We spent a warm inaugural week-end in Washington DC this past month and were inspired – rallying and marching to the White House with friends chanting, “No blank check for Israel.” There was a magnificent inaugural eve Peace Ball at Arena Stage envisioned and realized by friend Andy Shallal, Busboys and Poets, Democracy Now! and other great organizations. The venue throbbed with powerful, infectious words, music, and dance – from orators like Amy Goodman, Angela Davis, Ralph Nader, Julian Bond, Medea Benjamin, and musicians Sweet Honey and the Rock and Emma’s Revolution. We were uplifted, being in a space so full of energy and celebration on inaugural eve. Still, we found ourselves wishing we could take the crowd for just a moment across the world to a few places and people we had been so privileged to connect with this past year.
The night before departing from Israel after hearing the judgment of the Israeli court in the civil lawsuit we brought in our daughter’s case, we had dinner with Israeli Jewish friends high in the hills of Haifa. They, like so many others, had supported us through our long journey in search of accountability. We met the parents of Natan – a 19 year-old Israeli youth and conscientious objector. Since November 19th (after Operation Pillar of Defense), he has repeatedly been in and out of military prison subsequent to each of his refusals to serve in the Israeli military. Natan says, “We, as citizens and human beings, have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game.”
Late on an October afternoon, we picked olives with farm families in beautiful hills near the West Bank community of Nisf Jbeel (between Jenin and Nablus). When taken to the village home where we would spend the night, we were met by 16-year-old Hamza – dressed up in his dark suit to meet us, and with an English-Arabic dictionary in hand that his teacher had loaned him to use because he and his family would be our hosts. Hamza’s eyes sparkled when he told us how for the first time in his life, he had recently been able to travel the fifty miles from Nisf Jbeel to Haifa in Israel – to see the Mediterranean Sea. We had an animated late-night conversation during which he proclaimed, “I love my country! I love my country! But I want to see the world!”
Days later in Gaza, and immediately before Operation Pillar of Defense, we met youth at the new music school. They told us they hoped for teachers skilled in musical instruments to come to Gaza to teach them. Yet without the new teachers, they were ready with a concert of oud, piano, and cello. We met Ayya and Ashwa at a meeting with a group of young Gaza women who had completed the UN’s Gender Project Program to acquire skills, self-confidence, and work experience. Ayya is a computer engineer, trained to provide tech support, who hopes to land a job. Ashwa wants to work in public relations and media and imagines “living in a peaceful world.” We learned how the families of these young women supported them as they stepped out of their homes. We learned how despite challenges with electricity and computers, they loved to surf the web, to chat with their family members in the West Bank, to get online help in applying for scholarships, to widen their horizons, and to dream. We heard their pleas for us to support funding for projects that provide for work – not for armaments and bombs.
Before we departed Gaza, we once again met Mariam in Rafah. She was three years old when she huddled with her sisters and cousins behind the garden wall where our daughter Rachel was killed. She is now almost thirteen – very much alive, beautiful, with questioning eyes, and hopes for her own future.
All of them – Natan, Hamza, Ayya, Ashwa, and Mariam– want to live, to move freely throughout this beautiful world, and to dream in the same way we are privileged to do. They ask us to dream with them and to believe that change is possible. They expect us to act to stop support for the weaponry and violence that shatters their lives, and instead to invest in their shared futures. They all tell us they are unable do it alone – that they are unable to make the changes needed without us standing and acting with them.
We love the freshness of new years and new terms. We enjoyed converging on Washington DC with those who still have hope for this President and who want to transform U.S. policies and government to make us more a nation of peace. According to Webster, an inauguration is a formal observation of a “beginning.” Our inaugural experience reaffirmed that we can have an impact. We may get tired, but we are not going away. At the start of this new term, it’s time to reach out again to this administration and to President Obama. It’s time to demand a foreign policy that recognizes our shared future with the beautiful young people from across the world who touched our lives this year. And it’s time to reaffirm our own commitment to work together for that shared future – with shared justice, security, and peace – for as many years and administrations as it takes to achieve it!