I have just returned from the United Kingdom where I was one of several speakers at the Annual Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham (27-30 August). Greenbelt (www.greenbelt.org.uk) describes itself as an “independent Christian festival working to express love, creativity and justice in the arts and contemporary culture in the light of the Christian gospel.” It was a great honor and privilege to be with thousands upon thousands of people seeking to discover how we can truly live God’s word in today’s world.
I gave two major talks, “Nonviolent Resistance,” where I talked about the daily struggle involved in ending the Israeli occupation and brining about a Just Peace to the Holy Land, and “The God of Occupation,” where I presented the power of nonviolence as the tool of expressing God’s desire to bring reconciliation and peace between enemies. I also participated in a panel entitled “Israel/Palestine: How will a peaceful & just co-existence become a reality?” with Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee against House Demolition and Palestinian activists Husam Zomlot and Elizabeth Jaldon. The panel looked at the various options for a just peace (as well as options that can never be accepted, such as apartheid) and evaluate their chances for success. After briefly presenting our positions the panel engaged in discussion with the audience.
Jeff Halper and Palestinian singer Reem Kilani and I also participated in the festival’s major event, “Take an Olive Seed” Sunday worship. The following is the text I wrote and read:
My name is Sami Awad … I am the son of a Palestinian refugee boy who lost his father, his home, and all his family’s belongings by the age of nine. I am the grandson of the woman who taught this boy and his six siblings not to seek revenge and retaliation but to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
This said, I am a Palestinian who grew up under Israeli occupation and oppression, witnessing and living injustice every day of my life. I grew up seeing my enemy through the barrel of his gun; as a soldier who suppressed my people, as a settler who stole my land, and as an ideology that denied my identity and existence.
Like an olive tree that takes years to bear fruit, the seed planted by my grandmother began to grow in my life when I discovered the power of nonviolence to resist oppression and create transformation, when I discovered that nonviolence is not something new to Palestinian culture and struggle for liberation.
The “long now” for me does not exist in reaching a political settlement or a negotiated peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. The “long now” exists in the power of nonviolence to end all forms of oppression and begin a deep healing for all peoples who live in the Holy Land.
The long now exists with no racism or discrimination but in communities that are founded on the principles of love, peaceful coexistence and equality.
As part of its desire to increase awareness and increase advocacy for peace and justice in the Holy Land, Greenbelt adopted “Just Peace” as its new three year campaign. This campaign came following a trip to Israel-Palestine by some of the Greenbelt staff, trustees and volunteers in October 2008 (it was wonderful to meet them and talk with them at that time).
I am very encouraged by such a major move forward to seeing a real vision of peace and justice become a reality.