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Christian Peacemaking Team delegate learns about Holy Land

By Virginia de Leon

To be an instrument of peace and learn about an area known for war, Jesse Davis, 25, spent two weeks last summer with a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in the Holy Land.

Jesse Davis
Jesse Davis

Since 1984, the peace ministry has drawn people from the United States, Canada and around the world for “an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other lethal inter-group conflict.”

CPT seeks to protect human rights and stand against violence by “getting in the way”—through demonstrations, relationship-building, developing institutions devoted to nonviolence and training volunteers to intervene peacefully in conflict situations.

“Getting in the way, for me, is about walking in Christ’s footsteps by working for holistic peace and striving to undo racism and oppression—not just in areas where it’s blatant, but also here in the United States,” said Jesse.

His experience in the Holy Land made him more aware of God’s presence, he said.

Anything true, beautiful and just belongs to God,” he said. “Whether I am beside a Muslim, Christian or Jew, whether I am witnessing peaceful nonviolent resistance or the joy and love of a family in the face of adversity, I see Jesus.”

For Jesse, “getting in the way” included walking in solidarity with Palestinian children on a dusty road between Tuba and At-Tuwani, two ancient West Bank communities of farmers and shepherds in conflict with settlers.

“I learned first-hand of the plight of Palestinian people, who have sought autonomy and self-determination in their homeland for half a century,” he said.

To protect themselves from harassment and attacks, Palestinians in both villages asked CPT and other international groups to provide a regular presence.  Jesse’s delegation received a request to accompany a group of children walking from At-Tuwani to Tuba for a summer camp program.

When they walk to school each day, nearby settlers threaten them. While the Israeli High Court has ordered the military to escort the children safely past the settlers, they rarely come, so the children choose a different route, he said.

Along with members of Operation Dove, an Italian peace and human rights organization, Jesse and 11 CPT delegates joined about 80 Palestinian children walking, singing, beating drums and waving banners.  Walking near the back, he saw settlers in the hillsides. Later, he said, they drove up in cars, revving their engines and honking their horns to intimidate the children and activists.

Jesse wrote in his blog about his amazement at the courage with which these children, and all Palestinians, live their daily lives:  “Every moment of normal life is resistance for them. Today they showed fearlessness in face of violence and oppression. I was privileged to walk alongside them, to school and back.”

CPT was established after Ron Sider, an American theologian and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, issued a challenge at a Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France.  He called Christians to devote their lives to organized nonviolence as military armies sacrifice their lives in war.

Since then, members of the three historic peace churches—Mennonite, Church of the Brethren and Quaker—and other churches have worked with peace and human rights workers in Iraq, Colombia and around the globe, sending “violence-reduction teams” to militarized areas and crisis situations.

According to CPT’s website, its mission is “unarmed intervention waged by committed peacemakers ready to risk injury and death in bold attempts to transform lethal conflict through the nonviolent power of God’s truth and love.”

Jesse, who moved to Spokane in 2006, learned about the Christian Peacemaker Teams during college at San Diego’s Point Loma Nazarene University, where he majored in sociology and theology.

His roommate had been involved with CPT and encouraged him to go. Jesse wanted to go to Palestine, because of what he read in alternative media and blogs by Palestinians and others who live in the West Bank and Gaza.

Although he grew up attending a Baptist church, he has also attended services at mainline Protestant and non-denominational churches.  In college, he said his faith was transformed at the Church of the Nazarene in Mid-City, where his theology professor was pastor. He began “to see the cross as the ultimate symbol of nonviolence.”

“Before that, Christianity was about a personal, private relationship with Jesus,” he said.

Jesse began to see the church as a body, a community of people called to serve each other and work for social justice.  He realized that in addition to prayer and worship, faith was about service. 

He volunteered at the Salvation Army and other nonprofits. He also spent time with homeless and marginalized people on the streets and listened to their stories.

After moving to Spokane, where his parents lived and where his grandparents, Howard and Pat Stien, had taught at Whitworth University for nearly 30 years, Jesse volunteered at Cup of Cool Water, a ministry for homeless youth.   He also worked at the Service Station, a café and Christian ministry, and as the associate family services coordinator for Habitat for Humanity.

After he was accepted by CPT in March, he raised $2,750. He was the youngest member of the delegation.  Others were clergy, professors, seminary students and human rights activists from the United States and Scotland. 

They flew to Tel Aviv and drove to Jerusalem, where they met for three days with organizations that work for peace and human rights such as the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions and B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

They spent several days visiting people from the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem and one of several dozen Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“It was disheartening,” said Jesse of energy and water shortages, and poor living conditions.

As they joined families for dinner, Jesse and other CPT delegates listened to their stories of homes demolished, loved ones shot and killed, farmers arrested for grazing sheep and the ongoing threat of settlement expansion.

Aware he could go home and leave the conflict, Jesse said:  “They don’t have a choice.”

For information, see www.gettingintheway.blogspot.com, www.cpt.org.