Local peace activists see a different side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a four-week journey to the occupied territories.
Who: The Memphis Peace Team is Jacob Flowers, executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center; Ceylon Mooney, Humanitarian Action Collective founder; Joel Gulledge, of rock band That Was Then; Kyle Kordsmeier; Joey Noffsinger, a minister with Lifelink Churches International, and his wife, Mende Noffsinger.
What, When, Where: Having spent four weeks in Palestine at the end of last year performing humanitarian work and witnessing human rights violations, the Memphis Peace Team is now talking to churches and community groups.
Though Israel's Parliament has just approved compensation for Jewish settlers who evacuate the Gaza Strip, some militant Israeli settlers continue to oppose the plan with violent demonstrations. The local peace team is hoping to tell pro-Israel faith groups the Palestinian side of the story.
"We did a lot of our direct action in Jayyus where the [Israeli security] wall has really become a barrier to peace," says Flowers. "Ninety percent of their economy is dependent on agriculture, but the wall has cut off 70 percent of their land and wells."
The peace team spent one day helping a Palestinian villager cut off from his olive grove replant 20 olive trees after the Israelis bulldozed his 35-year-old grove to make way for a new settlement.
The Memphians also worked with a checkpoint watch group, overseeing Israeli treatment of Palestinians moving into occupied territory.
Why: The peace team believes the conflict has been unfairly reported in mainstream American media, causing public opinion to sway in favor of the Israeli occupation. According to Flowers, if the situation were reported fairly from both sides, public opinion may turn against the Israelis, thus threatening billions of dollars in funding from the American government.
"Over here, it's all theoretical. It's disputed territory, and Israelis are acting on behalf of the security of the Israeli people. But once you go over there, it's thrown in your face what's really going on," says Mooney. "If you look at what we did to the American Indians, it's kind of like what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians -- displacing their lands down to the point where they no longer have any sense of nationalism."