Monday, November 29, 2010

My Day at the UN, or how I didn't solve the world's problems but still learned a lot.

by Janessa Chastain
Crossposted at The Church Mouse.

Today, November 29, is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.It marks the day in 1947 when the General Assembly adopted the resolution partitioning then-mandated Palestine into two States, one Jewish and one Arab. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened and that area has been marred by constant violence. There is a lot more to all of this, of course, and I encourage all of you to research and really study the conflicts of this area. It has become a battle, both political and holy, over land and holy ground and the sovereignty of people. The Methodist Federation for Social Action supports the establishment of Palestine as an independent state in the hope that it would bring an end to the violence in Palestine and Israel. Again, nothing is that simple, but what is clear is that peace is desperately needed.

Dr. David Graybeal, a Drew professor, along with the MFSA, invited Drew students to come participate in this day. We all loaded up on the bus at 7:45 and headed into New York City. We walked past all the flags of all the nations represented at the U.N. and made our way through security, and then into a conference room. It was set up like mini version of the general assembly - all the delegates had seats assigned and there was an open area in the back. We wore headsets to listen to the translators and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People began the Special Meeting.

I don't mean to skim all of the details, because it was all really interesting, but I thought I'd just highlight a few things. Many people spoke in support of Palestine from all over the world. Africa, UK, and the Middle East were all represented. The American representative didn't attend the session, I've been told we never do. Riyad Mansour spoke on behalf of Palestine. He have a powerful speech calling for an end to the violence and the settlement expansions. I loved one quote of his, "our hand is still able to carry the olive branch from the rubble." If this is true, if the olive branch can truly be offered, it is a sign of great hope. Archbishop Tutu has spoken on Palestine, comparing their struggle to South Africa's. He said in MFSA's January 2008 edition of Social Questions Bulletin (now The Progressive Voice) that there isn't reason for optimism, because that requires visible action towards change, but there is reason for hope:

"Indeed, because of what I experienced in South Africa, I harbor a vast, unreasoning hope for Israel and the Palestinian territories. South Africans, after all, had no reason to suppose that the evil system and the cycles of violence that were sapping the soul of our nation would ever change...But we have seen it. We are living now in the day we longed for...I have seen it and heard it, and so to this truth, too, I am compelled to testify - if it can happen in South Africa, it can happen with the Israelis and Palestinians. There is not much reason to be optimistic, but there is every reason to hope.

Judith LeBlanc a member of the National Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation spoke on behalf of all the civil society organizations. She talked about the divided American opinions, the impact that divestment has made, and the need for a continued push on American law makers to bring an end to Israeli occupation.

After the speeches, we had the opportunity to see Ashtar Theater's The Gaza Monologues. Written by kids in the wake of the Gaza attacks in December 2008-January 2009, these monologues reflected the thoughts, hopes, fears of students at the time. They were were performed by an amazing group of kids from all over the world. The incorporated dance and song into the reading of the monologues, and it was an incredibly powerful experience. It is vitally important to keep a human face on the violence, to be constantly reminded of the devastating impact of inaction.

In the afternoon, we gathered up on the balcony for the General Session. It was a little breathtaking to look down on the meeting area and realize that magnitude of the decisions that are made in that space.

The speeches continued, we had to leave before the session was over, but the message was the same. The attacks on the Palestinian people had to be stopped. The U.N. was taking action, that was constantly acknowledged, as was the support of President Obama, but it was made clear that it wasn't enough. Israeli expansion needed to stop, the apartheid wall needed to come down, and Palestine needed to be recognized as an independent state.

I didn't walk away from the day with a clear idea of how to fix the problems, obviously. I realize the issues are not simple and cannot be reduced to a good side and a bad side. But I did come away with a renewed commitment to working towards peace and the reconciliation that must follow the atrocities that war brings. I don't need to go in as a Christian with "Christian agenda", but I do need to follow Christ's call to be a peacemaker. Being a peacemaker is not a passive activity. It's more than saying "violence is bad." It's pulling your investments from any company that supports violence or the machines of war in Israel. It's talking in church and to your political leaders about the need to recognize Palestine as a political state. Or it's disagreeing with that completely, but still talking and learning and saying loudly and clearly that no matter what side you're on, the violence and destruction has to stop. I don't know what my specific call to this issue is, but I know I'm being called. I'm terrified of and excited for what that might mean.

I was thinking of the Palestine/Israel conflict when we read an article in Bib Lit last week that discussed the overlooked story of the Canaanites from a Native American perspective. We celebrate the deliverance of God's people to the Holy Land, but we don't talk about what happened to the people that were already there. Where is their justice? I don't believe that any one people have a claim on God's promise and love. This is a war being fought by politicians and religious leaders, all claiming that God is on their side. We need to pray, and act, to show that God is in the peace that must come.

Janessa Chastain is a first year M.Div at Drew and a transfer student from the Northwest House of Theological Studies. You can find her blog at The Church Mouse.


Suzanne said...

excellent post!

jen0710 said...

Janessa, thanks for this excellent post! So glad to hear that you felt the call to move forward in this work, even if the details are a bit fuzzy at the moment.