© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Jim and Myrna Wicks of Charlottetown want to spearhead discussion locally on the plight of the Palestinian people. The couple, both retired teachers, recently returned from an emotional two-week visit to see what conditions are like for Palestinians living in Israel and in the West Bank.
Jim and Myrna Wicks visited West Bank with United Church group in November
Jim and Myrna Wicks of Charlottetown have been a strong team over the years in partnering to promote social justice.
They came to Prince Edward Island in 1969 with Frontier College and worked on Lennox Island First Nation and in Georgetown. Jim got Habitat for Humanity off the ground in P.E.I. in the late 1990s, a cause the couple dove into with full force and relentless commitment.
The retired teachers have also focused much energy, emotion and thought on the life of people far from here. For the past number of years, the pair has been deeply concerned with the long drawn-out Israel-Palestine conflict.
They have read voraciously on this complex conflict that has ethnic, religious and economic overtones. The pair have watched videos and attended presentations on what they have increasingly grown to view as unjust conditions for the Palestinian people.
In conjunction with the Park Royal and Spring Park United Churches, Jim and Myrna organized and led a four-session workshop on the conflict. They are members of the Maritime Conference Just Peace in Israel and Palestine Working Group. They and many others would like to see the occupation of Palestine territory finally come to a peaceful and just resolve.
When an invitation came from United Church partners, The Sabeel Centre in Bethlehem and Kairos Palestine, inviting concerned Christians to “Come and See” the couple set out with 10 other members of the United Church of Canada in November for a first-hand look at what the conditions are like for Palestinians living in Israel and in the West Bank.
They were shocked by the experience that saw them over the two week visit to Nazareth, Hebron, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, a number of small villages, two refugee camps and one farm, “The Tent of Nations”, isolated by the construction of Israeli settlements and the closing of the access road to what they claim is their ancestral farm.
They spoke with Palestinians ranging from seven to 93 years in age.
“We visited their homes, had meals with them, listened to their stories: both historic and their plans for the future,’’ says Jim.
“We discovered people with more courage and stamina than we have ever seen — people who have suffered under 65 years of oppression and they still talk of non-violent resistance. Names like Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. came up frequently in discussion.’’
Both he and Myrna were deeply moved by the Palestinian peoples’ strong attachment to their family history, connection to their land and crops and the hope that one day their children can grow up and live in peace again.
One family they visited live on five acres of land that has been in their family for three generations. The family cannot build a home on the land and they cannot farm it. They cannot sell the property except to an Israeli.
Jim says the family has a blank check for their land but will not sell because the land is theirs and has been theirs through the Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians and the Israelis and all they want is to be permitted to farm it and live on it as an extended family.
The family of four that includes two young girls pays high taxes but receives very few services, adds Myrna.
“That they are unable to travel to visit friends and relatives unless they have Israeli permission and must be prepared to produce their identity cards, a 20 minute trip turns into hours as they try and get through check points and bypass Jewish only roads,’’ she says.
“They have to pay for schooling. They have to pay for health care. If one of them gets sick, it’s a disaster.’’
The purpose of so many restrictions, observes Jim, is to discourage the Palestinians to the point where they just give up and move out.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. These were territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Jim has next to no confidence in the latest U.S.-sponsored peace talks that are about halfway through their allotted nine-month timespan with mounting concern at the marked lack of progress.
Jim says what is needed is a concerted global response, not unlike the major sanctions that were imposed on South Africa in the fight to end apartheid in that country.
“I was very hesitant to use the word ‘apartheid’ to describe the situation in Israel-Palestine but now, after being there and seeing the separation on purely ethnic and religious grounds, I have no qualms,” he says.
“I think the real hope is in the international community supporting a just, peaceful solution, whatever that means, whether it’s two states, three states, one state.’’
Jim concedes that he does not know what the solution is. He is, though, certainly keen to continue talking about what he feels is an unacceptable situation that needs to change sooner rather than later.
“We have this conflict bubbling away there and eventually it is going to erupt,’’ he says.
Jim agrees with Israeli Jew Jeff Halper, founder of The Israel Committee Against House Demolition, when he says “Israel’s security will only be guaranteed by a just peace with the Palestinians based on human rights and international law.”
Jim and Myrna have been adding their collective voice to the “Unsettling Goods Campaign” of a network of United Church of Canada members calling for a boycott of products made in illegal Israeli settlements.
“We know Canadian consumers want to make ethical choices,’’ says Jim. “The stopping of the growth of illegal Israel settlements on stolen Palestinian land is essential to a true just peace.’’
Jim and Myrna also want to keep their own peace talks going.
In January, they will look to set up a movie night or discussion evening to examine the heavy issue.
“Through our church and other churches as well and a lot of secular groups, there are a lot of good resources to study the topic,’’ says Jim. “I hope that what we are is a spark that can start a discussion and help people understand.’’
People interested in getting involved in discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict can call Jim or Myrna Wicks at 368-3207 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.