My new favorite phrase.
I don’t want to use the phrase “existence is resistance” as if I just invented it. I learned it from Palestinians, like those from Stop the Wall, and from the Christian Peacemaker Teams in At-Tuwani, south of Hebron.
In At-Tuwani our MCC Learning Tour delegation met a woman from Switzerland who had been living in the village for six years as part of CPT’s work of support. She was about ready to return to Europe. The villagers are now organized enough to do without the protection of witnesses from the U.S. or Europe.
At-Tuwani is in “area C” of the apartheid system Israel is perfecting in its occupied territories. That means the village is under direct military control. Living in area C means that almost anything can happen to a Palestinian for “security” reasons. It means that one’s rights are adjudicated by military justice. Practically, it means that one’s land is subject to seizure and that the housing developments being planted on your grazing and farm land can supplant your long-held practices – and will be protected by the military (which, by the way, is protected by the United States). The village is something of a showcase for people devoted to nonviolent resistance. They have been dedicated to the proposition that existence is resistance.
We listened to one of the village’s activists talk about the awakening that caused him to be a leader in direct nonviolent action. When the nearby Israeli settlement was built nearby, it disrupted all the village’s ways. The “settlers” commandeered farmland and claimed grazing areas for their use. One day they beat the man’s mother when she dared to graze sheep in land they were trying to control. As we looked over the village (see the pic) he described how he had participated in securing its ongoing existence against the constant pressure and harassment of the Israeli settlers, military and bureaucracy. Their existence is resistance.
That phrase made a lot of sense to me yesterday when we were meeting as the Shalom House Guidance Team. We have had a notable lack of success this year in keeping the house full. The Guidance Team, Listening Tour Team and House have done remarkable things, anyway. But we have a dream of nurturing a vibrant intentional community that makes peace and gives peacemaking a solid footing in Circle of Hope and the east coast megalopolis. We’re having trouble getting people to move across town to be a part of it. Much more do we have trouble getting people to move across the country! We think it is going to work out, but it has been discouraging. As we sat around the table yesterday, I could not help thinking that having such a community in the world is our version, in the United States, of “existence is resistance.” Someone needs to care about ending the reliance on military oppression to guarantee what passes for the “freedom” of United States citizens! I don’t think that someone is a big charity or some aberrant charitable corporation; that someone is me (and maybe you!).
The phrase applies to Circle of Hope, in general, as well. To be the vibrant, growing network we are in the Northeast megalopolis, existence is resistance. We live in a place that is famously the “most godless” part of the United States. We won the tag from the northwest a few years ago. Traditional Christians are lamenting the loss of market share. Pundits are noting the end of Christian America. To be honest, I don’t think I will miss whatever “Christian America’ was. But it is worth noting that it can be hard to be a Christian these days around here. People don’t mind bashing you; they feel the tide moving away from Christian dominance. Mere existence is resistance to the new domination of nothingness.
The hopeful thing about existence being resistance is that everyone can do it. Live in your village. If you are just that much of a thorn in the Israeli military’s flesh, that is noble. Be a part of Shalom House. Even if you don’t accomplish as much as you think needs to be done, the fact that you exist with the convictions you carry makes a difference. Be a living part of your living church. Even if your social circles think that is odd, at least they know a Christian who is not in a museum.
I think At-Tuwani, Shalom House and Circle of Hope are doing a lot more than existing — they are creating! But I find it encouraging to think that if I just hang on and don’t cease to exist before my time, that is a good thing.