Skip Schiel’s Reflection for Agape’s 40th Anniversary

Agape’s annual Francis Day celebration in 2009 featured nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation and siege of Palestine. Aziz Sarah, whose 18-year-old brother died of injuries while in an Israeli jail, is now a Palestinian peace activist with a moving story about his evolution as a peacemaker and how his enemy mentality faded as he came to know individual Jews and turned to peacemaking. Kobi Skolnick, formerly in the Israeli military, is a lecturer in Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program, where he received his master’s degree, studying Syrian youth in refugee camps and peacebuilding. He writes about his current work here. Aziz runs a cross-cultural tour service oriented to peacebuilding with more info here. In addition, how they met.

These are two vivid examples of transformation from enemy to peace and justice activist. I wish I could name more. In my experience photographing in the region since 2003, unfortunately, I find little cross-barriers struggle to end the oppression and build a just peace. I can name a few exemplary organizations: Combatants for Peace (which has a commemorative tree here); Break the Silence; Taayush; Israeli refusniks and the frequently renewed group of Israeli high school seniors who regularly publish a public letter refusing military duty which furthers the occupation; the Israeli archeologist organization, Emek Shavah (which means Common Ground in Hebrew); and the Palestine-Israel photographers’ collective, Active Stills.

I will now show you several photos I made in Gaza, one is among my first from that region. An Israeli tank gunner fired a 50 mm shell at this girl, shattering her wrist.  As the psychologist I accompanied visiting children injured by the Israeli army—they often deliberately target children—told me, physical injuries like this we can repair, the damage to her mental condition is perhaps untreatable. Later, in a taxi as we left that hospital, I wept.

What to do? The American Friends Service Committee promotes two campaigns to address the oppression: No Way To Treat a Child, which, because of U.S. House representative Betty McCollum’s strong advocacy, slowly moves thru Congress; and Gaza Unlocked, to end the siege. You can find more info on the AFSC website. These may not be reconciliation programs but if successful they can do much to bring lasting peace and justice to the region.

Skip holds up a photo he took in Gaza of a girl who was fired upon by the Israeli military. This photo was taken by David Legg.