Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Dear Johnny,

In May of 2015, I visited Palestine and Israel for two weeks as part of the U.S. delegation to the Pax Christi International World Assembly. (Photo on right, the guard tower and separation wall in Bethlehem.) For anyone who has witnessed firsthand the oppression of the Palestinian people and met with both Palestinian and Israeli activists working against the occupation and for a just peace, the events unfolding these past few days cannot help but conjure feelings of despair and anger. I see the faces of the people I met in Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps, especially the children and young adults, and the students at Bethlehem University. Their eloquent and impassioned stories of the daily humilities and violence of living under occupation still ring in my ears. I'm thinking too of the sacrifices of my colleagues in the Pax Christi International network at Sumud House, Wi'am Center, and the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem, practitioners of a provocative nonviolence that places them and their families at risk. And the mothers of Al Musalaha Group (Palestinian and Israeli mothers who have lost children in the conflict), the Oasis of Peace (an intentional mixed community of Israelis and Palestinians living together), the witness of folks at the Tent of Nations, the prophetic work of young Israelis with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, Rabbis for Human Rights, and others who, often under great duress and bodily threats, stoke hopes for peace by working for justice and an end to oppression.

At the time of the 2014 Gaza War, Pax Christi USA released a statement that said, in part:

"Pax Christi USA has been unequivocal in insisting that for peace to be possible, there must be an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, a dismantling of the barrier wall built on Palestinian land, and an end to the Gaza blockade. We have asserted that the policies of our own government have functioned to provide the support that enables the occupation and that we must continue to pressure our political leaders for a change in those policies..."

The bloodshed we see now, as horrific and heart-wrenching as it is, was utterly predictable. The seeds of the madness of the past few days grew from the soil of the past 75+ years. Contextualizing what is happening now in Palestine and Israel is work that all of us, especially those of us in the U.S. where the narrative from the mainstream press often lacks nuance and analysis, must undertake. We've had a small group of Pax Christi USA members who have been exploring that history together for the past few months; they're currently pulling together resources that we'll share on our website in the days to come. Making the effort to search for additional avenues where you can hear or read the experiences of those most directly impacted is essential. On our website and social media we have been amplifying some of those voices who work closely with people on the ground, like this statement from Friends of Sabeel North America and this statement from Jewish Voice for Peace.

I'm also deeply and tragically aware of the U.S. government's complicity in the conflict, its tacit support of the ongoing occupation by frustrating efforts to apply international law, and the unchecked military aid. As members of Pax Christi USA, we bear a special responsibility to holding the U.S. government to account, speaking out against military aid that will only lead to greater bloodshed, and demanding action on behalf of a cease-fire and the painstaking work to create a just peace rooted in equality, human rights, and dignity for all.

Lastly, Pope Francis asked all Catholics and people of good will to pray for peace in Palestine and Israel. I hope you'll join me in taking up this prayer for peace and holding in tenderness the anguish and pain of all those who have died, who have lost loved ones, who fear for the safety and dignity of their friends and family. Words from the last paragraph of our statement from 2014, a hope that went unrealized, still echo today:

"Our hope for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples is for a future built in recognition of their shared humanity, where the security of all is rooted in the practice of justice for all. Let this be the last of the bloodshed in this region which has suffered for so long...(and may it) give way to the birth of a new day and a just peace for the Middle East."

In peace,

Johnny Zokovitch

Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

A few quick notes for the month ahead...

CALLED TO CARE ON MONDAY NIGHTS: Pax Christi USA, along with the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and Casa Esther Catholic Worker, started offering a new online series this month focused on nonviolence and care for creation. This series, Called to Care, makes the vital link — yet to be explored in depth — between violence and the climate crisis, and will explore why nonviolent strategies are the only way to achieve sustainable ecological integrity. Two sessions have already happened (they're recorded if you want to watch them here) but you can still register and join for the last three sessions. Find more info here.

EXCITING NEW EFFORT IN THE BREAD NOT STONES CAMPAIGN: Later this week, we'll be announcing a special grassroots action for our individual members, local groups, religious communities, partners, parishes and others to take to raise the call for moving military spending to fund human needs in the upcoming year's federal budget. Look for an announcement in your email this week and check out the webpage here in the next few days.

Pax Christi USA
Weaving Threads of Peace for over 50 Years
202-635-2741 | 415 Michigan Ave NE, Suite 240, Washington, DC 20017
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