|Commentary: Firm Against the Current|
They outnumbered us 20 to 1.
But into the lion’s den we went.
was lambs not lions that we had expected to meet when we entered the
Quaker meeting house. We were there to see Josh, a young member of the
Christian Peacemakers group who had ventured far from Oregon to protect
Palestinians on the West Bank. I knew better than to expect a lovefest
for Israel that night. But Josh was speaking before Quakers, of whom I
had an image of being peaceful, tolerant and open-minded. Just like
Corvallis, our liberal Northwest Oregon college town where everyone
prides themselves on being peaceful, tolerant and open-minded.
of us from Beit Am, the Corvallis Jewish Community Center, decided that
the Jewish community needed to be present at the event. Myself, my wife
Rachel and our friend Amy; one guy and two Hadassah women determined to
make sure that both sides of the conflict were heard.
knew something was wrong as soon as I perched myself on the hard metal
chair in the crowded hall. Sprinkled amid the middle-aged couples were
gaunt, balding white men with scraggly beards and the bitter, weathered
look of ex-hippies. The sort of people who never got over the failure
of communism, the election of George W. Bush or the existence of a
Jewish state that dared to conflict with their notion of a perfect
Josh was no hippie. He was in his
midtwenties, with a shy manner and a boyish face. He had spent months
in Damascus learning Arabic before going to the West Bank to “witness.”
stories and photos portrayed the usual tale of innocent villagers
struggling against brutal soldiers and settlers. Because Josh said he
was a peacemaker, I waited for him to describe the suicide bombers and
rockets. I waited for him to say how Christian Peacemakers would
protect Israeli children, too. Instead he read a letter that explained
that Christian Peacemaker “violence reduction techniques” would not
work against the Hamas rockets landing on Sderot. I almost laughed.
I raised my hand and asked why he had studied Arabic in Damascus, but
hadn’t learned Hebrew. How could Israelis trust him as an impartial
arbiter if he could not be bothered to learn their language? He
shrugged and replied that he had to start somewhere. When I urged him
to understand Israeli fears by visiting Masada, he shook his head. He
had never heard of Masada.
Muttering rose from
around the room. The Vanguard of the Proletariat was angry at our
impertinence. Then came the video clip. We watched teenage settlers
with long payot confront Palestinians and their Western chaperones on
the West Bank.
“We killed Jesus. We’re proud
of it,” shouted the young settlers. After the meeting was over, I asked
Josh why, of all the videos he could have shown in a Christian church,
did he pick the one that depicted Jews as boasting that they were
Jesus-killers? What kind of peacemaker would resurrect the ancient
blood libel? He didn't understand.
didn’t bother me. Nor did the hard-faced men of the Hard Left. I didn’t
expect any better. What disturbed that night were the rows of
respectable, middle-aged men and women who praised and applauded the
Christian Peacemaker. As I watched their complacent faces, I realized
that these good people had already made up their minds about Israel.
What I had witnessed was not a public discussion. It was a public
affirmation of what they already believed.
we could say would change their minds. But for our own self-respect, we
had tried. We had not been passive spectators cowering before the
Israel-haters. Perhaps we didn’t change any minds. But we were not