Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rachel Corrie and Reconciliation


           My friend Benjamin Barber wrote me the following note about the poem, Bro ken (here).

“Alan, As you know, I like your poetry, and this is an effective piece. Except it buys into the one-sided coverage of Rachel and those protesters who never ask questions about Hamas or the rockets or the suicide bombers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but show up naively to "front" for them in pointing to Israel's (all too real) violations of rights. I prefer organizations like the Mothers of suicide bombers and the mothers of their victims who work together; or ONE VOICE, the group of Palestinian and Israeli youth who try to collaborate on peace and participate every year in my Interdependence Day forums.”

       The poem was a reaction at the time to a murder by the IDF and its cover-up.  I do not believe that Israel internally can survive continuing to do such things, becoming so corrupt. I think Israelis and others must speak out against the occupation and act to stop it.  I recognize the heroism of the people who go to be with the Palestinians, to interpose their bodies nonviolently to prevent the occupying power from taking lives wantonly and in silence.  That Rachel Corrie had words which the abettors of such crimes have attempted to silence also needs to be said (see Fear here).

         With Ben, I prefer Truth and Reconciliation and Bishop Tutu, as I emphasized in Fear.  Every effort to get ordinary Jews and Palestinians together, to break down unfamiliarity, fear and prejudice is a very good thing.  I like One Voice (I am also familiar with it from meetings in Boulder) and what Ben is doing in organizing his Interdependence Day forums and workshops, and have long admired the Israeli woman, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, given a European peace prize in 2003, whose daughter Smadar was murdered in a suicide bombing in 1997.  She had journeyed to find out about the village the four young bombers had come from, learned of their relatives killed and abused, and spoke out against all the killings and the cycle of violence. She spoke in the European Parliament on International Women’s Day about the sufferings, particularly of Palestinian women.   In her grief, that she could take in the suffering of all, to speak out, even then, against the crimes of  Israeli government as well as those of terrorism has great wisdom. She is a beacon of what nonviolence can become – realizing that everyone, even those who do the most terrible things, are human, that vengeance alone – an eye for an eye – will not bring back those who are lost (and yet for her and for us, too, here in every moment) and that one should make an effort to heal the world, to create a circumstance where we can live together, not murder each other. 

       My experience is that Jews and Arabs have many affinities and other things being equal, often become easy and unself-conscious friends.  A wonderful Israeli soldier once befriended my then 4 year old son at a camping ground in Cordoba, Spain.  He and his best friend had been serving in the IDF, his friend as a medic.  His friend had gone back into a valley to help a wounded soldier and had been killed.  To heal himself, this man was traveling around Europe healing injured birds.  Later on, we met him again in Paris and he took us to his favorite restaurant, a Lebanese one.  We all sat around, Jews and Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and had a very pleasant evening. His favorite restaurant…

        The International Solidarity Movement is a pro-Palestinian, nonviolent movement.  I speak from knowledge only of some individuals who have participated with it.  Mass civil disobedience is probably the only way to jar Israel into self-awareness, though their efforts are but a beginning and far short of that.   The ISM's leadership also defends the Palestinian right to resist oppression violently - as true in principle but not what the movement itself encourages - but is also apparently ambivalent about the murderous and very harmful to the Palestinian cause killing of civilians. In an interview, however, one of its founders, Adam Shapiro, an American, has drawn exactly this distinction and opposed suicide-bombings which take the lives of innocents.  Among individual members I have talked with, some are silent about Hamas; with deeper insight, others condemn rockets and the murders of innocents.  I suspect Rachel Corrie would have been among the latter.  What they do is at the risk of their lives. I once as a college freshman went on a freedom ride to Maryland (and did not go two summers later to Mississippi).  My friend Andrew Goodman did. And Rachel Corrie went to Rafah.

       To be who they were, their lives were short.  One should admire their decency and their courage.  

1 comment:

Charles said...

Ben Barber's comment about your poem is very disappointing and displays unusual--especially for Ben--ignorance. Hamas is not at issue here, nor is ISM taking sides. Rachel Corries was run over by a bull-dozer as she stood trying to stop it from destroying a house in Gaza--not the house of a Hamas member, not the house of a terroist, but the house of a normal Palestinian that just happened to be in an area Israel wanted to destroy in order, once again, to show the Palestinians who is more powerful. Forgotten now is Rachel's fellow ISM colleague who was shot in the head by IDF soldiers as he tried to help Gazan children cross an intersection. And there are legions more who could be called to mind.

If I have to choose between your political instincts and Ben's, I will take yours. They are based on deep convictions about the importance of individual human beings. Ben's attempts to inject political balance where it does not belong too readily dismisses the sacrifices of Rachel Corrie and her fellow ISM colleagues. We need more of them and more of their courageous stance. Thanks for keeping that spirit alive.

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