No vote? Don’t sweat!

By Olivia Richards and Rhiannon Jones 

As the recent turnout of the general election increased by 9.3% compared to 2001, there has also been an increase among individuals who are under 18 and want their say in future elections. Here are some ways to get involved and make sure that everyone has a right to contribute politically:

  • Form a debating group – Each of you can represent a different party and talk about global issues. You might even see another side to the argument and change your mind on certain topics.
  •  Volunteer for charities such as health charities that want to make changes to laws and policies. This is a great opportunity to meet other people who are passionate about the same things as you!
  •  Host a mock election in school – This is beneficial for the whole school, as it lets everyone contribute and form opinions. Having your own polling station will prepare you for the process of voting when you turn 18.
  •  Sign online petitions – There are petitions to change all kind of policies, for example: legislation regarding animal testing. If there are 10,000 signatures to the petition, the government will respond. You could help make up these numbers if there are issues you are passionate on any of these topics.
  •  Campaigning – You could create posters and post on social media to raise awareness of issues that are important to you.petition

There are many benefits towards younger individuals taking part in such activities. One of which is having the ability to develop your own opinion. This ensures that more people will engage in political decision making and vote, as more and more will have a better understanding of how democracy works. Imagine the confidence you will develop by practicing the election process. Creative thinking is also an essential skill for everyday challenges therefore, representing different parties is a good way to come up with various ideas on how to improve the future of others.

Even though you might not be old enough to vote, campaigning is a great way to contribute and make your opinion heard. You never know who you might persuade or influence.

Whatever your age, there are opportunities for everyone. Currently, ‘Youth Parliament for Wales’ are planning to form a youth parliament where younger individuals can express their opinions on various topics that concern us all.

Interested in volunteering for the WCIA like Olivia and Rhiannon? Read about their experiences here.

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Having difficult conversations about/with migrants

by Mailys Andre

blog

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.

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

India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Conflict: Making Progress through International Law

By Georgia Marks

On the 27th February Dr Aman Hingorani came to the Temple of Peace to give a talk about the Kashmir conflict and suggest solutions with reference to his book ‘Unravelling the Kashmir Knot.’ John Harrington for the Law and Global Justice Research Group in Cardiff Law School introduced the speaker. Harrington gave some context to the speaker and his work, describing Dr Hingorani as an advocate of the High Court in Delhi. It appears that work in human rights is a family affair, with Harrington referring to Hingorani’s parents as the mother and father of public interest litigation.

Hingorani began his talk by explaining that his research into the conflict in Kashmir began as part of his PhD research. Hingorani described Kashmir as a strategically placed area, as geographically it is to the side of both India and Pakistan. He went on to establish that the two latter countries both want more territory and have both dug their heels in Kashmir, at the expense of lives. The two countries are at a stalemate as they both want to keep the territory that they have.

After a brief introduction, the speaker stressed that unless we understand the narrative we cannot understand the way forward. A member of the audience questioned how the historical background has shaped the current situation. To this the speaker answered that neither domestic not international law can resolve it, the issue is based in politics, but it is important to use law to adapt political discussion. He went on to say that the current phase of radicalisation is buried in the subcontinent. The situation described by the speaker as the creation of a situational environment of mutually hostile nations with heightened sense of nationalism. I think this is a really good point as we cannot find a solution to the conflict if we do not understand the history that led up to it.

The speaker then went on to establish the history associated with the conflict which gives a good overview of the reasons behind the current situation highlighted above. 1857 marked what Britain referred to as the Mutiny in India, but what Indians call the War of Independence. As a result the government became centralised and the Queen declared that no more provinces were to be acquired and certain sovereign aspects were given to other countries. Hingorani made the point that before 1857 Muslims were seen as the enemy of Britain, but after 1858, middle class Hindus were established as the new enemy. The official British policy was communalisation, where Britain gave India the freedom, however the country was incapable of resolving the Muslim-Hindu conflict. Britain then used this to enforce its influence, as it created the perception that India needed Britain to resolve such conflicts. In 1939, the beginning of the Second World War meant India was declared as a country in war. Hingorani stated that according to the British archives the partition was decided then and not in 1947. At this point, Britain knew that they had to leave the subcontinent but wanted to keep part of it, so India used Islam as a geographical boundary, with Kashmir falling within this. However, the speaker made clear that Indians did not want the partition. When the partition was refused, violence was used as direct action to force congress to agree; they eventually did which resulted in the Independence Act 1947. Britain used Pakistan as a means of gaining power and assumed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan, so when it did not, it led to the Kashmir issue. Hingorani described the Kashmir issue as being based on British interest on the subcontinent. This is an interesting comment to make as it suggests the detrimental effects British colonialism had on other countries. In this sense, I think it is debatable whether intervention on an international level would do more harm than good in this context unless intensely supervised by the UN.

The speaker then went on to explain why Kashmir did not go to Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir was Hindu and did not want to be part of Pakistan, a country with an Islam majority, and instead wanted to be independent. However, Pakistan wanted Kashmir, but the ruler of Kashmir was difficult and so Pakistan forced the ruler to exceed to Pakistan through the use of weapons given by Britain. Therefore, from what Hingorani has established up to this point is that Britain have been an integral political part of this conflict and have contributed greatly to the violence in this area.

Hingorani then went on to describe it in terms of international law, if Kashmir exceeded to India then it cannot be vetoed. Kashmir was deemed by the speaker as an international issue that needed Pakistan to comment on it. He then went on to say that the minute that India refers to the UN, a ceasefire will be demanded. In my opinion, this would be the best possible option from a human rights perspective as it would help to prevent the violence inflicted on civilians in Kashmir. The UN Security Council expressed the desire for the future of the state should be decided under UN supervision and presented the idea to take Kashmir issue out of the domestic context and give it an international platform. Another member of the audience asked if there were any serious efforts of countries to refer to the issue on an international level. Hingorani said that there had been no effort on the part of these countries. Kashmir has always been seen as a political issue and we need to distinguish it from law. However, India is going against legal policies and law is seen as abstract and we do not have military, political or diplomatic solution. The main problem is that India is not sure about what the Kashmir issue is, so a political will needs to be created. I think to take the issue to an international level will benefit Kashmir as it will provide an international check and balance on the actions of India, Pakistan and other countries involved such as Britain, and would hopefully influence positive change in this area, particularly for the people of Kashmir.

The speaker then established that New Delhi had disowned the part of Kashmir owned by Pakistan while retaining their part, however part of Kashmir was owned by China. So clearly Kashmir is split dramatically which is detrimental for their national identity. In addition to this, the Chinese were investing money and wanted the deeds from Pakistan but an issue arises here that if Pakistan agreed to give over the deeds then they agree to the partition which is not what they wanted. India had a control constitution but in 1973, in order to seek territory, India needed to amend their constitution because there was a constitutional limit to give up territory and while there is a constitution, India cannot disown territory or people.

So after a dispute spanning seventy years, India wants a partition but Pakistan wants a whole state. Hingorani then went on to stress the need to depoliticise the issue by making it subject to legal analysis. I think this is a valid point as if the countries are currently at a stalemate then it seems right to change tactics and focus the discourse on a different analysis to see if a solution can be found. We do not know how successful it will be, but the conflict has been going on for so long, it seems that any alternative is worth trying.

The narrative was established by the speaker as a constitutional framework. Both Pakistan and India were created by controlled constitutions, so the question is where India got the power to grant the wishes of the people. The same law that created Pakistan made Kashmir part of India. The main question presented by Hingorani was this, how did New Delhi have the power of accession when the law did not give them the power. The speaker went on to express that as a first step to depoliticise we should let the International Court of Justice test who has the title. John Harrington asked whether reference to the International Court of Justice would have any effect on the serious human rights violations in Kashmir. Hingorani responded by saying that in such conflict there are bound to be violations, and in India there has been reference to the domestic court- people want to see results.

 

At the point in the talk, Hingorani referred to his book that has been the basis of his discussion. He wanted to make clear that he wrote the book as an Indian. He then emphasized that law cannot resolve the issue but it can change political discourse. I think that this is powerful as if law is capable of changing the current discussion then the countries involved can attempt to get themselves out of the stalemate they have got themselves in. Hingorani was asked if he had visited Kashmir and he said that he deliberately had not visited as he did not want to be swayed by emotions as he written the book as a lawyer. The speaker expressed that he did not want to take sides as his book is from a jurisdictional perspective. I think this aspect is also important as it provides a rational view of how the conflict can try and be solved.

The speaker then established the current situation; Pakistan feels cheated and Kashmir feels backstabbed, and these are ingredients for terrorism. That is why, Hingorani said, that the political discourse needs to be changed. The problem is that there is unequal bargain power between India and Pakistan because if Pakistan disputes legal propositions then there is no Pakistan. Nonetheless, the UN has recognised Pakistan and India as sovereign countries, however Kashmir was recognised as part of India but not part of Pakistan.

The speaker concluded by relaying the realities of Kashmir. As a result of the partition it is a violent society, with part of the country being disowned by India. However, the country just wants to be independent and away from this 70 year old conflict. There has been terrible trauma as a result of the partition and all countries involved need closure. When a member of the audience asked Hingorani how he classed what is going on in Kashmir. The speaker reaffirmed that Kashmir want independence because they were promised it. The people of Kashmir are expressly being denied their human rights, these people are stateless.

Overall, I found Hingorani’s talk insightful as it offered a fresh perspective on how to resolve the ongoing conflict. Using law as a way to bring about change although uncertain in its effect, is an idea that is bound to help with relations between the countries by giving the discourse a different platform. In addition to this, it is really important to establish the history behind the conflict in order to understand the narrative that we need to address. It cannot be argued that this issue is not pressing as the current situation is having a detrimental effect of the human rights of the people of Kashmir.

 

Aid is a moral obligation

By David Hooson 

With globalism and the UK’s place in the world having become extremely hot topics in the wake of the EU referendum, it is of little surprise that debate and media coverage of international development and foreign aid have skyrocketed. The new Prime Minister’s decision to install a leading Brexiteer, Priti Patel, as International Development Secretary, has only served to push the issue up the agenda and fan the flames of controversy.

Ms. Patel has a track record of being outspoken on the area of government policy she now leads, at one point having called for the Department for International Development to be abolished and its work integrated into the Department for Trade and Industry. That theme continued with her recent comments about ‘wasteful’ and ‘superficial’ aid projects, as well as suggesting foreign aid could be used to help negotiate future international trade deals when the UK leaves the EU.

The use of the UK’s aid budget should be based on nothing more than our moral obligation to help those in need around the world. To attach political strings to aid money or to use it as an economic bargaining tool contravenes the point of its existence.

RAF C17 Lands in Nepal with Vital UK Aid

Picture: Sgt Neil Bryden/ RAF

The UN goal of dedicating 0.7% of gross national income to foreign aid was first suggested in 1969, and a succession of British politicians have pledged their commitment to meeting that target, with Ms. Patel the latest to do so. The principle of this goal is for developed countries to work together to tackle poverty around the world and to respond adequately to humanitarian crises – not to further their own economic objectives. The 0.7% pledge is a rare opportunity for a government to be selflessly outward-looking, and it should be relished as such.

Furthermore, the fate of those bearing the brunt of social or economic injustice should not be determined by the ability or whims of politicians and businesspeople, whose actions they have little or no influence upon. Indeed, it may be the failings of those politicians and businesspeople that have led to such injustice. The availability of aid should always be determined by need, not by backroom deals and political expediency.

The direction Ms. Patel proposes for international development policy is part of a worrying wider trend that could see the UK turn its back on our global moral obligations. We in Wales should be pushing against this trend by remaining inclusive and outward-looking, as well as campaigning and raising awareness on global issues like international development.

From war to Olympic glory, the Refugee Olympic Team are competing for tolerance

Rio2016.jpg

By Fflur Jones

“We were the only four who knew how to swim. I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water.” This is 18-year old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini explaining how her Olympic sport of swimming, saved her life whilst crossing the freezing Aegean Sea as she pushed a sinking dinghy to sanctuary saving 20 other lives.

Among the 200+ countries and territories competing in the Olympic Games in Rio, Mardini’s team stands out: Refugee Olympic Team (or ROT). The International Olympic Committee announced in March the creation of this team, the first of this kind, made up of 10 members who fled from 4 different countries: South Sudan, Ethiopia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The IOC’s open minded decision to include these athletes in these games comes at a period when refugees have been breaking records and not Olympic ones. Today, according to the UNHCR 63.5 million people have been displaced by conflict and persecution with 15 million refugees worldwide. 60% of these refugees come from 5 specific countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

Each member’s road to Rio has been an uphill battle from the start, having to flee persecution whilst at the same time completing the gruelling training needed to secure a spot at the Olympic Games. Yet in the face of rising anti-immigration and xenophobic feelings in many developed countries can this team really change attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers?

Anti-immigration and racist sentiments have been growing in parts of Europe and the United States. Last year a renovated shelter destined for asylum seekers in the town of Vorra in Germany was subject to an arson attack, and many eastern European countries have used tear gas to prevent groups of refugees from crossing their borders. Time and time again we have heard the growing concerns over the mass of asylum seekers “flooding” the UK. In reality, refugees represent 0.19% of the UK’s population, whilst in Lebanon, a country 23 times smaller, 1 in 5 people are refugees. But despite these relatively low numbers, some British citizens still feel threatened by a mass influx of refugees, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council reporting significant increases in hate crimes nationwide since the Brexit vote. On the other side of the pond, Donald Trump’s angry rhetoric on Muslim communities and immigrants is also spreading like wildfire. This toxic mix of anger, hate and xenophobia has seemed to dominate recent headlines. But the Refugee Olympic team are hoping to challenge people’s views and opinions on the millions of refugees worldwide at this year’s Olympics.

IOC president Thomas Bach said that “By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, [he wants] to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world. Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem.”

This message has been embraced by all the team’s members; Popole Misenga, a ROT member from Congo (Judo) said that the team were “fighting for all the refugees in the world”.

Mardini, when asked if her experience of pushing the dinghy was traumatic responded with her trademark positivity: “Not at all. I remember that, without swimming, I would never be alive maybe because of the story of this boat. It’s a positive memory for me.” Very few Olympians can claim that their sport has saved their life.

She’s also stood up in defense of the refugees across the world saying that she “want[s] [Olympic fans] to think that refugees are normal humans that had to leave their homelands. Not because they wanted to, not because they wanted to be refugees or run away or have drama in their lives. They had to leave. To get a new life. Get a better life”.

Hers is not the only story of survival in the team. James Chiengjiek fled South Sudan at age 13 to avoid being forced into service as a child solider. Popole Misenga’s mother was murdered when he was a child in Democratic Republic of Congo; Yonas Kinde feared for his life in Ethiopia and eventually fled to Luxembourg. Each of member of the team bring their own story, their own culture and their own message to these Olympics. As Yusra Mardini said:  “We don’t have the same language. We’re all from different countries. But the Olympic flag united us together, and now we are representing 60 million [people] around the world. We want to show everyone that we can do anything. Good athletes. Good people.”

The Refugee Olympic Team are not only the flag bearers for millions of refugees across the world but are also carrying a message of hope and tolerance at a time when it is so desperately needed.

North Wales Women’s Peace March 1926

Stephen Thomas
Volunteer – Wales for Peace
Peace March

Following the horrors and destruction of the First World War (1914-1918) many women around the globe became activists in the campaign for arms reduction and for the end of war as a means of settling international disputes. Across Britain a variety of women’s groups came together to organise a peace pilgrimage to London for a mass demonstration in Hyde Park on 19 June 1926. In north Wales, under the leadership of two tireless peace activists, Mrs Gladys Thoday and Mrs Silyn Roberts, a procession of peacemakers travelled for five days through the towns and villages of north Wales to reach Chester. Eventually 28 north Wales’ pilgrims joined the 10,000 women at the Hyde Park demonstration.

World War 1 unleashed unimaginable levels of death and destruction across the whole planet. Millions of people, both military and civilian, were killed or suffered serious injury – estimates for casualties run from 30 million upwards, but the true number will never be known. From Britain alone over 723,000 service personnel were killed in the conflict and over a million more were seriously injured. The war had destroyed the lives of so many young men on the battlefield that by 1921, there were one million more women in Britain than men, aged between 20 and 39. It meant that many women were unable to find partners in life or have children and raise a family. The impact of the war on Britain was devastating both socially and economically.
As early as 1915 there were organisations of women around the world calling for mediation between governments to end the war. By 1919 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) had become a permanent committee with a headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The League called for international disarmament and an end to economic imperialism, supporting the US /France Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, as the basis for creating a peaceful world order.
The women of Britain were very much involved in these quests for peace, freedom and equality. (Remember, in Britain, it was only in 1918 that all males over the age of 21 finally won the right to vote. And it wasn’t until 1928, and the Equal Franchise Act, that the same rights were applied to women over 21 for the very first time). In light of this struggle to have their voice heard, under the slogan ‘Law not War’, a variety of women’s groups from across Britain came together in 1926 – as wives, widows, mothers, sisters and friends – to organise a huge peace pilgrimage to London.
The women peacemakers of north Wales began their march in May 1926 with a meeting in the village of Penygroes, just south of Caernarfon. As was reported at the time “To the first meeting at Penygroes in South Carnarvonshire on May 27th came five streams of pilgrims winding their many blue flags down the hill-sides, and over 2000 persons were gathered in the little market square from villages far up in the hills.”
The pilgrimage continued across the towns and villages of north Wales for five days until, some 150 miles later, they reached Chester. At the time, a newspaper reported “There were on the main route 15 meetings and 16 processions besides many meetings on side routes…Through the villages the pilgrims in six cars and charabancs went along the Caernarvon Road, and at one place after another they found crowds across the road which insisted on speakers getting out and addressing them from the steps of the local war memorial… Everywhere they were welcomed, everywhere there was interest and enthusiasm, never once was there a single hand raised against the resolution.”
Without modern ‘social media’ to help, it was a great enterprise to spread the news of the pilgrimage to all the remote villages and hamlets of north Wales in the 1920s. They would rely largely on newspapers and post to carry their message. But it all needed effective organisation and for this the north Wales pilgrimage can be thankful for Mrs Mary Gladys Thoday from Llanfairfechan.
Mrs Thoday (nee Sykes) was born in Chester in 1884. She was a botanist having studied at Girton College Cambridge, which had been established as the first Cambridge college to admit women in 1869. In 1910 she married at Wrexham David Thoday, who later became Professor of Botany at Bangor University. Gladys was an intelligent and determined woman of her time and became a tireless activist for the abolition of war. She wrote in 1926 “We realise that the great success of the pilgrimage is due to the many helpers who in every place had done their part because they believe that it is full time that REASON shall take the place of FORCE and arbitration be tried first in every international dispute before there is resort to WAR.”
Among the 28 north Wales pilgrims who finally took part in the peace demonstration in Hyde Park on 19 June 1926 were Mrs Thoday and Mrs Silyn Roberts. These two women addressed the crowd of 10,000 that day in central London – Mrs Roberts spoke in the Welsh language. Following the peace pilgrimage these two women later became the English speaking and Welsh speaking secretaries of the North Wales Women’s Peace Council (NWWPC).

Cartoon
In 1928, under the professional guidance of Mrs Thoday and Mrs Roberts, the voice of women in north Wales was linked to other parts of Britain and the wider international peace movement when the NWWPC became affiliated to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Although the North Wales Women’s Peace March had ended, a Welsh women’s voice had been added to the international call for disarmament and world peace. Their actions played a part in the eventual signing by 62 nations of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an agreement in 1928 which hoped to outlaw war between nations and prevent another World War.

What kind of Europe do we want?

By Stephen Thomas

As the intensity of the European Union ‘in/out’ referendum debate increases across the UK, I had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament in Brussels this month for the first time.

MEPs make decisions that impact upon the lives of 500 million citizens in this very room

MEPs make decisions that impact upon the lives of 500 million citizens in this very room

I was invited with a group to visit and explore the institution by the European Free Alliance (EFA), a grouping of elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from stateless nations, regions and minorities. In the 2014-2019 parliamentary term EFA MEPs have been elected from Catalonia, Galicia, Latvia, Scotland, Valencia, Wales and the Basque Country. Within the Parliament, MEPs work in political groups. EFA members have formed a common alliance in the European Parliament with the Green Parties since 1999.

The European Parliament

The largest of the several political groupings within the Parliament are the European People’s Party [Christian Democrats] (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).  With a total Parliament of 751 seats the EPP currently hold 219 and the S&D 191. EFA have 50.

Each MEP is chosen by an electorate from each of the 28 member countries of the European Union, representing a constituency of over 500 million people. Seats are also distributed, by and large, according to a Member State’s population. Germany, the largest country in population terms, has 96 MEPs whilst the smallest states of Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta have 6 MEPs each. Of the larger Member States after Germany, France has 74 MEPs and the UK and Italy 73 MEPs each.

As such the European Parliament is the only directly elected body in the EU and plays a key role in electing the President of the European Commission. It shares power over the EU budget and legislation with the Council of the European Union.

Council of the European Union

The Council represents the governments of the individual Member States. The Presidency of the Council is shared by the Member States on a six-month rotating basis. For the six months to December 2015 the Presidency is held by Luxembourg. The Presidency is responsible for driving forward the Council’s work on EU legislation, ensuring the continuity of the EU agenda, orderly legislative processes and cooperation among member states. To do this, the Presidency has to act as an honest and neutral broker.

The European Commission

Another major EU institution is the European Commission, the executive body. The Commission is responsible for proposing and implementing EU laws, monitoring the treaties and the day-to-day running of the EU. It represents the interests of the EU as a whole (not the interests of individual countries).

A new team of 28 Commissioners (one from each EU Member State) is appointed every five years. The politically important post is that of President of the Commission.

The candidate for President is proposed to the European Parliament by the European Council who decide on candidates by qualified majority, taking into account the elections to the European Parliament. The Commission President is then elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members (which corresponds to at least 376 out of 751 votes).

Following this election, the President-elect selects the 27 other members of the Commission, on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States. The final list of Commissioners-designate has then to be agreed between the President-elect and the Council. The Commission as a whole needs the Parliament’s consent. Prior to this, Commissioners-designate are assessed by the European Parliament committees.

The current Commission’s term of office runs until 31 October 2019. Its President is Jean-Claude Juncker.

Justice, Financial Management & Banking

The Court of Justice; The Court of Auditors and The European Central Bank are the other influential institutions that make up the European Union.

In defence of Liberty and Democracy?

The European Parliament is a unique example of multinational and multilingual democracy at work. The elected members (MEPs) engage in public debates and play a crucial role in shaping the policy of the EU. The principal areas of their work include the following:

Laws

The Parliament decides jointly with the Council of the European Union on laws that affect the daily lives of all EU’s citizens. These include topics such as freedom of travel, food safety and consumer protection, the environment and most sectors of the economy. Member States still have a veto right in areas such as taxation and foreign affairs/defence. Some areas require the Council to obtain the European Parliament’s assent before making a decision.

Budgets

Budgetary powers are the key prerogative of every Parliament — whoever allocates the funds has the power to set political priorities. At EU level, this power is shared between the Parliament and the Council. Together they adopt a multi-annual financial framework every 7 years, and scrutinise and approve the annual budget for the next year, as well as the spending from the previous year. The EU’s multi-annual budget 2014-2020 is €960 billion (yes, billion!).

Control

The European Parliament monitors the correct use of EU funds. The results of parliamentary elections are taken into account in the nomination of the President of the European Commission, but Parliament also has to elect the President and approve the appointment of the Commission and can force it to resign. Commissioners are often asked to defend their policies before the Parliament, and the president of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy regularly appear in Parliament to brief the MEPs and answer their questions.

Over the last couple of years, Parliament has considerably increased the discussions it holds with all leading decision-makers involved with the euro in a bid to shed more light on the way monetary decisions are being taken. In this sense, the Parliament has become one of the only forums acting to improve the transparency of the governance of the euro area.

European Union – why?

Out of the ruins of 1945, there grew an idea amongst Statesmen that, in fostering economic cooperation between countries rather than pursuing imperial and nationalistic rivalries, the risk of another appalling conflict between major sovereign states in Europe would be reduced.  Cooperation based on free trade in several key resource areas (coal, steel and iron ore) was its starting point in a hope that it would build a peaceful and prosperous future for all the peoples of Europe. To a large extent this idea has worked and Europe, indeed the world, has avoided horrors on the scale of the 20th Century’s two world wars.

Few believe however that nirvana has been created with the growth and development of European integration, far from it. The last 70 years since 1945 has continued to witness global tragedies, wars, famine, death and destruction on an appalling human scale. Walking around the European Parliament’s Visitors’ Centre brings these events very much to the mind in a poignant, interactive virtual trip through Europe, its history and its impact on the peoples of the world.

Meeting some MEPs and hearing their ‘stories’ left me feeling that the Parliament does contain elected representatives with strong ideals and a real belief in the concepts of fairness, justice and effective democratic government. They didn’t believe the current European institutions were by any means perfect but were seen rather as a continuing ‘work in progress’ that had evolved far beyond their origins as the European Coal & Steel Community of 1952.  Institutions that continue to engage people and politicians of many persuasions, nationalities and languages in debate, for a peaceful common cause. Controversial topics such as TTIP (the transatlantic trade and investment partnership with the United States); the impact of austerity policies resulting from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the democratic predicament raised by the events in Greece pose real challenges for the European Union and its future.

Achieving fairness and justice while maintaining our liberty and freedom is never easy, particularly in our 21st Century multi-layered system of government. It can appear confusing, difficult to understand and sometimes repellent. Yet, as individuals we each carry a responsibility to defend our hard-earned democratic rights and take every opportunity to stand peaceably against the forces of regression who will work to undermine them. An essential first step, surely, is to find out more about how our democracy really works and how we can support it. This has, perhaps, never been more important than right here, and right now.

Learn more about the European Parliament, and the EU in general, here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/visiting/en/parlamentarium

Between hope and coercion: Greece’s support for the EU and the unforeseen Consequences of the Euro

Pola Zafra-Davis The Greek referendum of 2015 has been watched eagerly by the world. But essentially critiques of fiscal responsibility to Greece’s future transcend mere economic analysis. The real question is if Greece’s present debacle stems from an ill-guided hope when first entering the European project or if its bailouts are a result of political coercion into an ill-suited currency many decades’ ago. The economic issues and answers to be provided are both explicit and implicit. Explicitly, the referendum vote was on whether Greece should accept the latest in bailout packages from Brussels. This would entail budget cuts and another round of austerity. Implicitly, many media reports murmur that the consequences of the referendum are around Greece’s political standing in the EU and its economic fate of staying or leaving the Euro and the Eurozone. One report is that in anticipation of a “no” vote on consenting to the new bailout terms, the EU will proactively take away Greece’s membership of the euro. Economic analyses of the euro and how Greece was doomed are commonplace on the internet. Essentially, the argument is that the Euro as a single currency relies on a widely varied economies [1]. The economies that make up the EU include the powerhouses such as Germany with an unemployment rate of 5% compared to Greece’s 2015 unemployment rate of around 27%[2]. The inflexibility of a single currency basically impairs a weak state like Greece to be in control of inflation and the purchasing power of its population. The rationale for the Euro is that while countries with a lot of the currency exhibit high stability and low inflation, those that need to earn more (such as Greece with the austerity packages) would actually benefit form a less strong Euro via external international investment through the now cheaper currency.But when investment is low and there is low confidence in an economic system known for its tax evasion (Source) and corrupt finance system[3] as is the case of Greece, the benefits of the euro are lost. Questions of fairness have become apparent. Is Greece being irresponsible or is the EU being unfair? Is the EU under the control of Brussels and/or Germany in its influence and is this influence earned? Is Greece responsible for its own economic destiny and did it have a choice in joining the euro (no)? To help us spectators get to the roots of these questions is to get to the heart of the motives of development of the eurozone. This includes roots of the 1970s economic monetary system (EMS) up to Greece’s 1999 adoption of the euro. The story of the creation and adoption of the euro by non-great power states should be seen as a historically-based experience between political hope and coercion. One that is in a sense European as well as Greek. Hope in a sense that the EMU and the Euro was a European project that promised integration and an increased voice for smaller states as well as much needed regional aide. Coercion in the way that economic terms were agreed upon without immediate consultation for the bargain of immediate, and not future, Greek economic and political entitlements. Hope: Economic Monetary Union and Political Integration Economic crises in the geographic area of the eurozone isn’t new. What is new is Greece’s popular response holding political clout as the EU continues to search for a cohesive identity. This may be due to the history of the EU and Economic Monetary Union (EMU) being a discussion outside of the purview of a majority of its members in a show of high politics. In response to the collapse of the Bretton Woods System due to unstable exchange rates, the 1979 EMS formed the European Currency Union (ECU) as a means to combat inflation. In times where one country may fall too behind or one country would advance too far, a divergence indicator was implemented. The divergence indicator allowed supranational authorities to practice diversified intervention policies. The structure of ECU, while convergent in a sense that it included a multitude of currencies to calculate its value, it was not wholly integrated. The EMS has acknowledged that Germany formed an anchor to the system under the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). All currencies were to be pegged with a fixed exchange rate from the Deutsche-Mark in order to import the Bundesbank’s low-inflation successes[4].  The nature of ERM strengthened domestic political actors to further control their domestic economies with anti-inflationary policies. Yet domestic control of economies was not enough to stem the tide of crisis. The ERM crises of 1992-1993 was a result of political externalities rather than purely economic mismanagement or market-reading-errors. This was indicative of an increased sense of interdependence between economic and political integration. The push for the euro came after the fall of the Berlin Wall and was proposed by Francois Mitterand as a means of deepening German economic integration into Europe[5]. The purpose of EMS to EMU was to cut off domination of the Bundesbank in other states’ economic policies in favor of a more collective sovereignty in steering European wide economic policy. France in wishing to secure political integration in the future, made a proposal during the Intergovernmental Conference that the final Stage III of the Delors plan was to begin in 1999 and Germany would be unable to opt out. This combined the political motivation of EMU with the economic guidance of German low-inflation. As a testament to political factors in determining the structure of the EMU, it was accepted that it would have to satisfy German concerns, meaning that the European Central Bank (ECB) in structure would have to resemble the Bundesbank. The ECB would acquire protection from political interference and concentrating on price stability[6]. The actual imposition of the ECB signaled the coming of true EMU, especially since it would have a single currency to work with. The creation of EMU was economically motivated due to the simplicity of demands as a mode of Regional Integration. Yet, the European project is political in nature since its days of the Economic Coal and Steel Community where the belief of economic integration was a key feature to bringing a lasting peace upon Europe following the devastation of the world wars. EMS and EMU were therefore hopeful in their initial ends despite their high politics means of keeping smaller states out of the bargaining table. Coercion: Political and Economic Bandwagoning for Survival At the time of Greece joining the EU, Greece was experiencing a period of political instability in between 1981-1989. This was paired with a deep economic failure that resulted in the EU Commission President, Jacques Delors to express that Greece’s problems were becoming a serious cause for concern on the development to EMU [7]. Greece entered the EU during the second wave of enlargements in 1981. When the Euro was adopted, Greece along with Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, saw their interest rates immediately drop. Every state that was in the EU by 1999 were obliged to join, except the UK and Denmark whom had special exemptions.  Yet since 1984, Greece’s stance has been pro-European despite their economic difficulties. Greece has viewed the EU as a forum where different discussions and ideas can be brought together[8]. This had led to Greece adopting a pro-European stance on most issues except foreign policy. After its membership into the EU, immediately Greece gained a financial flow from the Community budget topping almost 5% of its GDP[9]. Politically, gains were also felt as its political bargaining power increased and it acquired a regional voice. But in the context of the late-1980s EMU, Greece was and was politically weak and economically dependent[10]. There were thus in no position to make any suggestions to the process. Greece’s acquiescence to the process was based on avoiding isolation as a result of EMU, the allowance of negotiating a cohesion fund for poorer regions and hopes to gain influence in other matters such as foreign policy[11]. Considering how the EU was designed, it is of no surprise that present media analyses of the Greek Referendum have become hairy with Germany’s participation as key. The ECB was designed through political negotiations and entails elements of the Bundesbank being adopted. A sense of betrayal is then evident as for a small state, Greece has been in favor of the European project despite the economic integration difficulties that befell the country during the early years of its admission into the European club. It is an instance of “buying the whole cow” when Greece was not part of the initial EMU talks but rather a state trying to prove its worth to gain membership amidst political and economic turmoil in the 1980s. A Barometer of a Generation Yes and No votes have been cast along generational lines. Those that consent to the package are willing to weather out the storm and delay inevitable economic collapse. Contrast members of the ‘No’ camp who are young voters that feel that they have nothing to lose, are risk taking, and are aware that they will remain as the true consequences of their choices unfold in the next coming decades. However, the hindsight of historical experience may not be what is needed in the latest round of EU financial packages. What is being experienced now in Greece is similar to what Europe has experienced in its long hard road to EMU amidst crisis after crisis from the collapse of the Bretton Woods System tied to the US. Only this time, Greece contents with a block of countries rather than a united country (like the US) that stands at a precipice on if it acts as one voice, or follows on the voice of the “powerful” countries. What we must remember is that the EU and the development of the Eurozone especially was a Franco-German project with considerations of the role of Europe, and not its individual member states, on the world stage. This mismatch in history between scenarios and priorities showcases the problems that occur when Greece and any small country finds itself as part of a unique case that fits unwell with recent history and experience of the EU. The start of Maastricht in 1992 and later EMU in 1999 was a signal that in order to function at an equal level, it was necessary for Europe to take part in political integration with the convergence of state infrastructures not only in cooperation but the recognition of a new supranational entity, the ECB. Experience in the flaws of the ERM further spurned decisions towards a supranational EMU to better coordinate and spread stabilizing economies than relying on exchange rates in the hands of individual state governments. The rise of the euro is a story laced with hope but tempered by the weight of political compromises towards Germany. It is thus not surprising that Greece’s “no camp”, in a globalized economy, is feeling tethered to a plan not of their own making. [1] http://www.vox.com/2015/7/2/8883129/greek-crisis-euro-explained-video [2] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Unemployment_statistics [3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/03/greece-corruption-alive-and-well [4] Artis, Mike and Bladen-Hovell, Robin “European Monetary Union” in Artis, Mike and Nikson, Frederick ed.s The Economics of European Union: Policy and Analysis 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)  Pg 299 [5] Apel, Emmanual “European Monetary Integration 1958-2002” (London: Routeledge, 1997) Introduction: An Ever Closer Union, Pg. 15 [6] Verdun, Amy, “The Institutional Design of EMU: A Democratic Deficit?” Journal of Public Policy, 18, 2, 1998, Pg 112 [7] Featherstone, Kevin. “Greece and EMU: Between external empowerment and domestic vulnerability.” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 41.5 (2003): 923-940. [8] Hanf, K., & Soetendorp, B. (Eds.). (2014). Adapting to European integration: small states and the European Union. Routledge. Pg.94 [9] Plaskovitis, I. (1994). EC regional policy in Greece: ten years of structural funds intervention. P. Kazakos and PC Ioakimidis, IEF Working Paper, (9). [10] Op. Cit. Featherstone Pg. 925 [11] Ibid.

Pola Zafra-Davis recently received her PhD in International Politics from Aberystwyth University and is based in Aberystwyth, Wales. She currently teaches core modules at University College London’s European Social and Political Studies Department. She can be reached via twitter @PolaZafraDavis or her personal website polazafradavis.co.uk

UK defence policy – under any political party – risks being penny wise and pound foolish

Iwan Benneyworth

For a brief time before the General Election campaign commenced, it seemed that UK defence policy was quietly making its way up the news agenda. What was generally regarded as a lower tier issue crowded out by more pressing concerns such as health, education and the economy, started to gain traction, which will tend to happen when you have Russian nuclear bombers buzzing our airspace.

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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.

dool.jpg

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

Volunteer.png

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.

Taghyeer – a Movement for Non-violent Change

In the second installment in this series, Jane Harries recounts her encounter with Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian peace activist.  

I had heard Joe talk often and excitedly of Ali Abu Awwad, so when the opportunity to meet him and colleagues arose soon after my arrival in Bethlehem, I was glad to accept.

Talking to Ali, it didn’t take long to understand the enormity of his vision.  Ali currently lives on his family’s land just south of Bethlehem, on the other side of the main road from the large Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion.  (For different perspectives on this settlement’s history and expansion see Wikipedia and +972 Magazine).  There is nothing extraordinary in this: many Palestinians live in the shadow of settlements.  The story of Ali’s youth and upbringing are not so uncommon either.  He was brought up in a politically active refugee family which was under constant pressure from the Israeli military, this eventually culminating in the imprisonment of himself and his mother.  Following the dashed hopes of the Oslo agreement, Ali was injured by a settler and his brother murdered by a soldier from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

What was remarkable was Ali’s reaction to these events.  Slowly, he realised that what was often seen by Palestinians as justifiable violence to throw off military occupation would not lead to freedom – but only raise the level of reactive fear among the militarily dominant Israelis. He saw this Israeli fear as the real enemy of both Palestinians and of a secure future for Israel.  Since his imprisonment and release, his life’s work has been to overcome his own blindness of the humanity in his enemy and to enhance himself and his people in transcending oppression by using the ‘best of humanity’ as expressed in nonviolence.  How has he gone about doing this?  He has been involved in the Bereaved Families Forum, where he has met Israelis who are united with Palestinians in the loss of a loved one due to the conflict.  He is also leading an initiative on his family land – to welcome and encounter those settlers willing to step up and overcome their blindness to the existence and truth of the Palestinians.  This is a truly brave thing to do – one that flies against all norms, rules and boundaries and which is potentially dangerous, seen by some sections of Palestinian society as consorting with the enemy – an attempt to bring about ‘normalisation’.

Ali has another parallel though partly conflicting vision: that of Taghyeer (‘Change’: see website and video).  His aim is to overcome the victim mentality of Palestinian society and to build a grass-roots nonviolent social reform and resistance movement, empowering people to take responsibility and develop their own freedom.   He argues that peace movements, in which he has played a role, have failed to halt the persistent loss of Palestinian land to the settlements.  The government of Israel has been the creator of Israeli fear so as to maintain power and domination; whilst the Palestinian Authority is largely corrupted and weak. Palestinian political factions are divided and fail to achieve their goal of freedom, and Palestinian communities despair and have no confidence in their ability to come together to achieve social goals.  With Taghyeer, he feels, there is a real opportunity to create a change.  That this is possible has already been demonstrated by mass demonstrations and the ‘Sumud’ Freedom Camp.

Stephen (Friends of Taghyeer), Mary and Ali in Bethlehem

Stephen (Friends of Taghyeer), Mary and Ali in Bethlehem

Also present at the meeting was Mary Abu Khudair (Planning and Communications Manager for Tagyheer).  Mary has lived part of her life in the US, where she raised two sons, but she then returned to Shufat, Jerusalem.  The grim reality of the conflict hit her family and community in the Summer of 2014 with the brutal murder of her young cousin Mohammad Abu Khdeir.  Like Ali, Mary responded by starting on the tough path of connecting with the humanity of the other, firstly through volunteering with Combatants for Peace and then through working for Taghyeer in building Palestinian strength through nonviolent action.

Inspiring though this meeting was, we were to see part of the vision in practice the following evening, when we were invited to Ali Abu Awwad’s compound for supper.  Having not seen the farm before, it looked fairly familiar to me.  Approaching it along a busy dual carriageway, we then veered off onto an unsigned untarmacked track which came to a halt in front of a group of buildings, including a house, a covered area which could be used for meetings or training events, a fenced-off area with some sheep and turkeys, and a garden area ready to be planted. There was even a small building with a few items hanging in it – obviously destined to become a shop.  The two Joes, however, who had been there last year, marvelled at all the new developments.  For Ali this is the beginning of a dream – a Nonviolence Centre for Palestine.

What was immediately apparent and remarkable to me on arrival was the presence of two Israeli women.  No-one else, however, seemed to remark on their presence, or notice anything out of the ordinary in it.  They totally blended in with what was going on around them and joined us in the meal, which was soon served.  This also is part of the new reality that Ali strives to achieve: a society where all can live and work together no matter what their religion or background.

The star turn of the evening, however, had to be the serving of the meal.  We were summoned to witness the unearthing of the chickens.  Perplexed, we followed to where there was an area of ashes.  These were scraped away, revealing a lid.  Once this was lifted we could see that there was an underground oven with a metal stand above a fire where the meat had been slowly cooking.  The next part of this operation was to lift the three-tiered stand out of the hole: lamb chops in rows on the top tier, then roast chickens and underneath all the juices that had come from the roasting meat.  The whole contraption was carried to the table, already groaning under mountains of rice, salad and pitta bread.  This was Palestinian hospitality, done in grand style!  Perhaps if one wants to forge a peace community, it’s good to start with filling its stomach!

For more information see Ali Abu Awwad’s Ted Talk given in Jerusalem in 2015.