In Solidarity: Sharing Suffering

Aziz Abu Sarah co-directs The Center for World Religions, Citizen Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, blogs at +972 (, and appears periodically on CNN to offer opinion on current events in Israel/Palestine. We welcomed Aziz here in New Hampshire in the fall of 2010, along with Kobi Skolnick, for their presentation “From Revenge to Reconciliation.”

Below, Aziz tells the story of being stopped and searched, recently, at a checkpoint near Gaza. He was co-leading a tour group of 36 American students and professors; at the checkpoint, he and the other Palestinian in the group– the bus driver– were asked to step off the bus for extra checks. What followed was a conversation between the head of security at the checkpoint, and Aziz’s colleague and tour co-leader, Shira Nesher, an Israeli:

“Shira, our Israeli guide, asked the soldiers about the details and reasoning behind this selective treatment…

Security: We need to check Aziz and the driver. Both of you, take off your shoes, jackets, belts, and bring your bags.

Shira: Fine. [Starts taking off her shoes and belt]

Security: What do you think you are doing?

Shira: I am going through the same security checks they are going through. Is there a problem with that?

Security: What reality are you living in? You wouldn’t have done this if you were in a New York airport and the security pulled a Muslim guy in front of you for extra checking, would you?

Shira: My reality is different than your reality. These are not strangers in the airport. They are my coworkers. I didn’t ask you not to check them; I will not interfere with your work. However, you should check me too. I don’t accept you racially profiling my colleagues. We are one team, we spend 15 hours together every day, we work together, eat together and at checkpoints we should be treated similarly. We are equal in everything we do, why not here?

Shira then underwent the same security checks that me and the bus driver had to undergo.”

I love this story because it is a picture of what solidarity looks like: a person with relatively more power and higher standing (Shira, the Israeli), volunteers to stand with those with relatively less power and lower standing (Aziz and the bus driver, the Palestinians). As a Christian minister working for a renewed understanding of Christ’s healing power, this is it: Christ heals the world by consenting, out of an extravagantly generous love, to be in solidarity with suffering humanity.

Below is the rest of Aziz’s entry:

What she [Shira] did was a brilliant way to force the security officer to reconsider his actions. She could have yelled at him and spilled tons of accusations that would have made him angrier, but she chose a different path. She decided to force him to think about the objectives and practices of his work. Why did he racially profile the Palestinians? She showed him that she considers herself equal to the Palestinians in every way, and that there is no difference between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one can lose sight of what this struggle boils down to. It is not about what solution will work at the end – one state, two states or a bi-national state. Eventually, one of these options will be implemented. But what’s more important is the relational aspect of any solution. All these potential solutions will fail if they are not built on the notion of equality and human rights.

Shira Nesher demonstrated a new way to struggle for justice, human rights and equality. She didn’t just demand better treatment of Palestinians from afar, which is an easy thing to do. Preaching ethics and morality to others is not costly. When Shira couldn’t guarantee that her Palestinian colleagues would be treated equally, she gave up her privileges in a show of equality. That’s how this struggle for human rights in Israel/Palestine can be won.

via Aziz Abu Sarah.