Reflections on solidarity – November 29, 2011

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Jennifer Bing (left) visiting friends in Ramallah.

Speech given at Wellington Church in Chicago, IL on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People:

As I look out among all of us gathered here tonight, I realize that so many of us are engaged in this work for peace and justice due to a visit to Palestine.

For those who have visited a Palestinian community, one will always remember the hospitality. Tea, coffee, soda, sweets, and fruit are offered to each guest, even if the host has barely enough food to feed his or her family. We remember the fresh baked bread, olive oil, za’atar, and sweet white cheese that is collectively shared at breakfast. We remember the handshakes and greetings from all members of the family – even from children who are just learning to walk.

We remember spending time looking at family photo albums, the certificates of achievement from schools and universities, letters sent from family abroad, and perhaps a peek at a wedding video. We remember walking the fields of villages, climbing olive trees and hilltops, and dancing to the beat of a late night drum. We remember being told stories of struggle and of joy; of fear and frustration, of great sadness and great hope. And we remember often leaving with a memento of our visit – an embroidered pillow, a bottle of olive oil, a plastic bag filled with marameeya, or a photo and email address promising to stay in touch.
I’ve been reflecting today on what it means to be in solidarity with Palestinians. So many people often ask – how do we continue to work for peace and justice, especially as the situation on the ground is so grim – more settlement colonies built, more people living in poverty, more political unrest, violence and disunity? There are three qualities that I think those who desire to be in solidarity must develop: courage, compassion, and commitment.

It takes courage to visit Gaza and the West Bank. Courage to see the reality of life under military rule. Courage to hear the stories of pain and suffering. Courage to understand the risks people take to stay steadfast in their homes and lands. Courage to remain hopeful that change is possible.

It also takes courage to come back to the United States and tell the stories of what we’ve seen. To speak to our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and elected officials — some who may misinterpret our passion and accuse us of being traitors, self-hating, one-sided, anti-semitic. As we’ve learned here in Chicago from the FBI subpoenas sent to members of our community, it also takes courage to stand up to the US government’s attempt to criminalize solidarity efforts, even humanitarian assistance to Palestine.

It takes compassion to be in solidarity with Palestinians. So often our hearts can become hardened to the suffering of those who live in Palestine and Israel. We become numb to the statistics, frustrated by double standards and endless efforts to negotiate, angered by US policies that allow military occupation to continue. We tire of having to explain the basic information about the conflict to those who should know better, or to dispel cherished myths that dehumanize one or the other side. We must remind ourselves of the power of love to overcome evil, and to practice compassion in our pursuit of a just peace, even when we feel deep anger and sadness.

Finally, it takes commitment to be in solidarity with Palestine. Quakers began their efforts in Gaza in 1948-49, administering to the needs of Palestinian refugees. Today Quakers still maintain a presence in Gaza, working with youth to rebuild their communities and lives despite conditions of occupation and siege. We stay committed to changing US policy and divesting from corporate investments that support military occupation.

Many in this space tonight have dedicated many days, years, and decades to the cause of Palestinian self-determination, human rights, and peace. Our commitments must be praised and re-energized by coming together as a community like we have this evening, to find creative ways we can move forward together in solidarity. Let us have the courage, compassion, and commitment to a future day of solidarity where we will celebrate a free Palestine.

About Jennifer Bing

Jennifer Bing is the Middle East Program Director in the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Jennifer began her activism on Palestine and Israel in 1982, and during the early years of the first Intifada she was a teacher at the Friends Boys School in Ramallah and a human rights researcher at Save the Children. Jennifer’s research on the first Intifada and its impact on Palestinian children was published in a three volume human rights report printed by Radda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children) in January, 1990.

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