Despite the worldwide fanfare surrounding the inauguration of President Barack Obama, my heart is still too heavy with sadness and outrage regarding the recent war crimes perpetrated by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people to join in the celebration.
Even though the military bombardment has stopped, and the world is happily focused on the ‘historic’ imperial coronation in Washington, DC, life for the Palestinian people remains one of smoking misery.
What would Whitehorse look and feel like, I wonder, if it were mourning 1,200 dead (half of whom are women and children) and 5,000 wounded, some homes, churches, college, and government buildings laying in ruin, no electricity, running water or fuel, not to mention having already endured two years of siege, of closed borders and precious little import of food, medicine, clothing etc.
What would be the measure of our happiness for the future?
The stark contrast of so much talk and media hyperbole of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ projected upon, and expected from, Obama, is something I find unfair, unrealistic, and ultimately, too easy. It all sounds so much like the opposite of scapegoating, of having swung from one popularist extreme to another while the livid reality remains the same, that Western consumerist masses continue to avoid any serious (vs. token) “change” in lifestyle or assuming any responsibility for the state of things past, present and future.
Truth is, real change is not easy, and it usually begins with a courageous formidable few who, in time, become many, and finally, a safe momentous majority.
The reason I am writing this letter on this Inauguration Day is to speak of a minority of real heroes and heroines who have been my source of inspiration and “hope” for “change” amidst the personal heart-wrenching Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These are people who are too small and ordinary (like your readers and me) to make it into sensationalist mainstream media, but who nonetheless have taken “change” seriously for many years already, and despite the odds, carry on, day to day, and will no doubt eventually achieve justice, will achieve lasting change, a change that is not just for themselves.
One of the oldest groups is Machosm, pronounced Makosm, a Hebrew word for checkpoint. Founded in 2001 in response to reports of human rights abuses against Palestinians at military border checkpoints, this expanding group of exclusively Israeli women, from a wide range of backgrounds and political opinions, monitors the many checkpoints daily to ensure the human rights of Palestinians are protected, to record detailed observations and circulate same to wide audiences via multimedia, and when necessary, to physically intervene/disrupt violent assault and consequently accept arrest/imprisonment.
Another remarkable group is named Parents’ Circle, which unites hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost immediate family members as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unwilling to avenge their loss, they have been working together to promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. (The personal and collective testimonies are truly amazing!)
There are the internationally renowned Christian Peacemaker Teams who, by nonviolent protest intervene during home invasions and/or the demolition of homes by Israeli military; help to rebuild destroyed homes; escort Palestinian school children, shepherds and farmers through areas where they are exposed to assault by extremist Israeli settlers, and it is CPT who helps replant olive groves vandalized by extremist settlers.
There is the rising movement of Israeli soldiers known as refusniks, both young conscripts and older reservists alike, who courageously refuse to serve their country in the “criminal oppression of others” and consequently accept terms of imprisonment as well as endure social stigma.
Finally, there is the group Rabbis for Human Rights, made up of progressive rabbis from all sects of Judaism, in Israel and around the world, who, rising above theological differences, unite to advocate for the human rights of West Bank Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and foreign workers, as well as the status of women, among other causes.
There are other groups deserving mention, but I will stop here.
As much as I hope for the best regarding the new Obama administration, my personal inspiration for “change” still lies with these aforementioned ordinary people and others like them.
Again, it is they who challenge me by their deeds, and hopefully your readers, too, to become active and informed citizens of one’s country and of the global community. Notice, if you will, that these ordinary folks did not, and do not, wait for their government to bring change. The same goes for all challenges facing humanity today. True change and hope, in that order, must come from the masses, from ordinary people.