Holy Land crusaders of a different kind

Volunteers for the Christian Peacemakers Team, who come to the West Bank to help Palestinians by `using the cross as an alternative to the sword,' vow they won't be deterred by settlers' violence.

Daphna Berman

Haaretz

Tishrei 30, 5765

Reclining on a couch against a mound of pillows, her swollen leg elevated and her broken arm placed strategically by her side, Kim Lamberty can admit she's seen better days. Though the 44-year-old peace activist is now able to walk and most of the bruises have since faded from her face and body, it's been, she says, a difficult month.

More than two weeks have passed since settlers brutally attacked Lamberty while she and another activist accompanied Palestinian children from Tuba, in the Hebron Hills area, to their elementary school in a nearby village. But recuperating this week in the Quaker house on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, she doesn't look the least bit tired or deterred. "I knew the risks of being here," she says simply.

As a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), Lamberty, an American from Washington D.C., firmly believes in the importance of creating an international presence in the West Bank. "I thought that [with such a presence] settlers would be less likely to act violently," she says, motioning to her bandaged knee, "which may or may not be true."

"The attackers wanted to intimidate us, frighten us and force us into leaving, but it won't happen, because if they escalate the violence," she warned, "we'll escalate the nonviolence."

CPT is an international pacifist organization with some 200 active members stationed around the world. They are based in Baghdad, Colombia and Canada, where the organization works protecting the rights of the First Nation people. In the past, CPT has worked with indigenous populations in Central America and they recently closed a project aimed at protecting illegal Mexican border crossers from police violence. They've maintained a presence in the West Bank since 1995 and their numbers fluctuate because of the short three-month tourist visa each member is given. The group currently has nine volunteers in the West Bank.

For members of CPT, all of whom are Christians who believe firmly in the importance the gospel's pacifism, reducing nonviolence is something of a religious mandate. They spend their days accompanying Palestinian school children, surveying army checkpoints and walking the streets donning their organization's bright hats so as not to be confused with settlers.

"We're not unbiased," explains CPT member Diane Jenzen, a Mennonite from Canada, who adds, though, that members of the organization have ridden on Jerusalem buses to deter suicide bombers as well as stood in the way of a Palestinian who tried to stab a soldier.

The volunteers begin each day with a half-hour prayer and because a number of denominations are represented, the prayer can include anything from Quaker silence to Catholic liturgy. "I asked myself, `Am I a Christian or aren't I?'" says Lamberty, who was raised Protestant and converted to Catholicism in 1990. "And if I really am a Christian, I should be willing to take risks for the sake of justice and peace. I need to speak with my life, because that's all I have."

Lamberty isn't the first member of CPT to be the object of violence, but the attack against her and fellow activist Chris Brown was the most severe in the organization's history. Still, it's the danger that the Christian activists are exposed to that is part and parcel of their religious experience.

"Now is the time to risk everything for our belief that Jesus is the way for peace," theologian Ron Sider announced in 1984 at the Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France, in a speech that would become the inspiration for CPT.

"We must be prepared to die by the thousands," he continued. "Those who believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time, and they laid down their lives by the millions... Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce conflict, we should confess that we never really meant that the cross was an alternative to the sword."

At the end of the three-month visa allotment, activists like Cal Carpenter - an Episcopalian member of CPT from Minnesota who's been here on-and-off for a year - return home to spread word of their experiences in the West Bank. They hope to raise political awareness within their church community so that nonviolence becomes more than just a religious ideal. They'd like to counteract the large and vocal Christian Zionist movement in the U.S., though activists admit their following pales in comparison to that of TV evangelist Pat Robertson.

In the meantime, though, Lamberty will return to Hebron, where she'll do the office work no one else wants to do. She'd rather patrol the streets or accompany Palestinian school children, but the cane she now uses makes the surrounding hills rather unnavigable. Still, she finds comfort in the memory of those few days spent in Tiwani. "If somebody's life was made easier or less humiliating because of something that I did," she said, "then I'll feel good."