Monday, August 3, 2009

Palestinian Youths Commit to Nonviolence

Palestinian Youth Embrace Nonviolence

In the West Bank city of Hebron, the unemployment rate is hovering around 28%. Seventy-eight checkpoints, monitored by Israeli soldiers, make even the shortest of trips difficult and time consuming. Four Israeli settlements inside the Hebron city limits, and another five just outside of the city are home to some of the most aggressive and dangerous settlers in the West Bank. In the midst of the violence and desperation, a dozen young Palestinian men and women sit in a circle and read the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They have come because of their refusal to accept defeat and because of their conviction that there is a way forward that does not involve violence, but chooses to draw its strength from love. They are the July 2009 participants in the Nonviolence Youth (NV Youth) Hebron training program, and they are joining their voices with thousands throughout the Palestinian territories and millions around the world who have already been convinced of the potential to create change through nonviolent resistance to injustice.

NV Youth is a project of Love Thy Neighbor (LTN), a nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, MD. Since 2007, LTN has sponsored nonviolence summer camps for children and nonviolence trainings for young adults, and, in fall of 2009, will inaugurate a follow-up leadership training program for graduates of its introductory courses. Through music, literature, art and role play, participants are given the opportunity to build and practice their nonviolence and conflict resolution skills. Discussions about largely nonviolent resistance movements around the world, including the U.S. Civil Rights movement, the South African Anti-Apartheid movement and the Indian Independence movement provoke creative thinking about how new ideas and different strategies can be incorporated into the Palestinian nonviolent struggle against the occupation.

Demand for these programs is high, not because LTN and NV Youth are introducing a new and foreign concept, but because of the long history of nonviolent resistance that is woven throughout Palestinian society and culture. According to LTN’s executive director, Tarek Abuata, the organization has been able to achieve what it has only in partnership with the many other nonviolence initiatives that are already an active part of Palestinian culture. The camps and training programs build on that tradition and set out to expand participation in the movement and provide its leaders with the needed resources that are difficult to obtain under occupation. By empowering young people, LTN and NV Youth are working to ensure that the next generation of Palestinian leaders will be grounded in the tradition and history of nonviolent struggle in their homeland and around the world.

In a society so deeply scarred by injustice and inequality, the message of nonviolence contains an element of hope that offers welcome relief from the daily struggle. Unfortunately, it is a message that is all too often lost on a media that prefers to report on bloodshed and strife. And so it is without fanfare and recognition that the young people of Hebron gathered last month. But they, and thousands like them, will continue to gather and raise their voices against oppression and violence. It is in this stubborn refusal to succumb to injustice or violence that one finds possibilities and hope.

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