James' smile

7 ottobre 2004
Chris Brown

There is a famous photo that I can recall. It shows a man leaning against a wall. His face, shirt and suit are covered in blood. His head is bowed as if the weight of the world is pressing down upon him his neck.

The man in the photo is James Zwerg. A Jewish American idealist. He had been on the original "Freedom Ride" buss of the early 60s.

While driving through the segregated South in America, the freedom riders stopped at a desolate bus station out in the middle on nowhere. No visible trouble in sight, everything seemed fine. Then suddenly, a large angry mod appeared wielding clubs, Axe handles and chains. They surrounded the buss and began to rock it back and forth, all the while screaming profanities and demanding the passengers exit the buss.

Scary stuff huh? Think the riders were frightened? Hell yes they were, who wouldn't be? But they had trained for this. They knew that this scenario could arise.

From what I understand, the group made a decision to send out one person to speak to the mob. The rider who coordinated the ride, John Lewis, became the nominated part. As John walked to the front of the bus, a young man stopped him and said: "Let me go out. It might be better coming from me." Lewis looked on at the young, slight. straight laced university student. He conferred with the others and they reluctantly agreed, James Zwerg would be the first one to exit.

What happens next chills me to this day. When the mob saw Zwerg, there was dead silence. They couldn't believe that a "White boy" would ride in the same buss as a bunch on "Niggers."

The mob seized Zwerg and pulled him into the center of the mass. Lewis, described it "Like he was sucked into a vortex of blows." Fists, clubs and chains rained down on him. His face became a mass of blood. the others in the buss suffered a similar fate. Although police knew of the bus and the mob that had concentrated around it, they did nothing to prevent the confrontation.

In the end, several people sustained light to moderate injuries. Several people had to be hospitalized due to more extensive injuries, Zwerg was one of them.

On his hospital bed, Zwerg was interviewed by the press. They pressed him if he would give up this fantasy about ending "Jim Crow" laws in the South: "I plan on going back. We have to go back. We cannot turn around and go the other way."

On 29 September, 2004 myself and a colleague of my Christian Peacemaker Teams, Kim Lamberty were savagely beaten by five masked men near an ideological settlement called Ma'on Ranch in the So. Hebron Hills. All we wanted to do was get five young Palestinian children to school.

We were beaten with chains, clubs, fists and boots. At one point during the assault, all five men focused their attention on me, while Kim lay no more than 15 feet away from me, face down in a pool of blood.

I see the image of Kim lying there and me covering up as best I could wondering: "What will become of all of this?"

Today is 4 October, 2004 and I have been released from the hospital after five days. Five days of having a tube sticking out of my chest. Five days oh dealing with uncomfortable pain from my entire right side of my body. Five days of wondering if it could not have gone worse on that fateful day.

Then I think back to the kids that got away safely. I think about Kim, not being injured more seriously. My friends Diane Janzen and Giorgio Rossetti, coming immediately to our aid in the middle of a violent area. And I think of the amazing outpouring of love I have received from Israelis, Palestinians, and Internationals.

One of the many journalists who interviewed me asked: "What are you going to do? Are you going to go back and escort the children? Next time they might try and kill you."
And I responded the same way I did with many other journalists this past week. I quoted from from two men whose lives made such an impact on me:

"In the pursuit for the freedom of others, one much sometimes sacrifice his own." __Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"If you are not willing to die for it, you need to put the word freedom right out of your vocabulary." __Malcolm X

I think James Zwerg is smiling down on me somewhere.

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