There is a conversation that weaves its way into many of my days here in Palestine and Israel. Doctors, lawyers, coffee vendors, taxi drivers, mothers, grandmas, grandpas - you get the idea - everyone wants to know what to do with injustice. There's a certain desperation to the conversation: what does a person of conscience do in the face of systemic injustice?
When I posed this question to Sami Awad, a local Palestinian leader, he responded, "The best way to fight injustice is to love."
Ok. Right now, you might be resisting a mental image of Sami wearing a tie-dye shirt and flip slops while handing out flowers. Keep resisting this image. Sami's call to love isn't a simple call to "just get along." It's not about pretending that injustice doesn't exist. It's not about being polite. This love is about purposefully engaging injustice through nonviolence in order to bring about healing, liberation, and transformation to the people of his land. This healing, states Sami, "is for those being oppressed as well as for their oppressors. Loving the enemy means you ultimately eliminate the label of 'enemy' and engage in loving action to help them recognize and acknowledge your humanity. This is how to love your enemy."
I once had a college professor who asked me to hand in 10 pages of quotes from the best minds on a subject. "Why would I want to read a paper on your thoughts?" he explained, "you haven't even begun to think deeply about this subject." Humbling, to be sure, but the man had a point. Instead of trying to impress you with my wit and depth on a subject where I am clearly taking baby steps, I'd like to introduce you to a man who lived this stuff: Martin Luther King Jr.
"Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory."
In a context of systemic injustice our love must call out justice from the other.
I'm writing all this to give a bit of context for the images in this video. Two weeks ago I visited a community who, rather than fight or flee, have chosen to stand in the struggle with non-violence as their ally. This is the village of Al Ma'sara in the West Bank. The village, surrounded by the massive “Gush Etzion" settlement block (pop. 60,000), has had much of its land confiscated in order to build nearby illegal settlements. It has also had some 1.5 square miles confiscated in order to continue the construction of the 500 mile long separation wall between Israel and Palestine. That is one BIG wall. For residents of Al Ma'sara, the issue of how to respond to systemic and personal injustice is daily reality.
On the one side, in this video, you will find people with flags, chanting and walking with their hands raised in an effort to show that they have chosen both non-violence and non-cooperation. They are on their way to confiscated land and know that they will be greeted with hostility in this attempt. On the other side are members of the 4th largest army in the world, the Israeli Defense Force. It's the job of these fully armed soldiers to support the policies of the state of israel regardless of their personal opinions. In this case, the state uses the soldiers to provide the military buffer which makes settlement expansion possible.
Confronted by these forces, the residents of Al Ma'sara have met every week since 2005 and attempted to walk to their confiscated lands. Each week they come together, enduring tear gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades, and arrests. They do so, because they refuse to be victims and they refuse to be enemies. Are they angry? Yes! Are they tired? Yes! But, each week they come back, refusing to let injustice win. Each week they pray and then begin a walk toward their land. They walk for justice, they walk to stay sane, they walk to call out the humanity of the other, they walk to have their own humanity affirmed.
Shortly after filming this rally I was standing near a checkpoint in Bethlehem when an elderly woman saw me gazing up at the large guard tower and said, "What we can do? How can we change this?"
Again with this question. . . the historical response to situations like this has usually been: to Fight or to Flee. I was happy to have met the community at Al Ma'sara who have found another option. The third way of nonviolent resistance. . . a path that takes courage, patience, strength and yes, even love.
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