Bill Durland's '53 lifelong interest in human rights began in childhood when his parents explained to him why a beloved neighbor had changed his name from Herbinski to Herbert before buying a home in Scarsdale, N.Y.
"This was just before World War II," explains Durland,"and I didn't understand how we could be thinking of going to war to save Jewish lives in Europe, while at the same time Jews could not live openly in our neighborhood." In 1966, he refused to join his home country club because they excluded Jews in segregationist Virginia.
Now 80, Durland, a professor of philosophy at Pikes Peace Community College, has spent his life advancing human rights and civil liberties. After graduating from Bucknell, he earned a law degree from Georgetown University, a master's in biblical theology and nonviolence from Notre Dame and a doctorate in political and religious philosophy from Union Graduate School at Antioch College.
Inspired by his membership in the Religious Society of Friends, he has championed the rights of Jews, African-Americans and conscientious objectors to the Iraq war, including the first two U.S. soldiers deported from Canada after having fled there to avoid fighting in the Iraq War. Since 1983, he and his wife, Genie, have made numerous visits to the Middle East and as human rights volunteers with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank since 2001.
The Durlands' commitment to these causes led to their involvement in events receiving worldwide attention. In late 2009, the Durlands joined 1,400 people from 43 countries for the International Gaza Freedom March. Durland says their goal was to challenge the Israeli military blockade of Gaza that has cut off supplies of basic necessities such as food and medicine to the population of 1.5 million. The Israeli government has justified its blockade by saying that humanitarian aid is a cover for funneling military supplies to Palestinian militias.
Durland is aware of the seeming contradiction of his efforts by fighting for the rights of both Jews and Palestinians. He recently published Immoral Wars and Illegal Laws: History, Religion, Militarism and Peacemaking in the Human Rights Struggle for Palestinian Independence (CreateSpace, 2011), which explores the conflict.
"Some of us have been criticized for 'taking sides,'" Durland says. "Our 'side' has always been justice."
-Andrew W.M. Beierle