Spirited Reflection: Finding peace through non-violence
I was asked by my national church (The Presbyterian Church in Canada) to join KAIROS and the United Church of Canada staff on a trip to Israel and Palestine (West Bank) in April. We were there to meet partners and other organizations working for peace in Palestine and Israel. For me, it was an honour and privilege to serve in this capacity. At the same time, it was a spiritual and emotional journey to observe and feel what is happening in the “Holy Land.”
Throughout my visit, I was introduced to organizations in Palestine and Israel seeking a common goal of peace with justice throughout the land. These organizations included groups of people promoting advocacy for human rights, local conflict resolution and better adherence to international law. Other groups supported and promoted the concepts of liberation theology and the importance of international witness first hand to the Israeli occupation and accompaniment of impacted communities. Despite the diversity, all of the organizations and people we met had a common message, “Peace could be found only through non-violence.”
This strong commitment to peace was repeated in the words of our partners. Zoughbi Zoughbi, director of Wi’am, a KAIROS partner, said: “We don’t want to dwell on victimhood. We don’t want to blame, because the culture of blame is toxic. We have a collective responsibility to change this toxic environment and build peace.” We as Canadians were definitely included in this collective responsibility. Lucy Talgieh, who coordinated the women and children’s program a Wi’am added:
“Canadians need to wake up their hearts and minds to be pro human (not pro Israeli and not pro-Palestinian) and to ask their government to stop trying to manage the conflict in Palestine and Israel, but instead to resolve it.”
As I journeyed through the West Bank to meet these organizations, it came very apparent that I was visiting a country that was occupied and controlled by foreign soldiers and walls. Travelling between communities meant going through checkpoints and being observed and sometimes searched by soldiers with machine guns. Even my Palm Sunday walk from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem was marred by an Israeli soldier pushing his machine gun into my back so that he could get by me.
I have reflected on this message of peace through non-violence and have come to admire the people and organizations we met. I also wondered how well I would persevere if my country, Canada, had been occupied by foreign soldiers with machine guns for the past fifty years. I recalled that Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote regarding non-violence that “Non-violence does not come easily or naturally. Even peace work can become a dark warrior …this is why we need to do our spiritual work.” In my reflection, I sometimes wonder if my spiritual connection would endure or would I become a “dark warrior?”
In my West Bank travels, one community that stirred my heart was the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. One side of the camp backs onto the separation wall, a twenty-five foot high concrete wall with Israeli watch towers. The local cemetery has the remains of spent tear gas canisters, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The local playground has a wire mesh canopy to catch tear gas canisters before they fall on the children below. This camp has been in existence since 1950 to hold some of the many displaced Palestinians from the Arab-Israeli War. It now has 5 times the population as in the 50’s. Some of these families have nowhere else to go.
If someone asked me how this has impacted my lifelong faith journey, I would respond by saying, “I don’t think I will ever be able to sing the hymn, “O little town of Bethlehem” at Christmas again.
Fr. Richard Rohr, http://salemshalom.blogspot.ca/2012/04/peace-post-of-day-richard-rohr-on.html, April 14, 2012.
KAIROS blog, https://www.kairoscanada.org/wiam-occupying-space-courage-resilience-humanity, May 2017.
Dale Henry worked with and for the Ministry of the Environment for over thirty three years. Protecting God’s creation and seeking justice is a cornerstone of his theology. More recently, Dale graduated with a Masters of Divinity in 2012 and became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He currently resides with the Eastern Han-Ca Presbytery.