Spotlight Iowa City: Bearing witness for Palestinians
For seven weeks, Dennis Bricker slept on the roof of a 12-by-16 foot concrete building in the Palestinian territory, a place in which Israeli occupants marched threateningly with rifles.
During the day, though, the 66-year-old UI associate professor emeritus was charged with protecting Palestinian children on their way to school — and shepherds and farmers while they worked — on a mission with the national Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The kids, making the trek between two villages, had to pass through a settlement under Israeli control and dodge stones to get to class, Bricker described in his office on Monday, flipping through photos from his trip on his laptop.
“It would give them nightmares,” he said. “It was a traumatic experience for them.”
Bricker — who lived on rice, beans, and some vegetables during his stay — said he was amazed at the perseverance the children displayed on their way to school, knowing they could be attacked at any moment.
“I was impressed with their patience; they’ve had to put up with these conditions,” he said, noting the Israeli tactics of cutting water supply or blocking transportation. “It would seem that they would become angry and violent, but I’m impressed with the faith of these people.”
And Bricker’s wife, Melinda Bricker, said her husband knows how to rough it.
“He doesn’t need the modern necessities,” she said. “He seems to be able to keep up with the post-college kids well.”
Sarah MacDonald, a full-time member of Christian Peacemaker Teams — which is regularly invited by villagers to help them provide nonviolent resistance against extremist Israelis — said she witnessed Israeli violence in May 2008 while working abroad.
“Some settlers came into the village and said children had been stealing cherries,” she said. “Christian Peacemaker Team members got involved, and soon it escalated into a confrontation. There ended up being 15 to 20 [Israeli] adults with automatic weapons in the village.”
The Palestinian territory wasn’t Bricker’s first trip abroad. The Iowa City native has also spent two weeks in Jerusalem after learning of Christian Peacemaker Teams through First Mennonite Church.
There, Bricker visited refugee camps, touring the area and local nonviolent organizations.
The work isn’t over, either.
Bricker has contracted a tutor to learn Arabic in preparation for his trip back to the West Bank next year.
He will stay in the same village, monitoring Israeli checkpoints villagers must pass through.
“I’m studying Arabic to better understand how the Palestinians view the situation,” he said. “I want to know their hopes and fears.”
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