Debate moves from Holy Land to 'Daily Show' to Barrington
The global push for peace in the epic conflict between Israel and Palestine, Jews and Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs has been debated everywhere from the West Bank to the United Nations to Camp David to "The Daily Show."
It's coming Monday to the Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Barrington.
"I'm a very grass-rootsy person," says Anna Baltzer, a Jewish author and former Fulbright scholar whose time in Israel converted her into an activist for Palestinian civil rights. "I don't believe that just because I've been on 'The Daily Show' I'm too good for smaller communities. I think that's how change happens."
Baltzer's presentation, which criticizes the Israel government's occupation and treatment of Palestinians, starts at 7:30 p.m. at the church, 909 E. Main St., and is free and open to the public. When Baltzer was on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" in October with Palestinian peace activist and Muslim Mustafa Barghouti, the pair talked about how Muslims and Jews need to discuss the issue.
"Then the winner of that would go up against the Christians, who I think have more than likely earned a first-round bye," Stewart quipped.
But Baltzer says a fourth of Palestinians are Christian.
"A lot of Christian Americans are very concerned about what is happening to Christians in the holy land," says Baltzer, who asks people to read more on her Web site, http://annainthemiddleeast.com. "The struggle is not Jews vs. Muslims in any way. It's human rights."
Just as churches in the United States played a key role in the civil rights movement in this nation and South Africa, they are "taking a lead on this issue," Baltzer says.
Barrington's Lutheran Church of the Atonement has been hosting a monthly "Prayer Around the Cross" program for peace for the past eight years, says member Paul Vogel, whose personal display of flags for U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq helped fuel local peace marches, activism and honest discussions about U.S. policies.
"The truth is we are supporting an outrageous occupation of a people," says church member Dan Mjolsness, a Barrington Hills man who says he came to that "shocking" revelation during a trip to the Holy Land two years ago. "I want to get the word out. Moderate people on both sides want peace."
Mjolsness hosted an 18-year-old Muslim Palestian musician named Ali Amr in his home last summer and met Baltzer while attending a conference where Amr played his qanun, a 72-string instrument.
Just as criticizing the U.S. government or president doesn't brand someone as anti-American, Baltzer says criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians doesn't make one anti-Semitic. She says many Israelis support the nonviolent push to give Palestinians civil rights.
Having grown up as a secular Jew, Baltzer says her grandparents lost many relatives during the Holocaust. She says she understands the real threats Israel faces from violent activists and hostile governments. But Baltzer says denying peaceful Palestinians access to roads, water, health care and other rights is not the way to respond.
"I believe firmly that our safety will never come from denying rights to another population," says the 30-year-old author, who lives in St. Louis. While her own mother was initially "outraged" by the criticism of Israel, Baltzer says many Jews support her peaceful efforts after reading her book, "A Witness in Palestine."
"I learned moral and ethical guidelines from my parents and simply applied them there," Baltzer says in explaining how she grew to understand the plight of Palestinians. "To me, so much of Judaism has been about social justice. This is what it means for so many people to be Jewish."
As an American Jewish woman, she has a unique voice.
"Not despite, but in light of my background, I am able to speak about this issue in a way Palestinians are not," Baltzer says.
While many discussions about civil rights around the globe get bogged down in history, Baltzer eyes the future.
"You don't move backward. You are not going to go back to 1948 in Israel. And you are not going to go back to 1492 in North America," she says. "I think there is a lot more creative work that could be done."
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