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Peacefully Challenged in Palestine

15 February 2002

In the midst of one of the most brutal times in history, working for peace is a constant challenge. Peace challenges all our desires and delusions. We do not normally think of ourselves as brutal or callous, yet brutality and indifference to suffering define today's world.

It's the conceptual conflict that hurts the most: the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how we actually are.

Visiting Palestine is a challenge. My anger is so strong in me. The thousands of Palestinian civilians, including thousands of children, shot by Israel over the last 16 months register lightly on the hearts of most of the world. Ariel Sharon says that any end to the vicious, military occupation of Palestine must be "negotiated," and to negotiate now - let alone withdraw - would only "reward terror."

What sense is this? Does quitting smoking "reward" lung cancer? Does putting a roof on your home "reward" the rain? And why in God's name should anyone have to beg for their right to live?

Everywhere in the West Bank are pictures of the "martyrs" - the suicide bombers who've created so much fear and anger in Israel. Wafa'a Ali Idries, the female paramedic who blew herself up in Jerusalem last month, is the latest "hero." We're beyond issues of security or resistance. Today, both sides are simply inflicting as much pain on each other as they think they can get away with. Leadership that encourages or allows this must not only be condemned - it must be overcome. And with it the ice on our own hearts that helps drive this disaster.

Everywhere in Israel are images for war. T-shirts with the Nike "swoosh," and the words: "Israel - Just Do It." The logo of the rock band "Guns 'n' Roses" is transformed into "Guns 'n' Moses." The slogan “Easy does it” is transformed into “Uzi does it.” Maps of an undivided "Israel" that include the West Bank and Gaza are especially galling, as similar maps among Palestinians are used as examples of "their" racism and ill-intentions. In the singularly most deluded piece of propaganda I've seen, there are cartoons of Native Americans warning Israelis about the danger of "trading land for peace." And everywhere are t-shirts, caps, and war toys all proudly bearing the stamp of the IDF ­ Israeli Defense Forces.

The militarization of youth is maddening. Breezing through checkpoints on my U.S. passport, while hundreds of Palestinians wait for hours on end, is not half as frustrating as being waved through by boys who look too young to shave. I watched a group of 18 year-old IDF soldiers touring Jerusalem's Old City. One girl skipped along to catch up with her friends. Their gossip and laughter, and the backpacks they carried, made it almost seem like a school fieldtrip. The rifles, handguns, and police batons they carried shattered that illusion.

What a humiliation it must be to wait for hours to try to get permission to make a 20 minute drive to work, or to visit family, only to have a child, armed to the teeth, tell you "no" for no given reason.

I don't know how we can inculcate and awaken peace in one another, instead of the pain we're creating today. But I know that where we are confronting one another in delusion and anger we must begin to confront one another in peace.

I joined a Jewish peace group in replanting olive trees on land the IDF has plowed over 3 times. I was struck that about the only Palestinians present were the family that owned the land - and that fact didn't seem to bother the activists. I'm not sure they even noticed. I was struck that half the "Israelis" present were American immigrants. I asked a young woman, I’ll call her "Sarah," about the consciousness involved in emigrating to Israel, but going out to replant orchards the IDF destroys? She was taken aback by the very question.

I asked her if she would support Sharon driving people out of the West Bank into Jordan. She said of course not.

I asked her if she would live on this newly "liberated" land. She said of course not.

When I asked her what the difference was between that and living on land stolen in 1948, she didn't know how to respond. "That's history-," she said, "-that's over."

For millions of Palestinians who are still refugees after 53 years, it's not "over."

Sarah was raised strongly Zionist, and her family wouldn't support her even planting trees for Palestinians. So she hides it from them. It's to her credit that she isn't hiding her heart from life here as well.

This situation challenges Sarah's heart. Sarah and her friends challenge mine. But only by honestly and openly confronting these conflicts, inside of us and all around us, will we find ways to unlock those hearts and begin to joyously reach out to the reflection of God's love that resides in every one of us.

Ramzi Kysia, Muslim-American peace activist.
Published by Common Dreams (c) Ramzi Kysia

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