February 20, 2003

Loehr '82 Examines West Bank Conflict

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In response to an escalation in tension and violence in the Middle East, a group of concerned peace activists, working on behalf of the Christian Peacemaker Team, left for Hebron, West Bank yesterday.

The Christian Peacemaker Team is a project that offers a nonviolent presence while searching for alternative resolutions to worldwide conflicts. The group has sent teams to Haiti, Chechnya and Bosnia and has maintained a full-time presence in Hebron since June 1995.

Mary Loehr ’82, an Ithaca resident, will be with the group until March 8. Loehr will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and human rights workers, including Rabbis for Human Rights, Seeds of Peace and the Palestinian Liberation Theology Center.

“I want to go to learn and help bring the word back,” Loehr said.

Although she admits that it is an “incredibly complicated” situation and “both sides are suffering,” Loehr will reserve judgment on who is in the wrong regarding Israel and Palestine.

While in Hebron, Loehr will, among other things, offer aid to children who cannot safely travel to school because they are harassed while walking through Jewish settlements.

In addition to helping individual Palestinian families and meeting with other activists, Loehr and the Christian Peacemaker Teams will study how nonviolence does and does not work to solve disputes over territory and religious freedom.

Loehr also hopes to publicize the fact that many settlements are in violation of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. The existence of such settlements is central to diplomatic discussions because they are set up in so-called occupied Israeli territories.

Loehr currently works for the War Tax Resistance. This group, according to Loehr, fights on behalf of “people who don’t want their federal tax dollars paying for killing.”

A nonviolent activist for more than 20 years, she was also involved in peace movements at Cornell, including protests related to nuclear disarmament. Traveling as far as the Pentagon to make her voice heard as a student, Loehr said that “we put way more resources into violence to solve conflicts than into nonviolence,” and consequently, there must be other solutions to violence.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams has support from Mennonites, Quakers and other Christians with foundations in peaceful conflict resolution. The group includes many people from the United States, a country with strong monetary and military ties to Israel.

Loehr’s presence makes a big difference to Palestinians in Hebron who “often feel like they’re forgotten,” she said.

Loehr became interested in the Middle East conflict, specifically the injustices done to innocent farmers, after reading about Jewish settlers who ripped up Palestinian-owned olive groves. Loehr learned that many rural Palestinians rely on these trees for income and additionally, that they often have trouble planting new trees because angry settlers sometimes destroy their machinery. “That really had an impact on me,” she said.

Although she is not traveling with a high-profile organization, Loehr does not let that faze her. “I really believe that each person can make a difference,” she said. Loehr’s goal is to “be a voice for the voiceless” and to return to the United States with a deeper understanding of the causes of the conflict.

Archived article by Melissa Korn