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Sam Nichols to spend three years working for peace in Palestine

By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s Sam Nichols wants to promote non-violence. To do that, the Placer High School graduate is going to one of the most conflict-riddled areas in the world. After a one-month break at his parents’ Auburn home, Nichols, 23, will return in February to Palestine for three months to continue his work and involvement with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Nichols said he signed up with Christian Peacemaker because he had developed an early interest in the history of non-violent resistance. Over the next three years, he will alternate three months in Palestine and one month at home. He said learning about the non-violent teachings of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., inspired him to do more than just read about famous peaceful protests. “I knew I wanted it to be less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle,” Nichols said. “So I started looking for organizations that do work in areas of injustice.” His search ultimately led him to Christian Peacemaker Teams. After undergoing an intense month-long training session filled with 14-hour days, Nichols was sent to the Palestinian village of At-tuwani. The village is located south of Hebron Hills, which is one of the largest cities in the West Bank. He said the small community is located in an area fully occupied by Israeli soldiers and settlers, who have had long-standing conflict with Palestinians. Nichols said the village is situated between two Israeli settlements, which are usually home to extremists that he sees harass the Palestinians. He said the settlers have beat people, intimidated them and poisoned wells. His volunteer work is to help Palestinian children from his village walk to school. He said prior to his group’s assistance, as well as mandatory military assistance, children were walking an hour and a half to get to their schools to avoid being chased by Israeli settlers. Now, they walk about 30 minutes. He said when he’s on walks with children, volunteers use binoculars and cell phones to communicate any potentially dangerous situations. “It’s a very unsafe area when we walk the kids from the villages,” Nichols said. He said when he sees a group of settlers walking toward them, he and the children quickly walk away in the other direction. “Sometimes we’ve had M-16s cocked in our faces and told to get out of the area,” Nichols said. Nichols’ father, Steve, says he’s proud of his son. “He has a huge heart,” Steve Nichols said. Steve Nichols admitted that he feels anxious knowing his son lives in an area not foreign to tear gas and grenades, but he stands behind his son’s mission. “He’s trying to stand in the way of conflict,” Steve Nichols said. “He’s a good guy.” Sam Nichols described his first three months of life in the 250-person village as simple. The village has no running water. Diesel generators power the enclave for about four hours each night, and Sam Nichols lives in a small, two-room cinder block home with anywhere from three to nine volunteers. He said they usually cook meals of rice and vegetables, and said, “it’s much better” when the villagers — who he describes as kind, generous and hospitable — invite the volunteers over for dinner. Sam Nichols said he understands there is another side to the conflict, but says he won’t stand for violent action. “I think when I see a situation of oppressor and oppressed, I will choose sides and I will stand on the side of the oppressed,” he said. He said he views it as a powerful military suppressing weak people who just have dreams of safety for their families. “My goal when I talk to people is to humanize Palestinians,” Sam Nichols said. “These people are human beings who have hopes and dreams like we do.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com. ---------- Fast Facts: Sam Nichols Age: 23 Education: Graduated from Placer High School in 2003; graduated with degree in theology and sociology from Pt. Loma Nazarene University in San Diego in 2007 High school career: was All-league basketball player for Placer High; graduated as its valedictorian Residence: Grew up in Auburn Did you know: For the next two months Nichols will study Arabic in Syria so he can communicate better with the Palestinian villagers he lives with nine months out of the year. For more information: Read Sam’s blog, which he updates about once a week, at samuelnichols.blogspot.com.