Stop Hate 2000 Newsletter August 22, 2006

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 Jewish background.

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 opinions.

Being actively 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.

Attributing blame 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 www.raisemyvoice.com.

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