I just returned from the Olympia Food Coop’s member forum to discuss its recent decision to join the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. I was at the Coop’s board meeting on July 15th when they decided to join BDS, and they knew then this forum would be necessary to air concerns. The forum this evening was very tense at times, with many people speaking emotionally both in support and in opposition to the boycott. The thing that was hardest for me personally was to see so many members of the community I have known all my life, whom I know to be both for and against this issue, and to speak my truth in the midst of all of them. I was at first very unhappy with what I could muster when I finally got my 1 minute in front of the microphone, but in retrospect I appreciate the fact it was entirely real and true for me.
As a white, owning class, straight, Christian, able-bodied man, I was sure I came to this event prepared tonight. Despite the fact I am struggling to find work right now, despite the fact I have yet to find a place to hang my hat, despite all the other self-imposed inconvieniences my lifestyle choices impose on my way of life I thought I had myself and the room under control. My privileged opinion of myself and the weight of my words told me I could wait to the end of a 2 hour emotionally charged forum and speak pure gold to sum up my feelings and address the loose ends of others. I have been humbled. When I reached the mic, much of what came to me as I stood before the Board was my sense of connection to this community, my appreciation for their courage in making a difficult decision and standing by it, and my tremendous sense of fear and personal vulnerability.
I rarely feel truly vulnerable in front of others. Many of the difficulties in my life are directly traceable to my own ego, hurt or fear. When I feel pain and trace it back to these sources within myself, I seek spiritual comfort and I feel freed of myself and forgiven for my tresspasses. This is my privilege and I enjoy it quietly.
Eid, who’s bulldozed home I visited in the West Bank, does not have this privilege. When he calmly looked me in the eye and asked me what Israeli settlers tell their children when they tuck them into bed at night with an M-16 on their shoulder, I could not answer. I could not answer his father who asked “what person wants to live on the broken scraps of their neighbors houses?” These men are so vulnerable they are forced to ask existential questions of themselves AND of their oppressors every day. My experiences in Palestine tought me that it is neither useful nor possible to compare pain. In this case, however, in a very rare instance of tables turning, I as the privileged was forced to sit with difficult questions about someone else’s decisions, and ultimately my complacency in them. It is the decisions of my government, my culture, and the price tag of my way of life that destroyed Eid’s family’s home. I truly believe that and it makes me incredible uncomfortable.
People at the forum tonight discussed frustration with the Co-op’s process for deciding to support this boycott, for its “divisiveness in our community.” These words ring hollow in my ears as I remember themeasured storytelling of a Palestinian woman in Hebron speaking about the Israeli settler who entered the mosque in which she was praying, killed over 50 people in her community, and in doing so forced the hand of the complacent Israeli authorities to divide the mosque in two to make one half a synagogue. What evil logic supports that kind of “process”, what sick “divisiveness”? How often are we forced to reconcile internal doubts or consider personal process for people that destroy our houses, kill our livestock, burn our harvest, poison our wells, steal our water and humiliate us in front of our families? How do we in Olympia look beyond our own identities and allegiances, our own hurts and fears, to truly get inside the hearts of the people who our foreign aid oppresses? When we feel comfortable and they are far away, we cannot.
I am made vulnerable and uncomfortable by my decision to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. I am unsure whether I will lose friends, misrepresent the voiceless in my rush to speak or lose sense of my own needs as I plunge into the fray. But I believe this discomfort is an act of God in my life, an opportunity to have solidarity in my own community with Palestinians in their struggle for self determination and freedom on their native lands. Palestinians have offered me a gift today, an opportunity to liberate my heart, if not entirely my mind or my body, from seeing only the pain I stand to feel in my own community today. By supporting BDS, I have seen my privilege reflected back at me, been asked the difficult questions I might not ask if I wanted to feel comfortable. I seek only to act justify, love mercy and walk humbly with my God.