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Transformative Justice and “Cities of Refuge:” Miklat, Miklat Zine (REVISED)

Jun 14, 2012

from the article by Lewis Wallace and Micah Bazant in Miklat, Miklat Zine:

....Another strategy for addressing transgression, mentioned in the Torah, are the Cities of Refuge or Miklat Arei. In theory, a person accused of a serious crime, even a capital offense, could flee to a City of Refuge and live out their life, safe from violent retribution. The Talmud states that these cities should be evenly spaced throughout the land and accessible by wide and well-maintained roads. At every crossroad there should be a signpost marked Miklat (Refuge). The Cities of Refuge were not only a location for individual sanctuary but a vehicle for spiritual expiation and cleansing of society and the land.

....Transformative justice is difficult to define. We understand it as a vision for community-based forms of justice based on support, healing, and accountability. As in restorative justice models, the focus is on integration and healing – of both those who do harm and those who have been harmed – through consensual models that do not depend on punishment and retribution.

But transformative justice does not only depend on individuals – it depends on political transformation and tries to analyze and change the conditions that lead to violence and harm in the first place. Our challenges to scapegoating, isolation and retribution will be more effective when they go hand-in-hand with political struggles against the root causes of oppression and violence (patriarchy, capitalism, racism, etc.), and against concepts of penitence and sin that freeze our identities as forever either “innocent” or “guilty.” The healing of transformative justice is intertwined with the collective empowerment of groups of people to change the conditions they/we live in.

Transformative justice, for us, is about individually, interpersonally, and systematically building Cities of Refuge, Arei Miklat, and then inviting the scapegoat inside the city. The channels between these cities and the rest of the world must be open; the ideal imagined City of Refuge is one into which we desire to enter, not one into which we are forced.

To us, envisioning Cities of Refuge begins as a series of questions: Where do Cities of Refuge exist now? Where do we see scapegoats, people demonized as individuals or groups? What would the world look like if neither violence nor exclusion were acceptable or assumed? What if we knew how to respond to violence in a way that encouraged healing and integration? 

What if there was not a scarcity of healing to go around? What is the connection between personal transformation and political transformation? What if exclusion, imprisonment, violence, sexual shaming, and all forms of scapegoating were not deemed acceptable responses to transgressions? What if the scapegoat were accepted into the City of Refuge?

Read the whole article.

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