousands of internationals can become a powerful movement.
What we do here is important, but most crucial is what we continue to do when we return to our homes. I feel especially inspired by the actions of people who have never even seen this land, but feel in their hearts a responsibility to speak loudly against the destruction of a valid and beautiful civilization. I came to the Middle East because it seemed to be the vortex of the world’s injustice. But no people are immune to these horrors. We have seen how the oppressed can become the oppressor, how the abused can turn around and abuse, how “Never Again” can eventually become “One More Time.”
I have always been particularly struck by a quote from the Dalai Lama, who ironically has also been exiled from his homeland of Tibet for over 40 years. “World peace begins with inner peace, world disarmament begins with inner disarmament.” How gratifying it is, then, to see so many people from around the world, including myself, make inner peace with the dissonance in their hearts. We demonstrate, write letters, make phone calls, buy last minute plane tickets, give middle of the night interviews, and talk, talk, TALK about the rift between what we know is right, and what we are actually doing about it in our lives. Only when we can stitch the seams between rhetoric and action, between rationalization and passion, between privilege and responsibility, can we mend the gash between Palestine and Israel–and ultimately the gaping wounds of the world. Let no people be the oppressed people any longer–not the Tibetans, Irish, African-Americans, Native Americans, South Afric! ans, Colombians, or Palestinians. Let us all return to our roots as members of humanity, and be accountable for the horrors that taint the human experience for us all. What happens to one of us happens to all of humanity.
I have been honored to be a voice for the Palestinian people. I now hand the baton to every person who reads this: Run fast. Speak loudly. We can all be part of the solution.
Nancy Stohlman is one of five members of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace who have joined hundreds of internationals in Palestine to do nonviolent actions to end Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine. More about their story at: http://www.ccmep.org/palestine.html