In the few days before Palm Sunday, Hasam Jubran has a lot to do. As co-director of the Peace and Reconciliation Department for the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, much work falls on his shoulders to make sure things go well when Palestinian children begin a peace march to Jerusalem. First, there are the children themselves who thought up the idea. Then there are the adults from Palestine, Europe, and the USA who will carry the march into an Israeli checkpoint where delicate strategic decisions must be made. And finally, who can forget the donkeys?
“The idea came a long time ago,” says Jubran via telephone. Children listening to the story of Jesus riding a donkey to Jerusalem thought it would be great if they could do what Jesus did. “One of the kids mentioned the idea to one of our volunteers. She came to us and suggested that we do a Palm Sunday action on the day that Jesus came in peace to Jerusalem. By riding donkeys on the road we could encourage children to express their desire and symbolize the need of all Palestinians, but especially children, to travel to Jerusalem.” The idea was communicated to John Stoner, founder of Every Church a Peace Church in the USA. “After that,” says Jubran, “they started to consult with us.”
About forty days ago, Jubran helped to form a committee that would work on the shape of the protest. Other organizations in the area were invited, and meetings during the past two weeks have intensified. “One of the first questions to come up was should we invite Israelis to participate in the action,” says Jubran. “But in this action we decided to show that the Palestinian people are involved in nonviolence, leading their own nonviolence movement, so we did not invite Israelis this time.”
I ask Jubran if he has a model of nonviolence that guides his work. For him the most important consideration lies in the distinction between the spiritual side and the pragmatic side of nonviolence. “We focus on the pragmatic side here when we work with people on the ground,” explains Jubran. For theory he draws on Gandhi, King, Islam, and Christianity alike. “I don’t stick to one thing. It’s multiple.” Likewise, the international participants will be Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Palestinians will be Christian and Muslim. “We do not want to limit this action to any religious faith. This is a national movement, not a religious one.”
Duties have been divided up. Invitations have been distributed throughout Palestine. Training has begun. A sign-making committee will work on Saturday. And yes, there is someone in charge of donkeys. The Palm Sunday action is unique for its involvement of animals. Of course, dogs were made famous in news pictures that came out of Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle of 1963. But in that case the animals were put to work on the violent side.
“This is unusual,” says Jubran, with a quiet chuckle. “The most difficult part is finding the donkeys and being able to protect them. But the donkeys are important to the image we want to show the world and the commentary we want to make. When people see the picture, we want them to relate it to Jesus and his message for peace in the Holy Lands.”
As Easter draws near, donkey images infiltrate the news. Says Linda Wardle, wife of Rev. John Wardle of Priory Church in Bridlington, England, “We’ve had a donkey for quite a few years and they do make a difference on Palm Sunday, especially for the children.” In a Passion Play at Nauvoo, Illinois, Jesus has been riding a live donkey to the stage since 1983. And a farewell sermon recently preached in Tennessee had the Baptist pastor declaring, “I am the donkey!”
Or who has not picked up the story of Pacho the donkey, jailed by Colombian authorities on March 6 for the crime of being hit by a drunken motorcyclist. “The suspect was a little long in the face after being arrested and is braying for an early release,” wrote AP reporter Kim Housego. For three days, Pacho’s loyal master brought him food, while human rights defenders agitated for release. When Pacho was freed the international press cheered. Who in the world doesn’t love a donkey?
But where to get donkeys for a peace march? “People who are going to bring their donkeys were afraid the animals might be shot. So they wanted guarantees,” says Jubran. “For these farmers, their donkeys are important to their work. So we have made guarantees. And yes, the farmers will be there with the donkeys,” he says with a quiet laugh. “I don’t know how to handle them!”
Children also require special arrangements. “We have many, many children coming,” says Jubran, “a hundred or more, and for the children the demonstration will be organized in two parts. The younger children, 5-10 years old, will leave the demonstration as soon as we come close to the checkpoint. The teenagers are going to continue with the march, but they will move to the final end, not in the first rows or the middle. They have been trained how to protect themselves in case they are attacked, but if there is any trouble at the front end of the march, they have been trained to run away. We have made arrangements for first aid and ambulances and we have alerted local hospitals, but we don’t want any children to be hurt. That’s the main thing.”
At least half the marchers will be women says Jubran, but once again as a precaution, women will not approach the checkpoint in the first line. “We don’t want any women to be beaten or hurt or humiliated in any way, because that may spark emotions that cause people to lose control.”
Marchers in solidarity with the Palestinians will come from USA, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. Two organizations will do the training for international marchers. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has been working in nearby Hebron since 1995 and has experience training Americans for local activism. The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (PCR) has a working relationship with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and therefore has been exposed to a variety of nationalities in peace work and nonviolence resistance.
On Saturday, after separate training has been completed for Palestinians and international marchers, everyone will be brought together. “We have things we want to accomplish on Saturday,” says Jubran, “but we want people to participate so we don’t have a clear agenda. We will sit together all of us, Palestinians and internationals, and we will think of the best way to do things. Important also is the process, not just the activity by itself. Nonviolence is something we have practiced for years, and now we are trying it again. We will try to strengthen ourselves.”
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org