Peace Maker: Bonner Ritchie's Story

Bonner Ritchie

In the late 1980s, the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip began as a protest against the continued Israeli occupation.  Then, as now, a number of people from both sides worked in the interest of creating a lasting peace.  During this period, Bonner Ritchie, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Brigham Young University was asked to visit the Middle East and join the peace process.  Without a background in international relations, Professor Ritchie was surprised to be asked, and did not particularly look forward to spending time in the Middle East, since his children were in their teens and, of course, in need of their dad.  Still, the calling seemed important to Ritchie, and he did agree to help out as best he could.

During one of his trips to the West Bank, Professor Ritchie was driving through the area and became lost.  Finding his progress thwarted at the end of a cul-de-sac, he slowed his car and began to look out the rear view mirror in preparation for backing up.  As he did so, four young men ran out toward his car and began to throw rocks at him.  In a panic, Ritchie could not quite get the car into reverse, and was frozen in place for a frightening moment or two.  Some rocks pierced his windshield and blood began to run from his forehead onto his shirt and lap.

Dr. Ritchie did manage to escape the situation, though when he returned to their hotel , his wife was shocked at his appearance and insisted on taking him to a hospital for treatment.  Wanting to understand what had happened to him, and why, Ritchie asked one of the Palestinian men with whom he worked to accompany him back to the Palestinian village in which he’d been attacked.  They did so a few days later.  After a conversation with a neighborhood elder, Ritchie and his associate were able to identify the young men who’d hurled the rocks.  They turned out to be 14 year old residents of the neighborhood. 

A meeting was set up between Professor Ritchie and the boys, and eventually they were able to sit together and talk about what had happened.  During the conversation, Ritchie learned more about the situation the Palestinians experienced, and about the roots of the intifada.  He also learned that it is easy to tell the nationality of the owner of a car in the Middle East, because the license plates of each country carry a unique and recognizable color.  The yellow plates of his rental car, Ritchie learned, identified him as, apparently, an Israeli driver.

The boys learned that Bonner Ritchie was there in the interest of peace.  Eventually, the boys would show their respect by visiting with Ritchie again at the airport in order to say goodbye.

At the end of their conversation, the boys summed up their learning: “we like you, but you have an evil car.”