Tag Archives: Israel

Conscientious Objector’s View From The Ground In Israel, by Natan Blanc

A Conscientious Objector’s View From The Ground In Israel

by Natan Blanc

Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young AdviserWhen I started writing this post, the Israeli government and the “Hamas” organization were on the verge of agreeing on a cease-fire, and ending the current cycle of violence. By now, the cease fire talks are ancient history. Hamas has rejected the cease-fire, and continued shooting missiles towards Israel,  Israel has retaliated, and we have very little hope for some peace and quiet in the near future.

This cycle of violence has been going on since I was a kid. Luckily for me, I live in the northern part of Israel, far away from the Gaza missiles. But ever since I was a kid, I keep hearing about Hamas’s attacks, Israel’s counter attacks, Hamas’s counter-counter attacks etc. I think I have heard more pompous prime-ministerial speeches about “stamping out the terror” in Gaza then I have heard speeches about the Israeli economy.

The most amazing thing about the endless war in Gaza is that almost nobody, on either side, seems to have any actual goals to achieve through it, except making the other side stop. A few people on the Israeli side talk about conquering Gaza, and a few people on the Palestinian side talk about conquering Israel, but nobody really takes them seriously.

The other amazing thing about this fight is that there is actually nothing to fight about. Unlike other conflicts that Israel has in other places (e.g. the west bank, the Syrian front), this specific conflict doesn’t include any territorial dispute, or any complicated issues. The hypothetical peace treaty in this issue could be written on a napkin. It will contain two sentences- “Israel agrees not to attack in Gaza, and remove the blockade on it. Hamas agrees not to engage in terror attacks towards the citizens of Israel.

Why, then, if everyone is so interested in peace and quiet, and if it is so easy to achieve, does this war continue? The answer to this question is complicated, but it comes down to two issues:

  1. The power of inertia- once the boulder of violence has started rolling, even after nothing is pushing it forward anymore, it will continue rolling, taking innocent lives with it. It will not stop until it has ruined enough lives, enough homes, enough families.
  2. The power of the extreme- the most frustrating thing about this conflict is to see how a handful of extremists can drag millions of people into a never-ending cycle of war, death and violence. One terrorist who fires a missile during a cease-fire, one Israeli soldier who beats up a Palestinian kid, a few 9-year old racists who write “death to the Arabs” on Facebook. These extremists can light a fire that is extremely hard to extinguish, despite the fact that 99% of the citizens on both sides oppose them.

So despite the stupidity and absurdity of this war, the continuation of this cycle, and the next war in a year or two, seems inevitable. If we don’t want to lose hope, we must try and remind ourselves all the time that this stupidity can’t last forever. That eventually, sooner or later, this conflict will end.

About Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young Adviser

Natan Blanc was born in Jerusalem, and moved to Haifa (a major city in Israel) when he was a kid. Haifa is a “mixed” city, with both Arabs and Jews, so he learned about co-existence and peace between people of different religions at an early age. During his teenage years, Natan took part in quite a few different peace activities and organizations. He was also part of a social-democrat youth movement called “hamahanot haolim.”

When Natan was 19, he was drafted (like any Israeli after high-school) to join the IDF (the Israeli army) as a combat soldier. He refused, saying he wouldn’t be part of such an army. Natan told the IDF representatives that serving in this army was against his conscience, because of its actions against the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.

Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young AdviserNatan was jailed repeatedly for his refusal. In total, he was sentenced 10 times, to a total of 178 days in jail. “Eventually,” said Natan, “the army tired of me.” He began an alternative civil service the September after his incarceration.

Natan’s struggle was first of all a struggle for the freedom of conscience, but it was also a struggle for peace between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel. “I hope that my actions, then and in the future, might help end this conflict that has been going on for more than 70 years.”

Natan currently serves in the MDA (the national rescue organization) as a medic (E.M.T.I) in an ambulance. He is also  involved in assisting and guiding potential conscientious military service objectors, as well as the forming and running of “Shelanoo” – a non-profit cooperative for socio-economical change.

To learn more about the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and what you can do, see Natan’s recommendations here.

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  • 2014 DoveTales “Contrast” Edition On Track for Release

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for Peace McNaughton & Gunn has completed the printing and we’ve received notice that the books have shipped. Contributors will be notified directly by email regarding their personal copies. Contributor pages will appear on the site later today. Official release date is July 30th, one week from today!

  • Website Changes

You may have noticed the blog posts scrolling in the right sidebar. We’ve updated the blog titles to include the author’s name so you can easily find posts from all our amazing advisers and guest writers.  This is the first of many exciting changes that will make Writing for Peace content more accessible. Watch for our 2014 DoveTales “Contrast” pages and a new header reflecting the beautiful black and white photography by our Artist-in-Residence, Paula Dawn Lietz.

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Our Facebook page has taken on a new life! You’ll find inspiration there, about the craft of writing, peace, and the intersection of the two. Check it out, like and share. Help spread the word about Writing for Peace!

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Finding Peace in Palestine, by Pamela Olson

Doves Take Flight, by Artist-in-Residence, Paula Lietz

Finding Peace in Palestine

by Pamela Olson

Pamela Olson, Writing for Peace AdviserI stumbled into Palestine at age 23, young, impressionable, and naïve about the ways of the world.  What I saw absolutely shocked me.  The way Palestinians were treated was traumatizing to witness.  It violated everything my heart had ever believed about fairness.  The brutality of it—against the people, against the land, against common sense and decency—was breathtaking.  And yet it was happening, and the people who were doing it were just people, not so different from myself.  They just happened to be in a political and social situation where such brutality was acceptable.

What people in the US hear about is mostly the brutality of Palestinians—their rocks, their bombs, their angry demonstrations.  Yet everyone I tour-guided in the West Bank (including Israelis and Americans) said the same thing once the situation began to become clear in their minds: “I can’t believe Palestinians aren’t more violent!”

This speaks of two things.  One is the tendency of Israelis and Americans to project their own attitudes onto others.  As regional and global hegemons, violence has often been ‘necessary’ to maintain Israel’s and America’s edges of power.  So violence has become normalized in those societies.  It has to, or they could not convince their citizens to perform and support such violence.

The second is the incredible ability of Palestinians to sublimate their anger and frustration and channel it into productive actions such as helping the less fortunate, engaging in non-violent resistance, or simply doing what they have to do to survive on land they have inhabited for centuries.  This is a story rarely told outside of Palestine, yet it is seen constantly within Palestine.

I brought my American sensibilities with me to Palestine, and at first I had a hard time controlling my outrage.  It was maddening to simply accept the conditions imposed on my friends without doing something, but in my angered state I couldn’t think clearly about what.

It was the Palestinians who convinced me, through their example, to calm myself as best I could rather than lashing out, at least at the beginning, and to keep learning and doing what I could day to day to improve things a bit (such as visiting injured Palestinians in hospitals) and try to educate my fellow countrymen about a situation about which most Americans are sadly ignorant, despite the fact that our government bankrolls an unjust occupation with billions of our tax dollars.

I started out working as a volunteer, then a journalist, but after a while I became frustrated.  The statistics and anecdotes in my 800-word reports could never capture the full gestalt of the situation for people who didn’t already have a good understanding of the history, culture, and politics of the region.  Most Americans in particular have a one-sided framework in their heads that distorts any attempt to explain a given situation.

I finally realized that if I wanted to reach people in a meaningful way, I would have to write a book that could take them through all the steps I went through, first to become intrigued about the state of affairs, then charmed by the region, then horrified about the situation, and finally confident enough to engage fully and fruitfully, with a kind of holistic understanding backed by years of research and soul-searching, always open to new information and analyses.

I tried to get that all across in 300 short pages targeted to American audiences (plus a sequel I’m working on that focuses more on the “special relationship” between the US and Israel and the intolerable situation in Gaza).  I hope it can make some kind of contribution toward real peace—sustainable peace that includes enough justice and understanding to serve as a stable foundation for what comes after peace is made.  I hope it can serve as a wake-up call to many Americans who believe the conflict is primarily about “terror” and “security,” who are comfortable with this framework, and who know nothing of Palestinian history, culture, or humanity.

It’s a small contribution in the grand scheme of this decades-long conflict, and it’s difficult to know if it will do any good.  As Palestinian superstar singer and UN youth ambassador Mohammed Assaf said, “There are many ways to make a difference in life, but my way is as an artist.”

If you do what you love, with an intention of peace—maybe it’s the best we can all do.

I won’t lie.  Sometimes it’s still very difficult to control my anger when another mother’s son or daughter is brutally taken from this world, or another piece of beautiful land is stolen and bulldozed into prefabricated settlements, and the killers and thieves escape any kind of justice.

But then I think of examples like the Palestinian family whose son was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during a Muslim holiday, who grieved as much as any family who loses a son, searched their souls, and donated the boy’s organs to Israelis in need.

And I feel deeply humbled, and like there are better emotions than anger to motivate a human being.

What were the experiences that shaped Pamela Olson’s understanding of Palestine? Read an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Fast Times in Palestine, showing her first taste of both the wonder and oppression of Palestine.

About Pamela Olson

Fast Times in Palestine, by Pamela OlsonPamela Olson grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, and studied physics and political science at Stanford University. She lived in Ramallah for two years, during which she served as head writer and editor for the Palestine Monitor and as foreign press coordinator for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi’s 2005 presidential campaign.

Pamela wrote an award-winning book about those experiences called Fast Times in Palestine.

Learn more about Pamela Olson’s work here. And check out Pamela’s website here.

About PD Lietz, Artist-in-Residence

Pd Lietz, Writing for Peace Artist-in-ResidenceThe art for this piece was contributed by Writing for Peace Artist-in-Residence, Pd Lietz.

Pd Lietz is a widely published writer, photographer and artist who lives in rural Manitoba Canada. Ms. Lietz was awarded first prize United Kingdom Frost Photography International Competition 2011. Learn more about Pd Lietz here. View works by Pd Lietz here.

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Young Advisers’ Panel

Writing for Peace is accepting nominations of extraordinary young activists, writers, and artists, for our new panel of Young Advisers. Please send nominations by email, along with the reasons for your nomination, and contact information to editor@writingforpeace.org, subject heading: Young Adviser Nominations.

2014 Young Writers Contest

Writing for Peace Young Writers' ContestThe Writing for Peace 2014 Young Writers Contest deadline is March 1st, 2014. Our prestigious Judges Panel includes Robin Black, fiction; Dinty W. Moore, nonfiction; and David Mason, poetry. Submission guidelines here.


DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales Call for Submissions

Writing for Peace is accepting submissions for our 2014 Issue of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts. The theme of our second journal is contrast. Check out our submission guidelines here.

Support Writing for Peace

DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts, "Occupied" 2013Help us reach out to schools and young writers by purchasing a copy of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts to gift to your local high school or junior high. Let us know you are gifting your copy, and we’ll include extra bookmarks (beautifully designed by artist-in-residence, PdLietz). Purchase our 2013 “Occupied” Issue here.

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