A Journey of Transformation:

Non-Violent Resistance to Structures of Domination


Jean Zaru




Notre Dame University


I am grateful to have been invited by Notre Dame University to deliver the John Yoder Lecture.


I met John Yoder in the early seventies in Tantur. Both of us were delegates to the fifth assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi. We happened to be in some of the same workshops on dialogue and peace issues. He, with others, was invited to my home, and I went often to Tantur for lecture, seminars, and sometimes speaking to groups. Unfortunately, since March 1993, Jerusalem was closed to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. We had no way to attend activities at Tantur. What a loss, with a wonderful library and visiting theologians that the local community cannot benefit from.


I have come here from the heart of Palestine, a land besieged and violated by Israeli military occupation, from the midst of indigenous people, a nation held in captivity.


Sixty-three years ago, we were cast outside the course of history, our very identity denied, our human, cultural and historical reality suppressed. We became victims of an exclusivist agenda that usurped our rights, our lands, and confiscated, as well, our historical narrative. We became victims of a colonialist program. Nevertheless, I also have come with a message of hope embodied in the spirit and will of all those throughout the world who refuse to submit to forces of oppression, who refuse to submit to violence, injustice and structures of domination.


As someone who lived all her life in Ramallah, and more than half of it under Israeli military occupation, I can assure you that life has never been as difficult as it is today. “Normal Life” for Palestinians living in the occupied territories has disappeared. More than three million people who endure the burden under Israeli occupation, to say nothing of the brutality of thousands of Israeli settlers, some of whom terrorize Palestinian villages and large towns like Hebron. Palestinians are subject to closures, encirclement, and barricaded roads, and are surrounded by walls that impede all movement for them. As for the flow of goods into and out of the territories, to say nothing of workers, ordinary travelers, students, the aged and the sick: They all have been imprisoned, not only from going into Israel, but Palestinian communities are fragmented, and separated from one another. The rate of building of Israeli settlements did not slow down but is increasing. Those settlers who left Gaza are being accommodated in the West Bank. The road-building program for settlers only is constantly expanding, expropriating land, in addition to systematic deforestation, and spoiling agricultural land. Thousands of olive and fruit trees, and vegetable farms were swept off. Israel controls all the water supply of the occupied territories using 80% for its Jewish citizens and 20% is rationed for the Palestinian population. So we are not only dealing with direct violence, but with structural violence that is political, economic, cultural, religious and environmental.


Jesus distilled from the long experience of his people in violent and nonviolent resistance was a way of opposing evil without becoming evil in the process. He advocated means consistent with the desired end: a society of justice, peace and equality free of domination. He always spoke about the reign of God, which is free of domination. We pray constantly for God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, we are praying for the reign of God. However, how do we implement that in actions and not in words only? That is our challenge together.


Where is God’s reign? Wherever domination is overcome, people are freed, the soul fed, God’s reality known.


When is God’s reign? Whenever people turn away from worshiping power and wealth and fame and create a society of equals.


What is God’s reign? It is the transformation of the Domination System into a nonviolent, humane, ecologically sustainable, livable environment, which enables people to grow and live well. The reign of God cannot just be inner or outer; it must be both or it is neither.


I have traveled here today to share with you also my personal witness to peacemaking in my native land of Palestine, where to be actively engaged in the building of a culture of peace and nonviolence is to do so in a context of severe oppression, military occupation, and continual displacement.


I have struggled most of my adult life with issues of liberation and theology. Deep reflection on my life experience has served as my main source of inspiration. This experience has taken me to five continents, where, over the years, I have been enormously enriched by lively exchange with activists and theologians also engaged in the struggle for liberation. Throughout this journey, I have been aware that my experience was always rooted in and filtered through my identity as a Palestinian Christian Quaker woman.


My outward identity was at all times coupled with the inward knowledge that I am a child of God.  This self-understanding has provided me with the necessary sustenance and steadfastness for all of my life’s struggles. 


What a fundamental realization it is – a major re-alignment of sorts – to finally honor that of God inside me, while simultaneously honoring the Light that shines in every other person in the world.  I have been sustained by a deeply embedded sense of equality and empowered with that equality in spite of the oppression and structures of domination I face daily which scream at me otherwise.


When entering this new landscape, this new way of being in the world, one is immediately washed with a sense of both humble privilege and precious responsibility.  Recognizing the divine in myself has led me to recognize it in all other peoples and creation.  And, my Friends, this recognition is nothing short of radical. It has left me with no alternative but to become immersed in the struggle for human rights and justice, for all and without exception.  It has left me with no alternative but to explore non-violent means of bringing forth social and political change in my community, and to being open to the truth in other faiths and nationalities.


I believe I have to bear witness to what is happening in my land, to expose the structures of violence and domination, to bring them out into the light, and undercut their power. If I deserve credit for courage, it is not for anything I do here, but to continue in my daily struggle at so many fronts to remain open to love, to the beauty of the earth, and what it looks like when it is smashed. Struggle changes us; it also gives life depth and vision, insight and understanding, compassion and character. It does not only transform us, but makes us transforming as well. Before feeling humiliated ourselves.


We can never know how painful the daily newspaper can be to those who find themselves, in it with no way to defend themselves to the great faceless population out there that is using it to judge them. Do we silently accept this? It is vitally important too to insist on a prophetic ministry in today’s threatened world, to expose the lies and myths that have been created mainly by the powerful to cover up the pain and grief of our world. This ministry should resist the monopoly of knowledge and the power exercised by the dominant. It should struggle to forge a new discourse, one that includes critique from the margins. Therefore, it is essential that all engaged in a prophetic ministry should make contact in each place with the dispossessed, the prisoners, the immigrants, the refugees and the downtrodden. Spaces must be created for such people to share their stories, of grief, to express their anger and hope.


Those engaged in prophetic renewal are called to be “truth tellers,” rather than people who cover up. Contemporary culture is marked by the great cover-up. Half-truths and lies fill government halls, institutions and the media, reminding one of the lament of the prophet Jeremiah:


They all deceived their neighbors and nobody speaks the truth; they have taught their tongues to speak lies. (Jer 9.5)


These are very hard times in Palestine. We have been working for a long time to end oppression, occupation and destruction without political gains. Fear and loss surround us, and many forces are at work to make us feel marginalized and disempowered. At best, the work ahead seems overwhelming.


What do we do, and how do we react?


Some people opted to withdraw, withdraw internally or leave. This is how they responded to an intolerable situation. Withdrawal cushions us from feeling the full impact of our situation. This way people are cut off from information and observations vital to our survival. When we withdraw, our gifts, our perceptions are lost. The realities of domination go unchallenged, and this does not lead either to inner or outer transformation.


Others have chosen to accommodate, comply or manipulate. When we manipulate, we have the illusion of being in control. We can keep the rewards, but we are accepting the system’s terms, unspoken rules, and values including the values it accords to us. Manipulation also does not challenge the low value the system places on the self. For in order to manipulate, we cannot be ourselves, express our true feelings, or share our real perceptions. We literally mask ourselves. Manipulation may get us some of the system’s rewards, but it neither liberates us individually nor transforms the structures of domination.


The alternative is to resist. Resistance challenges the system’s values and categories. Resistance speaks its own truth to power, and shifts the ground of struggle to its own terrain. We often think of resistance as negative. But resistance is the refusal to be neglected by systems and structures of control. When we are embedded in negative systems, only acts of resistance transform structures, but I with many others have opted for the active nonviolent resistance. To resist is to be human, but resistance is hard. It is not easy to sustain it for years and years, over many issues. We cannot resist all the time, in every area of life. We must choose our battles and the priorities of struggle.  But how do we get sustained, empowered to go forward in resisting structures of domination to establish the reign of God or a household of life?


We continue because something is so sacred to us, so sacred that it means more than our comfort and convenience. It might be God, or the Spirit, or the sacredness of life, or mother earth, or equality and freedom, human rights and human dignity. Whatever it is, it can nurture Us. To be nurtured personally empowers and sustains, but in the struggle we need community, we need to build a local and global movement for peace and justice. As a movement, we have been accused of lacking a clear vision of the world we want. I think we do have a vision, which includes diversity and pluralism, and rejects uniform dogmatic, exclusive formulations. We want a world of freedom and justice for all. We need to mobilize people, not around fear anger or blame, nor out of guilt and shame. This is the moment to reinvent our strategies, and our tactics to believe in the possibility of moving people to act from hope, to act in the service of what they love. To create the world we want, we have to translate that into action, for faith without action is dead and useless.


Times of grief and anguish can strengthen our bonds. Now we need each other as never before, we need to treat each other well, to cherish and care for and support each other to become the community we imagine. Our solidarity must go deeper than we have ever known before. Solidarity means strengthening our practice of direct democracy, our openness and communication with each other, our willingness to bring everyone to the table and network with like-minded people.


With all these actions of solidarity, to move from statements to direct non-violent action like divestment or BDS from structures that do not contribute to end the occupation and apartheid but to strengthen it, to advocate for international law and protection of human rights gives hope to the people in the forefront of the struggle, but the fact remains that Palestinians have been a problem for the Zionist project, whether we were good or bad ,violent or non-violent .The so called peace plans and initiatives have only proposed to minimize ,rather than solve, the problem. The official Israeli policy, no matter whether Ariel Sharon used the word “occupation” or whether he dismantled the settlements in Gaza, has always been not to accept the reality of Palestinian people as equals nor ever to admit their rights were violated all along by Israel. Although a few courageous Israelis over the years have tried to deal with this other concealed history, most Israelis and what seems like the majority of American Jews have made every effort to deny, avoid, or negate the Palestinian reality. This is why there is no peace.


The essence of the Israeli government position is its total irreconcilability with what the Jewish state wants- peace and security, even though the facts on the ground that it is creating do guarantee neither one nor the other. And the United States government unlimited support to Israel, as well as the political support of the right wing Christians does not make it easier. It is shocking to me that the Israeli government will accept and welcome the support of these Christians who are pro Israel politically and anti Jewish theologically. Their theology must be rejected by all, because it is a violent exclusive agenda that has no respect for any other group that differs with it. They demonize Islam, and tell me as a Palestinian Christian, I am not among the chosen, but the cursed for I stand in the way of the fulfillment of the prophecy of God.


As a Palestinian Quaker woman of the Holy Land, I have been confronted all my life with structures of injustice.  These structures have been at work in a destructive way throughout our community and have caused both spiritual and physical suffering for many, including myself. I started to think about this: If there is that of God or the in-dwelling divinity in every person, why is there so much evil and darkness in the world? Why is it hard for us to see God in others?


My inward struggle made me aware of the suffering that reflects the evils plaguing the human race, but it also opened me to God’s redeeming love and activity.


Involvement in any action has a price. The question is, am I ready to pay the price to share the suffering of others?  Suffering for me is bearable, if it is for the cause of liberation, if it helps to find a new community with others and with God.  I realize that those who operate the structures of oppression are dependent on the people they oppress and are equally in need of liberation and God’s grace.  Yet, it seems to me that too often the will and strength to end the oppression comes from those who bear the oppression in their own lives and those all over the world who made a commitment to accompany in solidarity those who are in the struggle.


What do we do to preserve the dignity of human life? What do we say to the arms race and nuclear weapons? What do we say when arms sold by the industrialized nations to others, are used for internal repression, violation of human rights and wars within a country and between neighboring countries? What do we do when our style of life, or our silence, is the cause of war without arms, war in which the victims are millions of people dying from hunger and poverty?


What about social justice?  Can there be peace between the starving and the affluent? Between the oppressor and the oppressed, occupier and occupied? Can arms bring security or keep peace? Are we concerned when the Bible is abused in a way to worship the false gods of money, material wealth, race and other idols? What do we do when individualistic interests are justified by biblical passages quoted out of their historical context? What are we in our particular countries called to do?


We are called to conversion, to be converted to the struggle of women and men everywhere who have no way to escape the unending fatigue of their labor and the daily denial of their human rights and human worth. We must let our hearts be moved by the anguish and suffering of our sisters and brothers throughout the world. How can we bear the pain, and where do we look for hope? Is there anything we can do to solve the political chaos and crisis in the world? Is there anything we can do to stop wars of all kinds?


Let us look into ourselves. The outward situation is merely an expression of the inward state. It requires great self-denial and resignation of our selves to God to be committed to peace and to nonviolent action to bring about change. This technique may have no positive effect, and it may lead to outward defeat. Whether successful or not it will bring suffering, but if we believe in nonviolence as the true way of peace and love, we must make it a principle not only of individual but also of national and universal conduct. We should try, however, to avoid feeling moral superiority, because we know how soon we may stumble when we are put to the test. We may talk about peace, but if we are not transformed inwardly, if we still are motivated by greed, if we are nationalistic, if we are bound by beliefs and dogmas for which we are willing to destroy others, we cannot have peace in the world.


We have gone through circumstances of great privation, anxiety and suffering. All these seemed at times to weaken my dependence on God, but what joy and hope I gain when I know, wherever I am, whether in affluent circumstances or in poverty, whether I have personal liberty or not, that I am under the guiding hand of God and that God has a service for me to render wherever I am.


Can we have peace without self-determination and sovereignty or without land and water that are essential for survival?  How can we have economic development without the right to our land, our water resources, and the right to freedom of movement?  How can we have self-determination when more than half of the Palestinians are outside of Palestine?  Many are still in refugee camps and are denied the right of return and compensation?  When they are not allowed to be part of the political process which others call the peace process. Can we have any process without Gaza when all the inhabitants there have been suffering from siege, from war, and, from neglect, of the very hard conditions they live and die from? Some Leaders of political institutions in the world have worked against International Law and UN resolutions. Yet civil societies in many countries have been a great sign of hope. The ships trying to come to Gaza with help and persons in solidarity has been a source of great courage, compassion, and hope.  Palestinians do not want charity; they seek justice and equality.


It is not enough to send aid to Gaza and the West Bank. We want you to treat the root causes of this situation. We need to address the siege of Gaza; it is a crime against humanity. We hope all of you will address the apartheid system created by Israel in the occupied territories, in Israel for Palestinian Israelis, and for all the refugees. Jews from any corner of the world can practice the law of return but not Palestinian refugees. If Jesus had been satisfied by healing the sick and feeding the hungry, they would have left him alone. He always spoke about structures and suggested ways to transform them. That was threatening to the leaders of his time.


I see things differently now. I know that the oppressor is not freer than the oppressed. Both live in fear and do not have peace. Others cannot bring us peace. What will bring us peace is transformation at all levels that will lead to action. Our miseries are not going to stop because we disapprove. We must take action to bring about transformation of our­selves and the structures of domination.


Our shrinking world makes us all neighbors and I am increasingly aware of two facts about ourselves as inhabitants of this world. One is that we are very different from one another in color, life­style, culture and belief. The other is that we are exceedingly alike. There is a fantastic range of common needs and desires, fears and hopes that bind us together in our humanness, and the well­being of each is interrelated with the wellbeing of all. Through the ages, people have engaged in a search for ultimate meaning in life, hut they have turned this search into a struggle, into wars to death to gain dominance for a particular ideology, religion or nation. Our age of unparalleled advancement in education, science and technology has been an age of enormous violence.  Meanwhile, the need for imaginative understanding, simple trust and creative cooperation was never more urgent.


I walk alongside many others in my journey of struggle and carry with me hope to move from oppressive and destructive power, to liberating life enhancing power. We should cease to be interested, as women and as Palestinians, to simply transfer power from men to women or from the Israelis to the Palestinians. What we should struggle for is the transformation of our communities:


From militarist, coercive power to the power of mutual trust;


From ethnic and religious exclusiveness, to the celebration of diversity in mutual justice;


From racist and sexist discrimination to the protection of human rights and the humanity of all;


From neutrality and objectivity to compassion and ethically based priorities;


From exploitation of nature, to gentle cooperation with nature;


From God above and power over, to God within and power together;


From death and destruction to resurrection and life.


Power would then signify the very positive relationship between God, human beings and the whole community of creation. Power is not a cake that diminishes the more it is shared.  Power, when shared, is a relationship that enriches everyone. The great rift is not between God, human beings and the whole community of life. We all belong together. Rather, the great rift is between care and carelessness, justice and injustice, mercy and mercilessness, compassion and indifference. What divides is not difference but sin, oppression and injustice.  Difference does not destroy creation; rather, it is our sins of allowing oppression and injustice to be perpetrated.


To create a culture of life, we need more than psychology, spirituality and community. We need economics, sustainable agriculture, and a politics of liberation capable of healing our world and restoring the earth to life.


I would like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you for coming. Many of you have inspired me personally in my journey of resistance and renewal. Let us continue to be steadfast in our work together, forming communities of hope in practice. Words rarely speak louder than actions and genuine commitments.


Maybe the time has come when we should unite in common affirmations of life and these might be:


Š      A pledge of honor and respect for every race, culture, religion and individual;


Š      Recognition of the claim of every individual upon the resources of the earth for the necessities of human survival, and the moral obligation of the more fortunate to share with the less fortunate;


Š      The right and responsibility of every individual to use their talents, energies and resources for the benefit of the community;


Š      Commitment to the search for universal values, however differently expressed, in hopes that these values may enable both the individual and the community to overcome greed, power and self-seeking; and


Š      Affirmation of the “presence”, the presence of a spirit of hope and compassion available to all by which our lives may be more whole, more creative, and more harmonious as we draw directly upon that power around us, and within us and within all life.


We cannot live a day without saying “yes” or “no” for death or for life, for war or for peace.  The choice is ours.  There is no compromise in the matter.  To postpone or evade decision is to decide.  To compromise is to decide.  There is no escape and this is our challenge and charge as true disciples of the prince of peace.  Let us pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower men and women from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.


Lord, make us instruments of your justice.  Make us instruments of your peace.  Make us instruments for the renewal of your creation.


Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.        


I would like to end with these words by Elizabeth Gray Vining:


“The realization that there is a spark of the divine in every human soul draws together people of all races, all creeds, all nations, all classes.  That is why war is evil, and social injustice unendurable, why religion is incomplete without service.”