Freeland man's mission of peace

Fletcher Davis has been thinking about Israel for a long time.

A retired Episcopal priest who lives in Freeland, Davis was old enough to be an ardent supporter of the concept of a Jewish state when the idea was proposed in 1947. Over the years, he's had high hopes for the nation that was established as Israel in 1948, hopes for peace and the preservation of a people nearly exterminated during World War II.

The past few weeks have been hard for Davis as clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians on the West Bank have become more serious, and as Palestinian suicide bombers have killed dozens at a time in civilian attacks. On Thursday, he set off to do much more than watch the television news at night and lament. He got on a plane headed for Israel and will spend the next two weeks talking to whoever will speak with him.

Davis, who is 67, hopes to be a peacemaker. A friend of some people living in Israel and the West Bank and having resettled refugees in California during some of his 40 years as a priest, he said he believes he has some idea what is happening between two peoples who share a tiny piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea. Even so, he said the idea of him, one man alone, going to Israel hoping to make a difference still sounds a little strange to some. It certainly begs a common question.

"What is one retired old geezer from Whidbey Island going to do over there?" he said.

"Do" probably implies too much. Having toured the West Bank and Gaza Strip areas during a trip in 1993, Davis said he has the desire to do anything he can to somehow find a home for the 750,000 Palestinian refugees living there, and to bring peace for Israel. But that is too big a task for one person. Instead, he said, he wants to hear the stories of suffering from both sides of the conflict and bring them back to Whidbey Island. They are stories he believes the world press is no longer hearing, since the media was largely shut out of the West Bank earlier this week.

"I'm suspicious when someone says 'No press,'" he said.

Sitting in the Freeland Cafe Wednesday morning, Fletcher said he is not headed off on a futile mission. Planning to speak to a rabbi and a Christian Palestinian with whom he has had e-mail contact over the past few months, he said he is hoping to find a moderate middle position in a land that seems to be consumed with only extreme positions on the parts of the politicians. However, he said, he may not find that position, even though he is certain there is room for peace and nonviolence even now.

"I think the center has fallen in," he said.

There is little about his personal peace mission that is certain. He could be turned away at the airport gate once he arrives in Israel. If he does get in, he may not be able to talk to everyone he wishes to -- he has a list that includes Hanan Asahwari, a Palestinian woman who serves as an Anglican priest and who gives regular commentary to various media. He doesn't know where he will eat or where he will sleep.

"But I've got to make the effort."

In addition to these difficulties, there is the possibility that his life will be in danger. As an American Christian, he said he will have a hard time building credibility with either side. Even though what he is doing could seem to some like a suicide mission, he said he has no intention of being killed.

"I'm an optimist. I have a return ticket," he said.

He does go with the support of his family, which includes two Jewish brothers-in-law and a Jewish grandson.

When he returns, Davis will take as many speaking engagements he can get to try to tell Americans more about what they are watching from afar. He said the more people in this country know, the more likely they are to push the federal government to sue for peace between the two parties. Peace, he said, is the only option. A military victory for Israel or the Palestinians is not possible, he said.

While he is gone, Davis will keep the words of a number of philosophers in mind. Chief among them will be the words of Mahatma Ghandi.

"We must become the change we wish," Davis quoted.

He will return to South Whidbey with his wishes in late April.

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