Big shoes to fill

Martin Luther King Jr.’s son promotes nonviolent conflict resolution in Jaffa.

April 23, 2010 17:37
3 minute read.
Martin Luther King III

NMartin Luther King III 311. (photo credit: NMohamad Babai)


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Martin Luther King III, the son of murdered civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., concluded a three-day visit to the Middle East with a speech at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa last week.

In an exclusive interview with Metro, King spoke about his visit to Ramallah, his father’s legacy and the possibility of Kingian nonviolent conflict resolution aiding in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

King, the second child of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, serves as the founding president of Realizing the Dream Inc., a nonprofit organization aimed at carrying on his father’s work. While in the region, he participated in two back-to-back conferences, one in Ramallah on Wednesday and the other in Jaffa on Thursday.

“Our objective was to bring together Palestinians and Israelis, in separate settings, to talk about the use of nonviolence to bring about peace in this region of the world. Yesterday we had about 260 Palestinians who came to the conference and several speakers who all were talking about achieving peace through the nonviolent method,” said King.

According to King, most of the participants in the Ramallah conference were representatives of non-government organizations.

“There were students from universities and colleges, and even from local high schools. I don’t believe there were any elected officials that were directly involved,” said King.

“During the dialogue, everyone spoke about their personal experiences of how they utilize nonviolence. In my remarks, I shared a perspective of how the modern civil rights movement that my father led used nonviolence to bring about change in the United States. While no one from another country or place can tell Israelis and Palestinians how they can conduct themselves, what we can all share is our own personal experiences and how they were used. I believe that when it is operating on its optimum level, nonviolence is transformative,” said King.

“Nonviolence is a tool that can be used in any arena,” he continued. “The world has not learned the message of nonviolence yet. We still operate based on fears. Certainly in this part of the world, when you have Israelis, and all around the borders there are Arabs, there are probably legitimate fears, real fears. Incidents that have occurred from time to time create a realistic fear, and as a result Israel has felt it had to take various steps in protecting itself – and in doing so, it impacts many Palestinians in a way that in their perspective is oppressive.”

But, he stated, “I believe that even though it is a very complex issue, there has to be a way for Israelis and Palestinians to coexist.”

When asked how nonviolence could be introduced in a region where extremists often controlled the levels of the flames, King said he was compelled to see positive change on the horizon.

“I have to believe that change is imminent, because otherwise the work we are involved in is futile, and I just can’t believe that,” he said. “I really believe that there is a far greater majority that don’t participate, who believe in the methods of nonviolence. The reason we hear the extremists is because they scream the loudest.”

King said his greatest concern was the lack of engagement between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership.

“When people can sit down together and have dialogue, that is when at least you move in a more positive direction,” said King. “The international community can pressure the sides, and perhaps tripartite talks are the way to go, but the primary solution must be between Israelis and the Palestinians.”

The son of a clergyman, King said that the religious leaders of the region should play a greater role in achieving peace.

“They talk to their congregants every week and have significant influence. The question is, are they truly using their abilities to maximize it? And I would probably have to say that they are not, or not yet,” he said. “They should perform at a higher level, and we should hold them to a higher standard.”

King’s speech was the summit of conference titled “Constructive Nonviolent Action – A Chance for a Breakthrough,” organized by Realizing the Dream and the Peres Center. Other speakers at the conference were Peres Center director Ron Pundak; former Civilian Administration chief Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ilan Paz; Prof. Galia Golan from the Lauder School of Governance; and Nancy Sadiq, CEO of the Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development.

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