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Human Rights Day speaker focuses on Middle East conflict

Marianne Torres, a retired social worker, writer and peace activist, will speak on “Human Rights in Palestine and Israel through the Lens of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” for Spokane’s Human Rights Day at 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12, at All Saints Lutheran Church, 314 S. Spruce.  

Sponsors of this celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the United Nations Association, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and Progressive Democrats of America.

Although she was once a “staunch Zionist” and an unquestioning supporter of Israel out of her concern about the human rights abuses Jews suffered in the Holocaust, Marianne has become an ardent supporter of human rights for Palestinians.

Her turnabout began when she met her husband, Michael Poulin.  She thought he was anti-Semitic because of his criticism of Israeli policies that undermine basic human rights of Palestinians, such as their ability to work, shop, visit family and build homes.  Then she learned he is Jewish.

In 1984, he invited her to a memorial for two villages massacred in Lebanon by the Lebanese Phalange Army supported by the Israeli army.  That event led her begin going to a Palestinian solidarity group with her anti-Semitic antennae on high alert.

“I never heard hatred of Jews spoken in those meetings, only of their actions,” said Marianne, who had worked closely with Jews in the ACLU and NAACP.  “Then I realized two-thirds of people in the Palestinian solidarity groups were Jewish.  I realized the struggle was about oppression, not racism against Jews.”

This summer, in keeping her concerns about Palestinian freedom, equality and justice, and America’s role in the region, she went to Palestine for a first-hand experience of the situation.

Sponsored by Shalom Mennonite United Church of Christ, Marianne, who came from California to Spokane in 2000 to be near grandchildren, joined a July 21 to Aug. 4 Christian Peacemaker delegation, to see for herself.

The team visited Palestinian and Israeli organizations involved in nonviolent resistance to Israel’s military occupation.  They visited refugee camps, stayed with Palestinian families and did mosque and school patrols to provide international protection for children and shepherds facing routine violence by some Israeli settlers.

They visited a Bedouin village in Israel two days before 1,500 Israeli police, soldiers and high-school students demolished it.  These Bedouins are Israeli citizens.  Some Israelis joined Palestinians to rebuild the village, which has been demolished and rebuilt six times since then.

After working 25 years for Palestinian self-determination, she found the visit presented many surprises and “was an emotional roller-coaster, from sadness and despair to joy and serious reason to hope, and sometimes back again—often in the same day.”

Marianne, who earned master’s of social work from San Francisco State in 1989 and worked with homeless coalitions in Oakland and Marin, had wanted to go to Palestine for years.  Her decision to go this year began in a store. 

“I was wearing a ‘Liberate Palestine’ button.  The clerk asked, ‘Have you been there?’  No, I could speak about conditions and historical background, but I had not been there.  I looked at programs and chose the Christian Peacemaker program—even though I’m atheist—because it was action-oriented, ‘getting in the way’ and witnessing,” she said.

The team’s goals were to learn about life under occupation, to be sure not to hate, to remain neutral and to be open to learn new things, not just confirm their opinions.

She found “nonviolence is a living breathing entity,” connecting Christians, Muslims and Jews.  “It’s the only method that makes sense.  It’s more threatening than guns or stones, because it brings world attention and support to Palestinians whose human rights are violated.”

With hundreds of Palestinian nonviolence leaders in Israeli prisons and Israeli nonviolence leaders ostracized by their families, international human rights workers, who watch, interfere, witness and return home to speak, play a key role, Marianne said.

As she continues her Palestinian solidarity at home, she is looking at the “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” movement.

 For information, call 838-7870.

Copyright © December 2010 - The Fig Tree