The diving lesson

It was Saturday afternoon and I was doing laps in the pool. There weren’t many people around. It was calm and I was selfishly glad to have the “slow” lane all to myself.

clip_image001(1)“Excuse me?” said a voice.

I looked up and saw a boy leaning towards me from the edge of the pool at the end of my lane.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you know how to do a back flip off the diving board?” the boy asked.

“No,” I said almost laughing.

Then I recognized him. He had been with a group of other boys five minutes earlier who were all doing tricks, flips and fancy dives off one of the regular sized diving boards.

“Um, but you’re a professional swimmer right?” he said absolutely sure of himself.

I had to chuckle. I am the last thing that comes to my mind when I think of a professional swimmer. I don’t wear a swimming cap, goggles or a particularly sporty looking bathing suit. And I was swimming with a flutter board for goodness sakes!

“No, I’m just a hobbyist,” I explained.

Then I realized he might not know what “hobbyist” means. He looked about nine years old.

“Oh, so swimming is just your hobby?” he queried.

I said, “That’s right” (clever, he understood what “hobbyist” means).

“Well do you know how to do dives?” he continued.

“Um, well actually, no.” I had to think for a while. When was the last time I dove into water? Probably when I was a kid. I wasn’t sure I remembered how.

“Oh, well I can teach you if you want,” he persisted.

I hesitated. I didn’t really want to get out of the water. I was on a roll with the laps. I came here to get fit not really to have fun. Though there was that one time I went down the waterslide. I felt kind of silly – a grown woman at the pool on her own going down the slide. And I never go into the shallow pool (which looks like a lot of fun) except that one time my youngest sister was in town (and she threw a ball in my face). There seems to be an unspoken rule, or maybe it’s just in my mind, that the shallow pool is only for children or adults with children.

“Okay,” I said finally, pulling myself out of the water.

He taught me how to do a regular dive, a sideways dive and a squat-down-like-a-duck-dive. He explained how each one was done step by step and then demonstrated them for me.

“Okay, now I’ll try and you let me know how it looks afterwards,” I said hoping I wasn’t about to break my neck or fall flat on my belly.

Arms pointed, aim, lean, I’m leaning, I’m falling, falling, FALLING, no… I’m diving, toes together. SPLASH!

When I resurfaced, I heard my personal coach cheering me on:

“Wow that was really good. Doesn’t it feel good to learn something new?”

“Yes, it does,” I said smiling.

“Now what about this, just hop up a bit when you leave the ground and dive in,” he said encouragingly.

I started to try and do it but it felt awkward and scary. Like the first time ever trying to do a cartwheel.

“I can’t do it. I feel scared,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I won’t make fun of you.”

“I think I’ll just work on my regular dive,” I said decidedly.

I dove in again and asked him how it looked as I pulled myself out of the water. It felt more like a belly flop.

“It looked good. Eight out of ten!” he said enthusiastically.

“Well, I need to get going,” I said realizing twenty minutes had already passed since the diving lesson began.

“Are you sure? I have a lot more to teach you,” he sounded disappointed.

He seemed kind of lonely and just wanted someone to hang out with. I felt bad and also empathized with his loneliness.

“I’m sure you do. I really do need to go though. I have an appointment in half an hour. But thanks for everything.”

“My name is Ethan,” he said while extending his hand towards me.

“Nice to meet you Ethan. I’m Natalie. Thanks for teaching me how to dive today,” I said while shaking his hand pruned up from the water.

I left the pool quite amazed. Did that really just happen. Did a young boy just randomly teach me how to dive? I am someone who feels claustrophobic when I attempt to do the forward crawl and am too shy to practice it in the public pool. Diving…I feel like I conquered a small fear I didn’t even know I had until invited to try something new and go beyond my regular routine and comfort zone. I was reminded that no one is too young to be a teacher and or too old to learn.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Love & Literature

“We have the right to learn” – Palestinian school under demolition order

During the lunch break at the school in Izbat at Tabib a young boy approached me to offer a fistful of salty pretzelsamidst the noise and activity of students at play in the schoolyard.

DSC03260

Hospitality and warmth like this is something I experienced a lot but is surprising considering Palestinians subsist on so little in this area of the occupied Palestinian territories. My teammates and I, with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAAPI), had stopped by the school to introduce a television crew from Germany to this small community of less than three hundred people. The community consists of refugees, many Bedouins, who resettled on their family’s land east of Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank when they were displaced in 1948 at the time the State of Israel was created.

Over the last ten years, the World Council of Churches has coordinated the presence of international Ecumenical Accompaniers who are sent by their local churches and provide a protective presence to communities facing hardship because of the conflict. We commit to work on human rights advocacy and towards a just and peaceful end to the occupation. I was sent by the United Church of Canada, a member church of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and served in Jayyous from September to November 2012. During the three months we did many tasks, including accompanying farmers to their land during the olive harvest where there was risk of violence from Israeli settlers, monitoring Israeli military check points where civilians pass to get to work and to school, documenting arrests of Palestinian children and adults by Israeli military, and offering support to Israeli and Palestinian groups working for peace.

The village of Izbat at Tabib is situated in a zone known on United Nation’s maps as Area C , which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement under the 1995 Oslo accords. But like many Palestinians communities in Area C throughout the West Bank, they are still living under Israeli control. This means that in Area C it is next to impossible to secure a building permit. As a result 33 out of the 45 houses in Izbat at Tabib built without permits have demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration.

School Izbat at Tabib_Kate Cargin

School Izbat at Tabib, photo: K. Cargin

The community did not always have a school of their own. It was built in 2005 after one child was killed and another seriously injured in traffic accidents while walking to school on a busy highway to the neighbouring town of Azzun. The school serves 48 children from grades one to seven. The building also has a meeting hall for the village council and a health clinic for a visiting mobile health team. Given administrative difficulties due to being located in Area C, the school was built without a permit. In August 2012 the Israeli Civil Administration issued an administrative demolition order and ordered that the building be vacated in 21 days.

The teachers told the television crew how the pending demolition order has created anxiety amongst the children. One student proposed to come to class on top of the rubble if the school is destroyed. In the schoolyard I met a boy named Othman whose English is outstanding for someone in grade five. I asked him how he felt about everything going on here with the demolition order. “We want to stay in our school,” he told me.

Othman’s favourite subject is math but on that day he was getting ready for an English quiz. He told me he scored 10 out of 10 on his last test. I wished him good luck and wondered about the fate of this bright, young boy if his education is interrupted by a demolition or if he is forced to walk along the dangerous road to the overcrowded school in Azzun. The village council is engaged in a difficult legal process in an attempt to protect their school. Unfortunately this process is not a guarantee that the school will be saved. Groups and individuals, both Palestinian and Israeli, continue to show their support for the school in Izbat at Tabib during the community’s ongoing, non-violent demonstrations bringing attention to the importance and right of access to education for the children.

—–

Published in World Communion of Reformed Churches, Reformed Communiqué: http://www.wcrc.ch/node/941

Full edition of March 2013 Reformed Communiqué:  http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/WCRC_Communique-201301-EN-lowFINAL.pdf

Version français: http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/WCRC_Communique-201301-FR-low.pdf

UN OCHA fact sheet on Area C:  http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.pdf

About the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: http://www.unicef.ca/en/policy-advocacy-for-children/about-the-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, EAPPI or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me for permission. Thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Israel/Palestine

Barot and the Basement – A Tribute to Elders of Resistance (ou “j’ai trouvé l’esprit œcuménique au sous sol)

When I worked for the World Council of Churches I would occasionally leave my desk, break the monotony of sitting in front of the computer responding to hundreds of emails, and retreat to the basement of the Ecumenical Centre (home to the WCC headquarters and several other organizations in Geneva).

The basement became a desirable quiet space—an alternative to the cafeteria tea break. I found myself again and again drawn into the bowels of the building as a way of reminding myself why I was doing this work and the mantle of responsibility I carried on my shoulders to honour the work and history of the ecumenical movers that came before me (a movement is made up of movers, no?). Down the spiralling staircase into the cool, quiet dark of the concrete basement I found calm in the stillness amongst shelves and shelves of records. I would walk between the books, papers and boxes and stop to read the labels of the archived materials: “1949 Youth Work Camp” or “South Africa Apartheid: Programme to Combat Racism.” As I touched these boxes I felt somehow connected to the voices and people represented by these records and greatly humbled. A few times I would invite people, colleagues or visitors, to come with me, “Do you want to see my favourite place in the whole building?” They probably thought I was going to take them to see the beautiful stained glass in the chapel or the large tapestry in the meeting hall or the diversity of flowers in the garden…no, down to the basement we went to connect to this ecumenical heritage.

I recently read André Jacques’ account of the life and work of Madeleine Barot published by the WCC in 1991 shortly before her death. After reading about Barot’s life, I realized how little I know of ecumenical history – only snippets here and there that are loosely stitched together. I wonder if we do not spend enough time across generations listening to stories, especially of elders, from whom we inherit this great legacy and project of unity.barot

Barot worked with youth movements like SCM and YWCA who came together to form the CIMADE (Inter-Movement Committee for Evacuees) in 1939. They asked themselves how God was calling them to act in the context of war where friends they had made with young people from other countries were now considered their “enemies.” Barot and other people active in the youth movements of CIMADE decided to live in the internment camps in France with Jewish refugees and those in the resistance movement. I realized their model was truly an early form of “accompaniment program.” They witnessed and experienced the internees’ daily life of imprisonment and tried to secure resources in scarce supply such as clothing, medical supplies and food. They provided pastoral care and organized prayers for those interested and demonstrated what seems to be a great deal of sensitivity to religious plurality (i.e. some Rabbis joined in the bible studies and offered their wisdom on the Hebrew scriptures). They helped people escape to Spain and Switzerland who were to be deported to German camps. They mobilized the churches in any effort they could to spare adult and children internees from death. They were active resisters to the racism, xenophobia and fascism experienced through the Nazi and Vichy regimes. People like Barot and her contemporaries in these struggles were instrumental in the formation of the WCC.  One quote I found both inspiring and challenging was from Barot’s address in 1947 to the World Conference of Christian Youth in Oslo (considered the first major postwar international, ecumenical conference):

 “Young people aspire to Christian unity not only on the level of theological speculation and doctrinal affirmations but also on the level of daily life…It seems to them that beyond the reality of divided churches, the different ecumenical movements have created the consciousness of Christian unity, but that this remains too intellectual. To become a revolutionary and creative power at the heart of this broken world, the creative action of the Holy Spirit is needed.”

Barot, was a young woman and a powerful leader who exemplified solidarity, ecumenical cooperation and persistence through her faith to actively oppose injustice. Her address from 1947 is one for unity—visible, lived unity. It is not enough to talk about our togetherness —we must act. She also goes on to say:

“Observing the life of the churches confirmed my impression that ecclesiastical institutions can paralyze the witness, service and presence of Christians in the world.”

Somehow her wisdom echoes into today’s church context. Where is the spirit of the ecumenical movement that once inspired these young people towards acts of non-violent bravery and compassion? How do we continue to follow the Holy Spirit in the midst of institutionalized church and ecumenism? How are we being called as witnesses and movers for justice in the world today?

I was reminded of another elder of resistance, Stéphane Hessel, after the news of his death on February 26th. Hessel was involved in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More recently, he wrote a pamphlet called “Time for Outrage” (“Indignez-Vous”) and is considered a major catalyst and inspiration behind the “Occupy Movement.”  Hessel says of his pamphlet:

“Do not accept the unacceptable. Take it upon yourself to resist and to be outraged. I hope that it (Indignez-Vous) will give courage to the young generation to feel that it us up to them to change the global society in a more humane direction.”

Stéphane Hessel, whose pamphlet Indignez-Vous! sold 4.5m copies in 35 countries

During his interview on CBC radio, Anna Maria Tremonti alludes to the fact that it must have been Hessel’s outrage that led him to join the resistance in France against the Nazis. Hessel’s reflection on the French resistance during the war in comparison with the challenges we face today somehow echoed what I felt after reading about Madeleine Barot’s life. As Hessel says,

“…of course, that (resistance to Nazism) was relatively obvious. I mean it was a difficult fight but it was an obvious fight. Today it is not as obvious. What are we supposed to fight against? What challenges do we have to meet today? They are not such obvious challenges as an occupation by a foreign army. But the challenges are there. The enormous difference between extreme poverty and great, great riches. That is the injustice that has to be fought against by a solidarity movement of all. The non-violent way of determined action but without weapons can be more successful. In my long, long life I have seen non-violence more successful than violence.”

Perhaps the challenges facing us today, such as climate change, are more complex or broad as Hessel seems to claim. I turn to the examples of people like Barot in the early ecumenical movement and elders of resistance like Hessel for strength and wisdom to face what we must do today. It is not just up to young people to work for the justice and change we need in the world but should be an effort across generations as we learn together what it means to be community and  live the unity given to us.

Sources:

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, EAPPI or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me for permission. Thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Love & Literature

Reorientation

Being back at home, I am reassessing the orientation of my blog and how to stay true to the title “heart and mind for justice” now subtitled “from Israel/Palestine to canada.” Like Lilla Watson says,

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

I am now dividing this blog into different categories. If you are reading because you expressly want eye-witness accounts from EAPPI, rest assured you will find a category called:  Israel/Palestine. There are also other things that want to be written including snippets from my thesis research about Indigenous rights that I would like to make accessible, bits of wisdom from my reading and research about women in the ecumenical movement (for WCC’s 10th assembly) and other social justice issues that I am passionate about. After reading James Loney’s book “Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War,” I was inspired by his self-reflexive approach in making sense of the violence he has witnessed and worked against. This has inspired me to dig a bit deeper into more personal and theological reflection.  Of course these ‘categories’ may be porous and shouldn’t be contained in isolation from one another. For instance I see many links between struggles for human rights in my own context with that of Israel/Palestine.

idle no more I have been very inspired by and engaged in the Idle No More movement upon my return to canada (lower case ‘c’ intentional). Idle No More is an Indigenous resistance movement across the country where people are re-asserting their rights, sovereignty and reinvigorating a social movement to draw awareness to the ugly consequences of colonialism in this land. It was started by four women (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) and caught on like wild fire through social media resulting in demonstrations and creative actions across the land including the hunger strike of Chief Teresa Spence. www.idlenomore.ca

Where I live, there have been demonstrations against the Northern Gateway pipeline that would pump oil from the Alberta tar sands across British Columbia to the northern coast of the Pacific Ocean. This project has enormous ecological implications and trespasses on Indigenous, unceded territory which consists of most of western canada (meaning people never gave up their lands or title to them and they were never negotiated through any treaties so all non-Aboriginal settlements on this land are illegal by canada’s own laws and what has been inherited through British law before that). Nevertheless, this pipeline is seen as a lucrative revenue-generating project by the government and corporations.

Some local Syilx and Cree women here organized a series of talks about Bill C-45 and the omnibus bill the current federal government has been pushing through which again challenges current laws and the recognition of Indigenous rights (especially the ‘duty to consult’ to which the canadian government is obligated before introducing anything that could impact Indigenous communities and nations).  Their talks have been well attended and mark a truly historic moment in building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in this region. www.seriesoffour.ca

I feel invigorated to be a part of this awakening process! I see many links between the context here with that of Israel/Palestine and these are the kinds of reflections that want to come out through this blog. I am grateful I have had the opportunity to study at length processes of colonization, how power operates, what racism is and the potential of social movements working for justice and reconciliation.  This helps me to make sense of what is happening there, here and in me. Like Bob Marley says, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” Decolonization starts right from each of us – our way of understanding history, our ways of seeing and doing things.

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, my employer, EAPPI or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me for permission. Thank you.

1 Comment

Filed under Decolonization

being home

Some people say, “home is where the heart is.” If this is so, then a huge piece of my heart is in the northern West Bank and with the people I met during my time with EAPPI. “Re-entry” as we call it or “returning to one’s home” can be a jarring and confusing experience. Though I have been through other, similar transitions, as this one, each journey home is unique and presents new discoveries and challenges. I miss my three teammates I worked closely with in Jayyous during three months.  I grieve the fact that technological difficulties create a huge gap to keep in regular contact with people I got to know and develop strong bonds with. Most especially, I miss our neighbours. Going over to their house, drinking tea, chatting and playing with the children was a most warming, familial environment to be in a context where things are abnormal and structural violence undergirds every aspect of daily life.

While I am no longer in the land which now owns part of my heart, I search for ways to continue reflecting on and sharing the stories of people striving for their dignity and  a peaceful existence. Part of accompaniment for me is about bearing witness to people’s realities which is often painful.  I cannot unsee the things I have seen or unhear the things I have heard. The responsibility of this weighs on me – it is a part of “being in solidarity with.” When I came home I felt tired, like I just needed to focus on catching up on sleep for several weeks. I realized this is not jet lag but a result of the taxing effect the occupation has on mind, body and soul. Nightmares from the occupation rob me of sleep. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep when I hear news like  the Israeli army has recently been in Jayyous village firing excessive loads of tear gas to quell the people demonstrating against the wall. Or that two more caravans (mobile homes) have been added to the illegal Israeli outpost on the Jayyous farmland behind the separation barrier.  If I feel this tired, how must people feel who have to live this day after day? From where do people gather strength to face another morning? From where do I gather my strength to hold on to the stories entrusted to me when people have asked me to “go and tell your people, your government about what is happening here.” For me, advocacy is something I can choose to do or not. I can live in a bubble and tell myself that these problems and stories have nothing to do with me. But they do have to do with me. I am implicated in this story as we all are through a web of connections not least of which are our our economic ties and government’s foreign policies.

https://www.facebook.com/JayyousWeeklyDemonstrations

The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church, EAPPI or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me for permission. Thank you.

2 Comments

Filed under Israel/Palestine

On prayer and action – how can the church respond to Gaza?

The Moderator of the United Church shared a message on November 21 about the bombing in Gaza and rockets in Israel as he invited the church to pray. Here is an excerpt:

“No words seem adequate to address the injustice of a situation where so many people are suffering on all sides of this conflict. And so I encourage you to join with me as I turn to prayer, in the hope that the power and grace of this response carries with it the hoped-for outcome of peace and justice for the people of Israel and Palestine. And may the recently negotiated ceasefire hold fast and bring calm to a region longing for stability.” (Source: http://united-church.ca/communications/news/moderator/121121)

It has been troubling  to witness the ripple effects of this recent situation in Gaza. I met a small boy in the street in Jayyous one night who was scared and couldn’t sleep because of the sound of fighter jets flying overhead. I sat with neighbours, glued to their TV sets late in the night, as images of one, two, three, four more children’s bodies were pulled out from the rubble of another bombed apartment in Gaza. I worried about my teammates in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv as rockets were reported to be launched there. I worried about the people we met in Sderot in southern Israel. I worried about my own safety as I stepped off a bus on my way home just as Israeli soldiers were opening fire to scare off civilian demonstrators in our neighbouring town. The presence of the Israeli military in the area has increased and made tensions worse. And I am aware that this is a fraction of the horror of this situation that I find myself on the margins of.

“Prayers and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war.”  ~Thomas Merton (from New Seeds of Contemplation)

Pray and act for peace (Photo: N.Maxson)

At the Catholic church  we attended in Nablus last week, the sermon was on the gospel reading from Matthew 24:

“Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

The priest gave the following reflection: “If the sun is darkened, like during these days of violence around Gaza, then WE need to have light in our hearts and bring this light and love to everyone around us!”

Altar at the Catholic Church in Nablus – prayers for peace

I pray ceaselessly. One resource I find very valuable is the Sabeel Weekly Wave of Prayer (http://www.sabeel.org). It is a wonderful spiritual practice to pray with other Christians for peace and to keep updated what is going on. I read different media sources. I wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister and several members of parliament about the situation. I write and try to process what is going on here for the sake of the long-term advocacy work that is needed for justice. I talk to people: neighbours, teammates, friends, family.

Here is the response I posted on the Moderator’s blog today. I believe that we, as the church, are able to speak out and take action.  

Prayer and action are needed in these times. While a ceasefire has been brokered, it is only a temporary solution to a systemic problem. There will be no peace in the Middle East or security for Israel without justice for Palestinians. As Overseas personnel of the United Church currently serving in the West Bank, I have witnessed a rise in tension and clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians because of the situation in Gaza which is jeopardizing the safety of civilians of all ages here. We should pray for all victims, acknowledge the ripple effect of this violence and take action for a lasting and just peace in the region.

As members of the World Council of Churches, I direct our attention to the Council’s message on November 16 as a reiteration of a call for,

“…the end of the six-year blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. A fast facts sheet report issued in June 2012 by the UN OCHA in the occupied Palestinian territories reminded us of the dramatic unbearable humanitarian situation of the population in the Gaza Strip. As Israel continues to control Gaza by air, land and sea, the international humanitarian law holds its Government responsible and accountable for the safety of all civilians in Gaza and Israel.” (Source:http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/statements/concern-on-escalation-of-violence-in-gaza-and-israel.html )

International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights law should form the basis of our prayerful response as we talk to our own government and pressure the Israeli government to shift its policy towards Gaza.

We may not know what to do or what to say in these times but it is of utmost importance to listen to our brothers and sisters, partners, churches and groups working for peace and justice on the ground. Many positive statements calling for dialogue and action have come from Israeli groups including, “The Other Voice” a group of Israelis in Sderot (a town affected by the rockets) committed to dialogue with Palestinians in Gaza also striving for peace in their region. (Source: http://www.othervoice.org/welcome-eng.htm)

The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine also appeal for action and an end to the blockade:

“We appeal to all peace loving people across the world to work with their governments and fellow citizens to stop the destruction and the carnage that is going on in Gaza. The current distressing situation in the Gaza Strip is the result of the impasse in the political process and the absence of peace. We strongly believe that the cause of all this is the continuing Israeli occupation and the blockade and restrictions imposed by the Israel authorities on the Gaza Strip and its 1.6 population.”

We can take guidance from our own UNJPPI network in our action for peace and justice: http://www.unjppi.org/2/post/2012/11/call-to-end-the-violence-in-gaza.html

May it be so!

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

2 Comments

Filed under Israel/Palestine

Outside the walls of Gaza, we sat down and wept

In October we visited Sderot and the home of Roni Keidar. The local residents moved from the Sinai after 1979 when the land was returned to Egypt after peace agreements with Israel. Each family was compensated for leaving the Sinai and given a plot of land here. Sderot is one of Gaza’s neighbours. Roni is a member of an Israeli peace group called “The Other Voice” which she explained is composed of residents of Sderot and other places in the Gaza aimed at advancing neighbourly relations in the southern region. She explained how rockets launched to Israel impact her community. She showed us bomb shelters built throughout the town and the kindergarten that is completely fortified to protect the children. The town is equipped with sirens to alert residents of an imminent rocket attack after which they have fifty seconds to reach a shelter.

Meeting with Roni from “The Other Voice” in Sdderot

Roni is committed to dialogue with people in Gaza who, like her, believe that violence is not the answer:

“We’ve got to find a way to talk, to listen and understand. Our establishment (Israel) was a disaster for many. They need the dignity to commemorate this. We should understand Palestinians more than anyone because we Jewish people know what it means to search for an identity and home. We can’t go on like this forever. There are people on the other side that want to talk just like we do.”

Roni explained that a rocket had landed near a house in the town last night but did not detonate. She showed us around the town and agricultural fields where mostly Palestinian labourers used to work up until twelve years ago during the second intifada. Now there are many foreign workers from other countries in the fields who are some of the most vulnerable to rocket attacks.

Roni brought us to the separation barrier of Gaza itself. It was unbearably painful to see the separation wall stretched out beyond the horizon surrounding and caging in an entire population. I could not hold back my tears. It is true what people say—Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the world. In view were military balloons hovering overhead monitoring activity in Gaza and computerized guns attached to the wall and military towers. Roni wanted us to start moving away from the area quickly after about fifteen minutes.

View of the separation barrier at Gaza

“People say I’m a dreamer. I’m not a dreamer. Those who want to wipe out Israel, those who bomb Gaza again and again and think they’ll reach peace, those are the dreamers. There are solutions. You’ve just got to want to reach those solutions.”

Roni’s steadfastness is a beam of hope and inspiration in this troubled region. “The Other Voice” group actively reaches out to their neighbours in Gaza to build a bridge of dialogue and solidarity. Here is a statement from “The Other Voice” in light of the recent violence:

“We, members of the villages and townships in the Gaza enveloping region call on the Israeli government to stop mucking around with our lives and immediately enter into diplomatic and political contacts with the Hamas Government!! We are sick and tired of being sitting ducks who serve political interests.

Rockets from there and bombardments from here do not protect us. We have played around with those games of the use of force and war for long enough. And both sides have paid, and are continuing to pay, a high price of loss and suffering. The time has to come to endeavour to reach long-term understandings which will enable civilians on both sides of the border to live a normal life.”

Israeli painting on a wall near Sderot

I work for the United Church of Canada as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Church or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact me or the EAPPI Communications Officer (communications@eappi.org) for permission. Thank you.

1 Comment

Filed under Israel/Palestine