Yesterday, local residents got the chance to hear some controversial opinions about the ongoing violence in Israel from a former CNN Bureau Chief who was held hostage by Hezbollah – a militant Lebanese group – during the Iran-Contra incident in the 1980s.
More than 30 people showed up to hear former CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Jerry Levin and his wife Lucille speak at the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta about the lessons they learned while working and teaching in Palestine and the Middle East. Goleta was a convenient stop for the Levins during their current speaking tour across the West Coast, Live Oak Universalist Congregation Program Coordinator Gail Boehme said.
“Fortune, surreptitious circumstances, brought them here to us,” Boehme said.
For most of the presentation, Jerry Levin focused on dispelling common myths he claims that Americans hold about Israel and Palestine. He said he thinks one major myth Americans often believe is that the United States is an impartial moderator in the peace process.
“Myths have a terrifyingly historic disposition to enslave,” Jerry Levin said.
In 1984 Jerry Levin was abducted by members of Hezbollah while working as CNN’s Middle East Bureau Chief in Beirut, Jerry Levin said. He said he was held hostage from March 7, 1984 until Feb. 13, 1985 as one of the Iran-Contra hostages, and he believes his safe release was due to the efforts of his wife, who used her contacts in the Middle East to secure his liberation.
Since his release, the Levins have spent much of their time teaching and working with both Palestinians and Israelis as part of various peacemaking teams, Jerry Levin said. He said he and his wife want to help reduce the numbers of people who are killed in conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
“We go there to get in the way of the violent deprivation of life taking place,” Jerry Levin said.
Jerry Levin said that until his kidnapping he believed violence was a good solution for international conflicts, but he said he no longer believes violence is the answer to the conflict in Israel. He said he thinks the ongoing bloodshed in Israel is damaging what is supposed to be a sacred country for many religions.
“The Holy Land has become one of the least holiest places on Earth,” he said.
Tom Vanmeter, a Santa Barbara resident who attended the speech, said he thinks Jerry Levin spoke candidly about the situation in the Middle East.
“[I] was surprised at how straightforward he was,” Vanmeter said.
In his speech, Jerry Levin compared the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people to the treatment of South African blacks under the segregationist apartheid government.
Jerry Levin also spoke about the large amount of land that Israel has annexed in the past half century. Palestine is currently 9 percent of the size it was before 1947, he said. During his speech, he showed maps of Palestine from the past 50 years and said the Israeli army has eradicated more than 400 Palestinian villages, causing the struggle for peace to become increasingly more violent.
“Today is worse than yesterday [in Palestine],” said Jerry Levin. “We are losing the nonviolence struggle.”
Lucille Levin teaches the theory and practice of nonviolence to children, teenagers and teachers. She said she decided to focus on helping Palestinian children twenty years ago, when she saw a five-year old child in Beirut with a pacifier in its mouth and an AK-47 strapped across its waist.
Lucille Levin said she has taken some Palestinian students to America to see the jail in Alabama where Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated as an example of the power of nonviolent action. She said she thinks the couple’s work helps people in Palestine and Israel learn to deal with conflict without resorting to violence.
“We were not created to fight,” Lucille Levin said.