2012 history and philosophy graduate. Forester of the Year. Advocate for peace.
Jonathan Brenneman, an alumnus and native of St. Marys, Ohio, is doing something radically different than what most students do post-graduation: he’s working for Palestinian justice against Israeli occupation in a city on the West Bank.
Brenneman, whose mother is from Palestine, wanted to dedicate his efforts to bringing justice and peace to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After graduating in May, he began training with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which, according to its website, is “a faith-based organization that supports Palestinian-led, nonviolent, grassroots resistance to the Israeli occupation and the unjust structures that uphold it. By collaborating with local Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and educating people in our home communities, we help create a space for justice and peace.”
Brenneman has been living with his team in Hebron for the better part of the last six months, performing daily tasks to protect Palestinian civilians as they try to go about their daily lives.
“Our work includes monitoring checkpoints to make sure children and teachers are permitted through to go to school,” he said. “There is a system of checkpoints throughout the old City of Hebron, which all Palestinians are forced to go through. This is in order to protect the 500 illegal Jewish settlers [in the Palestinian city] from the 30,000 Palestinians living in the area. We also monitor Israeli soldiers, who routinely patrol the area, setting up flying checkpoints.”
Brenneman admitted the dangers of being a Palestinian in territory controlled by Israel.
“The soldiers harass Palestinians as they pass, subject them to searches and ID checks, with no suspicion,” he said. “Occasionally, the Palestinians will be beaten or arrested with no charge. Our presence and monitoring alone tend to lessen the occurrence of these incidents.”
Brenneman is also working on a few Palestinian-led campaigns in the city and surrounding areas, one of which is South Hebron Hills.
“There is an area near the border between Palestine and Israel which the Israeli government is trying to take over as a firing zone’ for military training,” he said. “They deny the thousand or so people living there the right to free travel, clean water and shelter and are trying to make life too difficult for them to continue to live there.”
Palestine was recently in the media when the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state in November of last year, on the 65th anniversary of the vote that divided the former British Mandate into separate states, one Jewish and one Arab. Brenneman recalled the atmosphere in the state.
“Most people were excited about the new possibilities the U.N. vote would bring, but this feeling was subdued because there have been other breakthroughs that have not led to peace,” he said. “People are waiting to see how the Palestinian government will use this to their advantage.”
Since he first started work with CPT in Hebron, Brenneman has begun to look at Palestine theologically in a way he hadn’t before.
“Theology has to do a lot more work in a context like Palestine then it does in white America,” he said. “The struggles of the Palestinian people fit the context of the New Testament well and thinking through the conflict through a theological lens has given me hope for the situation and expanded my theological framework.”
As he began his second stint in Hebron at the end of January, Brenneman considered the relevancy of this conflict in the Middle East to the United States.
“This is not a conflict that Americans have nothing to do with,” he said. “We are intimately involved in what is happening there. We have an incredible amount of power over what happens there. It is extremely important that we are informed about what is happening in Palestine and use our voice to work for peace and justice.”