Published: Feb. 9, 2024
In “For Peace, Not for Palestine” (Extra Extra Western Friend, 2/3/2024), Friend Roscoe Mathieu raises some important questions about the proper role for Quakers in the current war in Gaza. I question, however, his perspective about our role.
First, I do not know what he is talking about when he refers to the “full-throated support of Friends” for “aiding and abetting anti-Semitic violence, rape, terror, and the anticipated elimination of nine million people ‘from the river to the sea.’” I would be curious to know some specifics rather than what appears to be a blanket condemnation. For the past four-plus months, I have participated in many webinars sponsored by AFSC, FCNL, and various other Quaker gatherings. Not once have I heard whispers, let alone full-throated support, for what Roscoe claims to have heard.
On the contrary, I have frequently heard Friends express their disapproval of the Hamas slaughter of civilians on October 7, 2023. Yet we cannot simply condemn an evil action. Those of us who are committed to nonviolence must also make a serious effort to understand why others adopt violent means. Quakers have long tried to identify the sources of violence or, as John Woolman puts it, “the seeds of war.” In this case, the most obvious reason for the Hamas attack stems from Israel’s 17-year-long blockade of Gaza that has turned this small strip of land into an “open-air prison.” (For those who wish more information and context, I would recomment Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s 2017 book, The Biggest Prison on Earth, which describes and analyzes Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem since the 1967 war.)
Friend Roscoe asserts that instead of taking sides, “Our testimony has been an active and vigorous principled impartiality.” (his italics) He then cites several examples such as the actions of Friends during the American Revolution, the two World Wars, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I would suggest that a much better analogy to the current crisis in Gaza would be the Vietnam war. In both cases, the American government has supported one side of a foreign conflict with billions of dollars of military weaponry and, in Vietnam, with troops. That means that each of us participates in the conflict through our tax dollars. For us to adhere to what Roscoe calls “principled impartiality” – is to be complicit in what our government does in our name.
Many Quakers today are refusing to be silent about the US support of Israel’s war on Gaza, much as in previous wars such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. AFSC, for instance, has a weekly online Meeting for Worship with Attention to Peace in Palestine and Israel; a weekly online Action Hour; and it accepts donations to provide humanitarian aid to those suffering in Gaza (as it has been distributing aid for refugees there for decades). FCNL’s lobbyists in Washington and the local Advocacy Teams throughout the country are actively trying to get our representatives and the administration to change our government’s policies. Many Quaker meetings have adopted minutes expressing concerns about the conflict. And Quakers are taking part in demonstrations calling for a ceasefire and urging the administration to stop sending armaments to prosecute the war.
These Friends are showing what the Peace Testimony means in today’s world. They are not impartial. They are on the side of the Palestinian and Israeli people and opposed to those who are creating a humanitarian catastrophe.
Robert Levering, Santa Cruz Friends Meeting (2/8/2024)
I feel that I have to write something in response to Roscoe Matthieu's piece, "For Peace, Not for Palestine."
I know that I don't want to write something. His piece made me angry. I'd rather watch hummingbirds outside my window.
Right now I am working with a group of twenty people in Seattle, to plan a 25-mile peace march. We want to call our march "From the river to the sea."
We are engaging in very difficult, and painful conversations, with each other about what that phrase means. We are talking about settler colonialism, we are talking about Land Back. These concepts are hard. Violence is awful. War is awful.
But I mainly wanted to write a direct response to Roscoe's piece because of what he has said about Jewish Voice for Peace. I have been a long-time member of Jewish Voice for Peace. I have many, many beloved Jewish friends who are members of Jewish Voice for Peace. My friends in JVP are kind, generous, thoughtful, loving, beautiful human beings. They are people who want an end to all violence, an end to the oppression of Palestinians, an end to violence against Israelis, a peaceful future for all people. Roscoe's attacks on JVP make my heart hurt and my soul weep. I hope that he could get to know some people who are part of JVP and see that they are not the monsters he has characterized them as.
Jed Walsh, University Friends Meeting, Duwamish territory / Seattle, WA (2/5/2024)