My friends Hani and Muniera live in a home that has become their prison. With the help of Palestinian, Israeli, and international peace activists, they refused to leave when the army told them their house would be demolished to make way for the path of the wall. Now, the wall surrounds them on all four side of their house. When I last left their home after a visit, I listened while Muniera locked the deadbolt on the small gate that they use to enter and exit their property. Thunk. It was the most horrible sound I've ever heard - outdoing all of gunfire I've heard here. Thunk. Hani and Muniera and their children are trapped, but I can leave. What privilege I have. As the sound of the deadbolt still rings in my ears, I think about what I'm doing with my freedom. I hope I'm making the most out of it.
I began thinking about privilege and freedom when my friend Um Fadi asked me about public opinion in the United States. She wanted to know if Americans, including the peace movement, were starting to talk about what is happening in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. She wanted to know if things were getting better.
I wasn't sure what to tell Um Fadi. In some ways, I feel that public opinion is turning, especially on the War in Iraq. It also seems that many Americans are calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon. But on the issue of Palestine, I wasn't sure if I could honestly give Um Fadi good news. "I think that more and more Americans understand the occupation," I told her. What I didn't say was that it seems that very few peace activists are willing to do anything about it.
Though a small group of people are working very, very hard to end American support for the occupation, most often I hear American peace activists pontificating on what Palestinians should and shouldn't do. I agree with almost all of their criticism. I whole heatedly agree that Palestinians shouldn't kill civilians. I agree that comparisons to the holocaust are silly and unhelpful. I agree that nonviolent resistance is the best way to make peace. After all, I participate in these demonstrations even when I'm terrified of the violent response of the Israeli army. But I wonder why the American peace movement has been willing to condemn the US occupation of Iraq despite the terrible actions of the Iraqi insurgency. We argue that further violence will only strengthen them and that it's our responsibility to stop the injustice in which we are complicit. We know this isn't an endorsement of terrorism. But why can't we see our way clear to end US military aid to Israel in the same way?
I sometimes hear Israelis making the same demands on Palestinians as Americans do. Don't do this. Don't do that. Do this better. Call for peace, they say. Have a huge peace march. But sometimes Israelis don't seem to realize that the response of the Israeli army to nonviolent demonstrations, including those calling for peace, is brutal. Having a demonstration isn't as easy for Palestinians as it is for Israelis. Israelis risk almost nothing while Palestinians risk everything.
Moreover, calling for peace must mean calling for justice. To often "peace activists," Israeli, American, and otherwise, fall into a trap that Martin Luther King Jr. described. "Many men call "Peace, peace!" But they do not want the things that make for peace." The truth is, I don't think that a peace movement will get Israel any where right now. But when more Israelis start calling for justice, for an end to human rights violations in Palestine and for, heaven forbid, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, then we may start to get somewhere.
Call for peace. Do this. Do that. As I joked to Um Fadi, "Um Fadi, we want you to end the occupation by yourself!" Sometimes I feel that's what Israeli and American activists are asking Palestinians to do. Just as white people ask people of color to end racism. As men ask women to end sexism. As straight people ask GLBTQ folks to end hetrosexism.
In the end, this conflict isn't just about violence and peace. It's about power and oppression. Those of us who do not live under occupation need to remember all of the privilege and power we can. What are you doing with yours?