Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
I have heard this quote often. So often that when I hear someone starting to say it I begin to think, “Oh no, isn’t this a bit of a cliché?” But I don’t completely go there—because I still believe there is truth in it. Indeed, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens change the world (or their world) in the direction of love, justice, and mercy; this has happened more times than we will ever know.
On the evening of April 26, 2018, about 100 people filled the auditorium of Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa to hear the panel “Rights under Endless Occupation: Israel/Palestine Discussion.” The speakers were Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories; Brad Parker, International Advocacy Officer, Defense for Children International – Palestine (a Mission & Service partner); and Elizabeth May, member of Parliament and leader of the Green Party. It was moderated by Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute and former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament to the UN.
Given or take a few people, the entire audience stayed until 9:30 pm, when my colleague had to intervene and try to wrap up the event (we had promised we would vacate the church by 10:00). Those who attended included folks from the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), United Church people, Presbyterians, Unitarians, members of the Jewish community, university students, researchers, and many others.
Michael, Brad, and my colleagues from the MCC and the United Church were in Ottawa as part of a delegation that met with elected and government officials. While there, we lifted up stories of Palestinian children who have been detained under the Israeli military detention system. We conveyed a message from Israeli and Palestinian partners: the situation is urgent. Our meetings did not produce a rosy picture. Some of the elected officials we met with are deeply concerned by the Israeli detention of Palestinian children; we also discovered that there are great challenges. Moving Canada to greater international leadership will require effort.
That 100 diverse members of the public would come to our event on a weekday evening is significant. Solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian partners combined with action is essential for change. The gathering at Knox Presbyterian is a sign that there are people across the country who want to see Canada address Israel’s widespread ill-treatment of Palestinian children.
Our delegation heard the same message from government officials over and over: it’s crucial to hear from constituents who want to see Canada demonstrate international leadership for just peace in the region. Committed citizens can make a difference. The asks are simple: live out our Canada’s commitments to human rights and international law in the case of Palestine and Israel.
For more information on current activities, visit Unsetting Goods: Choose Peace in Palestine and Israel.
—Christie Neufeldt is Program Coordinator, Public Witness, Advocacy, and Campaigns for The United Church of Canada.