The Lecture Tour at Brown University

By EGM Contributor Tim Stoner

Our second screening of Little Town of Bethlehem (LTOB) is hosted by Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and co-sponsored by the University of Rhode Island. Tonight we are joined by Teny Gross and Elik Elhanan on the panel. Gross is the Director of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non Violence in Providence, Rhode Island. He is a former Israeli army sergeant.  “My job is not pretty,” he explains, “it’s not sending kids to Harvard, or anything fancy. It’s about keeping kids in this city alive between the ages of 14 and 23.” Elik, (along with Bassam Aramin, a former Fatah militant, imprisoned for 7 years for resistance activities) is a co-founder of Combatants for Peace.

There are around 70 in the audience this evening—again, there are almost as many older folks as students. Our film seems to be attracting a lot of interest among activists who have been working in the peace movements for a long time. Judging by the responses and questions the documentary is a source of some hope and encouragement to them.

Elik is a friend of Yonatan Shapira, one of the film’s subjects. They know each other well, as they were both involved in secret meetings in Bethlehem in 2004 between former Israeli and Palestinian fighters which resulted in the formation of Combatants for Peace. “After brandishing weapons for so many years,” their public mission statement declares, “and having seen one another only through weapon sights, we have decided to put down our guns, and to fight for peace.”

Due to Yonatan’s absence, and since he joined the tour late in the game, Elik immersed himself quickly into the film in preparation for the panel discussion. During the Q&A he states his belief that Little Town of Bethlehem “touches on the most crucial aspect in the political reality of our country that continues to be ignored by the major organs of communication.” In his estimation “this film brings a much more precise and accurate depiction of the most important thing taking place in the Middle East.”

Elik, whose 14 year-old sister was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, gave one of the most compelling introductions to the impact of the nonviolence movement in the region. He described it as “a ghost that haunts the Holy Land.” In his estimation, the extreme response of the military “is a testimony to how frightening and terrifying this specter is for the occupying forces.”

His further comments about the role of violence shifted my perception of its role and impact in the conflict. He explained that contrary to the common perception, “violence is not a problem for the military forces—in reality, they welcome it.” He is convinced that it plays into the hands of the occupation forces, for it provides direct, irrefutable justification for it. “The violence of the Palestinians is used by the military power to completely excuse its use of violence against them. Therefore, the worst case scenario for the occupier is a mass nonviolent movement which robs it of its plausible use of military might.”

Teny Gross, in an eloquent response to a question about the viability of this strategy to bring peace, stated simply, “Love breaks any walls.” He encouraged the audience to resist the societal and emotional pull of apathy and hopelessness. “During the Nazi era,” he explained, “the people who were the most significant were not the soldiers but the bystanders.” Looking at the audience of students and older folks, he challenged them: “We must refuse to be bystanders.”

The audience at the Brown University campus was respectful and thoughtful. On this second night of the tour, the panelists gave us all as much food for thought as the movie itself. There were many nonviolent activists who took the opportunity following the movie to engage the panelists in further conversation. The interchange was lively and excited. Again, there seems a genuine sense of excitement and appreciation for the message of nonviolence articulated members from both sides of the conflict which gave them grounds for hope and a motive to continue in the struggle for peace.

Random Posts