By Daphna Berman
A leading African-American pioneer in nonviolence training called the Dimona Hebrew Israelite community and its “village of peace” an international model for nonviolence.
Dr. Bernard LaFayette, a confidant and colleague of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,praised the Hebrew Israelites for not resorting to violence, despite the fact that they were denied recognition and permanent status in Israel for over 30 years. LaFayette was the guest of honor at the launch of the community’s Enlightened Speakers Series.
“You believed one day that you would be respected and recognized,” he told members of the community, who gathered Wednesday at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. “This is a model that can be replicated. This is the salt of the earth. This is the stuff that can stop armies, and I predict that you will be a shining star in the Middle East and in the whole world.”
Dr. LaFayette, the director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, was in Israel for a nonviolence conference in Bethlehem last week. He is also part of a Redeem the Dream tour group together with a number of African-American leaders; they are planning a trip for 5,000 people to Tiberias in 2007, which they say is the culmination of Martin Luther King’s vision to connect African-Americans with the Holy Land.
The Enlightened Speakers Series is a project of the Hebrew Israelite’s Institute for a New Humanity (INH), a conflict resolution center in Dimona offering courses, counseling and training in resolving differences. The INH is cosponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the civil rights and social justice organization founded by King in 1957.
In December 2004, Charles Steele, the president of the SCLC, visited the Dimona community and proclaimed it a “manifestation of King’s dream.”
“After 400 years of slavery in the Western world and another 100 years of de facto slavery, we never picked up a gun to kill another white person,” Prince Asiel, the community’s liaison and spokesperson, said. “We went through in the U.S. what the Palestinians are going through now and we never fired a shot. We can offer another paradigm for nonviolence.”
The Hebrew Israelites, who believe themselves to be descended from the ancient Israelites, left the United States in an organized exodus and passed through Liberia in Western Africa before moving to Dimona in 1969. They were granted permanent residency status in 2003 and several of the community’s youngsters are now serving in the Israel Defense Forces.