Tour Day Eight: Wayne State University

by EGM contributor Tim Stoner

We have been waiting to hear word about the progress of the Jewish Boat to Gaza. This morning it arrives. Hours that morning, the Irene, Yonatan’s boat, was intercepted by the Israeli Navy 18 miles away from Gaza. They were surrounded by several large vessels, including a frigate, two landing crafts, and four high-powered ribs.

As soon as the nondescript catamaran was boarded, the IDF commander identified Yonatan. To avoid being removed, Yonatan put his arms around Rami Ehanan,( the father of Elik, one of the panelists traveling with us). The officer took out a Tazer gun and fired directly into Yonatan’s heart. According to Captain Glyn Secker, “Yonatan let out a dreadful scream” and fell backwards. After being dragged several feet, he was “hit twice more by the Tazer gun, screaming out again.” Under military escort, the Irene was forced to land in the Israeli port of Ashdod, where all nine crew members were eventually released on bail pending charges being filed. It is sobering news.

The screening tonight is being hosted by the Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Dellashon Di Cresce is the very enthusiastic program director. She and her assistant, Yuridia Garza, a sophomore at the school, have organized the event. They have been joined by Kensington Church and the University of Michigan-Dearborn as co-sponsors. Their efforts prove successful, as the auditorium in the Welcome Center is soon filled to capacity and extra chairs are needed. We count over 180 people in attendance.

We had hoped for a large Arab turnout, as there are approximately 350,000 Arabs living in Detroit, more than any other city in the U.S. The size of this ethnic population has prompted some to refer to Detroit as the Arab capital of North America. When we look around at the audience, we are not disappointed.

During the Q&A, a student critiques Little Town of Bethlehem for its attempt to create “a false center, as if the two sides are equal.” He feels that it failed to make clear that Israel is the aggressor and bears the greatest responsibility for the violence.

Rabbi Avi wades in. “There is no symmetry of violence,” he agrees. However, he does not believe that the film was attempting to strike a false balance. He continues responding to another query. “I do not support a blockade of Israel. What we should have is a serious conversation with Islamic leaders which would create a different language between these two sides.”

He is convinced that this civil conversation will have the added benefit of bringing exposure to an important, though little known, reality “that there are important voices in Israel crying out for help as a nation, and admitting that morally we are in great trouble.”

Sami, as usual, brings the moderating voice. “The Palestinians overplay the victim card. While it is true that the occupiers want to destroy us, violent resistance will not liberate us nor will it build the dream nation that we desire for the future.” Be empowering the people to resist, he explains, nonviolence is a threat to all who would seek to control and dominate. “It empowers people to no longer remain silent. When you are not silent, you are not silent about all forms of injustice. This is what makes the movement a danger to the Palestinian Authority as well as Israeli authorities.”

“The church in the U.S. could be tremendously influential on this issue,” Dr. Braverman states. “My expectation is that there will be a growing receptivity to say, ‘it’s okay to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic.’ The other piece is the evangelical church. They are absolutely on board with this issue. That is an extremely hopeful sign. They can bring the new energy to the old tired peace activists.”

Sami responds to the student who earlier had critiqued the movie. “We have wasted all these years trying to prove that our narrative is the best narrative. Forget it. There are breakdowns and failures on all levels. What we need to do is to honor and respect the other’s narrative and then realize that, in the future, establishing equal rights for all will have to be independent of the painful narratives of the past.” He calls this non-linear leadership. “For this to succeed we must liberate each other from being victims, from blaming and complaining. We must be empowered to break free from the controlling narratives of the past and create new, fresh narratives.”

At this point the Rabbi turns to Sami and looks at him with a sober expression. It is clear he is weighing words that, for him have great significance. “I respect everything you say,” he tells him. “I look at you and I know that with you I have a partner.” Sami, the Palestinian Christian, and the orthodox Rabbi smile at each other.

Afterwards I meet Mariano Avila from Christian Reformed World Mission (CRWM) in Grand Rapids. He has brought 8 students from Calvin College to the screening. He represents Hope Equals, a new initiative of the CRWM, whose goal is to connect North American college students with the peace and reconciliation movement between Israel and Palestine. This supports Dr. Braverman’s hopeful observations — there is a movement coalescing around this issue and it is extending across religions, cultures and ages, even into conservative denominations.

There are spirited discussions during and after the Q&A. We leave late and face another early morning flight tomorrow. The bus departs from the hotel at 5:30am for the Detroit Airport en route to Oklahoma City, EGM’s base of operations.

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