Sumud: Neither resigning to the occupation nor becoming absorbed by hate

by Rania Murra
Director of the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, Palestine

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

My personal, family, work and political circumstances as shaped by the Israeli occupation have motivated me to participate in nonviolence and peacebuilding. During my work at the Arab Educational Institute (AEI)/Sumud Story House in Bethlehem/Palestine, I have been exposed to different kinds of formal and informal education and participated in several of AEI’s nonviolence activities. Examples are interreligious prayers and retreats; singing and acting in front of the Separation Wall; collecting, editing and fixing story posters in the so-called Wall Museum; vigils and marches; encouraging the Bethlehem Sumud Choir; filming, documenting, and interviewing peace activists; and holding an annual Sumud Festival.

Sumud is Arabic for “steadfastness”. It refers to an active, nonviolent lifestyle in which one neither resigns to the occupation nor become absorbed by hate towards the enemy. Sumud is a third way in which one keeps head and dignity high, stays actively connected to the land and the community, and challenges occupation by a peaceful lifestyle with preparedness to suffer. Sumud is about being tested as Jesus was tested in Gethsemane and afterwards. It’s a concept which gives space to stories and voices of individual women, families and communities. Jesus, as well as personalities like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are examples showing the personal leadership of sumud.

Sumud implies a solid strategy, living by example. Strategy means that we have to work on educating and liberating people, and especially raising the voice of women. Women have to participate and present their stories, but they should also be decision-makers in their communities. Each woman has her own way to make a difference. This has also a personal and family dimension. It is about raising your children in the spirit of sumud, against the occupation, against despair and emigration, against bare survival. In the case of women’s rights, you are trying to build your country in a way that aims at ending the occupation. When I fight what are called “honor killings”, it is not only a fight for humanity but also a fight against the occupation because you make your people and community stronger.

I believe that we have several strategies available to deepen and widen the practice of nonviolence in the worldwide Catholic community. All require our energy:

  • Living by example: working with Catholic communities on local and global issues of justice, inequality, discrimination, poverty and peace – and showing the many linkages between the different issues in an increasingly interconnected world. A practice of nonviolence can only be fostered by working together on real world problems.
  • To encourage joint working and living by example it is important for the church to increasingly involve lay people in the church organization. Conversely, it is helpful to have more clergy involved in directly dealing with real life problems.
  • To approach world problems nonviolently, it is important to work on peace/nonviolence education, including the ability of people to raise their voice in different forms and genres.
  • Essential for strengthening nonviolence in the Catholic community is working with women on issues important for protecting her human security and rights. It is also essential to promote women’s participation in society, including her participation in the church.
  • We should try to strengthen the dialogical capacity of the Catholic Church with regard to both ecumenical dialogues within the Christian church and dialogues across religious borders. Dialogues between religious communities are important for allowing a broad-based, global, nonviolent peace movement. While there are many institutional and dogmatic obstacles here, we can use the exemplary practice of the present pope to illustrate the need for inter-religious dialogue and living together.
  • It will be important for believers in the Church to make a direct connection between the example of Jesus’s life of suffering sumud and approaching nonviolently present-day world problems. Symbols referring to Jesus’s life of struggling nonviolently for a just peace are meaningful. Showing the life of the Virgin Mary and the life stories of saints in appealing forms and designs can help to illustrate a nonviolent lifestyle. Some spiritual traditions of the church are inspired by nonviolent approaches including indigenous traditions in newly established churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last but not least, it is extremely important that the church itself gives a good example of nonviolence, including preventing the abuse of children in its own ranks.

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