As CJNV celebrates its fifth anniversary, I’d like to share a behind-the-scenes story about how this all came to be.
First, I want to acknowledge the challenge of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and to draw a point of connection to the founding of CJNV five years ago and the moment we find ourselves in today.
In a recently released video by Naomi Klein called “Coronavirus Capitalism,” Klein talks about the importance of “ideas that are lying around,” ideas that may not yet have traction but are waiting for the right moment to materialize. “In times of crisis,” Klein says, “seemingly impossible ideas suddenly become possible.”
More than five years ago, the idea of mobilizing Jews from around the world to join Palestinians and Israelis in nonviolent civil disobedience was just that: an idea. But when crisis struck the Nassar family farm, I and others translated that idea into reality, giving birth to the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. Today, as the Covid-19 pandemic reaches the level of a global crisis, Klein reminds us that “[t]he future will be determined by whoever is willing to fight harder for the ideas they have lying around.” For those of us who share the ideas of justice, equality and peace in Israel/Palestine, it is upon us to persevere and to do our part to transform our ideas into reality.
The crisis that prompted the beginning of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence began nearly six years ago, on May 19, 2014 when the Israeli army uprooted hundreds of trees from Daoud Nassar’s farm. In my previous work with Encounter, I had brought Jewish groups to meet Daoud and visit his land, the Tent of Nations, an international meeting place for people of all different backgrounds. For years, Daoud had welcomed us with sweet mint tea while his wife Jihan and the women’s group from Nahalin offered us lunch, cooking up comforting dishes of vegetable stews and delicious humus. The Nassars even hosted my 35th birthday party; because of the Israeli system of permits, checkpoints and travel restrictions, his land is one of the few places that my Palestinian, Israeli and international friends and colleagues could all get to.
So when the Israeli army uprooted the trees on Daoud’s farm, I reached out to him.
I asked the only reasonable question one can ask in this situation. “Daoud, in the aftermath of this awful uprooting, how can I support you?”
I had thought Daoud might need financial support and I was prepared to run a fundraising campaign: to buy new trees, to pay the legal fees to continue his battle in Israeli courts to protect his land.
But he didn’t ask for money.
Instead, he said,“It would be very meaningful if you would come and replant trees on our farm. If you come with a Jewish group, you can show that the bulldozers of the Israeli army don’t represent Jewish values.”
I considered his request. For years I had dreamed about a Jewish organization dedicated to engaging in nonviolent activism with Palestinians and Israelis in the occupied territories. It was time to translate that dream, that idea, into reality.
“When is planting season?” I asked.
“We like to plant in the winter, in the rainy season, when there’s enough rainfall that we don’t have to irrigate. February is a good month,” he said.
I counted off the months on my fingers: June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February. That gave me nine months. It had taken me nine months to have a baby. I figured that if I could give birth to a child in nine months, I could give birth to a new organization in nine months.
I reached out to my former Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish American colleagues to spread the word about the Tree Replanting delegation. CJNV partnered with T’ruah. We raised money for new trees and for scholarships to make the delegation accessible. The dedicated team at Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem agreed to help organize the components on the ground.
Nine months later, on February 15, 2015, twenty-three Jews from the US, Canada, UK and Belgium arrived at Daoud’s farm with shovels, tree saplings, work gloves and something more: a sense that it was time for Jews to stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians in their struggle for dignity, for rights, for freedom. In that week, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence was born.
Of the many lessons learned from that first week of tree planting, one is all the intention, connection, and commitment it takes to bring together the revolutionary network that CJNV sustains.. For every powerful, occupation-defying, solidarity-building, change-making delegation CJNV pulls off, an incredible team of dedicated staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make it happen. I’m so proud of what CJNV has done in the past five years, and can’t wait to see what the next five years will bring.
Wishing you safety, health, and the stamina to persevere and to translate our ideas for a more just, more compassionate and more equitable Israel/Palestine into reality.
Founder, past Executive Director