July 2015

Wrestling with my angels in the Holy Land

Nonviolence calls me to always be reflective about my own relationships with others to ensure that I, too, am not a tool of oppression, fear or hatred. To love one’s enemies is truly Christ’s hardest teaching, writes Jessica Morrison.

BY Jessica Morrison

Today was bound to come. Today the cruelty and injustice of the world led me to rage and weeping.

Today the Israeli President visited the centre of Hebron and celebrated one of the most violent and ideological of the Israeli settlements that has been established in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The experiences of the day were poignant – but not completely different from my everyday experiences here.

The first was seeing a five-year-old girl on her way to school turn around screaming after a tear gas canister exploded at her feet. The Israeli military had thrown the canister in response to young boys hurling stones – out of frustration and defiance – towards the military checkpoint.

Then there was the eight-year-old boy whose path home from school was suddenly closed by burly military officers so they could ‘clear the area’ for the visit of the President. I pleaded with the soldier to let me walk the boy home, that he was alone and afraid, but the soldier just stared me down.

Then there was the family shut inside their home while Israeli soldiers occupied their roof. I sat with the young children in the ancient bay window in their lounge room, watching the festivities in the settlement next door.

Then there were the stories I heard from my teammates: a peaceful protestor knocked out by a ‘sound bomb’ that had hit him in the head; a person arrested for refusing to close his shop when the President passed nearby; soldiers climbing the stairs of our building, demanding that our Palestinian neighbour take down a banner displayed on her balcony, even though they’d festooned Israeli flags all over the front of her house.

As night comes I retreat to the roof of our apartment which is situated in sight of the building that is believed to house the graves of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the three Abrahamic faiths – and I groan with grief and rage.

All the prayers; ALL the prayers of the religious people who have passed through this ancient town – and this is how we dwell? I know the horrors of the world are not confined to this small city living under military occupation. My mind reels as it considers the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the West Papuans, the Afghans, the Nigerians, the Iraqis and Syrians, those who starve this day for lack of food.

Human beings can be so cruel to one another.

My response seems so small, so inadequate. I had hoped to act more decisively today, but it wasn’t to be.

In my life I beg parliamentarians to act; I support civil disobedience; I document violence perpetrated by soldiers; I seek magic words to share on Facebook to change the world. Meanwhile, people imprison those they fear, they torture those who disagree with them, and others die silently of neglect. My response seems so inadequate – and the cruelty rages on. My frustration at my impotence overwhelms me.

As I sit on the rooftop, the first clear thought that emerges in the fog of my rage is a wish that I believed in the capacity of violence as a force for good. If only I could strap my body with explosives or walk into a battle and rage at an enemy so that it would aid the cause of justice. If only I could be a martyr, surrendering my body to the flames, to the bullet or the bombs, so that it could be a catalyst for change.

I yearn for one clear and decisive action that would be my contribution. I want to take all my grief, all my rage, and channel it into one fiery gift to the world.

But as I sit on the roof and listen to the music that inspires me, I feel the still, small voice of God call me to another path. The lyrics speak of our capacity for love and to surrender to the good amongst the worst of life. I initially resist this invitation. I don’t want to resubmit myself to this path; it seems too hard. I want to embrace my one decisive act; not the frustrating disciplined, ongoing struggle of love.

The path of nonviolence seems too hard in this moment. The call to see the image of God in every settler, in every soldier, in every team-mate with whom I disagree, in every boy on the street that treats me with disrespect feels like an impossible ask. Nonviolence calls me to always be reflective about my own relationships with others to ensure that I, too, am not a tool of oppression, fear or hatred. To love one’s enemies is truly Christ’s hardest teaching.

Slowly, after much wrestling amidst the rage and the tears, I am wooed back to the promise of what I know. I know that Palestinians don’t need another hot-headed foreigner taking over. I know that it is only in the context of relationships of generosity and honesty that we can begin to practice ways of being where all people have their voices heard. I know that I need the love and support of others to be a person that won’t wield violence over another.

I slowly stand up and descend the stairs from our ancient rooftop. I approach my team mates. They receive me with love. We can find our way.

Jessica Morrison

Jessica Morrison is a Melbourne-based peace activist who spent six weeks earlier this year in the city of Hebron in the West Bank of Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT is an ecumenical organisation based in pacifist Christian traditions which seeks to “build partnerships to overcome violence and oppression”. It has been in Hebron for 20 years.

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