Couple reports on pain in Palestine

Jerry and Sis Levin share their experiences with an audience of about 70 people at Congregational Church in Chico.

Jerry and Sis Levin share their experiences with an audience of about 70 people at Congregational Church in Chico.

Jerry and Sis Levin live and work in an area plagued by violence: the Palestinian West Bank.

On Friday, April 14, this husband-and-wife team (she calls herself a Southern Christian, and he refers to himself as a Yankee Jew) gave a presentation called “Waging Nonviolence in the Holy Land” at the Congregational Church on East First Avenue.

As a couple, the Levins survived Jerry Levin’s capture in Beirut during the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s, his imprisonment and his subsequent escape. Sis Levin explained that afterwards her world was divided forever into those who condone violent political action and those who don’t.

The couple has since become interested in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They are on a U.S. tour to promote Jerry Levin’s book, West Bank Diary, and to talk about their experiences living and working in Palestine—along with the effects of the conflict on the lives of Palestinians.

Sis Levin studied to be an Episcopal priest and has a doctorate from Columbia University in peace education. She teaches “systemic education for peace,” starting at the pre-kindergarten level and carrying the message of nonviolence through the university level. The message of nonviolence, she said, “is infused into the curricula.”

In Bethlehem, she works behind a 29-foot-high, 6-foot-thick concrete wall separating Palestinians from Israelis and teaches mostly Muslim students to be “builders of peace.” All of her students have been directly affected by attacks from Israeli soldiers or Jewish squatters, said Levin, and many of them are orphans. In one class, said Levin, every one of the students had lost at least one family member to violence.

“Violence has become the No. 1 health problem in the world for children,” Levin told the audience of approximately 70 people.

Jerry Levin was bureau chief for CNN in Beirut in 1984 when he was kidnapped by Hezbollah and held hostage for almost one year before escaping. That time in captivity, he said, changed him irrevocably and compelled him to speak out against violence. It also convinced him to believe in God.

At the Congregational Church, Jerry Levin spoke heatedly about the issues facing the troubled West Bank, where, he said, he sees the U.S. supporting Israel at any cost. He was also critical of current and past administrations for supporting the destruction of the Palestinian people and their homes. What is going on in the occupied territories is the systematic destruction of a people, he charged.

The Levins work with Christian Peacemaker Team and Children of Abraham, two organizations dedicated to restoring dialogue between Jews and Muslims and bringing peace to the region.

The Levins expressed concern that mainstream media reporting on the conflict is one-sided and shows only the Israeli perspective. The Levins’ mission is to share their experiences with people to draw attention to a situation they say is unjust.

Speaking out about the plight of Palestinians is unpopular, they caution. Those who are pro-Palestinian are often labeled as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel or, if they’re Jewish, self-hating. The Levins liken the situation to ‘50s-era McCarthyism, when any “criticism of American racist or social injustices was equated with pro-Soviet communism.”

They are both working toward what Sis Levin calls “a paradigm shift that will enable all of us to live in this world together, as God intended.”