To the Woman Five Rows Behind Me at the Boston Palestine Film Festival This Evening

October 4, 2007

Dear Madam,

Good evening. Tonight, I had the opportunity to be lambasted by you. From the moment that I opened my mouth to question the choice of tactics used in the short film “The Iron Wall,” stating that the violent images and judgmental language used to refer to the Palestinian occupation could alienate moderate sympathizers of the Palestinian independence movement, I knew there would be someone like you to call me out. And so you did. Holding me with a look of righteous outrage and conviction, which my eyes met for the entirety of your monologue, you told me that if I doubted the brutal reality of the Palestinian occupation, I could go to Palestine and see it for myself. You told me that you had seen violence and tyranny first-hand. Your stare convicted me of ignorance and complacency towards the oppression of Palestine, as another uninformed American fooled into believing Israel’s conspiratorial lies. For your efforts at pointing out my guilt and apathy, you were rewarded with thunderous applause from the activists throughout the room.

In your righteousness, however, you missed one crucial fact. My question was never meant to undermine the cause of Palestine. It was meant to undermine the tactics that continue to poison our debate over Palestine. Until people hear the truth, and not propaganda, Palestine will never receive sympathy from the West.

You and I have the same vision, dear woman. We both envision an independent and democratic Palestine existing alongside Israel. Where we diverge is in how to rally the world to this cause. You adore a film decrying the situation in Palestine as “apartheid,” declaring that Israel controls foreign media and governments, and featuring a Palestinian man in his basement ranting about how Israel wants to eliminate the Arab population in Palestine. I prefer the truth: that Israel is trying to secure itself, albeit in a misguided way, and that Palestine is fighting for a state of independence.

The more violent and disturbing your rhetoric against Israeli policy is, the more harshly Americans will judge the Palestinian cause. After our exchange, several people asked when “The Iron Wall” will appear on broadcast television in America and Israel, where the public will see it and sympathize with Palestine. The truth is that it never will. Why? Contrary to your beliefs, it is not because Israeli Jews control the media. It is not because a world Zionist conspiracy has “corrupted” the views of most Americans and denied us the ability to think freely. The film will never be seen by most people because it is blatant propaganda. When you show English graffiti in an Arab ghetto in Israel ordering Arabs “to the gas chambers,” rational people know that the true view of most Israelis is not represented. When you feature sound bites by Israeli activists stating calmly and clearly that Israel is attempting to expel all Arabs from Palestine, rational people know that the true view of most Israelis is not represented.

I believe that Palestinians have suffered tragic abuse at the hands of Israel. I believe that the remedy for this is Palestinian statehood. I do not believe in using propaganda and misrepresentation in order to further this or any cause. As you become more and more militant, you give ammunition to your enemies. The more you talk about massive international conspiracies, Israeli domination over world affairs, and the godlike nonviolence of every Palestinian, the more people will be disgusted at what you say.

I agree with you in that what I saw in the film tonight was wrong and disturbing. Israel’s house demolition, settlement, and wall-building policies are tragic abuses of human rights, and I am heartened when people are made aware of the true situation. All too often, however, films like “The Iron Wall” tear people away from our cause. You mistake the cheers of activists in a single room in Boston with a sign that you are finally telling the noble truth that the people will believe.

My argument is in favor of telling the truth and letting people see issues clearly, then allowing them to embrace the view they find most morally appealing. Your rhetoric against me was, at best, misguided, and at worst, the kind of speech that makes people turn their hearts against the Palestinian cause.

I dissent from your view. I embrace your cause. Do not let your rhetoric make enemies of the very people you need as your allies. Do not build a wall in your heart to dwarf the one on the ground.

Agreeing with you more than you will ever know,

Matt Cavedon


Revolutions of the Heart of a Nation

September 28, 2007

Today, men of peace have met war. After a week of peaceful democratic protests by 50,000 Buddhist monks and civilians, the Burmese military has opened fire and killed eight demonstrators and a Japanese journalist. Burmese monks, revered in their society as holy men, have been resisting military dictatorship in the Southeast Asian nation. Despite their nonviolence and deep beliefs in pacifism, the government now believes that the monks are threatening enough to be put down with bloodshed.

If there is a lesson that we can learn from the events unfolding in Asia, it is that peaceful and conscientious defiance of injustice can be wildly powerful. Asia has seen armed rebellions in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and throughout the Middle East over the past year, and none of these would-be revolutions have won the support of the masses. For all of their flamed rhetoric and militant strikes against symbols of authority, paramilitary and terrorist organizations are hated by most of the people they claim to fight for. For this reason alone, they are too weak to accomplish their goals. The monks, however, have energized Burma’s population. Without raising even a single finger in violence against the government, these holy men have been joined in their marches by tens of thousands of ordinary Burmese people. In a country with an extensive secret police force and a large army, marches of this size are unheard of. Why is it that Burma is now in the throes of a revolution that could well restore democracy?

The truest revolutions in this world are not revolutions of death and violence. The French, Russian, Nazi, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions were all marked with heavy bloodshed and deep human suffering, carried out in the name of “the greater good.” Within only a few years, however, each new regime had decayed. The best became corrupt and ineffective. The worst became butchers of humanity. Rather than freeing the people from the old bonds of tyranny and corruption, new bonds were forged to perpetuate the slavery of society.

The truest revolutions in this world are revolutions of life and peace. The Indian, Civil Rights, and South African revolutions were not won at the tip of the sword. Rather, people of conscience stood together and fought for the inherent dignity of every human. By appealing to the moral senses of the masses and urging a future based on peace and coexistence, these revolutions were radically democratic, liberating, and successful. No society that has experienced a truly moral revolution in the last century has come to regret it.

Burma’s monks are now standing, marching, chanting, and praying for a new revolution of faith. They live in peace and, like most peaceful people, are meeting violence from the oppressors truly afraid of them. The fear of the junta is clear in every hand it lays on a monk. It is clear in every jail cell slammed to lock in a peaceful protestor. It is clear in every gunshot fired at a man kneeling in the street to pray for an end to human suffering. The military rulers of Burma are right to be afraid of the righteous: the moral force of a nation on fire with peace and love will shatter the ice of tyranny thoroughly and completely. The criminal regime has no weapon that can pierce the soul of a person with convictions, and no force that can subdue nonviolence.

A peaceful and democratic revolution is taking place in Asia today. The saffron robes of the monks are red like the fire of compassion consuming their souls. By God’s grace, people of peace may bring a true revolution to Burma in the coming weeks. As the people see the crimes committed by the government against the holiest of people, their hearts will be moved to conviction in a revolution. By laying their lives on the line for the Burmese people, the monks are laying the foundation for a new peace unlike anything Burma has seen before.

Please keep the monks in your thoughts and prayers. Show them that the world stands with them in their struggle for justice and humanity.


Long Live the Irish Republic!

August 28, 2007

In 1920, the modern Irish conflict began. The United Kingdom, which had occupied the entire island of Ireland for most of the last 800 years, partitioned Ireland into two states: the Republic of Ireland, an independent nation governed democratically; and Northern Ireland, a loyalist enclave that continued to be a part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland, with a Roman Catholic majority, has been largely peaceful for the last half-century. Northern Ireland, split almost evenly between majority Protestants and minority Catholics, has not.

After decades of bombings, police occupations, and rule by the United Kingdom, home rule has finally returned to Northern Ireland. The local assembly became the authority in the territory in May of this year. The assembly is split between unionists, who favor the Protestant United Kingdom, and republicans, who favor the Catholic Republic of Ireland. Now that it is ballots, and not bullets, that are deciding Northern Irish policy, the status of Northern Ireland will have to be permanently established.

It is time for reunification in Ireland. The Irish island has had a unique sense of cultural identity for millennia. From its Celtic ancestry, to the Gaelic language, to Roman Catholicism, Ireland is simply not British in its heritage. The indigenous peoples of Ireland, including the six counties that now make up Northern Ireland, share a sense of family, community, and history distinct of the British, who arrived in the past few centuries. The rights of British people and Protestants in Northern Ireland will be fully protected by the Republic of Ireland, a modern democracy and a member of the European Union. The dignity of Irish people, both in the Republic and in the six counties, will only be honored by creating a united Ireland.

Ireland is a country with a rich heritage and culture. With the rise of Irish nationalism in recent years, the green, white, and orange tricolors are seen throughout the country. Gaelic is returning to the public schools. The dignity of the nation, after enduring centuries of oppression by the British, is finally being restored.

Northern Ireland had to fight for several more decades after the partition to receive respect and self-rule. The British suspended all home rule in the early 1970’s. Catholics were barred from the government, many jobs, social service programs, and housing in many areas. Discrimination was rampant. British police massacred fourteen Catholic civil rights marchers in 1972, on the day that would be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Both Catholics and Protestants started terrorist paramilitaries. Over 3,400 people were killed during the conflict. The Catholic community left Northern Ireland in droves, resulting in the current 51-49% religious split, with a slight majority in Protestants.

The past five years have seen rapid changes. Major Catholic and Protestant militant groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Volunteer Forces, have disarmed. The assembly has finally been permanently restored. Elections in 2006 saw unionists receive only 20,000 more votes than republicans, in a vote of over 660,000 people. Republicans gained ground in the 2007 election, over results from 2003.

As the peace and reconciliation process continues to unfold, and as former republican militants make their way into the new mainstream, Irish nationalism is sure to grow. As the Catholic community recovers its numbers, both by growing more rapidly than the Protestant community and by welcoming expatriates home at last, sympathies with the Irish Republic will also grow.

As a Catholic of Irish, English, and Scottish descent, I have hope that Northern Ireland will be fully reunited with the Republic of Ireland in the very near future. All people have the right to fully embrace their heritage and culture. The partition of Ireland was yet another tragic event in the long chain of atrocities committed by the British Empire. It is time for freedom, independence, and unity to rule in Ireland.

Éire go Brách!