Having difficult conversations about/with migrants

by Mailys Andre

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At a Refugee Conference held last month, attention was drawn to having conversations with migrants or those who think differently to ourselves.  Below are the recommendations provided by HOPE not hate Cymru.

When having a difficult conversation with a migrant or asylum seeker, try to use the ‘listening wheel’:

  1. Open questions : How? What? Where? Who? Why?
  2. Summarising : A summary helps to show the individual that you have listened and understood their circumstances and their feelings.
  3. Reflecting : Repeating back a word or phrase encourage the individual to carry on and expand
  4. Clarifying : Sometimes an individual may gloss over an important point. By exploring these areas further we can help them clarify these points for themselves.
  5. Short Words of Encouragement: The person may need help to go on their story — use words like ‘yes’ or ‘go on’.
  6. Reacting : We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it — “That sounds like it is very difficult”.

Don’t forget :

  1. Story/narrative is powerful (inspire people)
  2. Try to change the dynamic of your conversation (listen, question…)

What if you are facing the opposition?

Ask agitating questions such as :

  1. Has this happened to you before?
  2. What make you believe that?
  3. What makes you angry? (This involves a conscious question with conscious pause)

Try “Empathetic listening”:

  1. This should be your instinct.
  2. Be genuine.
  3. Engage with the person behind the opinion.

You can find out more about HOPE not hate and its current research here.

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Gareth Owens’ Advice for Humanitarian Aid Work

On Tuesday 21st March, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and Hub Cymru Africa hosted an evening with Gareth Owens, Humanitarian Director at Save the Children. We have created a short summary of Gareth’s advice for pursuing a career in humanitarian aid that we hope you will find useful.

With Gareth’s educational background in civil engineering, he made clear that you don’t need to physically train in humanitarian work, rather you can get involved from any career angle.

Working in humanitarian aid is not glamorous and it involves dealing with a lot of raw emotions and different people. It is not for everyone but is best viewed as a selfish job. You will be away from home for months at a time, often in very dangerous places so must understand the worries your family back home will have.

Passion and persistence are key! The more passionate about something you are the greater chance you have of seeing it through and making change happen.

Gareth Owens 21st March

Continually possessing a good character where you don’t let things get personal is important.
If you’re a difficult person this is not the job for you, you must be humble and energetic as well as being able to embrace different cultures and share compassion for the people whom you are helping.

Gender does play different roles when working in humanitarian aid, sometimes you will work in countries that are uncomfortable for women and at other times being a woman can be an advantage.

Speaking additional languages is always a bonus, especially French and Arabic as these are most widely spoken in developing countries.

Try to volunteer in your home country if you are starting out; there are many refugees now here in Britain and charities are always looking for help.

Also, volunteer projects abroad are good. The more you can get on your CV from little projects like these, the better chance you have at making contacts and stumbling onto your big break.
You may find it takes several years working on little projects here and there before you manage to go abroad and help on the big disasters.

If you are interesting in volunteering with the WCIA, see our website for further details about how you can get involved   http://www.wcia.org.uk/volunteer.html

Temple Tales #2: ‘A Man and his Monument’: the real David Davies?

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Picture: bronze bust of David Davies in the marble hall at the Temple of Peace

Maggie Smales, volunteer with Wales for Peace, explores different perspectives on Temple of Peace founder David Davies. 

I am currently helping to sort out the archives belonging to the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).  In a box with materials about the Temple of Peace and Health, I found the transcript of a BBC radio programme which provides an unusually intimate portrait of Lord Davies: the Liberal statesman, philanthropist and the force behind the Temple.

The BBC’s Home Service in Wales commemorated the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff in 1963 with an hour-long radio documentary on the life and work of David Davies, “A man and his monument”.  John Griffiths– who compiled and narrated the programme- used a mixture of interviews and recordings with people who had known Davies well, from his associate Sir Wynn Wheldon  to his chauffeur. The documentary built a picture of the man and the two causes to which he devoted his life: social health and international peace.

David Davies was born into a wealthy family and given the same name as his grandfather, David Davies of Llandinam. The Welsh industrialist and Liberal politician  had first founded the Ocean Coal Company in the Rhondda, before building Barry Docks and the connecting railways to export his coal.  Like his grandfather, David Davies was a Calvinistic Methodist by upbringing, a teetotaller and firm about his Sunday observance.

Davies inherited his grandfather’s industrial wealth and landed estate when he was just eighteen and had the confidence which great wealth brings.  He was essentially a very wealthy country gentleman, devoted to field sports. His neighbours remembered him as “a big man in a pink coat”… “hunting his own hounds in all weathers in all hours” and “driving open cars at terrific speed – he had 2 Talbot Darracqs…”.  According to Sir Wynn Wheldon “he was almost unsurpassed in his ability to go on hour by hour…for more than a day…if it would be a fox, he’d find it and would follow that fox until it was 36 hours had expired and he’d have nothing to eat in the meantime.”

Davies’ private secretary recalled that he was never “really interested in business at all… and left as much work as he possibly could to other people”.  His real passion was his various philanthropic causes. Here, as his one of his employees noted “He worked himself hard and he expected everyone else to do the same”; “…he was an inconsiderate employer in that he didn’t spare himself and he certainly didn’t spare other people”.  “He had no concept of family life – he worked at home and his time over the weekend would be divided between his study, where he would be closeted with secretaries… and the great outdoors.”

In 1906, at the age of 26, Davies became MP for Montgomeryshire.  Apparently, it was touch and go which party he would join, his grandfather having broken with the Gladstonian Liberals over Home Rule for Ireland. But in the end, as Sir Wynn Wheldon put it “the Liberals got hold of him first and they found him for a good many purposes a very valuable Liberal.”  In his early days in Parliament Lloyd George apparently dismissed Davies as “the Golden Calf”, just a rich son of a rich father, but he soon began to demonstrate the shallowness of this judgement.

Davies was prominent in the 1910 public meeting in Shrewsbury to decide how Wales could best commemorate the recently deceased monarch. He was a driving force behind the decision to set up the King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association (WNMA) for the eradication of tuberculosis, a particular scourge in Wales at the time.  He himself gave £150,000 towards the eventual £300,000 raised and his sisters Margaret and Gwendoline also made substantial donations.  He continued to be heavily involved with this health campaign after the war.  In 1920 he endowed a Chair for the study of tuberculosis in the Medical School at Cardiff University.  Following the 1921 Public Health (Tuberculosis) Act, which compelled all local authorities to make some provision for TB, he, “moved heaven and earth”, according to his private secretary, to ensure that the WNMA would cooperate with the national scheme and become, in effect, a joint board for the whole of Wales.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Davies was given the command of the 14th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  He is recorded as having driven his men and officers to the limits of their endurance when they were training in Llandudno to make them war ready – perhaps he had an inkling of what was waiting for them in France.  Once in the field he also, “made good certain deficiencies of supply out of his own pocket, providing his men with fishing waders (to wear in the trenches) …and his unit with field telephones”. It is recorded that he did not get on well with the Higher Command and was perhaps “too original for them”.

Towards the end of 1916, Davies-who was still a serving MP- was brought back from the front to become Lloyd George’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.  He lasted for less than a year in the post as he was far too opinionated for Lloyd George.

Davies’ experience in the trenches made him a passionate advocate for peace-making.  In 1917, before the end of the First World War, he founded the League of Free Nations Association with HG Wells and Gilbert Murray.  In 1918 this merged with another group, the League of Nations Society, to form the League of Nations Union, with former Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey as President.  Davies was later to endow the organisation in Wales with enough money to meet the cost of its administrative staff.  In 1919, he also funded the world’s first Chair of International Relations at Aberystwyth University College.

Davies had many other interests.  He realised the importance of better housing, especially in the fight against TB, and encouraged T Alwyn Lloyd to develop model housing estates in places such as Machynlleth and Wrexham, and after the First World War, Rhiwbina.  He was interested in agriculture, bailing out the debts of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show on more than one occasion, and loaning out prize bulls and stallions to local farmers in his county to improve the quality of livestock locally.  He gave away parcels of his own land to form playing fields in Machynlleth and Caersws and encouraged neighbours in mid-Wales to do the same; he helped fund village institutes including the pavilion in Newtown and also sent one of his staff to help set up the first Miners’ Welfare Scheme in the Rhondda.

But the League of Nations Union was his abiding passion.  Davies was never a pacifist – his vision of the League of Nations included the concept of an International Court of Equity to intervene in disputes and an International Police Force to carry out its decisions.  Here he parted company with much of the interwar peace movement, including the Peace Pledge Union, and what he saw as “negative disarmament”.  After resigning as an MP in 1929, he spent much of the 1930s campaigning for an armed League of Nations, including founding an organisation called New Commonwealth in 1932 to promote the idea of an International Police Force and writing several books and political tracts.

In the late 1920s a plan was emerging to build a headquarters for the WNMA in Cathays Park in Cardiff on a site donated by the City Corporation.  Davies saw this as another opportunity to promote the cause of peace by including in the proposal offices for the League of Nations Union in Wales and a Temple of Peace “which will be an example for the whole world”.  This inevitably involved considerable extra expense, especially as Davies envisaged a grand Hall of Peace built with material from all parts of the world.  The WNMA agreed to contribute just £12k (the capitalised value of its £500 annual rent) towards the eventual £85k cost, and David Davies provided much of the remaining funds whilst furnishings in the Temple were the gift of Misses Margaret and Gwendoline Davies.   Davies’ factotum Captain Glen Jones noted that while Davies had a proper familial affection for the two “he always brought in his sisters… he always wanted to screw out of them any contributions” for whatever project was occupying him at the time.

The foundation stone for the Temple of Peace was laid by Viscount Halifax in 1937.  Ironically, Halifax went on to be Foreign Secretary and one of the architects of the policy of appeasement towards Hitler which David Davies himself resolutely opposed.  By the time the Temple was formally opened in November 1938, Hitler had already marched into the Sudetenland, and despite PM Chamberlain’s hope of “peace in our time”, war was in the offing.

Sir Wynn Wheldon believed that Davies’ premature death from lung cancer in June 1944 was caused at least in part by his feelings of impotence in the face of the second great war of his lifetime.  “He had to pay the price physically – he didn’t live to be an old man”.   Davies had become embittered in the 1930s when he could see that war was imminent and governments and politicians refused to heed his warnings. As Wheldon explained, “if you have one thing burning in you all the time, people tend to avoid you.  He didn’t always find the welcome that the splendour of his own ideas and the amount of work, money and time he had given to it, really deserved. He became in a sense tedious”.

Posthumously, of course, Davies’ ideas influenced the writing of the United Nations Charter, especially with regards to sanctions and the transition of national armies to an international police.  In his own words: “We shall never get prosperity and security until we get peace: we shall never get peace until we get justice and we shall get none of those things until we establish the rule of law by means of a really effective International Authority equipped with an equity tribunal and an international police force.”

Sources:

“A man and his monument” was broadcast on 21 November 1963 by the BBC Home Service in Wales.

 

Temple Tales #1: The Cold Case of the Russian Doll

Russian Dolls.jpg

By Jeffrey Mansfield

In a cabinet in the library at Cardiff’s Temple of Peace sits a ‘matryoshka’, a Russian nesting doll. Around the base a band of embossed tape bears the inscription:

“Presented by Russian Youth Delegation to IVS/UNA International Service Workcamp Butetown 1966”

The IVS (International Voluntary Service) began life as the British branch of Service Civil International. The UNA (United Nations Association) in Wales is today UNA-Exchange, based at the Temple of Peace. ‘Workcamps’ are two to four-week, community-based volunteering projects for international volunteers.Doll base

The doll had been cracked and repaired at some time. The factory label under the base showed it had been made in 1966 in the city of Semyonov, Russia, a major centre for traditional handicrafts.

As a new volunteer at Wales for Peace my job was to discover the hidd

en history of our ‘matryoshka’: how had she got here, and what was the workcamp referred to in the inscription?

The only other information we had was a photograph from Robert Davies‘ book All Together, showing a group of volunteers at the 1966 workcamp mentioned on the doll. Robert is a distinguished pioneer of international volunteering and founder of VCS Cymru, today the oldest volunteer bureau in the UK.

Searches through the Temple’s own archive and the South Wales Echo of 1966 drew a blank. Our doll’s hidden history was indeed well-hidden! Undaunted, we pressed on and we were able to locate an audio recording of an interview between Robert Davies and the volunteers recruited for the camp.

There were several VCS/UNA/IVS international workcamps in Cardiff during the 1960s. In 1964 a project was based at the former Rainbow Club, a children’s club in Butetown, Cardiff’s docklands. The following year, another camp helped to create a playscheme for children in the Splottlands area of Cardiff. There were four workcamps in Cardiff alone in the summer of 1966.

At the time of the visit by the Russian Youth Delegation in August 1966, a workcamp was in progress at Butetown Community Centre, in co-operation with Family Service, another UNA-IVS project in Butetown. There were 6 volunteers, from Israel, Germany, France and Czechoslovakia, brought over by IVS and UNA-International Service (now UNA-Exchange). Two volunteers were assigned to each of three families, selected by the Family Welfare Association (now Family Action). Each family had at least 6 children and the mothers were alone in caring for them. The purpose of the camp was not to build anything but to help the mothers to cope. This was the workcamp referred to on the doll!

Thanks to Robert’s excellent record-keeping we learnt that the doll was presented to him, representing UNA/VCS/IVS, on 21st August 1966 at Butetown Community Centre, by a group of 30 Russian Youth Leaders on a visit organized by Eifion Hopwood, of what is now WCVA.

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There was a strong tradition of volunteering in Soviet Russia. Members of the Komsomol, a youth organization controlled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, often provided free labour or volunteer work, such as helping collective farmers with the harvest.

It was interesting to note in the VCS Chronicle audio recording that there were volunteers from Czechoslovakia at the 1966 Family Service project. At the time, that country was a member of the Soviet Union.

What makes the Russian visit to Cardiff so significant is that this was a time of great tension in international relations. The Cold War had turned into a hot war in Vietnam, with the Russians supporting the Communist North Vietnam and the UK government lending support to the Americans. Opinion in the UK over Vietnam was deeply divided: Prime Minister Harold Wilson had to face a vote in Parliament in 1966 demanding that he stop supporting the USA.

The symbolic value of our ‘matryoshka’ was now plain to see. Against a backdrop of war, intolerance and tension, the work of building international cooperation and understanding had never ceased. Indeed, two young people from the other side of the Iron Curtain had come to Cardiff to volunteer.

Their work, indeed the work of UNA, had been recognised by a visit from a youth delegation also from the other side of the political divide. Thanks to the efforts of UNA and the other stakeholders, the Temple’s message of peace and goodwill had been heard loud and clear and had contibuted to international understanding at such a troubled time.

That will surely be the lasting legacy of our beautiful ‘matryoshka’.

Find out more on People’s Collection Wales:

You can find our ‘matryoshka’ here: https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/602309

And a record of ‘All Together – a personal experience of International Voluntary Workcamps’ by Robert Davies here: https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/601820

 

Volunteer Voices: Anna Ratkai

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I am a student at Cardiff University and I was on a summer placement with the WCIA for 5 weeks. Throughout my placement I picked up multiple valuable skills, met numerous interesting people, and got involved in the organizing of a very fascinating project.

The atmosphere of the office was warm and welcoming, and the team was genuinely very keen on getting to know about me and about my interests. They also gave me ideas about where to volunteer and intern next to reach my future career goals. I found that I could easily make friends here, as all the other volunteers shared my interests and ambitions to help the ones in need, and learn more about international affairs. So altogether, the mood couldn’t have been any better.  But what did I actually do?

First, I started to work on a ‘Hidden History’ project. A Hidden History can be any topic that is not a mainstream object of history and is related to Wales and International Affairs. A Hidden History project can develop your research skills whilst it can also give you interviewing, writing, recording, or even video editing experience.

Later on I also had the chance to contribute to the blog of the WCIA by writing a post on a topic that is close to my heart – biodiversity loss. While writing this blog I learnt a lot about how Wales is contributing to biodiversity protection, and I discovered many volunteering opportunities for myself for the future if I were to engage in nature conservation activities.

The most interesting part however of my placement was being a part of the team that organizes the WCIA’s Human Library Festival. Organising such an important event gave me communication, time-management and coordination skills, while also giving me the opportunity to work alongside with refugees and get to know more about them as individuals and about their stories. I value this experience and I really hope the event will be a great success!

If you are interested in International Affairs, would like to gain valuable skills and get to know people who work in this field, the WCIA is the perfect place to volunteer and intern at!

You can find more information about volunteering with the WCIA here

A Simple Journey

The final installment of Jane Harries’ blog series concerning her recent visit to  Israel and Palestine. 

Beitar Illit the largest city in Gush Etzion

Beitar Illit: the largest city in Gush Etzion

Friday 14th July.  On the face of it we had a very easy journey to make.  Firstly we would visit R., an Israeli (originally from the US) living in the Gush Etzion settlement and an Alternatives to Violence Project(AVP) facilitator to discuss how she might like to develop AVP workshops in the future.  We would then cross over the Israeli-controlled Route 60 to visit the Palestinian grassroots leader Ali Abu Awad in his compound before returning to Bethlehem.  All these places are within a few kilometres of one another.  The difficulties we had getting from one place to another highlights the complexities of negotiating human encounters in a land characterised by segregation and military occupation.

 

Our journey began when we picked up a taxi from Manger Square in Bethlehem in the occupied Palestinian territories.   When we told our driver that we wanted to go to the Gush Etzion settlement, he was already nervous, and explained to us that he could only take us to the Junction, but wasn’t allowed into the settlement itself.  We explained that we knew this, and that we would be met by a friend from the settlement.  As we set off our driver told us that there had been army incursions into Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem that night, and that a resident had been killed.  This was causing a lot of delays at checkpoints.  Armed with this knowledge, he did what Palestinians are used to doing all the time: he found a way round that avoided the checkpoints.  So much for security, we mused…..

We were dropped off near to the Gush Etzion Junction on Route 60, not far from a settler-only bus stop.  Here there was a group of armed soldiers, who were initially wary of our group: five Westerners – strangers – all with ruck-sacks.  (The Gush Etzion Junction has seen a number of violent incidents over the years, including as recently as November 2015).  We soon got into conversation, however, even if this was at quite a superficial level, and one of them showed interest in what we were doing on the West Bank and Israel, supporting people to deal with conflict better.

We were picked up by R. and taken to her house.  Gush Etzion has an interesting if controversial history.   It is in truth a cluster of settlements comprising at least 70,000 people.  The core of the settlement block is the site of what were four agricultural villages, established between 1940 and 1947 on land purchased in the 1920s and 30s.  These villages were destroyed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and then left outside of Israel at the 1949 Armistice.  After the 1967 Six-day War and the occupation of the West Bank, the villages were rebuilt and reclaimed by Israeli settlers.  The extent of the present settlement, however, far exceeds the original site, taking in swathes of privately-owned Palestinian land.  Israeli settlements on the West Bank are regarded as illegal under International Humanitarian Law (Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) and by most of the international community.

I was surprised by how small R’s house is, and found myself wondering how it must feel to live in this gated community, constantly guarded by soldiers and with the knowledge that the legality of one’s existence in this place is disputed by international law.  How could one feel comfortable in one’s skin?  We didn’t go into this, although the elephant in the room remained (for me) during the whole of our conversation.  We sat at the table in their small kitchen drinking coffee whilst preparations were taking place for Shabbat – a lot of chopping and putting things into large cooking pots and the preparation of dough, which R’s small son delighted in and tried to share with us in small balls.  R. shared with us that she had been involved in the organisation Kids4Peace which aims to promote integration and understanding between Palestinian and Israeli children through summer camps, but that she had left because she didn’t feel that the interests and concerns of Israeli Jews and Palestinians were treated equally.  She also expressed interest in developing AVP work in hospitals.

I have no doubt that R. is sincere and really wants to use her knowledge and experience of AVP in some way that will be beneficial to society.  At the same time, this visit raised many dilemmas for me. How can we resolve conflict without looking honestly at its root causes?  R. and her small family – like many others in Gush Etzion I presume – have now put down roots in this place and feel that they belong, but at what cost to others?  If injustice and inequality aren’t addressed, what hope is there for a real and lasting peace?  How can this happen if the two communities never come together, ready to really hear one another’s experiences, deepest feelings and aspirations?  How can it happen without a political solution?  As we re-crossed the busy Route 60 and headed towards Ali Abu Awad’s compound on the other side, all these questions were rankling in my head.

I assure him that it’s perfectly safe, but how can I convince him?  The whole of his upbringing and training as a soldier tells him differently.

Ali isn’t at home.  After a phone call we find that he has gone to a family wedding, so we now face the journey back to Bethlehem in the midday heat. Back out on Route 60 we come across another settler bus stop on the other side of the road.  We know there is no point waiting there to get back to Bethlehem – so close and yet on the other side of the political divide.  A soldier approaches us and asks where we want to get to.  We explain that we want to return to our hotel in Bethlehem.  ‘I wouldn’t go there’, he says ironically, his gun poised ready for potential use: ‘it’s not safe’.  I assure him that it’s perfectly safe, but how can I convince him?  The whole of his upbringing and training as a soldier tells him differently.

Route 60, with Gush Etzion in the background

Route 60, with Gush Etzion in the background

We trudge on a little up the slope and start hitch-hiking, looking out for the cars with green Palestinian number plates.  We have only been there a short time when a rather rickety car pulls up.  When we explain where we want to go, we are immediately invited in.  We pile in and – squashed up together – feel relieved to be in a welcoming space.  During the journey the driver tells us of some of his experiences – familiar stories of hardship and injustice.  He drops us not just anywhere, but right on Manger Square, yards from our hotel.  True, it may not be safe on the West Bank: one might just suffer from too much generosity.

Jane’s own blog can be accessed here.

The News that Everyone Ignores

In the penultimate installment of her series, Jane Harries offers first hand account to counter the media’s association of East Jerusalem with violent mass movement.   

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City

Tensions around the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem had already reached a critical point whilst we were in the area.  On 14th July two Israeli police officers were killed at the holy site by three Israeli Arab gunmen, who later died in a shootout.  But it was the reaction of the Israeli authorities to this event which really sparked off mass protests, in particular the installation of metal detectors around the entrance to the site.  Palestinian worshippers refused to go through the detectors, and instead chose to pray en masse in the streets around the compound.

Although this was reported on the news here in the UK, there was little if no attempt to explain the significance of these events or the sensibilities surrounding them.  In fact the snippets of news I heard on my return were astounding in their shallowness and by the fact that they were misleading – be this unwitting or otherwise.  There was talk about ‘violent protests by Palestinians’ and ‘security’.  UK citizens, well acquainted with the language and dialogue used around terrorist attacks, could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that Palestinians are largely violent, whilst the Israelis have legitimate security concerns.  Whilst not wishing to deny either that individual acts of violence happen on both sides and need to be condemned or that there are some security concerns in the area, I would like to offer a more in-depth analysis, backed up by reports of what really happened.

The old city of Jerusalem is of importance to all three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam because of the religious sites which stand within its walls, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa mosque.   The Dome of the Rock or the Temple Mount on which the Al-Aqsa mosque stands is particularly sensitive: tradition has it that it is from this place that Mohammed ascended into heaven.  At the same time Jews believe that this is the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.  The site is also sacred for Jews as this is the presumed location of both the first and the second Temples, the Western Wall being all that remains of the latter.  Some Jews believe that more remains of the two Temples are to be found under the Dome of the Rock and archaeological excavations are ongoing, provoking fears among Muslims that the very foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque could be threatened.  This site is therefore in a way a microcosm of the larger Israeli- Palestinian conflict, in that it is in essence about ownership and the importance of the same piece of land to different religions and populations.  Sensitivities around the Temple Mount also need to be understood as part of the wider political context.  East Jerusalem, previously under the jurisdiction of Jordan, was occupied by Israel in 1967.  Palestinians regard it as occupied territory (as do the UN) and the potential capital of a future Palestinian state, whereas for Zionists Jerusalem is the potential capital of a future Jewish-only state.

In practical terms an uneasy status quo is held in place between the Israeli authorities, who control security around the site and the Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem Waqf who control what happens at the site itself.  (In Islamic law, a person may decide to donate a property and its revenues to the public for charitable or religious purposes. This property then becomes a waqf, or holding, in perpetuity). In a region where religion is of the utmost importance and where rival claims to land are so bound up with identity, it is of vital importance that the delicate balance between the Israeli authorities and the Waqf remains undisturbed.  Evidence of what can ensue if this happens can be seen from recent history: the Second Intifada was sparked off by a visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000.

The main element that the media missed, however, was the overwhelming non-violent nature of the mass protests in East Jerusalem.  Despite calls from the Palestinian leadership for a ‘day of rage’ worshippers gathered each day for mass prayers at the security cordons around the Old City, and maintained calm and dignity.  There was very little violence.  Another element that was barely commented on was the fact that Palestinian Christians joined in the mass protests, showing solidarity across religious divides.  This is a reality that belies a narrative that would have us believe that the conflict in the region is in essence a religious one, between Jews and Muslims.  Although religion plays an important role in the region, the crux of the conflict is in fact about the dominance of one society over another, about sovereignty, identity and human rights.

East Jerusalem has once again fallen out of the world news, and no doubt an uneasy status quo has been re-established since the removal of the metal detectors leading to the al-Aqsa mosque.  However, the central imbalance and injustice between Palestinian and Israeli society remains, meaning that peace is at best precarious.

Worshippers gathered at the Lions Gate, at the entrance to the Old City- overseen by security forces.

The devout gather at the Lions Gate- whilst overseen by security forces.

Working towards Non-Violence

In the fourth blog in the series, Jane Harries provides a detailed account of the workshops delivered with the Alternative to Violence Project in the West Bank and Israel. 

Apart from attending the ‘Healing Hate’ conference in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the main aim of our visit this time was to deliver Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) workshops with organisations in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.  Despite our best efforts – working through churches and NGOs – this time we failed to gain permission from the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza, although we were delighted to hear that our partners there will continue to run workshops on their own, using facilitators we trained last year.  They are also in the process of setting up their own NGO – i.e. AVP Palestine.  All the same we were deeply saddened not to be able to see and support them again – particularly as we accessed reports during our visit about the crisis in Gaza, with the two million citizens living there having electricity cut to as little as two hours per day in the intense heat.

And so we had to develop a Plan B.  For me, this meant being involved in running workshops for groups on the West Bank, based in Wtr, a centre for Culture and Media in the Bethlehem area.  We firstly ran a ‘Training for Facilitators’ workshop with a group who had received the basic and advanced workshops last year.  Secondly, we ran a six day course for another group, taking in basic, advanced and training for all facilitator levels.  This was inevitably the group I got to know best, and the impressions and stories below come from the time I spent with them.  We also hoped to run a taster workshop with students in Ramallah, but this sadly didn’t come to fruition.  At the end of our stay the two Joes moved to Tel Aviv and ran a workshop with professionals there working with an anti-bullying programme in Israeli schools.

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What is AVP?

AVP workshops take participants through a whole group process. Starting with exercises that break the ice and encourage participants to build a positive community, the workshops enable those attending to gain communication and cooperation skills, to reflect on how they react to conflict and violence in their lives and to practice attitudes, skills and behaviours which are more likely to lead to non-violent outcomes.  The course is experiential and interactive and facilitators learn from participants as well as vice-versa.  At the second level, participants identify themes or issues they are struggling with, and these are gone into at a deeper level.  The final stage is for participants to be trained as facilitators, to gain insight into facilitation processes and to practice running exercises.  By the end of the third level, participants are ready to start practising as apprentice facilitators themselves – and so the AVP community grows and adapts to more local circumstances.

Why AVP?

At the beginning of AVP workshops, facilitators conduct a ‘Gathering’ which entails going around the circle and asking each participant to share a thought or experience whilst the others listen.  This has the effect of ‘gathering’ the group and helping them to work as a community.  At the beginning of the workshop we asked participants what they hoped to get from it.  We knew that the group had to some extent been selected by Ali Abu Awad (see the second blog in this series) as prospective community leaders.  The gathering, however, helped them to be more specific. Omar who is a teacher and who runs summer camps for children talked about how, in his experience, teachers can be involved in passing violence on to their charges: he wanted to help young people react differently and to be a role-model for non-violence.  Alla’ was also involved with 15 – 25 year olds and wanted to use the training in his work.  Maisa wanted to use techniques with her students at the university where she teaches English.  Others wanted to use and spread the skills they gained in their families, villages and communities.

AVP in a conflict situation

AVP is in no way a political programme.  It aims to support people, wherever they are, to deal with conflict in their lives in more positive ways.  There is no denying, however, that working with groups from a society under Occupation has an added significance and poignancy.  Testimonies of participants from workshops in Hebron show how skills learnt during AVP workshops have helped them to be more resilient and creative when faced with harassment by IDF soldiers at checkpoints.  AVP can also help to alleviate ‘horizontal violence’ – violence in the home and in the wider community which partly comes from the fact that this is a society under enormous stress.

Despite everything the reality of the Occupation inevitably seeps in and colours the nature of the workshop.  Firstly our very presence as US and UK citizens working alongside Palestinians, supporting them and showing empathy is enormously significant as evidence of international solidarity.  In ‘normal’ circumstances facilitators would aim to enforce an understanding about timings and punctuality.  This proves to be impossible.  Every day the workshop starts late – by sometimes as much as an hour.  This is potentially grating – until we hear why this is the case.  The three ladies from the Hebron area in particular face long delays at checkpoints and harassment on their way to the centre in Bethlehem.  Others arrive upset or shaken by events during the night: a military incursion into their home, the arrest or death of someone close to them.  Every day during the workshop we hear of an arrest or killing somewhere – the ones that never reach the international news.  I have never seen so many funeral processions in Bethlehem.

Early on in an AVP workshop we usually address participants’ perceptions of what violence means to them and where they think it comes from.  This is then followed by a similar exercise looking at what non-violence would look like and what behaviours and circumstances can create a circle of non-violence.  The first part of this exercise went as expected.  When we got to the second part, however, participants were keen to address practically how they could move from violence to nonviolence – reflecting that this is a burning issue in their everyday lives.  The resulting brainstorm brought out several things that participants already do – including creative writing and music.  During an exercise which helps participants to make quick decisions as a group in potentially violent situations, the question came up of what they would do if they noticed a young boy about to throw a stone at the military.  This raised the whole dilemma of the responsibility to protect their community – and therefore stop the stone-throwing – balanced against the question of legitimate self-defence.  The consensus of the group was that they would aim to talk to children and advise them not to throw stones, and that they would also call for outside help.  They are also aware, however, that the Occupation itself is unjust and illegal.

The topics chosen by the group for the Advanced / Level 2 workshop were also significant and reflected their everyday experience.  They asked to address the following:

  • How to avoid violence
  • How to react when in violence
  • How to come back from violence; and
  • How to help someone in trauma.

 

Although the Occupation was, in a way, the elephant in the room this is not to say that there are not issues in Palestinian society itself which cause conflict.  Omar talked about the tendency, when there is a conflict, for people from both ‘sides’ to get involved, so that the conflict gets bigger and more involved.  During a Fishbowl exercise, where 3 participants start discussing a topic, and can then be joined by others from the larger group, the topic of sexism in Palestinian society was chosen.  Younger women in the group in particular bemoaned the fact that it is not acceptable for a man and a woman who are not related to be seen together, also that it is commonplace – and to a certain extent acceptable – for a husband to hit his wife.  The case of a young girl in Gaza who had obtained top marks in her Tawjihi (school leaving certificate) but who had been openly criticised for not covering her hair was raised as further evidence of an attitude towards women which is shaped by culture, custom and sexism.  I wondered to what extent a younger generation who are well-informed by their mobile phones, well-educated and in touch with the external world might be slowly changing more traditional attitudes.

By the end of this workshop what had we achieved?  We had trained a group of potential community leaders who now have the skills to facilitate others and pass skills on to them.  Strong, resilient and creative they certainly are, despite all that life throws at them.  “Life is full of stones,” said Omar at one point, “and we need to be very creative with the stones.”  And then there was Maisa, who by the end of the Training for Facilitators’ workshop had already perfectly understood the difference between teaching and facilitating and was leading her group from behind, putting across a brilliant set of exercises.  In a follow-up meeting with Ali we planned how he would first of all get the group back together to give them some further training in being non-violent leaders; and that they would then run 3 pilot workshops with a women’s organisation, a youth group and in At-tawani, a village in the South Hebron hills which has been the target of continual settler attacks.  The final shorter-term aim is to run AVP workshops with 10 partner organisations.  And so the ripples continue spreading outwards, and we go forward in faith, trusting to our processes.

This all sounds good but in a sense does not express the essence of our experience here.  How to convey the warmth, generosity, creativity and humour we shared during these days together – conveyed in smiles, embraces and small acts of generosity?  It is a connection that burrows deep into the soul and means that each time we leave here some of ourselves.  A consolation is that the connection is not broken, but that precious memories and experiences live on until we return – inshalla’!

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Healing Hatred: Spiritual Challenges in a Context of Political Conflict

Jane Harris presents the questions and debates from the second annual conference of the International Association for Spiritual Care in the third installment of her blog series. 

One of the aims of our visit this time was to take part in a conference in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Beit Jala entitled ‘Healing Hatred: Spiritual Challenges in a Context of Political Conflict’.  This was the 2nd annual conference of the International Association for Spiritual Care (IASC).  This organisation describes its mission as enhancing ‘the capacities of scholars and practitioners worldwide in acquiring, disseminating and applying knowledge of theory and practice of spiritual care with an emphasis on interdisciplinary, interreligious and intercultural scholarly investigation.’ Given this description, one might have expected the conference to be quite dry and academic.  This was not, however, the case.  Yes, those who made presentations or engaged in panel discussions were highly qualified and backed up their points with research.  At the same time most presenters also spoke from their own experience and illustrated their talks with personal stories that had had a transforming effect on them.  As a result the conference was highly moving and potentially life-changing for those who attended.

This was a real attempt to address existential questions across political, religious and social divides.  Partners in the organisation of the conference included the Hebrew Union College (where the first sessions took place – in a synagogue) and the Holy Land Trust, a non-violent peace organisation based in Bethlehem on the West Bank, as well as the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue.  The audience during the first two days of the conference were mostly liberal Jews, whilst the last day took place in the Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem and was designed so that Palestinians could address issues on their own with international colleagues.  A final session including food and music brought everyone back together in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.

Questions discussed went to the heart of the conflict, and included: ‘How should Palestinians Respond to Israeli Trauma?’, ‘Unlocking Israeli Indifference to Palestinian Trauma’, ‘Abuse of Religion in the Name of Politics’ and ‘What makes people change?’  There were also workshops which presented some more practical methodologies, including one from our AVP team.

Understanding the Trauma of the Other

As is so often the case, the presentations which were particularly moving were rooted in personal experience.  One of the first speakers was Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi who, in 2014, was forced to resign from his post at al-Quds University after he took a group of 27 Palestinian students to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.  We need to stop the reciprocity of victimhood, he said, and do things because they are the right things to do.  Both peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – are both victims and perpetrators.  Sami Awad, Director of the Holy Land Trust, had undergone a similar transformation.  After the 2nd Intifada his organisation concentrated largely on non-violent activism, but he then started to ask questions.  He noticed the levels of hatred which the Israelis had towards the Palestinians and wanted to understand where these strong feelings and behaviours came from.  He too visited Auschwitz, and discovered a story he had never been told, enabling him to understand an existential fear and need for security in Israeli society.

Stereotypes and the Power of Human Encounter

Addressing what makes people change, Professor Rafi Walden, past President of Physicians for Human Rights, told us a story of a young Palestinian who had been brought to his hospital, injured in the leg by an Israeli soldier.   Several times he and his colleagues asked him if he could move his leg, so as to ascertain whether they could perform surgery on him.  His only response, as he looked at his carers with seeming hatred was ‘jihad’.  At least one of the medical team was of the opinion that they should refuse to treat him, but they took him into the operating theatre and – after a long and difficult operation – his leg was saved.  As he lay recovering, his father arrived and thanked Professor Walden profusely for saving his son Jihad.  Only then did they realise that Jihad was the boy’s name.  We are reminded that the primary meaning of ‘jihad’ (al-harb in Arabic)  is ‘struggle’ or ‘striving’ – often an inner struggle to become a better believer.  Once we are able to see our ‘enemy’ face to face as a human being, prejudices and stereotypes are stripped away.  Professor Walden reminded us that ‘caring for others’ is mentioned in the Torah at least 36 times.

Religious Fundamentalism

Addressing religious fundamentalism, Dr. Tomer Persico argued that this is a modern phenomenon, and cited two examples – the radical settler movement ‘Hilltop Youth’ and the obsession amongst Zionists that Jews should be able to ascend the Temple Mount (a survey in 2014 showed that 75% of Zionists were in favour of this).  He argued that although revenge may be a natural reaction, it doesn’t come from the original Jewish tradition but is rather a legacy from European romanticism.  Likewise ascent to the Temple Mount was traditionally forbidden in Judaism, since that which is sacred was regarded as something set apart and to be respected.  The ‘right’ to ascend the Temple Mount has gone hand in hand with ideas of nationalism, ownership and sovereignty, making sole claims with total disregard for the Other.  Rabbi Dr. Michael Marmur cited the example of a Catholic church burnt down by extremists in the Galilee and the quote that was left behind to ‘justify’ this act: “and the idols shall be cut down.”  This is a direct quote from a 15th century Jew, Isaac Abarbanel, who was expelled from Spain – and reflects the practice of quoting selectively from the Torah or from history.  He argued that the Jewish tradition across the centuries is a more humanitarian and loving one and gave quotes from a more contemporary Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Two of these suffice:

“We must not regard any human institution or object as being an end in itself.   Man’s achievements in this world are but attempts, and a temple that comes to mean more than a reminder of the living God is an abomination.” (1955)

“The tree of hatred is the tree of death…. People hate those who make them feel their own inferiority.  The prophets of Israel taught us that those who cherish the use of force are themselves consumed by force….” (1972)

Moral giants

This conference addressed deep-seated and wide-ranging issues.  Many significant things were said and very personal experiences shared.  As the memories fade, however, one speaker stands out above the rest.  This was neither an Israeli nor a Palestinian but Father Michael Lapsley, whose experience of overcoming hatred is rooted in apartheid South Africa.  Expelled from South Africa because he used his role as National University Chaplain to speak out about the shootings, detentions and torture of his black students after the Soweto riots in 1976, he spent 16 years in exile as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and chaplain to the liberation movement in exile.  In April 1990, 3 months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb from South Africa, disguised as religious literature.  He lost both hands and the sight of one eye in the blast, and was seriously burned.  Supported by love and prayers from around the world, he began a journey from victim to survivor to victor.  He returned to South Africa in 1993 and became Chaplain of the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture in Cape Town.

Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust talking to Father Michael Lapsley

Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust talking to Father Michael Lapsley

Father Lapsley’s words rang true because they came from his own experience of being a victim of and overcoming hatred.  He reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s words: 

“No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background or his religion.  They need to be taught to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can also learn to love.” 

The Israelis and Palestinians need to set up spaces for talking and listening, he said, and to be creative in bringing people together, since separation keeps hatred alive.  At the same time, healing is not a substitute for the struggle for justice, and both processes need to happen at the same time.  He reminded us that the Old Testament prophets understood the relationship between justice and conflict. “And what does the Lord require of you?” asked Micah: ”To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8).  Injustice, he said, endangers the safety and security of the future of the Israeli state.  Another way would be to engage in restorative justice, which seeks to restore the balance.  He also reminded us that there were many Nelson Mandelas in South Africa, and that healing had to come from the people themselves.

Pushing the Limits….

The subject matter of this conference was controversial and there were times when wounds opened and gaping hurts were exposed.  The last speaker of the first two days in Jerusalem was a clinician working to heal trauma in Gaza.  He talked about asking a patient to think of a safe space, and the patient not being able to think of one, since in Gaza a whole population is living in trauma.  Towards the end of his talk he referred to Israeli soldiers during the First Intifada breaking the arms of children in Gaza so that they couldn’t throw stones.  Was this truth or myth?  Hard to tell, but in any case it was shocking – and too much for one participant who stormed out shouting something about ‘body parts’.  And so the cycle of hatred continues, fed by stories, truths and myths which keep images of the Other alive and prevent healing.  The speaker suggested that children in Gaza should be put in touch with children in Israel so that they could connect with one another and create a new identity. It is initiatives like these, if only they could be implemented, that may sow new seeds of hope.

The other side of the coin emerged as we listened to Sami Awad from the Holy Land Trust and Michael Lapsley in conversation in the Bethlehem Bible College on the third day.  Sami told us that a statement against the conference had been issued by the Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement in Palestine, since it was seen as a ‘normalisation’ event.  In the Israel-Palestine conflict ‘normalisation’ refers to any way in which Palestinians are led to see the present status quo (i.e. Occupation) as normal, and has been extended to include any collaboration or rapprochement with the occupiers (See recent +972 blog for more details).   Referring to the history of the South African struggle, Michael Lapsley said that those struggling for justice supported BDS because it was seen as a way of shortening the struggle.  However, at the same time Nelson Mandela was talking to the South African government.  It was not a case of either or, but both and.  The Israel-Palestine conflict is not the same as the South African struggle, of course, but it is worth asking what we as internationals can do to promote peace in the region and above all what is effective.  Bringing people from both sides together is of course a good thing to do and necessary to foster empathy, but the conflict won’t be solved unless we also help to remove the root cause of injustice and inequality – i.e. the Occupation.

Messages of Hope and Empowerment

It was good that the conference ended with contributions from two strong women.  The first was Huda Abu Arqoub, Regional Director for the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), an organisation with over a 100 members.  Huda started her talk by telling us a story of her father and grandfather going on a journey from Hebron to Haifa and Beirut and back via Damascus – a journey that could only be dreamt of today!  She also shared memories of her childhood in Palestine, characterised by the importance of education and creativity.   The second speaker was Sarah Snyder, who is Advisor for Reconciliation to the Archbishop of Canterbury and has a wide-ranging international experience of peace-building and dialogue.  Asked why there are not more peace women in Palestine, Huda replied that there are, but they are not seen, recognised and acknowledged!  She also referred to the Israeli movement ‘ Women Wage Peace’, formed from the need for women not to send their sons to war.  Only the week-end before women from this movement had stood in 150 places in Israel and demonstrated.

And so we ended on a note of hope.  Looking at the list of members of ALLMEP  – including Combatants for Peace, Kids4Peace, Neve Shalom, Parents’ Circle, the Holy Land Trust – one could be forgiven for asking why peace has not already broken out.  At the moment political forces, fear and inaction on behalf of the international community hold the perpetuation of injustice and hatred in the region in place.  There are however stirrings amongst ordinary people who thirst for a different reality and are willing to stand up for change.  If this were to become a mass popular movement political leaders would be forced to take note, and the tide of change would be irresistible.  Sarah Snyder gave a quote from Northern Ireland, that “Peace is a mystery – a walking into the unknown.”  Well then, let’s walk bravely into the unknown and do what we can for peace.