Published: Sep 01, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Sep 01, 2012 06:13 PM
Before the lines harden regarding the Mideast peace posters placed by the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hills bus system, lets look at the roots of the peace effort the posters represent, and the huge need for solutions to costly conflicts that divert the resources of our allegedly broke, rich country.
When Witness for Peace leaders Joe Straley and Gail Phares traveled to Israel / Palestine in the 90s, their delegation heard from many sides of the conflict. Joe was struck by an urgent plea from popular Israeli Maj. Gen. Matti Peled. The general told the delegation, You must work to end U.S. military aid to Israel. It creates irresistible temptations. We are losing our soul in this occupation! I recently looked up Gen. Peled and discovered a YouTube video of Peled speaking in the U.S., detailing a list of negative and corrupting factors the aid presents.
It saddened me to learn of the poster controversy on the very day when an Israeli court denied Israeli government responsibility for crushing to death young U.S. human rights worker Rachel Corrie, who stood in the way of a military bulldozer sent to destroy the home of a young child Rachel had been tutoring.
Importantly, Chapel Hill is not remote from such incidents. A young human rights defender from Chapel Hill, Brian Avery, was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers and has endured many reconstructive surgeries. I was at RDU airport in the crowd welcoming him home, and heard the involuntary gasp of a girl beside me, reacting to his visible injuries. We then heard Brian gently say, If my story helps in any way to end the conflict, I will be satisfied.
With such sacrifices by our young people, it is hard to accept the indifference that contradicts the most basic ethics of our religious teachings. Leaders like Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights and Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun tell us that justice is at the heart of the Jewish faith but is being betrayed by complicity with land theft and violent occupation in Palestine.
As a Christian, Im distressed that its easier for many churches to ignore the mess that has been made of the Holy Land than to examine the Machiavellian tangle of arms industry and other pro-war interests that currently prevail through the actions of our own government and that of Israel.
The contributions of young and old international observers, and especially of citizens of the region who champion nonviolent resistance in the face of a grinding occupation, will be for naught if we are unwilling to take the slightest steps to examine the consequences of Washingtons policies.
Mideast peace organizations active here in North Carolina and across Israel, the U.S., and the world, all call us to pay attention and take seriously our role as citizens, taxpayers and members of faith and secular communities.
If bus censorship momentarily prevails, it would hark back to Chapel Hills early history in the civil rights movement. When the first Freedom Riders protesting racial segregation came through Chapel Hill by bus, they were hosted by the Rev. Charles Jones, who was subsequently expelled from the Presbyterian Church for his civil rights work. In Chapel Hill, the riders were met with physical violence and death threats. Three, including Jewish Freedom Rider Igal Roodenko and African American Bayard Rustin, served 22 days on an Orange County chain gang.
Then as now, Jewish leadership joins with other ethical citizens to challenge ongoing abuses. The Jewish family pictured on the poster is Jeff Halper, founder of Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions and his granddaughter. He has spoken here in the past, and agreed to be on the poster only if it included a call for ending U.S. military aid to Israel, not just a feel-good slogan.
The late general Peleds son will speak in Chapel Hill in November. His family has suffered from the endless conflict. He, too, seeks progress toward a just and sustainable peace.
Will we allow these bus posters to be banished from Chapel Hill? They depict Jewish and Palestinian families together, asking us to join them in rejecting division, saying, Be on our side ... the side of peace and justice. End U.S. military aid to Israel. Its a small gesture, but a hopeful sign, and a nice fit for Chapel Hills exemplary transportation system.
Jerry Markatos lives in Pittsboro.