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I did a search for material about Jerry and Sis Levin and came up with a few reviews of the TV movie done in 1991 about their exploits. What I found amusing was the incredulity expressed by some reviewers at the claim of cause and effect made in the movie, that persistent nonviolent action should somehow get good results.

Sis believed that, “You’ve got to talk peace with your enemies; you don’t need to talk peace with your friends.”

For some of her critics, the fact that evil persists in the world was proof of the naiveté of those who believe that Sis’ persistence and her point of view were responsible for the success of her mission.

That often is the reaction when the talk turns to peacemaking or nonviolence as an alternative to war. I find that people demand far more certainty of such positions than they do of war-making.

The presumption, too often, is that meeting violence with nonviolence should not be risky or, if it is, it isn’t worth the effort, or that one should be guaranteed of success before undertaking nonviolence.

We don’t demand such standards of our generals.

I think part of the reason that many of us have so little tolerance for talk of nonviolent action is that we haven’t allowed ourselves to imagine it as a possibility. How can we when so much of our national treasure is spent on armaments and preparations for war?

So we keep looking for models, for individuals and groups who have broken through and are imagining the possibilities -- and acting on them.

Last week, amid our coverage of the Middle East, we told you of the influx into the war zone of international activists determined to be a nonviolent presence there. This week, we’ve printed part of a dispatch from a young man named Jeff Guntzel, who is with international volunteers in the occupied territories (see Page 10). I first met Jeff, who works with Voices in the Wilderness, in 1999 during a trip to Iraq. He’s thoughtful, with a razor sharp wit and a wonderful realization of the possibilities, the dangers and the work of nonviolent force.

Consider these last two weeks a kind of tune-up for next week when we’ll publish a pullout section on peacemaking, covering a range of topics -- from peace in families to peacemaking on the global stage. The section will be packed with individuals’ stories as well as resources, from books and groups to movies. We think it will make a wonderful guide for educators at all levels and in all settings who want to help young minds to begin imagining possibilities beyond war-making.

One last word on the Levins. When not on the road lecturing, they participate in biweekly peace vigils with Pax Christi members Jim and Shelley Douglas. They are also the local link for members of the Jesuit Volunteers Corps coming to Birmingham to work with charitable organizations.

Commenting on the recent eruption of war in Israel and the occupied territories, Jerry said, “We don’t condone anyone’s violence. But,” he added, “the terrible form that reprisals on both sides have taken really does lie at the door of the United States’ decades-long policy” of enabling support for Israel’s conduct as occupier of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We have to do everything we can to make hope palpable,” he said. He believes the presence of internationals in the region “can have a very important effect. The more Americans involved, the more pressure there will be on our government to change its policies and resolve some of the worst effects of the violence.”

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002