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Date: 2 March 2006

Pensioner promoting peace while helping Palestinians


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Christina Gibbs is hopeful Harmeet Sooden, pictured, taken hostage in Iraq, is alive. Photo supplied.
ISRAEL’S conflict-stricken West Bank may seem an unlikely place for a New Zealand pensioner in her mid-70s, but that’s exactly where Christina Gibb has spent two tours as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT).

The Dunedinite, who is talking in Howick tomorrow night, was inspired to join the CPTs after meeting a dedicated member in 2003. As a Quaker, she was committed to pacifism and keen to put her beliefs into action.

Ms Gibb first visited Hebron, south of Jerusalem, as part of a two-week CPT delegation. She saw the building of the controversial security wall segregating the city’s Israeli settlers from the rest of the Muslim Palestinian inhabitants.

After training in Chicago Ms Gibb returned to the West Bank in 2004 to begin the first of two three-month postings in Hebron. CPT members, in the city by Palestinian invitation, work with peace groups from both sides in the cause of “violence reduction” and human rights.

One duty is accompanying Palestinian children to school through Israeli military checkpoints and settler quarters — and interceding when embattled soldiers lean too heavily on Palestinian residents.

“Sometimes we physically get in the way and sometimes we try to negotiate with the soldiers. We document any human rights abuses we see,” says Ms Gibb.

“The Israelis are quite heavy-handed, the occupation impacts heavily on all aspects of life for all Palestinians all the time.”

She has never been injured or felt her life threatened. But she was once briefly detained by Israeli police and avoided their tear gas only through a fortuitous change in wind direction.

And while the violence showcased by the news media remains unfortunately typical for Hebron, Ms Gibb says most of the resistance offered to the Israeli occupation forces is passive.

“There’s still a tendency by the media to treat Palestinians as terrorists, but in our experience the vast majority are engaged in peaceful resistance – the kind of resistance of being absolutely determined to stay where they have always lived, and not to be squeezed out and to carry on with their every day lives under increasingly terrible conditions.”

Conditions she says are only exasperated by the wall and increasingly tight security.

“The everyday human contact where you get to know people as people is now very difficult for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Ultimately she considers the conflict the product of extremists, saying: “There are many people, Israelis and Palestinian, longing for peace with justice for everybody there. This conflict is not primarily between Israeli and Palestinian per se, or between Muslims and Jews; it’s between those who want peace with justice for everybody, and the extremists on both sides who don’t.”

Ms Gibb is part of a CPT Middle Eastern effort that recently made headlines after Auckland resident Harmeet Sooden was kidnapped by Iraqi resistance group, the Swords of Truth.

While training in Chicago, Ms Gibb met another of the hostages still held with Mr Sooden, American Tom Fox.

She reserves hope for their safety and was heartened by the latest of three video messages aired on Arabic TV news channel, Al-Jazeera.

She views her fellow peace-makers’ imprisonment as no different from that of other innocent detainees held without trial at Guantanamo Bay and other United States detention camps and hopes they’ll all be returned home soon.

Ms Gibb speaks of her experiences amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a public meeting sponsored jointly by All Saints’ Anglican Church and the Society of Friends on Friday at 7.30pm, in the Haseler Hall, below All Saints’ Church, corner of Selwyn Rd and The Glebe, Howick. Phone inquiries to 534-6864.

© Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers

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