I have been asked if the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County has ever held a vigil to ask Hamas to stop the missile attacks on civilian targets. The answer is, "Not directly." Instead, we devote ourselves to ending all violence, of which the attacks by Hamas are but one example.
In our mission statement, we take a stand against all violence: we commit ourselves to replace violence, war, racism, and economic injustice through active nonviolence as a transforming way of life. We grant no exemption to Hamas. Neither do we grant one to Israel.
For the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, we created a memorial wall to remember those who died that day, as well as 3,000 others from all over the world who had died since then in political and religious violence. It was appalling how quickly we could find 3,000 names just from the newspaper. We placed equal value on each lost life and asked that they be honored with peace. But in our fractured world, certain lives are given value over others — U.S. over Afghani and Israeli over Palestinian — and therein lies a root cause of violence.
We can't hold a vigil for each act of violence, therefore we must rely on broader gestures. We held a vigil in Courthouse Square every Friday for more than seven years asking for an end to violent responses. And when the violence is as barbaric as the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Israeli invasion of Gaza — where overwhelming military force is used against relatively defenseless people with the expectation of huge civilian casualties — the Center hits the streets. We cannot do less.
We also gather to protest our country's financial and moral support for these acts. Just as you and I financially support the killing of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we provide the bombs and tanks that kill Palestinian civilians. The U.S. says that Israel has the right to defend itself, without ever acknowledging that Palestine is not "legally" allowed to defend itself against anyone at any time in any way. The Israeli army generally kills 100 Palestinians for every Israeli killed by Hamas. The fourth largest military in the world is invading a people forbidden any military at all.
Since the founding of Israel, the people of Palestine have endured "violence, war, racism, and economic injustice" at the hands of Israel with the support of the United States. There is no excuse for claiming ignorance of that truth. Nothing would have done more to ensure the security of the Israeli people than for their country to have eliminated those four scourges. But the United States has never chosen that path and neither has Israel. The results are lamentable, but predictable.
Our memorial wall quotes Thomas Moore: "We need in our hearts and souls to honor the sacredness of all human life. .<TH>.<TH>. To do the work of peacemaking requires we search for peace in ourselves, in our families, in our communities and in the world as a whole. .<TH>.<TH>. Peace does not arrive as a gift, and it's not up to anyone but yourself to make it happen." We honor the very tender spot within the Jewish people formed by the burden and pain of their history. And yet, as Marshall Rosenberg has written, "Our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize that our well-being and the well-being of others are, in fact, one and the same."
Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve this peace. Americans and Afghanis alike deserve this peace. It is time to ask something greater of ourselves and of Israel. Only when the strongest lay down their arms can the world begin to find its way to peace.
<i>Susan Lamont is director of the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County.</i>