I took part in the demonstration tonight at 11th and Congress in opposition to the Israeli bombings of Gaza. We stood, a large crowd, around the large Christmas tree and the large menorah, all eight candles and the shammash lit. It was good to be there in the presence of many persons of Middle Eastern background, as well as others who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Universalist or non-religious. In the middle of the demonstration, there was a break when some knelt in prayer on the capitol lawn. Jay Janner's fine photos posted on the American-Statesman site give an idea of those present.
My sign read, "Cease fire - all sides - life is precious." Some in the crowd believe that armed resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine is justified. But, for both moral and practical reasons, I can't condone violence that takes human life on any side.
Of course, I live comfortably apart from the daily reality of life in an occupied territory. I do know that there are Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, and Israelies, both religious and secular, who advocate and practice nonviolent forms of resistance to the occupation even in the midst of the deadly violence. Making peace does not mean passive acquiescence. It does mean addressing the conflict without resorting to revenge killing.
In groups that meet to try and reconcile differences between Israeli and Palestinian causes, the most important ingredient seems to be the willingness to walk in the shoes of the other. Everyone has their story to tell, their loss to describe, their pain to express. If these stories can be told, listened to and acknowledged, on all sides, then progress can be made.
When it comes to US relations with Israel and Palestine, there are also questions that must be answered honestly. Who holds the greatest power? Where do business interests translate into political and military power? When do business interests influence media coverage? Who benefits financially when weapons are sold and used? Who pays the cost?
I was glad to see singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson present among the crowd tonight because she is able, through her music, to demonstrate what empathy means. She wasn't there to sing, but many Austinites know her piece, Tender Mercies, in which she gently puts the listener in the shoes of the bomber and the bombed, the parent and the child, so that we understand more than judge. To me, this kind of empathy is a crucial part of what will move us beyond the vicious cycle of war and retributive violence.