Work for peace

Nun lends voice to Palestinian cause

In 2005, Sister Paulette Schroeder was working among the poor but started thinking that she hadn’t taken any risks for them.

Telling herself to “put your feet where your mouth is,” the Tiffin, Ohio-based Franciscan nun joined a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to the Middle East and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Meeting resident Palestinians there was the basis of Schroeder’s ongoing dedication to their cause in the face of Israeli checkpoints, settlements and the wall that separates them from Palestinian areas.  

Boycotting products from the “illegal” settlements is among the acts she advocated Nov. 26 at Bluffton University as a show of support for a broader effort called “Project Peace.” That local initiative aims to change a general “culture of violence,” she told a Bluffton forum audience.

In the West Bank—where Schroeder wound up living for a few years—she could see the narrative of Israelis as victims had changed, she said. The Putnam County, Ohio, native asserted that “there is a new narrative that must be taught”—the Israeli state as aggressor.

At the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were killed or displaced during the “Nakba” (meaning “catastrophe”), creating a refugee problem that has been a continuing issue in the search for peace, Schroeder said. Palestinian refugees—more of whom were created by the 1967 Arab-Israeli War—no longer live in tents but still have “terrible infrastructure” in their camps, she added.

Meanwhile, 250 Israeli settlements have been established in the West Bank since the 1967 war, she said, expressing doubt about the ability to relocate the current 500,000 settlers barring creation of a large settlement elsewhere.

The West Bank also includes some 650 Israeli Army checkpoints where Palestinians are humiliated, angered and unreasonably slowed by demands, and the 25-foot-high wall that’s three times as long as the former Berlin Wall, Schroeder noted. Other than people being hurt, the wall is “the most monstrous thing” she saw in the West Bank, she said, pointing out that it runs along three sides of one Bethlehem family’s home.

And there is “no international accountability” for Israel, which she said receives an average of $11 million per day from the United States to support security efforts. But that “security” includes the settlements and the wall, she continued, arguing that while Israel deserves to be safe, its means to that end are “way exaggerated.”

“My mantra became that 99.7 percent of everything I see is insanity,” she said.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is “being disobeyed by Israeli policy,” according to Schroeder, who said Palestinian families have been divided and farmers separated from their land by the wall.

“We often say ‘peace in the Middle East.’ I say ‘justice,’” she noted. “Peace will not be lasting. Justice first, human rights first.”

When Schroeder returned from Hebron—the West Bank city where she lived—she couldn’t stop working for the Palestinians, she said, but she saw an American culture rampant with violence as well. “Project Peace” is an effort to address the homefront, removing “walls” that separate families, neighbors, towns, religions and races, and appreciating differences, she explained.

To be an instrument of peace, she suggested that a person “start small,” be persistent and open to input, and also develop skills of a peacemaker, such as tolerance, respectful listening and use of appropriate language.

Schroeder’s initiatives have included a “peace fair” and parade in Tiffin, a summer peace camp for children and organization of retreats dedicated to nonviolence. She urged her listeners to organize similar retreats, as well as to join both a peace group in their area and the boycott of Israeli settlement products. She also recommended reading of the booklet “Kairos Palestine,” written by Palestinian Christians, for a better understanding of the situation in the West Bank.

“Step out and hear that call” to peace, she said.