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On October 7th, 2008 I travelled to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories and documented ongoing widespread human rights abuses in the West Bank. I also witnessed something I will never forget, a Palestinian-Israeli nonviolent resistance to the occupation. I met incredible everyday people leading this work at the grassroots despite facing regular violence from the Israeli government. This violence was militarily equipped and funded by Western governments. And, this violence and collective punishment against Palestinian civilians continues to be funded and supported by Western governments today.

 

I want to share some of what I witnessed first hand.

 

In 2008 when I travelled in the Occupied West Bank, Palestinians asked me to take out my camera and show my people what was happening. This is some of what I saw with my eyes and through the lens. I witnessed assaults or attempted assaults on Palestinian farmers, Palestinian children, a journalist and an international peacemaker. I witnessed racial profiling at West Bank checkpoints. I witnessed multiple illegal home demolition sites of Palestinian homes. I witnessed market store closures and streets in Hebron where I as an international was allowed to walk on that Palestinians were not. I witnessed regular public interrogation of Palestinians by IDF. I witnessed the result of destroyed water lines to a small Palestinian village and I witnessed the result of cutting down of an olive tree farm. 

In Israel and Palestine I witnessed brave Israelis and internationals from around the world (including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Agnostics and others) standing in solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. I saw incredible Palestinian resilience. I saw diverse communities working together and calling for justice from the grassroots. Their efforts included trying to reduce violence, end the occupation and apartheid by peaceful demonstrations, documenting crimes, amplifying stories, and practicing accompaniment with those suffering. Their work was seldom respected, acknowledged, supported or seen by western media or governments.

Without exception, I witnessed Palestinians welcoming others like myself who could easily be seen as "the enemy" for the things our governments were doing; radical hospitality. I experienced these Palestinians feed us, house us and share their most painful stories with us, all while facing brutal restrictions under occupation and forced poverty. I witnessed time and time again a humanizing of the other even as Palestinians faced frequent dehumanization. I also witnessed a determination towards nonviolent resistance to the occupation with a call for international and cross-cultural support. One example of answering the call, was meeting a group of Rabbi's from Israel who travelled from Jerusalem to work with Palestinian farmers during olive harvest as the farmers faced ongoing threats of violence from settlers in the West Bank settlements, including the destruction of their livelihood by the cutting down of olive tree farms. Another example is in Jerusalem, where I met and listened to two grieving men speak together, one a man whose daughter was killed by Hamas, blown up on a bus, travel with a Palestinian man whose boy was murdered by the IDF; they spoke together as friends having met through a Palestinian-Israeli bereavement network. They modelled powerful dialogue for our group. And together, they insisted on putting cracks in the wall, a separation barrier that they believed would not stop the one determined Hamas suicide bomber or the violence of the Israeli Defence Force - but they also believed that this dividing wall would not stop the one determined peacemaker. The Israeli father said, "and we together are putting cracks in the wall". In Jerusalem I also visited and travelled with Israeli human rights organizations like B'Tselem, as they extensively and meticulously documented daily human assaults and atrocities in Israel and Palestine.

 

In just a few short weeks, I saw internationals using their "passport privilege" and presence to reduce violence and elevate the work and stories of local people including local peacemakers engaged in nonviolent direct action (you can read more about Community Peacemaker Teams vision and help support that here). On multiple occassions I saw these internationals face harassment and bodily harm as they accompanied local peace activists and Palestinians in simple day to day activities like walking children home from school or helping the olive harvest.

These are just some of the

things I witnessed.

__________

Today, I hold close to my heart the teachings of the educators of peace I met in Palestine and Israel. Despite the ongoing determination of warmongers, these everyday people and peacemakers voices will not be silenced, their work never diminished. They taught and continue to teach me/all of us so much about justice, resistance, courage and resilience. They teach us about peace not just as an end, but as a tangible means.

As I returned home, I was a changed person, their leadership helped motivate and inspire me to further my education in peace and conflict transformation studies at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Canada.

Witnessing what was happening at the grassroots in Palestine and Israel changed my life and is part of what inspired the last fifteen years of small actions in community building, filmmaking and art-making at home and abroad. I owe a forever debt of gratitude for their international leadership.

(continued in next column)

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Witnessing assaults on Palestinian farmers, Palestinian journalists and international peacemakers. Photo with Palestinian farmers above, and myself in a red hat below with Palestinian journalists, witnessing and filming the IDF trying to cover up a crime and threaten us with assault rifles drawn. 

CLIP: STORIES OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

These are some clips from a much a younger me at the start of my career. This is in 2009, a video i made to share with friends, family and supporters who helped send me on a community peacemaker teams delegation to Palestine.

Accompanying Palestinian school children between school and home as one of CPT's mandates for violence reduction. Some Palestinians told us IDF soldier violence decreased with international presence but that the same could not be said from the settlers living in the West Bank settlements. We on this delegation witnessed harassment of Palestinian children by Israeli settlement adults on numerous occasions including during the school accompaniment in the image below.

INTERVIEW WITH ZOUGHBI ALZOUGHBI 

What happened by Hamas in Israel on October 7th, 2024, along with the Israeli Government response in Gaza and the West Bank for nearly every day of the last 6 months (in this most recent stage of war), are examples of direct and deliberate attack on innocent civilians and decades long grassroots peacework. It is an attempt by warmongers (and proxy nations) to sow seeds of hatred among people for personal economic and political gain. And it is the people who pay the price.

Israelis and Palestinians, for this generation and for generations to come, deserve a safe and prosperous future.

 

We must ask ourselves...is what we supported, in the past and in the present, sowing seeds of peace for future generations? 

In this important moment in history, we in the West must stand together in courage, creativity and resistance to work to end state violence and terrorism, especially as our tax dollars, politicians and media actively support it.

 

As companies lobby and profit from these wars, what do we think will continue to happen and who will be the ones who continue to suffer the consequences?  When politicians misspend trillions of dollars on "military aid" instead of addressing root causes like ending poverty, and supporting local grassroots initiatives for restorative and transformative justice and peace...what do we think will be the outcome? If we combined creativity and compassion with the same energy, human will power and resources put towards militarism and instead put that towards nonviolent transformative social and economic justice how might this world begin to look different? Some might see these questions as idealistic or polyannish but I see them as essential, even rational questions about human survival, social justice and moral integrity and consistency for these times.

 

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom." - MLK Jr. 

Dr. William Barber has noted that after Dr. King spoke this, hundreds of media outlets rebuked him, the White House cancelled him and his open invitation, and those in the civil rights movement who wanted his focus to be solely on the movements struggle, harshly condemned him. One year to the day of these words, he would be assassinated and killed.

Ceasefire now. Release all captives. End the occupation & apartheid to free Palestine. Stop and divest from warmongers. Support Israeli, Palestinian and international peacemakers building right relations. Support nonviolent grassroots resistance.

Please take a minute to watch a bit of footage I filmed in 2008 combined with an interview clip of one of these grassroots peacemakers, Zoughbi Alzoughbi, Founder and Director of Wi'am - The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center. 

Thank-you.

If you wish to know more about my motivation for this work, inspiration from Dr. King and my own grandma, you can read on to Part II and Part III of this post. Part II Escaping the Frontlines of American Fundamentalism and Part III Finding Resistance in our Blood.

As you are able, please seek out and support nonviolent peacework. Find ways to support grassroots nonviolent resistance and direct-action, and visit sites like democracynow.org for a more accurate up to date news reporting from journalists, doctors, humanitarian workers and those working tirelessly to speak truth to power. No media outlet is perfect, but Democracy Now is in my experience an example of a news organization that especially earned my trust by their reporting on the war on terror that horrifically resulted in the death of 500,000+ civilians. DN's reporting and critique of these wars came at a time when major western media were a megaphone for violence and revenge (western media would only change their tune years too late). DN reporting has also verified my own eyewitness account of conflict and social movements experienced first hand in different parts of the world.

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