When Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta came to live in Israel more than twenty years ago, there was little awareness of the idea of nonviolent resistance in the peace movement here. There were sometimes those to whom the practice of nonviolent resistance came naturally, but there was no underlying vision.
Maxine had a long background in the Quaker movement. She was quite unique as a Jewish Quaker. Maybe she hoped to bring the nonviolent resistance idea to the Israelis, but she was too wise to do that in the form of preaching. Energetically she threw herself into all kinds of actions, and soon had many Israeli friends. In conversations with Maxine, I’ve learned a few things. For example, that nonviolent resistance is something other than simply demonstrating in a civilized way. But shouting abuse at police officers who arrest activists is also not consistent with the idea of nonviolence. Verbal abuse is also violence. Nonviolent resistance is not an easy thing. Civil disobedience takes courage, and self-control and perseverance, not to mention sacrifice.
When, in the nineties, Maxine returned to Canada for family reasons, she left behind also many Palestinian friends. In particular, her departure was a blow to the Jahalin Bedouin whose existence in the West Bank was under pressure from the ever-advancing Ma’ale Adumim settlement.
But Maxine had not really gone. One time she came back to attend a Jahalin event. Another time she explained that she had begun writing a book for which she had to interview many Israeli and Palestinian activists. That book became a years-long project, for which she always had to do more interviews. I was certainly not the only one who doubted whether the book would ever come about.
Meanwhile nonviolent protest became the trademark of the weekly demonstrations against the wall—in Bil’in, but also in many other farming villages that saw their land confiscated—a weekly procession of Palestinians, Israelis and other friends, who always approached the hated wall closer than the soldiers would have it, not shrinking back from clouds of tear gas (weekly) or bullets (sometimes fatal); continuing with resolve week after week, year after year, always with another playful element assuring it of continued media interest. (Once, the musical protest of the Dutch pianist Jacob Allegro-Wegloop did the job.) Had Maxine come too early or had she gone away too soon?
But now there is the book. A portrait of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent resistance against the occupation, based on conversations, continued over the years, with more than one hundred individuals. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta ordered the material thematically, and it sometimes made my head spin when pieces of many conversations were placed side by side [yet] again. But continuing to read, I became gradually aware that the peace movement had rarely been written about so vividly, so intelligently, and so from within.
In the years that Maxine has no longer lived here, the radical groups in particular have undergone significant development. But she has witnessed these developments nonetheless, through her conversations with many unique individuals, Israeli and Palestinian, each with a different story, who together form the movement of the dreamers. Dreamers who take their dreams very seriously, and dedicate their lives to them.
All those conversations, and Maxine’s thinking about them –of which you find a lot in the book—the careful description of the dilemmas, interspersed with personal anecdotes, make this book a historiography of the movement which constituted the only glimmer of hope in hard times, the movement of those who refuse to be enemies—or to take the occupation and the lack of rights of Palestinians for granted. Where is the Palestinian Gandhi? you hear people ask who look for excuses. Anyone who has read this book has at least something to say to them.
Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta: Refusing to be Enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation, Ithaca Press 2011, ISBN: 9780863723803