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Corvallis Gazette-Times: “Expanding his mission”

by Carol Reeves, February 11th

CV grad dropped career to become a peace activist

Protesting the Iraq war in front of the Benton County Courthouse is a far cry from seeking peace on the troubled streets of occupied cities and villages in the West Bank.

Demonstrations in downtown Corvallis are rarely interrupted by anything worse than a disagreeable motorist honking his horn. But the potential for violence at the hands of angry crowds and armed Israeli soldiers is ever-present in the Middle East.

Still, Josh Hough of Corvallis is willing to take that risk and is planning to move temporarily to Tuwani, a Palestinian village about 30 miles south of Jerusalem, by the end of summer. He will be working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Chicago-based organization that focuses on reducing violence and protecting human rights around the world.

Hough, 31, joined in the local anti-war rallies without hesitation in early 2003. He had grown up in a Christian home and believed much of Jesus’ mission on Earth was to promote peace and nonviolence.

A few months later, he heard about Rachel Corrie, a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, who was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to protect the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah, Gaza.

“That evoked a very emotional response within me,” he said. “I was really inspired by her sacrifice.”

Hough, a 1994 graduate of Crescent Valley High School and a 2000 graduate of the University of Oregon, has since decided his calling in life is similar.

“Sacrificing my own life would be an agonizing proposition,” he admitted honestly, “but sacrificing my time and energy is something I’m happy to do.”

Hough said his parents, who are involved in local Christian ministries, support his plans completely. His dad, Gary Hough, serves as the director of Logos Studies, a campus ministry at Oregon State University, and his mom, Pam Hough, has volunteered for years with the developmentally disabled Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church.

Advocating for peace was always an emphasis in his family’s interpretation of the Christian faith, Hough said.

Hough was working for the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Educational Service District using his journalism degree to help develop Web-based instructional programs when he decided being a peace activist was more important than pursuing a professional career.

Last spring, he resigned from his job and in November he made his first trip to Jerusalem with a 12-person Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation.

Hough learned about Christian Peacemaker Teams two years ago during a series of talks given by Matt Chandler, a graduate of George Fox University in Newberg. The two started e-mailing each other and Chandler was able to answer many of Hough’s questions about traveling to the Middle East and whether one person could really make a difference.

Hough discovered that even though CPT was founded and is supported by Christian denominations, volunteers are not to proselytize. Its mission is to place trained peace workers in areas of conflict to “get in the way of injustice” by engaging in nonviolent intervention.

During the CPT orientation in Jerusalem, Hough experienced firsthand what that means.

“We went to the West Bank to look at how Palestinians are living and the difficulties they face in the midst of the Israeli occupation, and we met with a lot of different Palestinian and Israeli organizations advocating for peace,” he said. “It was a lot different than what tourists usually get to see.”

A meeting with the Bereaved Families’ Circle, a gathering of Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the conflict and now work together to promote reconciliation, was especially moving for Hough.

The delegation also spent a night in the Deheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and visited the ancient city of Hebron, where one of CPT’s groups is stationed.

At the end of the tour, Hough said, he had to take a “huge deep breath.” He spent about three days reflecting on his experiences.

“It was pretty overwhelming.”

Working with children

With an extra two and a half weeks built into his itinerary, Hough was able to return to Hebron and the nearby town of Tuwani. He wanted to learn more about the work CPT was doing to watch over Palestinian children as they walked to school and monitor the documentation of Palestinian villagers being harassed by Israeli settlers.

CPT volunteers used to accompany Palestinian children to school to protect them from stones and eggs some Israelis threw at them to force the Palestinians out of areas they claimed as their own, Hough explained. But after two of them were severely beaten in 2004, the Israeli army was assigned to escort the children through dangerous neighborhoods.

Now the CPT uses video cameras to watch soldiers as they begrudgingly perform their job and team members report any neglect of duty or aggression toward the students, Hough explained.

“They are the monitors and guardians,” he continued. “The more CPT volunteers that are there to put the pressure on the military and the government the more effective it will be in curbing the violence.”

Hough believes “the illegal occupation of ancient Palestinian territories by Israeli soldiers and settlers” is the real source of instability in the region. Some of the people in the Israeli settlements are aggressive in trying to force their Palestinian neighbors out.

After staying in a Palestinian home in Tuwani and hearing their stories, Hough said, “I was uplifted by their overwhelming sense of hope in spite of their situation.

“There is no way they’re going to leave. That land has been theirs for 500 years and there is nowhere else for them to go. They are all farmers and shepherds and apart from that land, they feel they will essentially die out,” he said.

CPT advocates for non-violence and stands up for those being oppressed no matter what political side they’re on, Hough said. If it were the Israelis suffering at the hands of the Palestinians, they would be defending them.

The next step in fulfilling his dream of joining the Christian Peacemaker Corps in the West Bank is a month-long training session in Chicago in July. The corps is comprises volunteers involved in longer-term assignments. He must also raise enough money for his travel expenses and would like to attend language school at the University of Damascus.

Hough has made one presentation at First United Methodist Church and is scheduling more through the Corvallis Friends Meeting, the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library and Oregon State University.

Educating the public here is just as important to Hough as the peacekeeping activities there. Eventually he hopes to secure a more permanent job with a peace organization in the Middle East, perhaps one where he can use his journalism and computer skills.

Lois Kenagy, a member of the Albany Mennonite Church, which recently voted to support CPT as part of its yearly budget, said she is thrilled with Hough’s efforts.

“I’m just so pleased that Josh will be participating from this area,” she said.

Kenagy was in Strasbourg, France, at the 1984 Mennonite World Conference when the denomination was challenged to launch a peacekeeping crusade to counteract the growing violence around the world. She was also chosen by denominational leaders in the United States to be a part of the original “discernment group” that developed the CPT strategy.

During the draft, when conscientious objectors were required to find another avenue of service, the organization had a much larger pool of volunteers from which to draw, Kenagy explained. Now, the CPT relies heavily on young people such as Hough who are willing to put themselves in dangerous situations to let those who promote violence know they’re being watched.

“It becomes a damper on their activity if you know someone is photographing and recording what you’re doing,” Kenagy said. “That’s what CPT does — it brings to light activities that shouldn’t be happening.”

Hough admits leaving the stability of a full-time career and stepping into an unknown future where he has to rely on other people interested in what he’s doing for support is “a little bit scary” but he’s sure he’s doing the right thing.

“What I hope to stake the rest of my life on is to advance the cause of oppressed and exploited people around the world,” Hough said.

Carol Reeves covers religion for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 758-9516.

At a glance

WHAT: Josh Hough, Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteer, will share a report and slides of his experiences in the West Bank and update the situation in the Occupied Territories.

WHEN: 3 p.m., Sunday, March 4

WHERE: Salem Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5090 Center St.

INFORMATION: 760-8047 or 503-364-1045

ETC.: To learn more about Christian Peacemaker Teams, see www.cpt.org