A few weeks ago a local peace and justice organization asked me to be part of a panal discussion at an event entiteld : How can people in the faith communities in our area be most effective in advocating for a peace and justice in Israel/Palestine?
The advertsment for the event invited those attending to “Join us to discuss three very different strategies being pursued by various groups within the faith community in Ann Arbor. A panel of presenters will discuss 1) building alliances with Israeli-Palestinian peace groups on the ground, 2) supporting the J-Street “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” approach of seeking to change the direction of U.S. policy and to broaden the public and policy debate in the U.S. about the Middle East, and 3) promoting economic sanctions against Israel. What are the pros and cons of each of these strategies? How can we from SE Michigan really make a difference?”
I was asked to speak to #3 Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which I was glad to do – being a strong supporter of the BDS campaign. At the same time, it was challenging to speak to only one strategy. The situation in Palestine is urgent. This seems hardly a time for ” one or the other” , but rather a time for “all, and”. It seems to me that embrassing a number of different nonviolent strategies opens more possiblilites to be heard by a broader audience. Not every individual or every group in a community needs to do the exact same thing.
After making note of that and my appreciation for the work of my co-panalists I spoke about both my personal reasons for supporting BDS and how Michigan Peace Team came to support this campaign. (see http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/boycott_divest_sanction.htm or my earlier post here https://playfulspirit.wordpress.com/2007/11/ for more details. )
After the panal spoke members of the audience came to the front to share their thoughts. People were respectful, and gave one another the chance to express “their truth” . I appreciated that, yet found myself leaving feeling frusterated and wanting more. Days later I couldn’t shake that feeling. Was it just that I was not given an opportunity to clarify things I said that I heard others misinterpret? Was it that I felt unheard? Was it that I had a hard time hearing what some others said? What was it?
A friend pointed out that I had expressed similar feelings at another event organized by this same organization a year or more ago when I sat on a panal to discuss the Wall. Knowing the individuals who organized these events to be people with integrity who seem to appreciate honest and heartfelt feedback (when given respectfully) I wrote the letter that follows. A friend suggested I post it hear as it may have relevance for others. Not sure if she is right, but figured why not…
Dear ICPJ Common Ground committee,
First – and very important – thanks for the invite to speak on the recent panel regarding various ways to work for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. There is so much strong emotion — anger, fear and pain — around this issue, it can be such a challenging topic to organize programs around. This has seemed to me to be particularly true in the Ypsi- Ann Arbor area. I do appreciate ICPJ’s concern not just for justice and peace in the region, but also the need for justice and peace – and civility – in our own communities as we work towards the larger justice and peace!
Alan and Claire were both great and it is always heartening to hear about the good work folks are doing on this issue. And, I appreciated hearing the thoughts and opinions of those not on the panel. In fact, I wish there had been more of a chance to hear from folks “in the audience“. Which is, I guess, what prompted this letter. I missed having the opportunity for the give and take conversation with folks.
I know that often before a community can move into any problem solving or conflict resolution everyone needs to feel safe to say their own truth without cross talk or feedback. Perhaps that is where our community is at. At the same time, I think real progress comes when we can engage with each other… challenge each one another (respectfully), and “wrestle” with the issues in order to emerge with some “common truth”. I do think some in our community are ready for that.
For example, I really appreciated the feedback from Ruth, Barry and others who pointed out that “apartheid” and “genocide” are trigger words for them. I wish I had the opportunity to ask them more about that and to ask for their help. I don’t want to trigger people when I am giving a talk. Not only does it raise ethical concerns and concerns about kindness – it is simply not a good tactic. Triggered people often have a harder time hearing the message.
Often when I am giving a talk (particularly where there is more time, or when the topic is less narrowly defined) I will spend a few minutes at the start asking people to just note their emotional reaction to some words and expressions: terrorist, Palestine, Israel, occupation, security, genocide, ethnic cleansing, land without a people for a people without a land, suicide bombing, homicide bombing, Seperation wall…. Etc — I then acknowledge the reality of strong emotions and note that it is often challenging to discuss the issue in ways that speak our truths and at the same time don’t trigger anyone or push any buttons. I wonder if doing that would have made a difference for them? I wish I had the opportunity to ask that night.
As I said, I would have also liked to ask for their help — – when I think about what is happening in Palestine right now (perhaps particularly in Gaza) I am scared. I honestly do believe that what I and others are witnessing is genocide. It is ethnic cleansing.
I don’t use those terms flippantly — when I first started hearing others say that I was very resistant to adopting that language. It seemed so melodramatic and unnecessarily harsh. Yet the more I looked, and read, and talked to people, and really listened to people the less I could deny that I believe that is what the world is witnessing. I simply do not know how else to say it.
And I am so afraid we are not stopping it. That we ( those concerned with justice, human rights workers, the world community ) have this space in time and history to make a difference and we are not doing it. So… how I do I honor “my truth” , how do I say what I believe without watering it down or “making it nice” – — how do I do all that without triggering people. How do I acknowledge that at times I have felt censored from saying that truth and that feeling of censorship triggers me.
I believe that every one of us in the room last Thursday has the same overall goal: Justice, Peace, and Security for every individual living in what we now often refer to as Palestine and Israel. Security, peace, justice for every Israeli. And security, peace, and justice for every Palestinian.Perhaps if we start there we can assume good intent and it matters less if we are triggered. I am reminded of a book Sitting in the Fire: Conflict transformation and Diversity (or something like that) by (?) Mindall that talks – among other things – about the need to be willing to sit in our discomfort.
Wow, my “quick example” ended up being a letter in and of itself. Sorry for the digression. My point is that as I said I know that often before a community can move into any problem solving or conflict resolution everyone needs to feel safe to say their own truth without cross talk or feedback. If people don’t get that opportunity it can block the process from moving forward.
Yet, when people are ready for “the next step” – when people are ready to engage with one another in messy, muddy, sometimes painful and real conversation — asking questions, challenging, clarifying, wrestling with the issue and they don’t get the opportunity to do that – it can be equally as problematic.
I would guess that there are those in this community in each of these places. So how do we provide opportunity for both? Longer programs with components of each? Programs with follow up programs? Clear expectations about what need a program is trying to meet?
I don’t pretend to know. But, I would be happy to work with some others who might want to brainstorm some options. Anyone interested? Maybe a meeting to just brainstorm?
Gandhi called nonviolence “an experiment in truth”…… thanks to each of you for continuing the experiment.
In Peace for Justice, Sheri