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Home Resources Articles Chisholm Articles Nonviolence Training in Palestine

Nonviolence Training in Palestine

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In November 2003, Husam Jubran, the Training Coordinator for Holy Land Trust (HLT) in Palestine, attended a Facilitator Training in the United States for the Creating a Culture of Peace (CCP) program. When he returned to Palestine, he adopted the CCP training model and invited me over to observe village training and to work with their trainers. As a result, I organized a small delegation of CCP trainers with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In June 2005, we were honored to observe 4 classes training over 130 people in the village of DarSaleh outside Bethlehem. A few days later we offered training for HLT trainers and shared facilitation techniques and interactive exercises. I watched Husam begin a new exercise by asking each of the thirty-five women in the group to drop something valuable into his black plastic bag. Their assignment was to reach agreement on one project for another village which would be paid for by their valuables. If you don't agree on a single decision in 15 minutes, I will take your valuables home and not return them," he said. Immediately, one of the women turned to a man who was simply observing the training and urged him to speak on their behalf. He took charge. Voices in the room grew loud and energetic, as individual women advocated for their own ideas: a health care center, a park for children, a preschool, a youth center. They argued, voted more than once, and picked up the pace each time Husam announced how few minutes remained. When time finally ran out, the women lacked a single decision. Husam announced that he would take their rings, photos and other valuables with him.

Next, Husam challenged the women to evaluate why they had failed and how they might have organized better in order to reach a decision. Why had they submitted so quickly to his direction? Do they comply as quickly with Israeli soldiers, offering their IDs at the checkpoints even before they are asked? And why would a whole group of women ask a man to represent them? Do they listen to a man, but not to a woman with good ideas?

Husam emphasized the equality of women. He stimulated considerable controversy among the group about traditions that hold women subservient such as honor killings and early marriage, and he addressed violence against women in the home and the community. He urged, "You as women need to stand up for your simple, human rights. Violence in the home and the community and violence between Israel and Palestine are all related. We need to learn to live nonviolently in our whole lives. And we need women, the other half of our population, to be empowered."

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During the Facilitator Training, my group had fifteen minutes to choose and plan a role play. We quickly agreed on a desperate situation my three Palestinian partners knew very well --- a family trying to take a seriously ill relative to the hospital on the other side of an Israeli checkpoint. Ahmed asserted he knew how to be the soldier and found an object to symbolize a gun to point at the family. I volunteered to be the sick mother, bent over with pains in my chest, moaning and groaning; it would allow them to perform the other roles in Arabic. Nirvin and Alfred as sister and brother discussed a variety of ways to gain the soldier's permission. Alfred began with a polite request, showed his ID, and looked quietly at the soldier. He tried reasoning. Unsuccessful, he expressed the urgency and suggested the soldier would want the same for a sick member of his own family. Ahmed, as the solder, was unmoved, dismissive, even angry and threatened with the gun. Nirvin held me tightly and waited. Finally, she stepped forward and implored the soldier softly, "You can see my mother is ill. She needs to get to the hospital quickly. Think of your own mother. Please let us through. We are not dangerous. Ask your supervisor, if you need to." Nirvin was not successful, and with exasperation released her hold on me so that I fell forward onto the floor. We ended the role play as she proclaimed, "So, then you die."

The moment seemed larger than a mere role play. Stepping into the Palestinian role was a visceral experience for me, and emotionally overwhelming. The United States facilitators were stunned; they gasped and cried. Ahmed said he felt powerful and unmoved by the petitions of the family. Nirvin said she feared not only for her sick mother, but also for the safety of her brother who was confronting the solder. Most of the Palestinian facilitators watched quietly and seemed to accept this as a familiar situation.

Afterward, all the facilitators together analyzed whether this role play would be effective in nonviolence training. Would it merely reinforce experiences of futility? Or could it empower people in how to maintain their personal dignity and self respect, instead of being submissive? Would more practice in role-taking skills and empathy be needed to break down the dehumanizing stereotype of the Israeli solder? A few Palestinian facilitators said sometimes a soldier does let a sick person pass --- sometimes.

Sep/Oct 2005 Fellowship Magazine; Rev Apr 2008

 

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