The Nonviolent Palestinian Activists Working for Peace in the West Bank
May 3, 2015
By Batya Ungar Sargon.
Excerpts below. Link to FULL ARTICLE.
My silent guide was taking me to meet Issa Amro, his longtime mentor and the founder of Youth Against Settlements, a nonviolent movement in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron…..
Amro is one of dozens of leaders across the West Bank and East Jerusalem who are using nonviolent tactics, civil disobedience, and direct action to challenge Israel’s occupation.
The work of these activists has gone nearly unrecognized, with most of the international media attention focusing on rockets launched from Gaza and the increasing dominance of the right wing in Israeli politics.
But for the past eight years, the group has been working to instill the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience in the hearts of Hebron’s Palestinian youth, even if no one is watching.
Amro was a university student studying engineering when he first became aware of the power of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. It was 2003, and the West Bank was deeply mired in the bloodshed of the Second Intifada. The Israeli army closed the University of Hebron and Palestine Polytechnic University, reportedly welding shut the doors and preventing students and faculty from entering.
Amro was part of a group of students who formed a committee in order to figure out how to restore their right to an education. They began to study other examples of nonviolence throughout history. They read about Ghandi, the South African anti-Apartheid movement, and Martin Luther King Junior. They read the works of Gene Sharp, and they protested. And eventually, Israel reopened the university.
The struggle left a lasting impression. “From that time, all my life is in this way,” Amro told me in the center in Tel Rumeida.
Though he has a full-time job working in development at the vocational training centers in Palestine, Amro has devoted every moment of his spare time—he estimates about 70 hours a week—to nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience, with the belief that it is the most effective means of resistance….
It’s not easy cleaving to his values. Amro, who is known by name and face to many of Hebron’s soldiers, is frequently stopped. He remembers a time when the frequent detentions would infuriate him, and can still call up those feelings. “Sometimes I feel that I want to be exploded from inside,” he said. But his mission is about transformative power, a lesson he learned from other organizations and which he now passes on.
“We give training to our activists how to transform our power from negative to positive,” he explained.
Whereas once he would get angry at soldiers for detaining him, now he has a new tactic: He jokes with them, engaging them in conversation, about food, family, the weather, sex. “We embarrass them with personal interaction. We embarrass them by inviting them to eat,” he explained. When settlers insult him, Amro says “Thank you very much. It’s not good to say these things on Shabbat.”
Amro opened the center for Youth Against Settlements in 2007…..
Youth Against Settlements partners with Breaking the Silence to make videos, which are often used by Palestinian and Israeli media alike to report on the West Bank. On Fridays, international and Israeli delegations come to listen to Amro. He takes them on tours to increase awareness of the situation in Hebron, to show them Palestinians “as we are.” The center has a hotline, and provides support and lawyers for people who get arrested. Youth Against Settlements also offers Hebrew classes, leadership training, and film screenings.
Homes were falling into disrepair. Families couldn’t get basic services. So Amro organized a group of volunteers to go from house to house, family to family. Amro would assess the home, and others would paint, clean up the soldiers’ “leftovers,”—their shit—and fix what needed fixing. They would play with the children, and invariably, the families would invite them to eat, and relationships would develop. People began to ask after each other. The first family serviced joined the group, and went to the second family to help them.
In the beleaguered neighborhood of 250 families, Amro had fostered a community.
Next, he established a kindergarten. With hundreds of volunteers working in shifts, he restored another house. All the materials—including toys and batteries—were smuggled in through the graveyard, “as if we were smuggling guns,” Amro recalled. One person would watch the soldiers, another the settlers, and the group would sneak under the cloak of darkness into the house. They were sometimes caught, their materials confiscated. They started again. Eventually, Amro had his kindergarten.
“It’s the only public space created in 20 years,” he said proudly. “We control our kids’ education.” He teaches the children—there are 30 of them—about nonviolence. They have yoga on Mondays.
He has bigger plans ahead: He wants to convert an abandoned army factory into a cinema, and someday he’d like to be be minister of education for all of Palestine, where he would teach civil disobedience from the first to the tenth grade. Civil disobedience and the power of nonviolent resistance isn’t something that comes naturally, Amro says. You need training, and a culture of nonviolence that suffuses into schools and other places where young people congregate. Until his dream is realized, Amro goes from school to school in the West Bank, teaching kids not to throw stones, not to give soldiers and excuse to shoot.
From Rev. John Vaughn and Isaac Luria at Groundswell:
Our hearts beat for Baltimore this week as the city and the nation react to the horrific death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
While we’ve been sickened yet again by the interlocking plagues of poverty, inequality, racism, police brutality, and criminal injustice, we saw a video this week from the ground in Baltimore that raised our spirits:
At the height of the protests this week, hundreds of Baltimore clergy linked arms to stand between the militarized police and the protesters, telling a reporter:
“There has been a State of Emergency way before tonight in Baltimore City, an emergency in poverty, lack of jobs [and] disenfranchisement from the political process.”
We hope you’ll consider sharing the video as an example of the prophetic calling of our faith traditions to be on the front lines with the suffering, and to speak out and condemn injustice.
If you’re looking for more insight and inspiration, here are articles from faith leaders in Baltimore and around the country that help us mourn and chart a way forward.
MoveOn and ColorOfChange have collaborated to create a website that collects voices from on the ground in Baltimore. As they state, “Instead of relying on major news networks for news and commentary, MoveOn and ColorOfChange are teaming up to help amplify the voices of local activists, organizers, and residents.” Check it out here.
Rev. John Vaughn
Executive Vice President
Remembering Nan Fitch: Our condolences go out to family and friends of Nancy Fitch- she was a long-time supporter of RCNV and active member of St. John the Baptist Episcopal in Aptos. We will miss her!
Speak Out: A Zine Exploring Gendered Violence, is a new project by Resource Center for Nonviolence interns: graduate students Mary Mykhaylova and Julia Fogelson from Smith College.
The zine is focused on gathered stories on “gendered violence,” a term that includes everything from violence against women to homophobic verbal or physical assaults.
“We want to raise consciousness,” said Mykhaylova, “but also give voice to those who have experienced gendered violence as a way of empowerment, and as a mechanism for educating people on the issue.”
See their website For more information
Couple wages 60-year fight for rights of others
No violent thoughts, no violent words, no violent actions.
Good overview of a lot of nonviolence history in 12 1/2 minutes:
Executive Producer John Greene. Filmed in the Chad and Stacey Emgholz Studio, Indianapolis.
At 16, Juanita Nelson boarded a train with her mother to travel from their Cleveland home to visit relatives in Georgia. While changing trains in Cincinnati they were assigned segregated seating.
When the African-American teenager asked if they could switch from what she called their “Jim Crow” car to one that seated white passengers, her mother said, “Oh, Nita, I’m just too tired,” Ms. Nelson recalled in an oral history interview recorded by the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield. “I sat and fumed,” Ms. Nelson continued, “and finally I got up and sat in every car in that train because I was so upset.”
No one tried to dissuade Ms. Nelson as she moved from car to car, except for a black porter who warned that she might get into trouble. She said she “went back and sat by my mother and I felt better because I had expressed myself.”
Racial equality was important to Ms. Nelson, who became a civil rights activist, but in later years “it became her conviction that we have to get over race,” said her friend Randy Kehler of Colrain. “She believed much more in the idea that we’re all human. That was her mantra.”
Ms. Nelson, a strong voice in the tax resistance and local agriculture movements, died of end-stage dementia March 9 in the Poet’s Seat Health Care Center in Greenfield. She was 91 and had lived for more than 40 years in Deerfield and Greenfield.
Through actions more than words, friends said, she demonstrated her beliefs by refusing to pay federal taxes and by growing and selling her own food, a skill she perfected and passed along to friends and neighbors. Those activities often go hand-in-hand because tax resistance generally requires a low income and self-sufficiency.
“She had a very sharp and able mind that never tired,” said Ellie Kastanopolous of the nonprofit Equity Trust in Amherst, which promotes sustainable approaches to property ownership. “You could talk to her about anything; she was incredibly wide open.”
Ms. Nelson believed that “in this crazy economic world we’re in, everyone has to figure out how to live with less,” Kastanopolous said. “She would hold you to the fire, but she would do it in a thoughtful and caring way that was very powerful.”
Ms. Nelson was arrested numerous times over the course of her life at civil rights and tax resistance protests.
“She really believed that all people were equal and should be treated equally,” said Bob Bady of Brattleboro, a tax resister who was 18 when he met Ms. Nelson and her partner, Wallace Nelson.
“What impressed me about Juanita was her accessibility, particularly because I was so young and searching for meaning,” he said. “They were people who’d integrated their philosophy into their lifestyle. And she was really easy to talk to and to get to know.”
Friends said Ms. Nelson and her partner, who was known as Wally, never married. In the past, the Globe referred to them as spouses, including in his 2002 obituary. Both were vocal opponents of war. Refusing to pay taxes, Ms. Nelson said in the oral history, is “the only way you can stop war . . . and stop so much consumption that requires war, at least that’s the way I look at it.”
Kehler, who was jailed for refusing to cooperate with the draft during the Vietnam War, described Ms. Nelson as “firm and tough-minded in her convictions.” He added that she was “as gracious and welcoming as could be.”
Kehler and his wife arranged for the Nelsons to settle on a half-acre of land at Woolman Hill in Deerfield, a retreat center owned by the Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends. The Nelsons built a small house with neither electricity nor indoor plumbing, and also planted and harvested in earnest, teaching neighbors to do the same. According to the center’s website, Ms. Nelson lived there until 2012.
Although the Nelsons were not Quakers, “some of our best friends are Friends,” she told the Globe in 1985. The Globe reported that on an Internal Revenue Service tax return that year, she wrote phrases including: “I do not wish to work one day each week for the Pentagon — there is better employment.”
Ms. Nelson submitted similar forms to the IRS each week at the beginning of 1985. The government considered the returns frivolous, and fined her and other protesters $500 for each one sent. “I have no idea how hard they’ll press us for the money,” she said, speaking on behalf of the group, “but so far, we haven’t been paid a personal visit by the IRS.”
Juanita Morrow was born in Cleveland and grew up in what she called the city’s “outer slums.” In the oral history, she said she won a poetry contest at 17 and used the money to buy her family’s first telephone.
After graduating from high school, she enrolled in Howard University, where she became secretary of the school’s NAACP chapter. She also was involved with the Congress of Racial Equality.
Transferring to what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. While working as a reporter for a Cleveland newspaper, she interviewed Wally Nelson, who was serving a jail sentence.
After registering as a conscientious objector during World War II, he and some friends walked away from their civilian public service camp to work with the poor in Detroit, until they were arrested.
In 1948, the Nelsons helped form the pacifist group Peacemakers. Ms. Nelson graduated from Ohio State University in 1955 with a master’s in speech pathology. In the years that followed, the couple lived in Philadelphia, Americus, Ga., and Ojo Caliente, N.M., where they began supporting themselves through growing and selling food.
Moving to Deerfield in 1974, they grew beans and other produce and sold the surplus at a farmers’ market. They also made their own soap and ceramic dishes.
Ms. Nelson also wrote poetry and articles for magazines, and one poem captured the challenges of the life she chose:
Well, I try to grow my own food, competing with the bugs,
I even make my own soap and my own ceramic mugs.
I figure that the less I buy, the less I compromise
With Standard Oil and ITT and those other gouging guys.
Oh, but it ain’t easy to leave my cozy bed
To make it with my flashlight to that air conditioned shed
But then I get to thinkin’, if we’re ever gonna see
the end of that old con game, the change has got to start with me.
A service will be announced for Ms. Nelson, who leaves no immediate family.
Friends said she was very social, combining work and conversation when possible.
“She loved being a mentor to other people, especially young folks,” Kehler said. “She loved meeting new people and loved having visitors. But when people came over, Juanita would always say, ‘Let’s talk while we hoe.’ And she would.”
Kathleen McKenna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working to Eliminate Poverty, Racism and Militarism: Resource Center for Nonviolence Calls for Action to Prevent Militarization and Racial Profiling in Local Law Enforcement.
SEE PDF version:1.11.15 RCNV statement on justice issues
January 11, 2014
Working to Eliminate Poverty, Racism and Militarism:
Resource Center for Nonviolence Calls for Action to Prevent Militarization and Racial Profiling in Local Law Enforcement.
In 1967 the great nonviolent activist Dr. Martin Luther King identified the three greatest threats
to America: poverty, racism, and militarism.
48 years later America and Santa Cruz continue to suffer these threats.
The Resource Center for Nonviolence calls on local governments in Santa Cruz County to make
our democracy work for everybody by continuing to combat poverty, racism, and militarism.
Poverty: The Santa Cruz city council has for decades used economic development and progressive
commitment to social services to combat poverty. Still we have far to go. People who
are poor and homeless are disproportionately contacted by law officials in a way that does not
seek to address underlying causes that create inequality leading to crime and violence, but only
attacks the symptoms. We support efforts underway involving social service agencies to
Racism: The city council has taken stands of noncooperation with the federal INS in a significant
effort to combat racism and violence against local residents.
The killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, by police
officers and ratified by Grand Juries, are visible examples of a reality in the American legal system
that Michelle Alexander calls “the New Jim Crow.” People of color are disproportionately
contacted by police, arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated across America. This reality
is institutional racism.
The Resource Center for Nonviolence calls upon local governments to study practices and policies
of law enforcement, legal systems, and incarceration in Santa Cruz County to combat racial
and social class profiling and bias that make justice unequal under the law.
Militarism: Across America, lines between the military and civilian law enforcement are blurring
and merging. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA have taken increased
combatant roles abroad and in America. The “war on terror” justifies invasions of foreign
countries, occupations, and police actions domestically. Now the Department of Homeland
Security provides grants to local police departments, in Program 1033 and other means, to supply
military equipment for local law enforcement.
City of Santa Cruz acceptance of this Homeland Security grant opens a door to a trend of accepting unnecessary military equipment.
The Resource Center for Nonviolence calls upon local government to prevent militarization of
local law enforcement. Military style vehicles, even if they carry no weapons, present a posture
of defensiveness and power that separates policing roles from community service. In this climate,
the Center calls upon the City of Santa Cruz to rescind the decision to purchase an armored
vehicle under a Department of Homeland Security grant.January 11, 2014
The job our society gives to police officers is one that most citizens refuse ourselves. The city
asks police to respond to difficult and dangerous conflicts and violence in our community. We
respect our officers’ dedication and safety, and we support a police force in our community that
does maintain peace and de-escalates violence without the use of military equipment.
The Resource Center for Nonviolence calls upon local government, law enforcement staff, and
all community members to come together, across all divides, to engage community safety issues,
build trust, and support constructive community responses to conflict and to those caught
The triple threats of poverty, racism, and militarism, need to be fought by everybody, working
together, and by local government as well as national government.
Thank you for your consideration and dedication to conducting fair, well-publicized
meetings to include a diversity of voices on these issues.
The Resource Center for Nonviolence
THANK YOU to our Resource Center for Nonviolence Annual Dinner hosts, all of those who attended, and our Business Sponsors:
We appreciate your support! All of you made the Dinner the most successful ever! Proceeds from the Dinner, held on October 22, 2014, support our ongoing Resource Center for Nonviolence programs.
Table hosts: Santa Cruz Friends Meeting, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom- Santa Cruz Branch, Palestine-Israel Action Committee, United Services Agency, Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), Darrell and KarenDarling, Kris Kennedy and friends
Sponsors: Markley Morris, Senator Bill Monning and Dr. Dana Kent, Diane K. Pike, NAACP-Santa Cruz Branch
Supporters: Nancy Abbey, Tatanka Bricca, Maria Elena de la Garza, Debra Ellis and Kali Rubaii- The Islah Reparations Project, Chris Johnson-Lyons, Tom Helman and Mary Ann Balian, Deena Hurwitz, Yolanda Henry, Iverne Rand, Barbara Rogoff, Diana Rothman, Dan Spelce and Yolanda Provoste-Fuentes, Joe Williams, Stephen Zunes and Nanlouise Wolfe
SPECIAL THANKS TO
Chef Eileen Balian, Peace United Church of Christ, Pat Arnold, Liz Klotz-Chamberlin and The Flower Garden Wedding Florist, Maitre’D Brian Murtha, Edgar Ontiveros, Kris Kennedy, Kate Doyle, Stephen Zunes, Joe Williams; Eric Thiermann, Michael Hernandez
THANK YOU to our Business Supporters:
Mitchell Page, Bob Taren, Darling House Bed and Breakfast, Ron and Kay Bailey, Monarch Cove Inn, Land of the Medicine Buddha, The Hotel Paradox, Best Western Plus All Suites Inn, Larry Bernstein, CST, Ron and Kay Bailey, Chardonnay Sailing Charters, La Posta Restaurant, NHS, Inc., Ken Foster, Manuel’s, Restaurant, Hula’s Island Grill, Nickelodeon Theaters, Riverside Lighting and Electric, Linda’s Seabreeze Café, Lundberg Studios, Christokiffer Designs, Go Green Cab, Sones Winery, Pacific Coffee Roasting Company, Play It Again Sports, Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine, Way of Life, Pacific Cookie Company, The Bagelry, Penny Ice Creamery, Artisans’ Gallery, World Market Bazaar, Native Revival Nursery, Martinelli’s, New Leaf Community Markets, Kelly’s French Bakery, Beckmann’s Bakery
THANK YOU to our ANNUAL DINNER VOLUNTEERS
Willow Katz, Nanlouise Wolfe, Gabriel Skinner, Dan Spelce, Juan Salinas Robert DeFreitas, Gigo da Silva, Steve Schnaar, Alexander Gaguine, Tom Monahan, Kathleen Eschen- Pipes, Mari Clare Daly, Tom Monahan, Teela Williams, Racquel Felix, Vasiliki Argyris, Leslie Munoz, Shanti Zunes -Wolfe, Kalila Zunes-Wolfe, Felicia Davidson, Christian Villamil, Cappy Israel, Mary Mykhaylova, Karen Puerta, Arlon Johnson, Jamie Epstein and all Staff and Steering Committee members
This speech was delivered by Resource Center for Nonviolence co-founder Scott Kennedy in 2008 when he was awarded the 2008 El-Hibri Peace Education Prize. In May, 2014, the El-Hibri Foundation produced this Youtube video that combines audio from Scott’s speech with a slideshow.
The photos are courtesy of Bob Fitch Photo Archives © Stanford University Libraries, Matt Fitt and include other photos from the Kennedy family, Resource Center for Nonviolence and El-Hibri Foundation archives.
Excerpts from the speech: “there are so many on whose shoulders I rise.” Scott highlights the importance of a place and community: of local work that is also national and international in scope; deeply rooted in our community- that is the heart of social change work, the essential Gandhian practice of truth seeking.
He quotes from a book by Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker christian: “Occupied with Nonviolence” about her life in Ramallah and her sacrifices… “How do I teach a culture of nonviolent action? I raise critical and decisive consciousness; consciousness of the value of justice over injustice, peace over warfare; human institutions over against dehumanizing institutions, I try to make clear that we are against evil not against people…Human well-being is our ultimate goal; We should be ready to say what we think is the truth, and be ready to pay the price… that is what all peace education is about… to build a world that is more nonviolent.”
He mentions his favorite quote from Gandhi: “an abstract principle has no meaning without its concrete application” and includes more stories and quotes from Jean Zaru on truth: “truth speaking must be put into practice…. “I will never kill for truth- truth is incompatible with violence.”