Giving Voice to the Silenced.

Doris Norrito is a freelance journalist with an abiding interest in the Middle East, the unrest of the war-torn West Bank, and the hope that Palestinians and Israelis hold for a lasting peace.

Promises for peace in the Holy Land are on then off again. News media present the negotiators like opponents in a tennis match – Israel vs. Palestine – Jews against Arabs: and like any game, Americans are inclined to choose sides based on personal preference or affiliation. In world affairs, it’s based on what we hear and read or what “experts” and friends tell us. Without ever meeting an Arab, an impression is formed.

Long before I went to the Holy Land, I held a belief that what I read in newspapers and saw on television was true. Busy raising a family, I didn’t pay much attention to world affairs, yet formed an opinion subconsciously. I saw Israel as a tiny peace loving country, an innocent victim of Arab terrorism; Palestinians were terrorist aggressors who taught their children to strap on bombs and blow themselves up.

In 2008, I toured Palestine for the first time and in the  West Bank,  I stayed with a Christian Palestinian family in Bethlehem and met Palestinian neighbors, Muslim and Christian: my mind was changed.

In 2009, I returned to the region, spent time in Jerusalem and toured Israel: my mind changed again.

Having met Israelis and Palestinians of various ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths, I concluded that I was on the side of people – all people.

Contrary to news reports, I found that daily life in the troubled region goes on. Stores open, children attend school and people go to work. However, for the millions living in the Holy Land – in Israel and in the divided Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, life is hope shadowed by fear.

The human struggle for justice and freedom is universal, and so is the desire to feel safe. They are rights not won by armed force or coercion but by people willing to unite for the common good of all.

In October 2010, I returned to the Holy Land for the third time; and went again in 2011 to experience Christmas in occupied Bethlehem. On Christmas day, a strong group of nonviolent resisters  assembled in front of the Christmas tree in a corner of  Manger Square. Wearing bright neon green smocks with bold black lettering – FREE PALESTINE, they passed among the tight packed crowd of holiday revelers targeting tourists as they came from the Church of the Nativiy, handing each a card about occupation, information few would learn from tour guides, warned not to speak about politics. It was an appeal from Palestine’s Christian population for freedom.

A short bus ride from where I live in the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Sahour, I like to hang out in Manger Square, visit the church and the mosque at the opposite end, relax at the Peace Center between them, meet and talk to people, among them tourists who come to visit the famous church, yet  seldom meet Palestinians, other than their tour guide.

While negotiators jockey for position, barter land,  shift people like chess board pawns and destroy human rights with legal babble, the media report progress. I want “Silenced Voices” to take you into villages and homes much like yours, to see and hear stories about real people and their struggle against oppression to build peace in this troubled land.

In Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, people protest land confiscation, the building of fences and walls; and Israelis and internationals join Palestinian Muslims and Christians to demonstrate against separation and injustice. Together they sing, chant slogans, carry banners and flags opposing walls that divide. In villages, neighbors help families rebuild demolished homes. Co-ops form to teach women new skills and educate the children. Wherever I go, I witness the nonviolent growth of peace.

I believe it is people who have garnered power to make a peace with security and justice for all. On the streets, in shops, on farms and at rallies, daily acts of nonviolence quiety work to overcome fear and tear down walls that divide. Ignored by mainstream media, these are the silenced people we do not know. These are the real peacemakers.

“Silenced Voices” lets them be heard.