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  • Lorin Peters

Shanti Sena Stories: Mahsheahk

2009 September 3


Two border police officers stopped me. I was trying to find Paulette - a Franciscan nun, and my teammate. I had stayed behind with a mother, father and son who had been handcuffed while their large agricultural cistern was being demolished.

One of the two border police was dark-skinned. “Are you Ethiopian?” I asked. Many Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel.

He replied, ‘No, I’m African. But my parents are from Chicago."

So I asked, "Are you Christian?"

"No, I'm Hebrew."

"I met a group of African Hebrews in Bethlehem at the Nonviolent Resistance conference there a few years age."

"Yes, we are the African Hebrew Israelites (of Jerusalem. See this group in Wikipedia). We live near Dimona."

I asked, "Aren't the African Hebrews committed to nonviolence?"


"Then why are you carrying that M-16?"

There was a short, perhaps embarrassed, pause. "Guns are necessary to maintain law and order."

I offered, "The African Hebrews I met in Bethlehem dressed very colorfully, in bold brown and tangerine and beige and cream wool coats and shawls. They spoke of Israel trying to deport them a few years after they had arrived. When they renounced their US citizenship and refused to leave, they were immediately arrested. They renamed the prison “The University”. They slept on the cold concrete floor, and meditated every morning before breakfast. They observed an hour of silence every day after lunch. They fasted to discipline their minds. They won the respect, and the understanding, of the guards and the other prisoners. After a long struggle, Israel gave up and allowed them to stay. (There is no violence (murder, fighting)) and no stress-related illnesses (heart attacks, diabetes) in their community.) Were you born then?"


"Have you heard that story?"


"What is your name?"


"Mahsheahk, I’m a pacifist. My ancestors refused to fight in anyone's army. That's why I'm here. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the African Hebrews, can live together as good neighbors. Without guns, or fighting."

Mahsheahk was silent.

"White people and black people in America are finally beginning to learn to live together.

I taught in an integrated school in Oakland, California, for 37 years. The white and black students did not mix when I started there. Now they are friends, some date each other, some marry. Forty percent of my students now are of mixed race. Obama shows that we are beginning to accept each other."

Mahsheahk smiled.

The battery on my mobile phone died. I pulled out a team mobile, but it gave me messages in Hebrew, both text and audio. Mahsheahk translated for me, until I was able to correct the problems, and locate Paulette. I thanked him for his help.

The next day I saw Mahsheahk working at a checkpoint on Al Sahlah St, near the Avraham Avinu colony (settlement). I asked if I might take his picture. He said it was not allowed. I asked his commander. He said, “Go away. I will not talk to you.” But three days later, he assigned Mahsheahk to stand guard at a post - during the memorial for the 80th anniversary of the 1929 massacre, in which 60 Zionists, and seven Palestinian Jews, were killed here in Hebron - which turned out to be directly in front of Paulette and I. So I now have several photos of Mahsheahk, in spite of his commander. God’s ways, as usual, are not our ways.

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