Friday, April 1, 2016

A Grain of Sand

The beach in Tel Aviv
Three and a half years ago, I was getting ready to spend three months Palestine with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  When I told friends and family members my plans, the ones who didn’t think I was crazy or stupid asked me, “What do you think you can do (that world leaders haven’t been able to do for the past 75 years)?  My answer was, “If I can move one grain of sand on the beach in Tel Aviv, I will feel I have accomplished something.”

Of course, literally kicking sand on the beach was easy – but making any kind of a small change was to prove much more difficult. During my time there (Spring, 2013), my EAPPI teammates and I provided a protective presence for workers, farmers and school children while they crossed their respective checkpoints, monitored peaceful demonstrations protesting closed roads, settlers’ sewage being dumped on Palestinian farmlands and the continued encroachment of the Separation Barrier (“Wall”) across the ever-shrinking Palestinian territory.  We also cried with (and for!) them; laughed with them and prayed with them.
A farmer is denied access to his fields
While we didn’t do away with any of the overt barricades that residents of the West Bank have to endure in their everyday lives, we’d like to think that at least they knew they weren’t alone – that there were people who’d crossed oceans and continents to be with them and to hear their stories.  And that, in the end, was what they most wanted.  When I was getting ready to go back home, I asked my Palestinian friends what one message they most wanted me to deliver in the U.S.  “Tell them to come and see for themselves,” they all said – as if in chorus – “Tell them we’re human beings.”

The three months on the ground is only half of an EA’s job; the other half is advocacy. I have been spending a lot of time doing this in the three years since my return.  Because I am a United Methodist, much of this advocacy has been through my church.  I am proud that my Annual Conference (Oregon/Idaho) has passed a resolution to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola   and Hewlett Packard, and even more proud that it was done in a collaborative partnership with the financial bodies who are often the “opposition” to such resolutions.  At present, a working group of financial representatives and members of our Holy Land Task Force are working together on implementing divestment – and we are doing so in a cooperative, collaborative manner.  The work we have done to date is certainly the equivalent of a few shovelfuls of sand!

The Separation Barrier is twice the length of the recognized border
And I must add here that we are all praying that, when the United Methodist General Conference (a big, international quadrennial convention) meets in my home town of Portland, Oregon, this May they will approve resolutions requiring the entire international church to divest, which would represent a large bucket of sand!

Beyond my “Methodist Connections,” I have also been working with a wonderful coalition of Portland activists, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Students United for Palestinian Human Rights, Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Friends of Sabeel, Kairos USA and more. This group has obtained the support of Portland’s Human Rights Commission and the Portland Socially Responsible Investment Committee in its campaign to get the city to divest from Caterpillar, as well as making these bodies aware of other US companies whose human rights violations make them a bad investment in many ways.

Of course, there have been setbacks – including draconian anti-BDS legislation that is making, or has made, its way through a number of US states – and has recently made its appearance in the US Congress with an anti-BDS bill (“The Combating BDS Bill of 2016,” S.2531) co-sponsored by one of my very own senators - Ron Wyden of Oregon.  Again, the coalition is working to express displeasure with this clearly undemocratic legislation – the letter-writing and protesting continues!

But, for those of us who believe that the Occupation will end and the Wall will fall, the sands continue to shift and justice must prevail.

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