"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
I am a pacifist—in the non-committal sense of the word. I prefer the term 'peacemaker' because it appears less passive, even if my peacemaking has been nothing put philosophical musings and heated conversations with Christians who believe in a more violent philosophy.
I am a pacifist: a non-violent Christian who believes in the restorative nature of the Kingdom of God, the restoration bringing peace, hope, and love into a world of violence and pain.
Testing pacifism in the real world
With this philosophy I embarked on a journey into a conflict zone. I traveled into occupied Palestine. I went on this adventure with the purpose of finding moments of peace within the conflict, to find stories of hope, and test out my philosophy in the real world.
I was in Hebron—the entranceway to the Promised Land for the Old Testament Jews—with a group of likeminded people wanting to find moments and stories of hope within the conflict.
I had been in Palestine for a week and a half, and I had been witness to much injustice, pain, and hope, but I had not noticed the line that ran through me separating good and evil.
We were walking up a hill on a small piece of land to visit a Palestinian family. We had already walked up a densely populated hill, hearing stories of persecution from families who live under daily occupation.
The reality of what this looked like hadn't sunk in. I had heard of children who were too afraid to go to school for fear of violence, fear of settlers throwing rocks to harm and intimidate children on their way to school. Stories are one thing, but witnessing is another.
As we walked up towards the family home we saw a group of men standing quite close together, looking at a pile of rubble. These men were Jewish settlers, praying to their God. They were praying to the pile of rubble because this had been a synagogue built illegally on private Palestinian land, and because it was illegal, the government had given the Palestinian family permission to remove it.
However, if they took longer than two weeks to do so they were required to leave it standing because it would be deemed a religious site. So these men were staring at the rubble, praying to their god, and intimidating the Palestinian family so they wouldn't be able to remove it.
As we were being told this story the children of these men began to run up to us. The Palestinian with us then casually said 'now they will throw stones at us, walk quickly please' and with that the children of these men who were praying to their god began to throw large stones at us.
I was shocked! As a peace-loving young person from New Zealand who had never been close to getting into a violent confrontation, in this moment I couldn't get my head around what was going on. I couldn't understand why this group of young men were responding to us with such violence.
We saw some soldiers and assumed they would quickly put an end to this. We had heard a lot of stories of Palestinian children being arrested for throwing stones or suspicion of throwing stones, so the assumption was that they would at least attempt to stop what was happening. But as we moved quickly, trying to avoid the large stones being thrown, the soldiers just walked on past.
This was the final straw! I snapped and began yelling. I wasn't yelling at the boys, but the parents. I was yelling at the parents. How could they stand there silently praying? How could they encourage violence, and in the same breath expect God to answer their prayers? How could they believe that this god would encourage them to this towards this violence?
If I wasn't with a group of people I would have thrown away what I believed in, marched over to the men, and taken the beating they would have given. Just to stand my ground for a few moments. I would have tried to justify my actions by saying it was the protection of my girlfriend. I would have been justified.
But the truth is I am not as strong as I think I am, I don't yet have the capacity to follow through with what I believe in. I saw within myself that which I hate within others.
The line between good and evil
In this moment I realised the line between good and evil runs both through the heart of these young men, praying to their god for vengeance on a people who have do not want to fight, and within me.
Just below the surface of my philosophical ponderings of a non-violent future, was a violent nature that, if not kept in check, would fight back with more force than was given. Anger stirred inside of me, in conflict with so much of what I believe.
It is an interesting moment
When you stare into the eyes of evil
When you look long enough
It is not a stranger
Looking back at you
Tim Shallard a co-director of Mosaic Workshop a shared creative space in central Auckland. He also works in a café, studies theology at Carey Baptist College and runs a poetry collective. His passions include coffee, community, and living the dream.
Tim Shallard's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-shallard.html