A little over a week ago I stood in the South Hebron Hills not far from the spot where, we now know, three Israeli teens had been put to death, assumedly by operatives of the Palestinian organization Hamas (though that is far from proven at this time). I was visiting a prominent nonviolent Palestinian activist from the village of At-Tuwani, where successful actions have been carried out against various provocative measures of the Israeli police and soldiers, just as I had visited their counterpart some days earlier, Rabbis for Human Rights, in Jerusalem.
Not only my host, Hafez, but many of the Palestinians I met and many whom I knew from one connection or another before are of like mind with their Israeli counterparts: strong, peace-loving, generous. Why can they not prevail against the madness that inflames the region now? Why, on the Israeli side, does the “tail” of settler fanaticism wag the “dog” of Israeli society, as one of my rabbi friends put it? Why does the fanatical group Hamas so easily drag Palestinian society as a whole into the maelstrom of violence?
In my search for an answer to this question I remembered a reflection that had come to me after 9/11 when I asked myself how one terrorist act (assuming, for now, that the official story of those responsible is correct) could have wrought such a devastating change in the democratic fabric of America. The answer is that acts of terror, an extreme form of violence, resonate with an atmosphere of violence, when that’s present, and it multiplies their effect. It does not have to be that way. Just recall how, at the successful conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, a Ku Klux Klan bomb went off to virtually no effect, where attacks like that had previously wrought havoc. The powerful nonviolent atmosphere of the campaign overcame the cowardice of the attack, smothering its effect. People just ignored it.
Such an atmosphere, alas, is rarely present anywhere. Certainly it was not present in the United States on 9/11, and thus the attack’s effects were amplified, perhaps beyond the attackers’ wildest dreams.
The day we left At-Tuwani Hafez took us on a tour of the village. I will never forget how, as we stood looking back at his side of the valley and the simple concrete structures strung out across the hills, he shared with us some of the ongoing harassment he and his people had to endure. I said, at one point, “They’re trying to provoke you into violence.” For a long time he stood silent and I thought he was searching to understand the word, but that wasn’t it at all. With great passion he looked at me finally and burst out, “They will never provoke me into violence.”So it is in Israel/Palestine today. The seeds of peace are there where we need them, but the conditions that would nurture those seeds are not. It is this that we must somehow change. One way would be to understand and support the courageous activists who embody them – just as we are reaching out right now in support, quite appropriately, to the parents of the three teens who just met their end in the grinding conflict.
Hafez, if there were more like you, think of the bloodshed we would be spared; think of the human dignity we would reveal.
First posted at Tikkun Daily on July 1, 2014.