CPT gets some publicity…

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Some BBCers followed around a recent CPT delegation, and posted photos with captions. Even some photos and quotes from our very own YAR member Rich. Looking good, Rich.

I’d be interested in hearing some thoughts on CPT’s work, or ways to work for peace and/or justice. Should the church be actively supporting this sort of work? I’d argue that CPT is doing great work, but recently I’ve heard some critiques accusing CPT of working for “justice” instead of “peace”. What is the role of forgiveness is situations of oppression?

Just trying to stimulate some discussion…

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13 Responses to “CPT gets some publicity…”

  1. j alan meyer Says:

    Or maybe even more interesting would be thoughts or reflections from Rich about his most recent trip. Observations? Where do you find hope, Rich?

  2. Jeremy B. Yoder Says:

    I visited with the CPT mission to Hebron as part of my EMU cross-cultural semester in Israel-Palestine (I’m pretty sure none of the folks in the BBC slide show were there at the time). I did have kind of mixed feelings about what the CPTers said and did - it really felt like they were not so interested in peace between the Israeli settlers and the Palestinians as they were in helping to (nonviolently) convince the settlers to leave, which isn’t exactly the same thing.

    At the time, this really bothered me. In retrospect, I’m not as sure. The Israelis who are settling Hebron are a particularly fanatical variant of their type - they’re literally, physically trying to push the Palestinians out, one house at a time. If I was going to pick a villain in Hebron, it would be them. Could I come to Hebron with a mission to “get in the way” and not end up choosing sides? Honestly, probably not.

  3. eric Says:

    I think CPT is fairly open about taking sides, and for good reason. But the sides aren’t Israel vs. Palestine. The sides are Occupation vs. End of Occupation. Peace can’t happen without an end to the occupation, and that is in the best interest of both Israelis and Palestinians.

    Since when does peace-making preclude taking a side? Would you make peace between a slave-owner and their slave by giving them each a bit of what they want? I sure wouldn’t. First you end slavery, then you talk. When there’s a military occupation going on, any peace process has to start with ending the occupation. The settlers are an occupying force. They have to leave before peace-talks can even happen.

    It’s another case of power dynamics. You can’t look at conflict without first looking at power. It’s pretty basic to any mediation technique.

    J. Alan: “Justice instead of peace” is an eye for an eye - that’s what the courts supposedly do. “Peace instead of justice” would be quietism and passive-aggression. Both kinda suck. I don’t think you could really put CPT into either category. Whatever you think of their methods or efficiency, they are certainly aiming at the combination of peace with justice.

  4. Jeremy B. Yoder Says:

    Eric: I absolutely agree that justice is essential to finding peace, particularly in the case of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I guess what I mean by “taking sides” is more than just acknowledging the unequal power dynamic in Hebron and acting accordingly; what worried me was that I didn’t see much evidence (and let me emphasize that this was in the course of a one-day visit and conversation) of engagement with the Hebron settlers at all. Granted, the settlers were highly hostile to the CPTers - within fifteen minutes of our arrival, a guy drove past in an SUV and called us “anti-Semites” - but I worry that if CPT’s communication with the settlers never grows beyond “you’re wrong; we’re with the other guys,” there’s no opportunity to help them understand why they’re wrong.

    Also, I worry about the affect that giving our undivided support (whatever “support” means) to the Palestinians, because it risks losing opportunities to help them better frame their message. Several Palestinian groups we talked to that semester considered rock-throwing to be an acceptable, even necessary element of a non-violent protest! If a hypothetical peacemaker’s position doesn’t allow him or her to criticize that, my fear is that the peacemaker isn’t going to do much to help break the spiral of violence.

  5. carl Says:

    hi Jeremy,

    let me emphasize that this was in the course of a one-day visit and conversation

    Yes, please do emphasize that. CPT’s Hebron project has been in place for many years, and over those years CPT has made numerous attempts to connect with and engage in dialogue with settlers. If you do a bit of research, you can find accounts of some of those attempts chronicled in the MennoLink cpt.news archives. When I traveled to Hebron with a CPT delegation in October 1997, our group met personally with a settler representative for several hours and heard his point of view in great detail (though we had to meet with him under pretenses of being a generic “Christian tour group”, otherwise he would have refused to meet with us). With very few exceptions, the Hebron settlers have little interest in talking with anyone who doesn’t share their view that the state of Israel is destined by God to occupy all of Palestine. So yes, I think it somewhat irresponsible of you to make the easy armchair criticism and contribute to the unfair perception of CPT as “one-sided”, without first asking and researching whether ther might be very good historical reasons for CPT to not put much energy into “dialogue with settlers” anymore.

    Also, I worry about the affect that giving our undivided support… to the Palestinians, because it risks losing opportunities to help them better frame their message.

    I think the duty of a peacemaker is to see the situation as clearly as possible and stand with integrity in the midst of that situation. The details of how that is done are perhaps more complex than you allow. If I were serving as a CPTer in Hebron (which I never have), I would want to be clear that I am committed to nonviolence, and for me that includes not throwing stones. (It’s my understanding that CPT’s Palestinian and Israeli partners are all quite aware of CPT’s strict commitment to nonviolence). At the same time, I think it is arrogant (hypocritical, even), for an American whose tax dollars bought the bulldozer that leveled a young Palestinian man’s home, or the bullets that shot his older brother to death, to presume to self-righteously “criticize” him about the “spiral of violence” or “how to better frame his message.”

    Besides that, I think it’s ridiculous to argue that throwing stones at flak-jacketed, armored soldiers in a protest is a significant contribution to the “cycle of violence.” If you want to talk about suicide bombings, then sure. But stones?

  6. Jeremy B. Yoder Says:

    Carl: I’m sorry if I’ve been offensive. I’m very glad to hear I was misinformed about CPT’s history with the Hebron settlers. As I said, the settlers in Hebron are a particularly rabid bunch, and I can quite understand that they’re not open to any sort of productive engagement.

    I think it is arrogant (hypocritical, even), for an American whose tax dollars bought the bulldozer that leveled a young Palestinian man’s home, or the bullets that shot his older brother to death, to presume to self-righteously “criticize” him about the “spiral of violence” or “how to better frame his message.”

    If I thought that I was morally responsible for everything my government did, I don’t think I’d be able to get out of bed in the morning. I freely admit that I don’t have (and can never have) the same perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as its victims. However, it is precisely because I believe in the justice of the Palestinians’ desire for a functional homeland that I grieve to see them doing anything that gives the occupying forces an excuse to retaliate with violence.

    It may be laughable to think that throwing a stone at a tank is a violent act, but it’s an act that lets the guy in the tank tell himself that it’s all right to start shooting. The effectiveness of nonviolent protest as practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., is not just that it highlights the power differential between oppressor and oppressed, but that it reveals the complete and utter injustice of the oppressor’s position.

    And, yes, I have at best a theoretical understanding of that principle; I have no idea how well I could adhere to it myself in the midst of oppression such as the Palestinians experience every day. But if I really believe in it, isn’t it kind of condescending for me not to hold the Palestinians to the same standard I would hope to adhere to myself?

  7. carl Says:

    hi Jeremy. Nope, no personal offense at all, I just think the “one-sided” criticism of CPT is far too easy to make on a surface level without looking into the situation very deeply.

    If I thought that I was morally responsible for everything my government did, I don’t think I’d be able to get out of bed in the morning.

    Well, we could talk about varying degrees of moral responsibility, not to mention more and less productive ways of dealing with the responsibility… I don’t advocate paralyzing guilt in any context, I do advocate keen awareness of social location and its implications.

    And, yes, I have at best a theoretical understanding of that principle; I have no idea how well I could adhere to it myself in the midst of oppression such as the Palestinians experience every day. But if I really believe in it, isn’t it kind of condescending for me not to hold the Palestinians to the same standard I would hope to adhere to myself?

    Not in the slightest. You could only think that if you presume that your commitment is inherently morally superior to theirs, and that their throwing stones (for instance) is simply an act resulting from inferior moral willpower. You personally may believe that, but it’s that assumption of your own superiority that is condescending, not your choice to be humble about your level of knowledge/experience.

    It’s one thing to have a commitment yourself, to say “this is where I personally stand, based on my limited experiences.” It’s another thing to tell those who are infinitely more personally affected by the situation that if they just knew what was best for them they would have the same commitment you do, even though you barely have a clue what they’ve experienced. There’s a continuum between the two, not a clear division, but the phrasings you choose (”criticize”, “hold to the same standard”) make it pretty clear to me that you’re much further along the continuum than I think is warranted by your level of relevant experience.

    Also, I should say clearly that I’m speaking for myself here, not CPT. CPTers’ perspectives on this vary, and some of the most fiery disagreements I’ve had with CPTers have been about this very issue, where they were much more ready to aggressively “evangelize” for CPT’s version of nonviolence than I would be.

  8. TimN Says:

    For the last week I’ve been meaning to make a substantial contribution to this conversation since I think its very important. I still haven’t formulated what I want to say, but I will post a link to this interview I did with Mark Cuthbert, director of Christian International Peacemaking Service which does team based peace work, but with a different model from CPT that focuses less on justice and more on reconciliation:

    Christian International Peacemaking Service: An Interview with Mark Cuthbert

  9. Jeremy B. Yoder Says:

    Carl: Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about in the last few days.

    As I read your last response, I see two issues on which we’re coming to different conclusions. First is the moral standing of a given response to injustice (in this case, throwing stones in a protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories). Second is the legitimacy of any evaluation of that moral standing made by someone who is removed from the injustice to whatever degree.

    Is it condescending for me to hold that not throwing stones is morally superior to throwing stones? I don’t think so; I hold this to be a universal moral statement, one which Christ made as a member of an occupied people in a historical situation similar to (but far from identical to) the present occupation of Palestine. “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

    That said, believing this to be true and thinking that it is appropriate for me to ask a Palestinian to hold to it are two different things. And here I will admit I’m much less sure. I do agree that I don’t have much grounds to make the request - but then, one wonders, who does? How long do I need to spend in the same situation as a Palestinian before I can contribute a perspective to help end the occupation? The extreme end of this line of thought (which I’m not suggesting you would hold to) is that nonviolence can only be legitimate if it arises from within an oppressed people - outsiders can never help to cultivate it, because they can never fully understand the experience of oppression. If that is the case, what is CPT doing in Hebron anyway?

    In my time in Israel/Palestine, my group of culture-crossing EMU undergraduates met people with a wide variety of political positions on both sides of the occupation. Many, many times we were told that, had we only experienced the occupation/the terrorism as the locals had, we would not be pacifists. But (with the possible exception of extremists like a representative of Hamas and a group of settlers), I don’t think anyone denied that nonviolence was morally superior to violence at any level.

  10. eric Says:

    I think that is exactly the line CPT is trying to walk, and they have obviously not come down at either extreme. They are a nonviolent group, and entirely advocate for nonviolent solutions for everyone. They are also living in the middle of the oppression with the Palestinians, sometimes in their houses. And they are also slow to judge something as pseudo-violent as throwing stones at armored soldiers when there are much bigger issues to worry about.

    There’s a lot of complexity there, and it looks to me like CPT is addressing that more honestly than most of their detractors. And, though I think they could ramp up their publicity and improve their public image, I think they are also right to care more about the actual context of the stone-throwing, and deal with that context, rather than worry about what Americans might think and who might use it as an excuse for what.

    The problem is the occupation. Focus on that and the stone-throwing will stop.

  11. carl Says:

    hi Jeremy,

    As I said before, I do think the “legitimacy of moral evaluation” is a complex continuum, not a clear line. (Also, it’s not only your distance from the situation that is relevant, but also your pre-existing involvement in the situation via your identity as an American).

    I do recall that Gandhi himself said, quite strongly, that he believed violent resistance to be morally superior to inaction or cowardice. For me it’s a _much_ higher moral priority to “criticize” or “hold to a higher standard” Americans who say they believe in nonviolence but risk nothing for justice rather than Palestinian boys throwing stones. Criticizing the latter smacks entirely of hypocrisy to me unless I’m right there in the streets of Hebron with them (which, of course, CPT is).

  12. Jeremy B. Yoder Says:

    Carl: Well, I guess I’ll just have to take my place in the 38 percent of people not entitled to their opinion, or, indeed, to their belief in the redeeming power of nonviolence.

  13. carl Says:

    hey Jeremy - That last comment came off wrong. I deleted a clarifying sentence which I should have left in. It clarified that I wasn’t intending to lump you in as “Americans… who risk nothing for justice”, since I have little clue what you’ve risked or not.

    In the sense that the thread about “entitlement to opinion” is (as I saw it) in part about the question of when your social location means that you might need to bracket the application of your opinion, it is relevant to this conversation. I hope you don’t drop your belief in the redeeming power of nonviolence, though, as I firmly share it. I’m a former CPTer myself and a big supporter of CPT. I just don’t believe in the redeeming power of privileged people telling oppressed people they ought to be more nonviolent. It’s a big difference.

    Appreciate the conversation.

    - Carl

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