Stories Worth Telling

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

IN HER JEWISH school in Montreal, Ronit Avni learned the tragic history of her people. Her Canadian mother and Israeli father had met in the ’60s when her mother was living in Israel and working as a folk singer, often performing for Israeli troops. Her older sister was born in Tel Aviv, but the family settled back in Montreal in the mid-’70s before Ronit was born.

Not strictly religious but committed to the values of Judaism, Ronit couldn’t help but ask probing questions as she listened to the stories of the birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Am I hearing the whole story? How do Palestinian perspectives differ from what my educators and community leaders are teaching? How can we transform this situation from a zero-sum equation to one that respects the dignity and freedom of all?

Years later, having graduated with honors from Vassar College with a degree in political science after studying theater at a conservatory in Montreal, Ronit trained human rights advocates worldwide to produce videos as tools for public education and grassroots mobilizing.

By the time I met Ronit a few years ago, she had narrowed her worldwide focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where her heart was most deeply drawn. She is the founder and executive director of Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli efforts to end the occupation and conflict without weapons of violence.

During the last several years, my engagement in the Holy Land has been significantly shaped by Ronit. Her film Encounter Point, about Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members, land, or liberty to the conflict yet choose forgiveness and reconciliation rather than revenge, gave me hope that peace can emerge from pain.

In Budrus, she tells the story of a Palestinian father and daughter who galvanize their entire community—and many Israeli activists—to use nonviolent means to achieve freedom for the threatened village of Budrus. Hailed in The New York Times as “this year’s must-see documentary,” Budrus helped me understand the power of nonviolent resistance.

Just Vision recently released the short film My Neighborhood, a heartbreaking story of Palestinian families threatened with eviction from their homes. I was particularly moved by the actions of a middle-aged Israeli mother—a woman a lot like me—who never intended to be an activist but couldn’t remain silent in the face of injustice.

During a recent visit to Chicago, Ronit joined me for lunch. The timing was perfect. I had just given several talks challenging American Christians to engage in an authentically pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, and pro-Jesus conversation. While some people welcomed my message, others held to a political or theological position that forced them to choose sides and to accuse me of naiveté. Some even suggested that since I don’t spend more time denouncing suicide bombers and terrorists I must secretly support the extremists who threaten Israel.

Let me make myself clear: I denounce every act of violence that threatens any Israeli or Palestinian civilian. I denounce terrorism whenever it occurs and whoever perpetrates it. But Ronit reminded me why I travel so frequently to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s because of the peacemakers—the Israelis and Palestinians, the Christians, Muslims, and Jews—who refuse to be enemies, who work together for a future in which all the people of the Holy Land live in security and freedom and equality and dignity. We hear plenty about people committed to violence. What we need is to hear more about the people committed to peace.

Do you want to be inspired? Spend some time at Let Ronit introduce you to the hundreds of heroes on the ground who work for peace and justice every single day. Learn from them. Pray for them. And whenever you have a chance, tell their stories.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, is author of Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.

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