Sunday, August 18, 2013

Knowing When to Pick My Battles

Today I responded to a post on Facebook about a quote attributed to Patrick Henry.  Because something didn't seem right about the attribution, I decided to do a little research.  What I found were numerous websites which discounted the attribution to Henry.  In a comment on my friend's post, I posted one of the links I'd found. This led to a longer-than-anticipated discussion about evidence, burden of proof, and various comments directed at me that had nothing to do with the topic at hand.  The counter argument to mine was "But you can't prove he didn't say it."  Finally, after spending too much time on the conversation, I chose to leave it.

As I've written previously, as CPTers we are sometimes, but not always, asked to take our vest and hats off when we go through the mosque checkpoint.  Before going through, we decide together (we do patrols in twos) what to do if we receive the order to remove our uniforms: whether or not we will challenge it and if we choose to do so, to what extent we will challenge it.  Depending on our goals for going through the checkpoint, depending on how many people are standing behind us to go through, our decision varies.  

Each time we essentially ask ourselves the question: Is this worth fighting for?  We expect that in many cases, we will "lose" the battle.  In other words, if we want to go through the checkpoint, we will have to take off our vests and/or hats.  I put "lose" in quotes because, while we may have to remove our hats and vests, we are still here. We haven't lost in the way the Israeli government would like us (and Palestinians for that matter) to lose. We haven't gone away. We are still a presence.  We are still, to the best of our abilities, standing in solidarity with those living under oppression.  We are living the values we profess to believe; we are gathering and sharing stories.  That does not feel like a loss at all.  That feels like living (or trying to live) a life of integrity.  

Yesterday, as is our Saturday custom, we followed the settler tour.  This is a tour through the Old City of Hebron for settlers, who are surrounded by 40 to 60 to 80 soldiers.  We and members of other NGOs document the tour.  Soldiers block streets as the tour moves, so that Palestinians have to wait or have to take the long way around to get to wherever they are going.  Sometimes soldiers forcibly go through Palestinian homes to get on their roofs and watch from above.  Sometimes soldiers don't allow people to leave their homes while the tour is going on.  Even if nothing goes "wrong," the presence of settlers and so many soldiers is intimidating.  Thus far, we have been able to do nothing to stop the tour, though it is a goal.

As we follow the soldiers, we - NGOers and soldiers - are often standing in close proximity as the tour stops at one place or another.  This is prime time for me to carry out my spiritual practice.  In the case of the settler tour, I focus my attention on a soldier and as I look at him, I think, "I do not hate you.  What are you doing? What are you doing? What  are you doing?"  I hold no anger as I think this.  It is more a feeling of deep, deep sorrow.  Last night I was telling my fellow CPTers about this practice and one said, "Oh, so you put on your teacher face."   Maybe it's true. Many of the soldiers seem no older, or only barely older, than the young men I used to teach. Despite their uniforms and weapons, they feel very familiar.

I try to look at a soldier until I catch his eyes (most are young men, though the one with the dog always seems to be a young woman).  If I succeed in meeting him eye to eye, I hold his gaze, repeating my internal mantra, until he looks away.  Some will hold the connection for a few seconds.   Thus far, during this practice I have felt no malice directed at me (though I have in other situations).  Some will immediately look away.  Many won't even look a first time.  If I do meet someone's eyes once, he usually won't look at me after that, even if I try to engage him again.  I wonder how our exchange affects him.  

For many reasons, it is very difficult to have a conversation with soldiers in the atmosphere we're living and working in, though I would love to engage with them verbally.  I appreciate the opportunity to talk with my eyes, to express my own humanity - from my heart, through my eyes - and to try to reach theirs.  I could call it a battle, but it doesn't feel like one.

It feels like being human.

As I write this, I realize I don't want to be involved in battles. However, I am more than willing to engage in a struggle: for truth, for justice, for peace, for love, for the well-being of all.  Engaging in a struggle may lead to battles, but it is not the battle that I seek.

The Facebook discussion earlier today became a battle, and an unworthy one at that. Thus my exit.  The struggle I find myself in here in Hebron is difficult, but worthy:  worth my time, worth my energy, worth the battles that may come as a result.

I pray for myself and for all people that we become better at discerning which battles are necessary and important and which merit a humble and graceful release.  I pray that this wisdom leads us into greater reconciliation and communion with one another.

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