Gaza Comes to Massachusetts

Francis Day 2022 reflection

As part of a procession to memorial trees during the annual St. Francis Day celebration at Agape, a lay Catholic/Catholic Worker style nonviolence activist center in central Massachusetts, I offered the following reflections at a tree dedicated to suffering and resilience in the Middle East.

Agape’s annual Francis Day celebration in 2009 featured nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation and siege of Palestine. Aziz Sarah, whose 18-year-old brother died of injuries while in an Israeli jail, is now a Palestinian peace activist with a moving story about his evolution as a peacemaker and how his enemy mentality faded as he came to know individual Jews and turned to peacemaking. Kobi Skolnick, formerly in the Israeli military, is now a lecturer in Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program, where he received his master’s degree, studying Syrian youth in refugee camps and peacebuilding. He writes about his current work here. Aziz runs a cross-cultural tour service oriented to peacebuilding with more info here. In addition, here’s how they met.

These are two vivid examples of transformation from enemy to peace and justice activist. I wish I could name more individuals and organizations from that conflict zone. In my experience photographing in the region since 2003, unfortunately I find little cross-barrier struggle to end the oppression and build a just peace. I can name a few exemplary organizations: Parents’ Circle/Bereaved Families; Combatants for Peace (which has a commemorative tree here); Break the Silence; Taayush; Israeli refusniks and the frequently replenished group of Israeli high school seniors who regularly publish a letter refusing any military duty which furthers the occupation; the Israeli archeologists’ organization, Emek Shavah (which means Common Ground in Hebrew); and the Palestinian-Israeli photographers’ collective, Active Stills.

I will now show you several photos I made in Gaza, one is among my first from that region. An Israeli tank gunner fired a 50 mm shell at this girl, shattering her wrist.  As the psychologist I accompanied visiting children injured by the Israeli army—soldiers often deliberately target children—told me, physical injuries like this we can repair, the damage to her mental health is perhaps untreatable. Later, in a taxi as we left that hospital, I wept.

Photos by Dave

What to do? The American Friends Service Committee promotes two campaigns to address the oppression: No Way To Treat a Child (developed with the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy, Defense for Children International Palestine, and other organizations), which, because of U.S. House representative Betty McCollum’s strong advocacy, slowly moves thru Congress; and Gaza Unlocked, to end the siege. These may not be reconciliation programs but if successful they can do much to bring lasting peace and justice to the region.

About 30 minutes later, the procession continuing, I felt I was about to collapse. Standing and walking for two hours in the afternon procession, dehydration, and the excitement and pain of the messages at each tree, including my own about Gaza, may have produced this rare light-headed feeling. I needed to sit; later, retreating to my room, I stretched out on my bed and recovered. Because my cardiologist a few weeks earlier had detected arrythmia, I was wearing a remote heart rate and rhythm monitor. When I finally returned home at 9:30 pm after this exhausting day, my phone rang. A cardiologist, alerted thru my monitor to my rapid heart rate and my irregular heart, insisted I come to the emergency room. I now take medications for my heart condition.

I’m reminded once again about secondary trauma—trauma evoked while observing and reporting or treating it can produce effects similar to those in the observed. A pitfall of the type of work I do. Did my heart suffer the anquish of those Gazan children?


The Memorial Tree Pilgrimage: A Walking Tour of the Agape Story

Agape Community

Combatants for Peace

Parents’ Circle/Bereaved Families


Active Stills Collective, comprising Palestinian- and Israeli photographers.

Breaking the Silence

Emek Shaveh (Common Ground in Hebrew), Israeli archeologists’ organization which attempts to unearth wider truths about the region.

Israeli refusniks and the frequently renewed group of Israeli high school seniors who regularly publish a letter refusing any military duty which furthers the occupation.

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