Tour Day Eleven: Finishing at UC Berkeley

by EGM contributor Tim Stoner

Our final screening is located inside a sprawling mansion, the oak paneled International House at UC Berkeley. It was established by Harry Edmonds in 1930, with financial assistance from John D. Rockefeller, and became the first coeducational residence west of the Mississippi. Its location was chosen because the street was the home of fraternities and sororities which excluded foreigners and people of color. By selecting this site, Edmonds sought to strike bigotry and exclusiveness “right hard in the nose.”

This quote, which I read from a promotional brochure, reminds me of a passage from Yonatan’s Journal. It was published after the Irene was intercepted and the crew was prevented from releasing its humanitarian aid to the refugees in Gaza. In it, he recalls being called into the office of the Commander of the Air Force following the signing of The Pilots’ Letter he drafted in 2002, signed by 27 Israeli pilots who refused to fly any more missions into the occupied territories. It is a sad and distressing memory.

“After he outlined to me his racial theory,” Yonatan writes, “(in the form of a scale of value of blood, from the Israelis on the top down to the Palestinians at the bottom), he informed me that I was dismissed and that I was no longer a pilot in the Israeli Air Force.” I shudder at the German corollary. It is a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The International House is ideal for the last stop on our tour. Its mission is “to foster intercultural respect, understanding… for the promotion of a more tolerant and peaceful world.” Co-sponsors of the event are the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance, the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education, and the American Friends Service Committee.

Students stop in early, asking when the screening is to begin. Dr. Michael Nagler, President of the Metta Center, and Professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at the university, has been a strong supporter. “We welcome this well-made and important film on one of the most hopeful developments in our grim world,” he wrote. ”This Bay-Area premiere should raise our consciousness — and our hopes.”

After the final credits roll, and the panelists come up to take their seats, something unexpected happens. When Sami is introduced the crowd begins to clap. Soon the entire room is on its feet giving him a standing ovation. This institution helped launch the anti-war movement back in the ‘60’s and remains on the cutting edge of the promotion of nonviolence. Clearly, the message of the film struck a deep chord with them.

At this last venue, there is also another first: a woman is on the panel. She is an Israeli and teaches history at Berkeley City College. Tal Pater-Palman is a friend of Yonatan’s and also knows the two other subjects of the film personally. Like all the other Israeli panelists, she is a fervent supporter of a nonviolent resistance to the occupation. She agrees that the occupation is destroying the fiber of the Israeli nation. She echoes Dr. Soni’s words, spoken only 24-hours earlier. ”The movie is very helpful,” she says, “because it shows the process of change from a place of violence to that of nonviolence. And it demonstrates how the example of others can have a great impact. I think the film’s message can be used to influence all sides in the conflict.”

Sami answers a question about the impact and growth of the movement in Palestine. “We’ve discovered that it is going to be a very long process,” he concedes. “In order to accomplish the healing that is needed, there must be leadership on both sides that is committed to breaking away from the experiences of the past.” What makes him such a credible voice is that he refuses to engage in retaliatory finger-pointing. He always balances the needs and challenges on both sides. “For us to create a future where we begin to address our own need for healing,” he says, “we must engage in forgiveness.”

But he makes clear that he is not advocating appeasement. “This does not mean we stop demanding our rights to be treated with human dignity. However,” he adds, balancing the scale again, “both sides must learn to recognize the full, equal rights of the other to be on the land.” And, he again strikes a note of hope. “In this generation we will reach a point where all three sides will learn to respect each other regardless of what the politicians decide they want. We must be fully committed to this as the only approach that will bring a just peace.” The tour ends with a four word challenge from a man who knows of what he speaks: “But, it requires courage.”

Jim Hanon tells the audience that the time is up. The tour is over. As at all the other venues, clusters of conversation converge around the room. The panelists shake the last hands. We begin packing away the equipment.

More than 2,000 people, in 12 venues, from Boston College to Berkeley, have now seen Little Town of Bethlehem. We began with just over 100 college campuses committed to showing the movie. That number has now more than doubled. EGM president Bill Oechsler, who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of energy, will go to India in a week to inaugurate the international screenings. And two weeks after that UK and Europe screenings tours will launch. There is a sense that something large and important is just beginning.

I’m glad to have been part of it.

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