Jean Zaru is one of my heroes. She embodies sumud, meaning steadfastness, the lifeblood which pulses through Palestinian veins and propels them on. In response to the chaos that rose around her, most intensely witnessed at first during the nakba in 1948 when she was only 8-years-old, she pursued the path of nonviolent resistance. Her commitment to nonviolence was influenced by her Christian faith and enhanced by her Quaker practice, one of the Christian denominations with nonviolence as its hallmark, one might say. In time she channeled her beliefs and practices into organized communities helping to establish the Friends International Center in Ramallah and co-found Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Center in Jerusalem. A center in form, but in practice perhaps more a movement, Sabeel is a group of
"local Christians inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ [who] stand for the oppressed, work for justice, engage in peace-building"
by striving toward,
"theological liberation through instilling the Christian faith in the daily lives of those who suffer under occupation, violence, injustice, and discrimination."
On a Wednesday afternoon in October of last year, my friend Kate Taber and I set off to visit Jean at her home in Ramallah to learn more. It was quite a miracle we were able to find a day where our three schedules converged. Jean is constantly traveling around Palestine/Israel to meet with international groups or lecturing abroad. We arrived at her ranch-style home set on a small hill in the bustling central West Bank city. She greeted us at the door with her warm smile and welcomed us in for hot mint tea and fresh baked fatayer sabanekh (a savory triangular pastry stuffed with a leafy green much like spinach). One of my favorites!
A little background:
While Jean's family remained in what became the West Bank after the nakba, the catastrophe (Palestinians' experience of the creation of the State of Israel), many were forced to emigrate. Depending on whether they were Muslim or Christian Palestinians their experience could potentially be quite different.
For those who continue to remain they also continue to resist. Each person must consider which path of resistance they will choose: nonviolent or violent. Jean continues to choose the path of nonviolence and has made a life's work out of it. Her presence and perspective are coveted because people like her are few and far between, especially in the Middle East.
"Very few women are writing on the theological and the political...or the spiritual." A friend of Jean's said of her.
Though the region is small and cities and villages sit very close to one another, accessing each other can sometimes be nearly impossible. On the right day at the right hour, these communities can in fact be impossible to reach, thus making it exceedingly difficult for Palestinians to remain connected.
When Jean mentioned the population of Palestinians in Jerusalem must remain at or below 28% I was stunned. I had not heard about this policy and asked her to explain further.
There is a status quo that must be disrupted if there is ever going to be any hope for change. One piece in that jenga tower is raising attention to the bigger picture of violence.
From my experience, the average American does not know a lot about militarism. I didn't. That is, until I spent time in a clearly militarized area. The word is remotely on Americans' radar. If we do think about militarism, our own country is probably not the example we think of as being in the grip such a power. Just as we need to expand our minds to the vast forms of violence that exist in order to recognize and uproot these injustices, so we need to become more educated about militarism. Militarism has already begun to seep into our society and is all too quickly becoming a new normal. One example is GILEE, a law enforcement exchange program housed at Georgia State University in which American police to travel to Israel to be trained by the Israeli Defense Force. We need to be aware so we can weed out what has already planted itself in our midst and prevent it from spreading.
One of the greatest forms of nonviolent resistance Jean has devoted herself to is the empowerment and emancipation of women.
How can we encourage Jean and other nonviolent coworkers in their invaluable work? We can find ways to join their efforts, working for justice locally and globally, and join them in thought and prayer.
Join the Sabeel weekly wave of prayer
Start or join a Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) group in your local community
November 1-9, 2017 Join Sabeel's Witness Visit in the Holy Land, led by the inspirational co-founder of Sabeel, Naim Ateek, on the theme of "Christian Zionism and Colonialism – A Response from Palestinian Christians".
"All of this experiential learning is intended to motivate participants to become agents of change when they return home. Therefore, Sabeel also provides materials, support, and mentoring to help returning delegates make connections to their local communities and to share what they have learned while here."
Join the FOSNA Activist Network
Learn more about Holy Land realities on the ground with study guides.