By Stanley Campbell
I want to go to Jerusalem. I’d like to be there in January of 2011. My hope is to visit with peace groups and individuals who inhabit that war-torn land. Lo and behold, I have a chance now to travel with a Rockfordian who just wrote a book about that topic: the miracles of meeting peace activists in a war zone.
Todd Culp, author of The Friends Whose Names I’ll Never Know, will speak at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 28, at JustGoods Community Room, 201 Seventh St., Rockford. And he said I could go with him on his next venture.
The book features stories of his travels to the Middle East since 1993. Todd Culp, Ph.D., is a professor of history and political science who uses stories of his travels in conflict zones to bring real-world examples to the classroom. He began traveling to the Middle East in 1993 during the first Palestinian uprising.
While he lived in the West Bank, he was able to interview militant groups such as The Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hizb ut-Tahrir in an attempt to better understand the violence that swirled around him. Today, he spends time each year in the West Bank working with peace activists to stand against the regular violence of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He leads Americans on educational tours of the conflict zones in an attempt to bring the reality of this fighting home.
“It has been my privilege for the last 17 years as I walked the streets of the West Bank and Gaza to witness acts of courage, selflessness, and beauty amidst the brutality that is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said.
Much of the writing about this topic, including his own in the past, has been focused on the combatants in this conflict, compared to rare accounts about the peacemakers, according to Culp.
“Very little is written about the amazing stories of those who risk—and tragically sometimes lose—their lives to bring peace to this land,” Todd noted. “Of the books that are written, too few are written from inside the conflict. I have taken these stories and have woven them into a book that challenges our assumptions about this enigmatic conflict.”
Todd Culp’s Ph.D. is in political science with a specialty in political violence (i.e., terrorism, insurgency, etc.) and his master’s degree is in history.
“I’ve traveled in conflict zones in Southeast Asia and the Middle East extensively. The following is some of my recent activity:
“Two men stood underneath the floating house. It’s not unusual that the two men were standing on the land. The land had been in their families for many generations. Even the Israeli Supreme Court had admitted, in a surprising decision a few months earlier, that the land was theirs. It may seem strange that the Supreme Court needed to tell these men that their land was indeed their land, but this is the West Bank, and they are Palestinians, and so tragically, it’s not uncommon for their land to be taken from them. For nearly three years, these men and the people of the village had been protesting the decision of the Israeli military to build a wall separating them from their farmland, their livelihood. To use the word ‘wall’ is insufficient…it is a concrete wall twice the height of the Berlin Wall.
“… As we take a closer look, the picture becomes more chaotic. The house was suspended from a crane, and there was a mob of men shouting ‘Crush them! Crush them!’ Neither the mob nor the floating house had a legal right to be on the land. They were trespassers. And yet, when you have power on your side, law can seem to be a trivial matter. The two men stood calmly under the dangling house as the mob called for them to be crushed. The crane operator revved the engine in an attempt to intimidate them. The men refused to move. The mob began to yell and scream at the two men. They didn’t flinch. At this point begins a macabre and darkly humorous dance as the crane operator attempted to swing the house away from the men and drop it fully intact onto the ground. The two men refused to give the mob this easy victory. As the house moved, they moved. To the left. Back to the right. Again and again. The mob screamed insults and threats as the men did this deadly Charleston two-step with the crane and the dangling house. When the crane operator stopped swinging the house, the dance ended, and any trace of humor—even the darkest kind—evaporated.
“The mob’s mood went from dark to pitch black. You could hear glass breaking as bottles and rocks were thrown at the men standing beneath the floating house. Then a member of the mob walked up to one of the men under the house and punched him square in the face. The punch was strong enough to spin him around. Remarkably, he slowly turned back around and stood his ground. He did not retaliate. He did not utter a single aggressive word. He simply said, ‘We wish to live in peace. If you wish to hit me, then hit me. If you wish to kill me, then kill me. But you have no legal right to be on this land.’ The man struck him again. Again, he slowly turned around and confronted the man with words, not violence…”
Join us Oct. 28 as we welcome McHenry County College history instructor Todd Culp, who had a front-row seat to one of the most brutal conflicts of our time. He brings his real-world examples to the classroom and in his recently-published book, The Friends Whose Names I’ll Never Know.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2010 issue