“Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite of Jericho. . . And the Lord said to him, 'This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, I will give it to your offspring. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.'” (Deuteronomy 34:1, 4)
Last Tuesday my group traveled up to Mount Nebo where, as legends tells it, Moses and the Hebrews saw the Promised Land for the first time. Continuing my thought process from my last post, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of a "promised land," and with the phrase “Living into the Kin-dom of Heaven, here on Earth.” As I stood up on top of Mt. Nebo and looked over Palestine and Israel all I could think of was the suffering of both the Palestinians and the Israeli’s locked in endless conflict. Is this really the Promised Land? Did God promise that this land would run red from the blood of intolerance, religious extremism, and economic oppression? Or was the Promised Land a place of harmony and cooperation?Perhaps my linking of the Promised Land with the Kin-dom of Heaven is incorrect. Yet how many other times in history has someone stood up on a mountain, looked over the land, named it the new Eden and declared ownership? It’s a habit of humanity. We even teach this practice to our children through movies like the Lion King, when Mustafa shows Simba the breadth of their kingdom. By envisioning the Kin-dom of Heaven on Earth, the realization of the Promised Land or the new Eden, are we by default subjecting others to oppression?
While I do not know what the Promised Land looks like, I believe that it is within each of us. The Promised Land is not separated from us or others by border crossings, checkpoints, or gated entrances. It is open to all and we are challenged to live into it; to make our experience of the world a reflection of it. When Moses stood up on top of Mt. Nebo and was shown the Promised Land, perhaps it was God’s way of telling the Israelites that not only their physical searching but also their spiritual searching was over. Rather than representing a land to be conquered, perhaps God was simply saying that it was time for suffering to be over. Unfortunately that was one message humanity just didn’t get right, so we built up walls and started fighting.
Focus Interview: Madlein Bu Amreih, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)
I grew up going to AVP workshops and hearing about the work of AVP through my meeting and during Quaker functions. When I went to East Africa in 2005, I discovered that AVP was prevalent among African Quakers and highly respected across the African continent. Thus from this standpoint, I developed an assumption that the Alternative to Violence Projects were universally well received. Who wouldn’t want to train communities to peacefully solve their problems? Alternatives to Violence Project not only offers a space for individuals to process experiences and heal from violence, but AVP also trains people to develop community.
Such an assumption is extremely American. In parts of the Middle East, AVP is not welcomed. Madlein Bu Amreih, the lead facilitator of the AVP Jordan, expressed frustration that few organizations would support AVP workshops and few people would participate. In another interview, one of the Seeds of Peace participants I talked to said that she can't identify as a participant of a nonviolent training program because it would threaten her professional opportunities. Additionally, this AVP interview was of great interest to the Jordanian Tourism Board. One of the official leaders wanted to sit in on the interview but forgot to come at the last minute. None of my other interviews were of interest to the JTB.
Is developing community a bad thing?
In another interview, I learned that part of the success of Egypt’s revolution was that the mass numbers of young protestors were not divided by tribal loyalty. In Jordan, where at least 50 percent of the population is Palestinian and the rest of the Jordanians make up several different tribal groups, organizing among any group, particularly young people is near impossible.
While government discouragement of the training and organization of nonviolent and communication skills that could move beyond these divisions is not outright, when facilitators of AVP request space or present their work, often people are afraid they will lose their jobs in the government if they participate.
AVP in Jordan (which is not run by Jordanians) has difficulty finding support and participants for their workshops. Yet these workshops are incredibly necessary in society.
Madlein spoke with me about the dreams and challenges of the projects. She works for several NGO’s who support her work and these groups finance 5–6 workshops a year. While she was trained by international facilitators, Madlein has been a forerunner in the transfer of leadership to Jordanian nationals.
AVP in Jordan began with Iraqi refugees who had experienced grave violence in their travel across the border. AVP also exists in Iraq but is similar in size to the Jordanian chapter. Madlein remarked that most people are ignorant about AVP. “People think that AVP will promote violence but AVP is teaching people strategies to control themselves, to become nonviolent and to live peacefully.” When asked about the lasting effects of the trainings and workshops, Madlein replied “You can feel [the effect] more than you can talk about it.”
Madlein is 25 years old, the same age as me. She dreams that over the course of her lifetime AVP will become as famous in the Middle East as it is throughout Africa for the promotion of nonviolence. She hopes that she can develop the program into something that is sustained by the Jordanian people and seen as an asset (rather than a threat) for society.
When we were parting, Madlein and I learned each other’s age and laughed at our similarities. Standing face to face, our differences were more apparent to the world; she wore a hijab and I looked very western. When we embraced in saying goodbye, Madlein said, “Now, we are sisters. We will work together soon.” Yes, Madlein, I stand in solidarity with you in support of alternatives to violence in this world. In our lifetime, perhaps we will see a world where nonviolence is revered more than violence.
first published at the blog of Friends Journal