'Aggressive pacifists' put their faith on the firing line
Christian Peacemaker Teams strain to shield Palestinians and cool Israeli tempers
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CPTer Kathleen Kern, a published Bible scholar from New York state, puts the group's ethos this way: "I've always felt that to be a pacifist, you should be willing to take the same risks for peace that soldiers take for violence." Ms. Kern has been beaten twice by settlers in Hebron; other CPTers also have been assaulted in their work.Skip to next paragraph
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Funded by individual and church donations, CPT maintains projects in Hebron, the Chiapas region of Mexico, and northern Colombia, as well as with several native American groups in Canada and the US. A handful of CPT staffers support the work of 20 Corps members, such as Kern, Shantz, and Ms. Montgomery, and about 100 volunteers, who spend up to several months a year working with CPT.
CPT has been in Hebron since 1995 at the invitation of Hebron's Palestinian mayor, although it lacks any official status with the Israelis. Generally a half-dozen people constitute the team, but it can be a few more or less.
Their lifestyle falls somewhere between Spartan and monastic. The CPT apartments - one for men and one for women - are in a traditional Palestinian building in Hebron's Old City market. The floors are tiled, the thick walls are whitewashed, but the décor is strictly activist: maps and posters, two or three modest Christian symbols, and wise words, such as these from the Dalai Lama: "Be compassionate, work for peace, ... and I say again, never give up."
The team members share a common living room furnished with a couch, an easy chair, and a small dining table. They rotate responsibilities for cooking, cleaning, leading worship services, and logging their activities. A Hebron CPT specialty: pita-bread pizza.
In one of the men's bedrooms, the furnishings consist of two sleeping bags on narrow foam mattresses and a much-used wardrobe to store clothes. One wall is decorated by a postcard of Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus," which depicts a resurrected Jesus identifying himself to his unwitting companions.
The CPTers are not proselytizers, although they say they try to give Christianity a good name. Rick Polhamus, who gave up a profitable career as a harness-horse racer, says he draws spiritual sustenance from a passage of Isaiah that includes these verses (58:11-12): "And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."
Jewish settlers have been in Hebron since shortly after the Israelis occupied the West Bank in 1967, but they lay claim to an ancient heritage. An eon ago, the Jewish patriarch Abraham paid 400 silver shekels for a burial site in Hebron for his wife, Sarah.
For Jews, the cave of Machpelah is second in holiness only to Jerusalem's Western Wall. It is said to house the remains of Abraham and Sarah as well as their son Isaac and grandson Jacob and their wives Rebecca and Leah.
From antiquity forward, the site has variously been a church, a synagogue, and a mosque, sometimes more than one at a time. All three monotheistic faiths venerate what is known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Until a massacre of more than 60 Jews in 1929, which occurred as Zionist Jews were expanding their presence in what was then known as Palestine, the city's Muslims co-existed in relative harmony with their Jewish neighbors.
Today there is little pretense to comity. In 1997 Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed that Israel would withdraw from most of the city - which would be known as H1 - and remain in place around the settlements and the Tomb. This smaller area was labelled H2.
Hebron is a burgeoning industrial center that is the core of the southern West Bank. The city is known for blue-tinted glass, traditional embroidery, and the resilient, sometimes obstinate character of its people.