13 March 2015
AL-KHALIL (HEBRON) REFLECTION: They seek
to live freely, not to die bravely
[Note: The following reflection has been adapted for CPTnet. The original appears on the Palestine
I heard the bullet slam into the metal door up the street, and turned to
look at my teammate with confusion—was
that really a bullet? —when several rubber bullets came skipping up the street
and stopped near my feet. At that moment, I realized that I would hate telling
this story to friends in the United States.
The responses would be predictable‑“You’re
crazy!” “You’re so brave!”
We were accompanying the annual Open
Shuhada Street demonstration Shuhada Street, once the main
market street in the old city of Hebron, is a desolate ghost town since the
Israeli military closed it to Palestinians in the late 1990s, as punishment for
massacre of 29 Muslim Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque. Every
year, Palestinians and international supporters gather to demand that the
Israeli military open the street and allow Palestinians to move freely in the
city. Every year, they are met by brutal, violent repression.
As I walked over to pick up the rubber bullet, I looked across the street
and saw several young Palestinian men my age, trying to decide if it was worth
attempting to march down the street or not. And at that moment, I understood
why I would hate telling this story. The truth is, I’m actually scared of a lot
of things—bullets, heights,
snakes, big spiders, etc. I am very sure that I would not be out protesting if
I was a young Palestinian man, growing up with constant military harassment,
family arrested and tortured, friends killed, economic strangulation. I felt
safer on that street because of my CPT hat and my international passport.
We can always find someone braver than us, someone who is sacrificing more.
And often people do not sacrifice by choice, and they are brave because their
very existence is resistance and there is no third option between resistance
and death. Those of us who do not face this choice can find ourselves seeking
moments of bravery, opportunities to prove our toughness by facing down the
forces of violence‑the
white/male/middle-class/USAmerican Savior Complex.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is asked to come heal Lazarus. This would mean
traveling to Judea, where the political leaders want Jesus dead. He holds off
for a bit, but when he decides to go, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may
die with him.”
Thomas wants to be brave. He identifies the movement Jesus is building as
about bravely facing death (unlike Peter, who at other points thinks that Jesus
is an idiot for saying he will die, cf. Matthew 16). Thomas sees Jesus’ death
as the central focus. Thomas would do well in a conservative evangelical
But this is not the story in John 11. Jesus does head down to Judea, and
Lazarus has been dead for four days. If the point is a brave death, Jesus could
have just sat down and waited for the political leadership to show up and kill
him. Instead, he weeps with his friends in the death of their friend, he goes
with them to the tomb, he asks for the stone to be rolled away, he prays, and
Lazarus is raised from death. And then Jesus says this: “Unbind him, and let
him go.” Jesus frees Lazarus from the
power of death.
This message, this Good News, gets shouted throughout the Gospels and the
letters of Paul‑the movement
is about conquering the power of death. Jesus does not come to Judea to bravely
face death, but to bring life into the midst of death. His call is not to die
bravely, but to live freely.
This is one of the biggest lessons to learn in our work‑we cannot let the Powers set the
agenda. Our organizing, like Jesus’, has life, not death, at its core. Our
lives, the lives of our friends, and the life-blood of our ancestors and our
community, these must set the rhythm and tempo of our work. Jesus says, “Are
there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not
stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night
stumble, because the light is not in them.”
I know that our friends in Youth
Against Settlements, Hebron
Defense Committee, and other organizations, don’t go to protests to get
shot. They go because they are alive, and to live freely is to resist the
forces of death. The Palestinian resistance, stretching back since before the
ethnic cleansing of 1948, has been struggling to live freely and resist death
for many decades.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery
in the United States, another movement moment where people decided to live
freely. And many of them paid for it, just as Palestinians and oppressed people
everywhere cannot live as they want without violent attacks. And this is a
lesson that all of us do well to remember. We do not win if we go out onto the
streets looking to bravely face death. Though we may face bullets and
repression, we go out because we are alive.
As Easter approaches, I have this to say to the forces of death all around
me: expect resistance.