Undoing Racism: Getting OUT of the Way



by Carol Rose

For years CPT has informally used the motto “Getting in the Way” because of the playful double meaning which, as far as I know, only really works in English.

“The Way” is the most ancient word for the early church – that community making the powerful choice to follow Jesus.

CPT seeks to get in “the Way” of Jesus.  We follow “the Way” of Jesus who opened a way to love enemies that actively undermines their violent oppression.  We follow “the Way” of Jesus who listened to and stood corrected by a Syrophenician woman – and reached beyond the boundaries of nation and faith that he thought he was called to.  We follow “the Way” of Jesus whose boldness of action and word led inexorably to the cross.  We follow “the Way” of Jesus who would not submit to the state even when killed, but responded with the power of resurrection. 

The other side of the play on words is one of interposition.  “Getting in the Way” can mean standing between, or making something harder to do.  Sometimes this is the work of CPT and the communities whose struggles we are graciously invited to join.  

The AP photo above (from 1999) shows a Palestinian man and CPTer Sara Reschly standing side by side at a barrier.  Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) prepare to open fire on a peaceful procession of Palestinians calling for an end to occupation.  With arms outstretched, the Palestinian man and the CPTer repeatedly shout, “Stop!  Don’t shoot!”  They were actively, nonviolently “getting in the way” – standing between the violent threat and the people at whom that threat was aimed.   

It is a powerful image.  And there are some problems related to it.  In the photo, the CPTer is more visible than her Palestinian counterpart.  Over the years the photo has been talked about as a picture of a CPTer “getting in the way” of violence, ignoring the partner by her side.  

When you pull together those strands, you end up with a story twisted by racism: a White, Christian, North American going to a far away place where people without power need her to “get in the way” of the people with guns.  That story reinforces the lie of the White, savior, hero peacemaker.  The persistent, powerful, nonviolent, Palestinian movement for peace is invisibilized, which reinforces the occupation.

So, the third – unintended, but very real – meaning of CPT’s old slogan turns out to be: sometimes we “get in the way” of the very change we hope to support.  We “get in the way” of the powerful story of the very people who have invited us to join them in struggle.  Ooops.   Sylvia Morrison, CPT’s Undoing Racism Program Coordinator, and others have suggested that CPT needs to learn to “get OUT of the way.” 

The CPT photo below was taken at a crossroads.  The dirt road between at-Tuwani and Yatta leading to the rest of the West Bank was made, and is used, by Palestinians.  It is intersected by a wide, smoothly-paved “settler road” that slices through the West Bank linking illegal Israeli settlements and leading to Jerusalem.  That road is made by and for Israelis only.  Palestinians are forbidden to use it.

Frequently the IDF has blocked the Palestinian road.  First, the communities of the South Hebron Hills organized legally to have the road re-opened.  When that did not budge anything, they gathered in a day of nonviolent action to roll away the stone(s) that were getting in the way of their connection to the rest of Palestine.  They invited Palestinians from other communities as well as Israeli and international allies to join in and witness their resurrection action.

In the picture, CPTer Joy Ellison (in the red hat) stands out of the way in the place where community leaders suggested her presence would be helpful – in between the IDF soldiers and the powerful, joyful, nonviolent Palestinian youth pushing away the stone of occupation.  Other CPTers stood where they could document both the Palestinian resistance and any response from the soldiers who lean on the power of guns.

Where are you and I in this picture?  Will we stand with Jesus where the communities of nonviolent resistance have asked us to stand in relation to our governments and corporations, and our own lifestyles that get in the way of creation, justice and peace?  Will we push our hardest to get those powers out of the way?  Will we give equally energetic attention to the internal transformation that will keep us from getting in the way of God’s movement in the world?

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