For the past year I
have been involved in Edmonton’s peace activist community. It
is a small but vocal group who plan marches, rallies, and other
events designed to raise the consciousness of people interested in
issues of social justice and peace.
Since the outbreak of
the latest war in the Middle East in mid-July, I have attended four
peace marches/rallies. I tend to look at these marches and rallies
from three different perspectives: as a journalist; as someone
actively interested in the peace movement; and as a Canadian of
As a journalist, I
feel that I am documenting a movement in society that is usually
ignored. But this is history, and it is something people should
experience regardless of perspective. If we are to be informed
citizens, we must be aware of what is going on in the world around
us, even if it is something that runs counter to our beliefs or
interested in peace and being Jewish are sort of intertwined. As Jews
we have an obligation to try to make the world a better place. This
concept is called Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World). Religiously
speaking, if we seek to follow the G-d of the Torah, we must take
care of what He created. Thus far, we have really messed things up.
So, some repairing is indeed in order.
Yet certain aspects
of my involvements have been fraught with controversy. I’ve
been told I don’t belong at rallies where there is a strong
anti-Israel feeling. I’ve been told I am putting myself at risk
attending large gatherings of this nature. I’ve even been told
that I was too concerned about people (in Gaza and Lebanon) who hated
me and wanted to destroy my culture and religion.
When I feel strongly
about something, I find it is more productive to be active and take a
stand, even if I don’t necessarily agree with everything being
communicated by a group or organization. I can then bring my own
views and opinions, and learn from those of others. And I can agree
to disagree. Respecting the viewpoints of others is part of being an
adult. Being able to work together towards a common goal does not
mean that everyone has to be mind clones of each other.
That being said, most
of the events I have attended have been presented from the
perspective of justice and freedom for the people in Gaza and
Lebanon, while viewing Israel as the aggressor. I don’t fully
agree with this perspective. While I am concerned about the human
rights issues affecting the Palestinian territories, I don’t
like to lay blame completely on one side over the other. When one
side of a conflict is portrayed as being completely wrong, it implies
that the other side is completely right and therefore whatever that
side does to promote its cause is just fine – even if it means
using violence to achieve those ends.
also runs the risk of dissolving a debate into a schoolyard mentality
of “He/she started it!” or a grocery list of the
wrongdoings of each party involved. This isn’t about who
started it. The issues go far beyond Israeli soldiers being kidnapped
by Hezbollah. It’s far more complicated, and complicated
situations are not solved by throwing out simplistic truisms or
shallow explanations. Wanting peace does not mean having to pick one
side or the other, nor should it have to.
The notion of being a
pacifist is often associated with left-wing politics. I remember
watching an interview on television with folk singer Joan Baez many
years ago. She was talking about how she did not want to be claimed
by the left. As I recall, her concern with the “left-wing”
was that, taken to its end, that one is willing to pick up arms and
fight for the cause. To her, as a pacifist, this was unacceptable.
I don’t believe
that peace can necessarily be achieved through political means.
Change has to come with individuals through our attitudes,
lifestyles, and hearts. When we care about each other and the value
of human life, regardless of race, religion, and politics, more than
we are willing to die for a cause -- or protect a country, or our own
material possessions – then there is hope for peace.
Paula E. Kirman is
a freelance writer, editor and photographer in Edmonton, Alberta. To
see her coverage of the local activist movement, visit
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