Archive for May, 2011

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Inspiration In Action: Neta Golan

May 31, 2011

Neta Golan is a close friend and ally of Michigan Peace Team, serving as not only a person of support for our teams in Palestine, but an incredible inspiration for all individuals pursuing a path of non-violence.  She lights up the international activist arena with her dedication, power and humility and has an extensive track record of successful non-violent action for social change.

Neta is third generation Israeli, born and raised in Tel-Aviv she attended Jewish schools where “Jewish history and religion were taught as regularly as arithmetic” (180, Brave Hearts Rebel Spirits).  Throughout her education, she was taught a strict Israeli agenda that engrained in her mind the view of Israelis as victims, and “Arabs” (lumped into a single group to erase the Palestinian identity) as inherently violent.  She was taught as all Israelis are, to hate their neighbors, to feel superior and violated by them.  However, as a teenager she was given a sneak peak into the realm of atrocious human rights violations and the moral fiber of her being began to violently reject the assumptions she was taught to make about Palestinians and their land.

Resultantly, this amazing woman dodged the Israeli draft in pursuit of non-violence, went on to study Buddhism in Canada and created her own foundations of spiritual non-violent resistance.  Delving deeper into the foundations of non-violence, Neta then spent months in France at the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Buddhist Retreat Center, as well as taking time to practice meditation in prolonged silence in India.  It is my belief that these personal forays into spirituality profoundly effected Neta by grounding her in a life-long dedication to non-violence.  As a result of this deeply grounded stance, she has repeatedly put her body in potentially lethal danger, using her own flesh as a shield protecting Palestinian civilians from armed Israeli settlers and soldiers.  In 2002, Neta was among several other non-violent activists who voluntarily barricaded themselves inside Yasser Arafat’s compound and the Church of Nativity, where dozens of Palestinians were holed up against Israeli fire.  Using themselves as protection meant to the Israeli army that killing Arafat and other Palestinians in the compound meant the possibility of killing Israelis as well as international observers.

This type of non-violent action is known by numerous names, but we at Michigan Peace Team call it Third Party Non-Violent Intervention (TPNI).  Through this strategy, internationals (or in Neta’s case, untouchable nationals) provide protection simply by their presence.  This method of non-violent action has proven to be successful again and again, and is part of the provocation for the incredible organization Neta co-founded in 2001, International Solidarity Movement (ISM).  Among other incredible and like-minded individuals, many of whom are Palestinian, Neta organized a “movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent direct-action methods and principles” (www.palsolidarity.org).  ISM has enjoyed continued exposure as a non-profit and may be the most well-known pro-Palestinian movements worldwide.  This is the same courageous organization that in 2003 lost to Israeli military machinery, non-violent activist Rachel Corrie, whose parents spoke at MPT’s most recent “Signature Event”.  Rachel Corrie’s death is still in the process of being vindicated, as her parents struggle through the corrupt Israeli court system.

Neta has been a backbone through these kinds of horrid events occurring to both internationals and Palestinians engaged in non-violent action in Palestine.  Throughout her time living in Palestine with a history of engaging in non-violent action, Mrs. Golan has sustained numerous injuries and near injuries.  She knows first hand how to deal with these situations and has come to MPT’s aide numerous times over the course of our action in Palestine.  Most recently, Neta has worked and continues to work with our own team member Sandy Quintano, who was severely injured earlier this month while participating in non-violent action in the field.  The incredible perseverance Mrs. Golan has continues to create positive change within individuals and throughout the world.  She now lives with her husband and children in Palestine, working extremely hard to train Israelis, Palestinians and international activists in non-violent action as well as support current activists on the ground in the territories.

With the recent brutal attacks on non-violent protesters during the commemoration of Nakba day throughout Palestinian territories and along the borders of Syria and Lebanon, activists such as Neta have their work cut out for them.  However, the power individuals like Neta have in their commitment to non-violence fosters dreams for peace and keeps the will to partake in non-violent action alive.  Neta’s life accomplishments and perseverance in the face of a way of life contrary to her  moral stance is an inspiration and encouragement to all who face adversity in the struggle for peace.  Her humble nature, hard work and uncrushable spirit encourage young minds such as mine to actually be that change Ghandi so eloquently asked of us.  Differences in this world do not come solely from the minds of our government officials, but begin with focused, passionate individuals, presser-veering through hardship to create positive and sustainable change through non-violent social action.  The change is happening all around us and we have ourselves, other non-violent activists and Neta Golan in particular to thank.

-Kellie Brandt-MPT Intern

Interested in learning more about Neta and others like her?  Check out the book “Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual Activists Handbook” by Brooke Shelby Biggs!

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MPT Partners with Peace Zones for Life

May 27, 2011

MICHIGAN PEACE TEAM  is partnering with Peace Zones for Life…..We welcome your joining us!!!  If interested, just email us….

MPT: Peace Zones for Life

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Forgiveness: a power of non-violence

May 23, 2011

Is it possible to have a dream of constructing a peaceful world like it’s a small world, where people take hand in hand regardless of race, ethnicity, and nationality, even on the place having a memory of bloodshed? The answer is still on the way to be proven, as Rwanda has been working on reconciliation and reconstruction of the nation, where was once ruined in 1994. In April in 1994, Hutus took machete in their hands and started killing their Tutsi neighbors. The occurrence is often recognized as a unique phenomenon due to mass involvement of ordinary citizens, basically Hutu farmers. Since the Tutsis and the Hutus in Rwanda had maintained a relatively peaceful ethnic relation by sharing the same language and culture, Tutsis’ agitation must have been huge. Even for outsiders, no one would have thought about that Rwanda, which was once highly praised as a model development nation in Africa, received fame of genocide in 1994. Today, death of as many as 800,000 people has still hacked and parlayed a number of Rwandese, and many of them have not taken a step to move on from the past yet. Although different experiences of genocide survivors and ex-perpetrators during the genocide still divide people, a documentary film as we forgive show power of forgiveness and hope for creation of a peaceful world again on the place of bloodshed.

The film was published in 2008, 14 years after the Rwandan genocide was taken place. Among various films having focus on the genocide, this film incredibly succeeds in drawing afterward struggles between genocide survivors and ex-perpetrators. The struggles have started in 2003 when Rwandan president Robert Kagame announced release of thousands of prisoners who had confessed their sin. In the film, the Tutsi survivors show their agitation and struggles of how to face with the killers of their family members and relatives. To make matters worth, in some cases, they exactly know who killed their beloved ones because the killers were often their neighbors. Two Tutsi women, Rosaria and Chantale, featured in the film struggle how to forgive ex-perpetrators. Especially, Chantale’s sorrow is deep. She cannot go to a church to pray any more, where most killings were taken place, and she does not want to forgive her father’s killer John under any circumstance. How could they do such inhumane things? How come can they ask for forgiveness? How can I forgive them? A pitiful scar on Rosaria’s back and Chantale’s angrily cry show audience how deep the genocide left scars both on their bodies and minds.

Then, the ex-killers were just like “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible”? No, they are not. As Saveri who killed Rosaria’s family says, most people were pushed to join. There was no choice for them other than killing. He describes his actions during the genocide “unbelievable”, and he was even afraid to leave the prison in fear of facing with Rosaria and her family.  John, another perpetrator, who killed Chantale’s father, says he felt like he was an animal during the genocide. Their anxiety and guilty are captured so real in this film, which written documents probably cannot provide for readers. While people are often inclined to sympathize with obvious victims, audience would know that the genocide also paralyzed people on the other side. Yes, they can give excuses by saying “they are not responsible.” They were not wrong in a sense that political extremists incited killings and gave the only one choice of “join” to Hutus. However, running away from the fact they indeed killed their neighbors is not a solution, and that is what the film put emphasis on.

Both forgiving ex-perpetrators and seeking forgiveness from the survivors are not easy things to do. Even facing and accepting the fact is difficult, and forgiveness has to take further steps to reach. Besides, it was genocide not discrimination, repression, or anything like those. More strong hatred, which could promote violence as a mean of retaliation, must have existed there. In order for the survivors to forgive the ex-perpetrators and for them to be forgiven by the survivors, various efforts have been made through the civil society organizations (CSOs) and local communities. Such as tree housing projects, which ex-prisoners construct houses for the survivors, and counseling are the way to bring people together and enable close communication. In the film, communication is showed as a way to understand each other. Both Chantale and John were afraid of meeting each other, and they finally had the very first meeting 14 years after the genocide with the help of a faith-based organization. We cannot see visible progress during the meeting, but their communication brought invisible but certain changes to both Chantale’s and John’s minds. In fact, Chantale joined tree housing project and forgave him later on. Also, John felt much more freedom in his mind and made up his mind to start asking forgiveness from her. Running away from problems or keeping in one’s shell is not a solution, and these actions might cause more violent actions. Bishop John further explains importance of forgiveness in the society. According to him, forgiveness is a counterforce to desire employing violence, and non-violence is needed to reconstruct the nation and lead better future.

 Rwanda has a good sign of leading a non-violent society. As Joy Muana, a 15 year-old school girl, proves that ethnic division is somewhat eased among younger generation. She is a victim of the genocide, and she explains she used to feel angry toward the ex-perpetrators. When she forgives, she feels much better. Rather than having grudge and feeling angry, she chooses to wish and work for construction of a peaceful future of the country and unity among Rwandese. Also, Gahigi, who lost 142 members of his family, involves in promoting confession of ex-prisoners and working for reconciliation. Like them, stepping toward to those who killed their beloved ones is not easy. But efforts they have made and wishes they have had have reflected in the society. Indeed, there have been no major violent conflicts among Tutsis and Hutus after the genocide so far. Besides, efforts have been made by ex-perpetrators as well. Beyond comprehension, offering more tangible helps for the survivors actually works to restore trust. It must take time, and they cannot make dynamic steps. But I believe it is the way. If forgiveness is the ultimate form of love as the film emphasizes, it does not come right away. Therefore, we have to be patient to see whether non-violence would come at the last.

In short, Rwanda is still under construction of it’s a small world where a peaceful society and unity of Rwandese exist. 14 years may not be long enough for people to recover from injuries they got in 1994 genocide, and scars that the extreme violence inflicted on people may be too deep to cure. However, efforts made by people should not be ignored, and pursuing non-violence solutions show hope. The film proves that forgiveness is a strong nonviolent power. Violence is always strong; it has never continued. Rwanda was not an exception, and in fact, the nonviolence movement has continued much longer than use of violence. Of course, nonviolence needs supports. A number of supports, which can surpass threats of violence, are needed. But once it succeeds, a society like it’s a small world is not a dream, I believe.

Source

As We Forgive. Dir. Laura Waters Hinson. 2008. Film.

Further Readings

Sarkin, Jeremy. “The Tension Between Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Politics, Human Rights, due Process and the Role of the Gacaca Courts in Dealing with the Genocide.” Journal of African Law. Journal of African Law, 2011. Web. 5 Mar. 2011.

Varshney, Ashtosh. “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society.” World Politics. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.

MPT Intern –Mari Shibahara-

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