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Interfaith Peacebuilders exposes people
to struggles, efforts for peace in Middle East

When Myrta Ladich toured the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem last May, she saw a photo of family of her closest friend during college and her early years of marriage.  The photo brought tears to her eyes.

Myrta Ladich
Myrta Ladich attended an Interfaith Peacebuilders delegation trip to Israel and occupied Palestine in May, 2012.

Myrta has long been attuned to the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust. 

Her friend came to Seattle at the age of 18, having fled communist rule in Hungary by walking to Vienna.  She had survived the Holocaust as a child at the age of six.  Most of her family were killed in Auschwitz.

Before joining the May 18 to 31 delegation of 30, visiting through Interfaith Peacebuilders, Myrta knew her Jewish friend, who now lives in California, is appalled at what Israel’s government does to Palestinians.

Interfaith Peacebuilders began as a program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which was founded in 1914 at the start of World War I by two German and British pastors who shook hands and pledged to work to prevent such conflicts in the future.  Interfaith Peacebuilders has led 43 delegations since it began in 2001.

Growing up in Forks, Wash., Myrta attended the United Church of Christ.  After high school, she married Mike in 1957.  They moved to Seattle, where she studied education at the University of Washington.

Her studies were interrupted by the birth of twin daughters.   She graduated in 1966. Mike taught middle school social studies, and she taught English during their 45 years living in Seattle.  After retiring, they moved to Spokane nine years ago to be near one daughter.

In Seattle, she and Mike, who grew up Serbian Orthodox, were active members of the West Seattle Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for more than 40 years.  Now they attend the Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane.

Active in peace and justice work in Seattle, Myrta is involved in the Peace and Justice Action League in Spokane.  She has long worked for peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

“I’ve been frustrated at our ignorance about what is happening and by the lack of news,” she said.  “As Americans, we do not have the information we need.”

For example, one evening at an event in her West Seattle fellowship, she had heard a Jewish woman tell of staying one night with a Palestinian family, waiting for the bulldozers to come, wondering if the men would be taken and if their water supply would be cut off.

On the trip, Myrta also heard people tell of their devastation in losing their homes as troops came in the middle of the night with a demolition order.  She was upset to learn that the person whose home is demolished needs to pay for the demolition and clean-up.  She was distressed to learn that the demolitions continue today.

“One little girl told of taking her doll house to school every day, because her friend had lost her doll house when her home was demolished while she was at school,” she said.

In 2003, Myrta had attended a memorial service in Seattle for Rachel Corrie, 23, who was run over by a bulldozer when she stood between it and a Palestinian home in Gaza.  Rachel’s parents continue to work to end the occupation and policies that caused their daughter’s death.  In early September, a judge ruled that the bulldozer driver had not been able to see her, Myrta said.

To keep informed, she has heard speakers, seen films and helped the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane raise funds for water purification units at a UN refugee school in Khan Younis in Gaza.

I always wanted to go to Israel/Palestine to see first hand what was happening,” she said of her decision to go.

“Interfaith Peacebuilders delegates come from different perspectives and faiths to learn about and understand the conflict’s causes and solutions,” said Myrta.

The program offered 25 two-hour sessions in 12 days with speakers from different organizations, including two kibbutzim.  They heard from Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Several sessions presented the Kairos Palestine Document, developed by Christians—Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic and Protestant—in 2009 to tell the world about what they were experiencing.  It is based on the model of the Kairos Document that black South African theologians produced in 1985, describing the political crisis and calling for solidarity through boycott, divestment and sanctions.  The Palestinian document is a plea to Christians and the international community to help, to stand with those experiencing oppression at the hands of the Israeli government, Myrta said.

Checkpoints, separate roads, different licenses, different ID cards, and the wall are signs of the oppression she saw.

The document calls for people to be educated and aware, to visit and see, to reflect theologically and engage in studies.  It also calls for denominations and ecumenical bodies to act to engage in economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions to challenge the persecution and oppression of Palestinians. 

In addition, it calls for political advocacy for a “just and sustainable peace in Israel and Palestine,” holding the U.S. government accountable for continuing the conflict and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis.

Many denominations have study guides available for congregations. 

In June, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly turned down divestment by two votes—333 to 331.  In May, the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial convention voted against two proposals to divest from companies providing equipment Israel uses in the occupied territories, but approved a resolution calling for positive investment to encourage economic development in Palestine and a resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation and settlements.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church favors investing in development projects over divestment.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected divestment in 2007 and 2011.

The divestment effort targets Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.

Kairos USA appeals to black and white, mainstream and evangelical, conservative and liberal American Christians

Myrta heard a young Israeli Jewish woman tell of her work against “the illegal settlements on the West Bank.”  Another talked about water issues.  Another pointed out that settlements are illegal under international law, because an occupier is not to move in and settle its people, and is responsible to treat occupied people with respect and humanity.

“Many faiths are responding to the Kairos Document because of their shared belief that people are to love one another as human beings,” Myrta said.

“Unitarian Universalists believe in everyone’s  inherent worth and dignity,” she said.  “Everyone deserves love, compassion and justice if we are to have peace.”

She also met Jewish people in peace groups and movements in Israel, so sharing their concerns she feels she can talk about what the Israeli government is doing without being anti-Jewish.

“I have to say something,” said Myrta, who has given several presentations with Marianne Torres, another Spokane delegate.

What happens there is at the heart of many international conflicts.  The United States’ unqualified support for Israel—$3 billion a year—is why some in the Middle East dislike us,” she said,

Participating in the delegation was not Myrta’s first time abroad.  She and her husband went on teachers’ study tours to Japan, the Soviet Union, Hungary in the 1980s, and personal travel to Denmark, Great Britain, France, the Mediterranean, Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia.

Her husband’s cousins still live in the states of the former Yugoslavia.

She has also been involved with the Unitarian Universalist Church’s partnership with a church in Felsorakos in Transylvania, close to Hungary.

“Everyone needs equal rights and opportunities for education, jobs, food and a home,” she said.

“It’s important to realize that the occupiers themselves are never safe and never have security,” she said.  “I understand the fear.  I don’t have all the answers, but I know the occupation needs to end, and people need fairness, equality and compassion.”

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