The Voice: Spring 2003
Alum faces Middle East conflict head on
By: Sally Jongsma
Kristin Anderson (01) lives in an apartment in the heart of the Palestinian
city of Hebron. On one side of the apartment live Palestinians; on the
other side live Jewish settlers. When Anderson arrived in Hebron in September, the
heavy metal gate keeping Palestinians out of the settlers area was twenty feet
from her apartment gate. Today it is about two inches away as settlers
expand their territory, she says.
Hebron is a city of 150,000 people, divided into two sections. It is
the only Palestinian city with Jewish settlers living within its borders. H2, the
part of the city in which Anderson and her colleagues live, has 30,000
Palestinians, 2000 Israeli soldiers, and 400 Jewish settlers. Palestinian homes are regularly demolished
by huge American Caterpillar bulldozers to make room for new buildings for Israeli
settlers, as theyve come to be known. Many of these settlers are expatriate
American Jews with Brooklyn accents, says Anderson.
Israeli soldiers with automatic rifles patrol the area, manning checkpoints, checking ID cards,
enforcing curfews. Palestinians who are often under curfew (which means they are not
allowed to leave their homes) by the Israeli military, spend much of their
time huddled in the homes that are left, while stores, markets, schools, police
stations, and hospitals stand empty. Settlers move about as they wish. Hebron looks
like a war zone.
Anderson is in Hebron as a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT),
a faith-based group originally established by Mennonite, Quaker, and Brethren Chris-tians. They are
committed to bringing organized non-violent alternatives to areas torn by war and violent
If the root causes of conflict are not stopped, violence continues to spin
out of control, Anderson says. She and the organization she works with try
to get others to see that reconciliation is possible and will benefit everyone.
Members of the Christian Peacemakers Team get actively involved with people in conflict
areas in several ways. They hold training sessions, especially with young people, on
non-violent ways to deal with conflict. They document what they see, and they
monitor checkpoints. They accompany doctors who try to make house calls on desperately
sick people or go with people to find food for their hungry families
during curfew times. In the three months Anderson spent in Hebron last fall,
Palestinians were under curfew for thirty-five days.
Peacemaker Team members also help fight against home demolitions and for secure dwellings
for all people. They partner with Israeli civil rights organizations that call for
justice for Palestinians who have lived in this area for generations. Together, they
work to end violence and bring justice to people in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip.
Team members also occasionally work alongside Palestinian farmers as they harvest their olives,
because frequently these farmers are attacked and beaten by settlers who want to
prevent them from earning their livelihood or who want to have their land.
At times CPT members physically put themselves between people and their attackers, even
spending the night in homes during times of random violence, hoping that the
threat of bad publicity will make attackers hesitate before hurting them.
Anderson says that both CPT members and Palestinians regularly get spat upon and
threatened by settlers, who tell them they hope they die in their sleep.
Anderson acknowledges that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a complex one with plenty of
blame to be assigned to all parties. Until the 1980s, the goal of
the Palestinians through the PLO was to push Israelis out of land that
Palestinians had occupied for generations. And although Israel is officially bound by international
agreements that maintain the Palestinians rights to their land and civil rights, many
Israelis believe the land is theirs for historical and religious reasons and the
Palestinians, as Arabs, should move out. And besides the fact that the land
is also their home, Palestinians have no place to go.
It will take an international intervention or a miracle to bring change, Anderson
says. She also understands that it is instinctive for many Christians to sympathize
with the Jews because of a common heritage. But Americans do not hear
about the situations she sees on a daily basis, she says. The major
media outlets in the United States do not give an accurate picture of
the situation in the Middle East. It is because of what she and
her team members see that they are so convinced that Palestinian people are
being gravely mistreated and abused and that people in the United States need
to see both sides of the conflict. They are kept in contained areas,
and their hospitals, stores, schools, and police stations are repeatedly destroyed by the
Israeli military in the name of national security.
The slow strangulation of life is creating a desperate people, says Anderson. Israeli
soldiers surround every Palestinian city. No men between the ages of sixteen and
thirty-five are allowed to travel. People are suffering from psychological problems brought on
by poverty and the inability to work or support their families and by
fear of personal attacks and having their homes suddenly demolished.
You cant be told youre scum daily without having it affect your sense
of dignity and worth, Anderson says.
Soldiers are not the only ones carrying guns. Anderson tells numerous stories of
people who are abused and beaten, usually by settlers committed to taking over
and cleansing land they believe should be theirs.
There is no legal mechanism for Palestiniansor even internationals like CPT to appeal
to, says Anderson.
Anderson tells of a woman translator beaten by settlers. CPT members have walked
two miles with the translator to report the incident to Israeli officials. After
waiting for four hours they were told to return the next daywhen they
were told the same thing.
Despite the conditions, Anderson, who has traveled to several countries, finds Palestinian people
among the most generous, warm, and friendly people shes met.
Palestinians Ive met know that the United States provides huge amounts of military
aid to Israel, yet they make a distinction between American people and the
American government, she says. Im not sure Id be that gracious.
That is one reason why Anderson, even though she lives in the midst
of conflict, does not feel threatened by Palestinians when she walks out of
Another reason is the non-violent stance CPT takes. In some ways we are
able to react to violence more creatively because we do not carry guns,
says Anderson. If you carry a gun youre a target. If they know
you dont have one, they are more willing to listen before reacting.
Were most afraid of the Israeli settlers, she adds. Young children will throw
rocks at us as well as the Palestinians. Theyre taught to hate from
birth. Even many Israelis are afraid of the settlers, sometimes calling them fanatical
and irrational. Team members have been roughed up often and, recently, a twenty-four-year-old
woman from the team was beaten by three settler women.
Anderson acknowledges the danger, but she also knows that danger and injury can
happen anywhere and at any time.
Im here because I believe in the power of God to transform hearts,
she says. I want to be a voice for the voiceless. For that
reason she travels around telling her story when she returns to the United
States every three months, urging people to find alternative sources of information about
the situation in the Middle East, and urging people to pressure their legislators
to change U.S. policy of giving over $2 billion in military aid to
Israel, enabling them to continue on the present course.
Shed like to believe the settlers dont mean it when they say they wish her dead, but shes afraid they do.