Reflections on the Community Forum at Greenburgh Town Hall
The immediate observations
Not a single member of the organizing committee lost their cool; all of us were frustrated and offended, but not a single person acted out of order. It is admirable.
As the moderator, Natalie never lost her pose; soft-spoken and in a dignified way said “although the issue is very emotional and tense; let’s have dialogue”. Nada engaged one of the hecklers outside the room in a very constructive way. Behrad and I were speaking Persian together, and that attracted many peoples’ curiosity.
There was something wrong with the sound system (microphone) so we could not hear the young lady (violinist) speaking. One of the senior police officers (white haired) was standing at the gate speaking to people entering the building; he was extremely polite and friendly. Do we expect the media (Ch. 12) coverage of the event to be objective and not be biased? Of course speaking to the managers of Ch. 12 would be a great idea. But, the media coverage of international issues is not objective.
Importantly, there was a learning curve in the room. Towards the end, by experience, everyone realized they should ignore the hecklers. The saboteurs had lost steam; when you clash with people they get a sense of accomplishment; when you ignore them, they get disempowered and disarmed. I told Martha that the event was very successful; here are the reasons: the event was not cancelled; it very well could have; the attendance was very high, more than expected; despite the difficulties, the speakers said what they had to say; and they both were great; everyone learned about the experience of “occupation”. No one had tension with the Police. The meeting achieved its objective and got exposure.
The Big Picture – the Metaphoric Angle
There is a drama taking place in the world out there; and the Greenburgh Town Hall on Monday was a microcosm of that bigger drama. There were many conversations taking place simultaneously in that room, some overtly, other ones subdued.
One interesting conversation was taking place between the two main groups: the solidarity activists and the intolerant hecklers. One group aspires to social change; the other hopes to maintain the unjust crisis. One group found its solace in “We Shall Overcome”, and the sound of a violin; the other, anchored in settler exclusionist heritage going back to the paramilitary 2nd Aliyah, the Stern gang and Irgun.
Another emotional and emphatic conversation was taking place in Hebrew between the Israeli members of the audience who would like to see a reasonable resolution to the Palestinian issue, and the intolerant rejectionists.
The other conversation in the room was more latent and not visible to most people. Exactly these same evenings, an ecumenical conversation is taking place in Maryknoll between my friends and sisters of Maryknoll who were present in the room– Sister Jean, Sister Lil and Sister Rosemary.
Another short conversation was between Behrad and I, and a few Israelis Nada introduced to us. Last, and least, one conversation was between the organizers of the event, the “ushers” and the participants in the audience, as how to ignore the hecklers; as Martha observed, that conversation was not audible.
The angry rejectionist settlers can – through their proxy – veto all the Security Council resolutions in the world, but still they feel vulnerable. They feel their back to the wall. That’s because there is a sea-change in the horizon. The Iran nuclear deal was not so much about Iran or about the nuclear issue. It was about the end of an era — AIPAC hijacking of the silent majority in the Jewish Community. The Iran nuclear deal really represents that sea-change.
The saboteurs were not shouting at the two Palestinians and the one Israeli bearing witness to an injustice. We don’t take it personally; they were not shouting at the solidarity activists in the room; they were really shouting at history; they are angry at the gaze of the world; they were shouting at the “sea-change” in the horizon. The solidarity activists in the room speak the language of the future – as they did for the Civil Rights, VietNam, El Salvador, and Apartheid (we remember and honor Maryknoll sisters in El Salvador). The angry, desperate rejectionists speak the language of the past; they should come on-board and accept a peaceful resolution.
The Shi’a narrative in the Islamic tradition is very much about the emancipation and redemption of the oppressed; the words to this song are very similar to “We Shall Overcome …” https://www.facebook.
It says, “One day, the epoch of oppressors everywhere, will come to an end.”
“Watch the sea-change my friends; witness the sea-change,”