Sunday, November 18, 2012

In Memory of Sol Metz, Activist for Peace

Sol Metz was born on May 5, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. He devoted his life to social justice activism, which he approached from a deeply spiritual perspective. A friend remembers: Sol was a man of profound convictions and principle. When he came to a conclusion about something, about making a commitment to something, he did it and stuck with it.

At gatherings of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, Sol’s messages were loving and meaningful. He often spoke of his Jewish roots, the compassionate messages of Jesus, and his concerns for justice. Friends remember a t-shirt he often wore that displayed a quote from Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camera: “When I give to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

 Sol first visited Palestine in 2002, where he witnessed the effects of Israel’s occupation first hand. When he returned in 2005 as a volunteer with the Holy Land Trust, he saw two women mourning in the ruins of their house, which Israeli Occupation forces had just demolished. He silently sat down with them in sympathy and solidarity. After about half an hour, he asked if he could take their picture.They agreed, and Sol thanked them. He made CD copies of the resulting photograph and circulated it widely, asking that it be used in flyers and presentations without crediting himself.
Paul Aboud, who later interviewed Sol about his experiences in Palestine, writes, “Mr. Metz’s voice shook while describing a home demolition at the hands of the IDF: ‘These acts were carried out by Jews in the name of Jews everywhere. I saw these acts as a betrayal of the Judaism I had learned about [as a child]. I came to believe that criticism of Israel was my duty as a Jew.’”

Another friend remembers: There was an evident struggle in him: first there was the imperative to act, to do something – anything – to not let these wrongs slip by unhindered no matter how impractical the response (although he would prefer it to be practical) but to speak out, point out, and break free of the cynical pessimism that most of us live and breathe.

Sol’s determination to get in the way of injustice was complicated by his impulse to not force anything, to be gentle and not bully others: Sol kept it up front, in your face, but always with an asterisk that implied, “This is my mission – come along as far as you yourself are led.”

After his first, formative trip to Palestine, Sol joined Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF), holding a weekly vigil outside the Beth Israel Synagogue amidst strong criticism by some members of the Ann Arbor community and disagreement with some at Ann Arbor Friends Meeting as well. But as he did so often, Sol remained serene and undeterred. Sol expected to hold his vigil outside the Beth Israel Synagogue weekly for the rest of his life. He felt so deeply that Jewish support for the Zionist enterprise, the making of a Jewish nation on the Palestinians’ land, was deeply destructive to Judaism, a good and worthy religion. He had decided to speak about that and protest it by putting himself outside the synagogue bodily during their religious services every week – for life. Which he did.

Sol participated in other campaigns and demonstrations for Palestinian rights: petitioning the Ann Arbor Food Coop to stop selling foods from Israel, boycotting Hillers Market for contributing part of its profits to the Israeli Defense Forces, distribution of educational materials, demonstrating with University of Michigan student members of SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality), and divestment campaigns against Caterpillar and other corporations supporting the occupation of Palestinian land.

A friend remembers: Despite his outer calm, Sol hid some strong emotions he felt about injustices the Palestinians suffer. He found the reading of Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” so painful that he stopped reading it less than halfway through the book and gave it away to a colleague. Reading Ali Abunimah’s “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End theIsraeli-Palestinian Impasse” Sol became convinced that a one-state solution was the only way to resolve the conflict. When reminded that most Jews reject that option but may support a two-state solution, he would reply firmly that massive settlement expansion has already made a two-state solution impossible.

When Sol died on June 25, 2012, during a short bout with cancer, a friend arranged for two olive trees to be planted in Palestine in his memory. She writes, I hoped that by planting these living, growing symbols of peace, this would be one of the many ways Sol’s work would carry on, bear fruit, and live to witness the peace that we all wish we could live to see. 

Even if I knew the world would
come to an end tomorrow,
I would go into the garden
and plant an olive tree.
Unless we plant now,
There will be no shade for our children,
No oil to heal the wounds,
No olive branches to wave for peace
when it comes.

            - Father Mitri Raheb, Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem


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