November 21, 2019, Detroit – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
Associate Carol Hofer has lived out this Beatitude in her volunteer ministry with Meta Peace Team, formerly Michigan Peace Team (MPT) – first in Israel in October 2004 and more recently the summer of 2019 in Detroit during a Gay Pride event.
“The MPT goes to many situations – such as to parades with the Ku Klux Klan – any time there might be violence,” Carol explained in a recent interview. “They go to areas where there’s potential violence and they try to be peacemakers.”
A Gay Pride celebration at Hart Plaza in Detroit this summer had that potential. “The purpose [of MPT] is to act as a buffer between those who might want to cause problems and those who are part of the event,” she explained.
Carol said she became involved in MPT through Father Peter Dougherty, the first coordinator of MPT. At the time, Carol was involved in Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization, and heard about the work that he was doing with MPT. “I heard during the summer of 2004 that he was going on another peace mission,” Carol explained. “My mother had passed away in June and before that I was never free to take such a trip.”
Carol recalled being present in Palestine for three weeks in October 2004 during the olive harvest – and witnessing the hardship faced by Palestinians because of a wall erected on the West Bank separating areas of the Palestinian territory. “It could take people all day to get through the checkpoint,” she said. “There were all kinds of humiliations that the Palestinian people had to go through.”
Carol said the focus of the peace mission was not to be involved in politics but to “be with the people as witnesses to keep them from being victims of violence.” The peace team from MPT was one of many such teams that went to places of violence such as Palestine, simply to be a presence to keep people safe, she said.
Members of MPT peace teams are required to undergo training. Carol remembered vividly the overnight training program she attended before serving in Palestine. “In the middle of the night they came into the dorm and started banging pots to try to get us used to the fact that such a thing might happen if the soldiers came in with their guns,” she said.
The training prepares participants to remain calm in the face of violence. “You have to engage a person, perhaps walk them away from the other party when they’re having an argument and try to calm the situation down,” Carol said. “You can’t let yourself get angry or respond in a negative way. You have to stay very calm.”
MPT offers day-long Violence De-escalation Skills Training sessions for those who are interested in taking part in an international or domestic peace team. MPT has sent international peace teams to Israel, Bosnia, El Salvador, Mexico, Iraq, Haiti, and the U.S.-Mexico border.
The MPT, founded in Lansing, Michigan, in 1993, has received Ministry Trust grants from the Adrian Dominican Sisters. This year’s grant fortifies MPT hubs with training and team deployment education and equipment. Sister Ellen Burkhardt, OP, is on the MPT Board.
November 21, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Iyad Burnat, a nonviolent peace activist from Palestine, brought his message of the nonviolent resistance to Israel’s settlements and the longing of the Palestinian people for justice and peace to the Weber Center Auditorium on November 13. In his heart-felt, sometimes difficult, presentation, he spoke of the injustices inflicted on the people of Palestine and their longing to live in justice and peace in their homeland with the Israelis.
Mr. Burnat spoke before an auditorium filled with Siena Heights University students, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, and members of the greater Adrian community. The event was sponsored by Siena Heights University and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
Before addressing the desires of many people in Palestine for a life of shared justice and peace, Mr. Burnat set the context for the situation in Palestine and laid out the injustices faced by his people. In 1948, he said, 7 million Palestinians became refugees with the arrival of people who wanted to establish Israel on their former land. In spite of the efforts of the United Nations to create a two-state situation, in which the people of Palestine and the people of Israel would share the land, Israelites built – and continue to build – settlements within the Palestinian borders.
Mr. Burnat said Israeli settlements had been built on his small village of Bil’in and other villages around the West Bank. Through the years, he said, more and more land set aside for the Palestinians was confiscated and used to create settlements for the people of Israel. He recounted much of the injustice that the Palestinians continue to face: water diverted to Israeli settlements from Palestinian people; checkpoints established between different parts of Palestinian land, making it difficult for the people to go from one area of their land to another; and violence against those who protested the occupation. These injustices made life difficult for Palestinians, Mr. Burnat explained.
In 2004, Mr. Burnat and others in Bil’in decided to hold nonviolent demonstrations against the occupation every Friday. “People from all over the world join us,” he said. “We use nonviolence in our strategies. We fight with our bodies” rather than with weapons. For example, he said, they have stood in front of bulldozers that were going to destroy part of their land to create the settlements. Sometimes, as many as 3,000 to 4,000 people participate in the demonstrations, he said.
“In spite of the nonviolence of our struggle, we have faced much violence from the Israeli Army from the beginning,” Mr. Burnat said. The army has used teargas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, among other weapons. He recalled that 2,000 Palestinians – of which 800 were children – had been killed in 2014.
At a more personal level, Mr. Burnat spoke of the different times in which three of his sons had been shot. One of his sons lost his foot because he was not permitted to go to the hospital to have needed surgery. During his own most recent arrest two years ago, Mr. Burnat was attacked by six soldiers and endured two broken ribs, teargas sprayed into his eyes, and 10 hours of pain before he was let go to call an ambulance.
Mr. Burnat continues to focus his efforts on nonviolent demonstrations and on getting the word out about the situation to the rest of the world. “We invite everybody to come and visit us and see the life of the Palestinians, because we believe the internationals have become our messengers,” he said. People from other countries usually attend the weekly demonstrations.
He said that, because of the media, many people in the United States don’t understand the situation fully. “The media want to show the Palestinians as violent,” he said. “Go to the ground. Visit Palestinians. Meet Palestinian people. Taste our food.” He added that people in the United States need to understand that many of the weapons used by the Israeli Army against Palestinians comes from the United States and that – in spite of what the media might say – Palestinians do not want to eradicate the Jewish people.
Asked if the United Nations’ proposal for two states in Palestine was the solution to the violence and injustice, Mr. Burnat said no. “We believe and are working to have one state for everyone to live together in peace, justice, equality, and freedom,” he said. “This is the way we would like it to be. We are not against the Jews or the Christians.”