The Centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration: Britain, Palestine and Israel

By Jane Harries, Cymdeithas y Cymod peace activist, human rights observer and Wales for Peace Learning Coordinator.

Balfour Declaration WCIA Debate Leaflet Oct 2017

The Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff was packed to overflowing on the evening of 18th October 2017, the air thick with expectation. The Cardiff Branch of the United Nations Association (UNA) had brought together two eminent speakers to talk about the historical context and present consequences of the Balfour Declaration – a document whose centenary is marked today, 2nd November.  It was clear we were in for an interesting evening.

So what was the Balfour Declaration, and why should we remember it today?  Does it have any significance for us in Wales?

The Balfour Declaration is in fact in the form of a letter written by Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Secretary in David Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government, to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain.  The key words are as follows:

‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’

Balfour_portrait_and_declaration

The first speaker, Avi Shlaim – Jewish historian, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and married to the grand-daughter of Lloyd George – started off the evening with a historical analysis.  He defined the Declaration as a typical colonialist act. The British had no moral or legal right to give a ‘national home’ to Jewish people in Palestine, having consulted neither with the Arab leaders, nor the Jews nor the British population. Nor was Palestine theirs to give.

Behind the scenes there were political motives. David Lloyd George wanted Palestine for the British in order to gain influence over the French and because of access to the Suez Canal.  He also wanted to dismember the Ottoman Empire and was willing to engage in double dealing to do so. Overtures were made both to Arab leaders and also to the Zionists, whom Lloyd George regarded as powerful and influential.

Jews had lived scattered across the globe before the First World war but at the end of the 19th century a nationalist Jewish campaign grew up in the form of Zionism, whose aim was to establish a national home for the Jews. Zionism particularly appealed to Lloyd George, steeped as he was in the Biblical passages and hymns of his chapel upbringing. This deep emotional connection may have been one reason why he became influenced by Dr Chaim Weizmann, Zionist Leader in the UK and later first President of Israel. And so Lloyd George’s government bowed to Zionist pressure and issued the Declaration, ignoring other Anglo-Jewish voices at the time, including Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the cabinet.

Balfour_Declaration_War_Cabinet_minutes_appendix_17_October_1917

The second part of the Declaration is often forgotten – that is that the civil and religious rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities’ in Palestine (over 90% of the population at the time) should be respected.  The British Mandate in Palestine, issued by the League of Nations in 1923, included a responsibility to implement the Balfour Declaration.  The Mandate was, however, essentially pro-Zionist and led inevitably to the series of events we are familiar with today: the Arab revolt of 1936 – 39, the rise of Zionist terrorist activity against the British and Palestinians, British withdrawal from the region, and the foundation of the State of Israel mirrored by the Palestinian Nakba (= catastrophe, mass migration) in 1948.  The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is one of the most entrenched in the world and continues to blight lives today.  This is particularly true for the Palestinians, who have seen their homeland shrink and their human rights whittled away under a now 50-year military occupation.  Even the area which the British government recognises as a future state for the Palestinian people is now occupied by 700,000 Israeli settlers.

The second speaker, Professor Kamel Hawwash of Birmingham University, Palestinian commentator on the Middle East, explained the consequences of Balfour today.  He outlined the effects of the Israeli Occupation for those living on the West Bank, including loss of land, freedom of movement and livelihood, difficult access to education and health care, and subjugation to continuous harassment and violence.  In the Gaza Strip the population essentially lives in an open prison, deprived of many resources we take for granted, including clean water and proper sewage systems.  He then turned his talk to address an unusual question.  The state of Israel is more or less exactly the same size as Wales.  What would be the situation today if the Balfour Declaration had promised a homeland for the Jewish people in Wales, not in Palestine?  Using parallel maps, he brought this supposition to life, with swathes of Welsh land having been taken up into the State of Israel and Cardiff a divided city.  This helped us to see the Declaration from a different perspective.

As the evening wore on, there was strong feeling from one young member of the audience that the speakers were one-sided; she pleaded to hear the other side.  A student of Atlantic College, it appeared that she had spent a lot of time listening to the arguments of Palestinian and Israeli students living in her house. So what can we say about the Balfour Declaration that is more balanced and even positive?

The Balfour Declaration was of its time – as Avi Shlaim said essentially a colonialist document – so perhaps it should be judged as such.  It feels obvious from the wording of the document that the author was trying to balance what was felt to be a justified case for the Jewish people to have a homeland with the rights of the indigenous population. The problem is that this double-dealing didn’t work out in practice, with both sides seeing the British as compromising their cause.  And are we really justified in thinking that such a declaration or deal couldn’t be made today – for oil, or influence, or post-Brexit trade deals?

Balfour Palestine Mandate

It is true that Jews have been persecuted over centuries, including in pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century. In a humanitarian global society, we surely would applaud the attempt to offer a safe haven for the persecuted, and the Balfour Declaration can be seen as such. What wasn’t foreseen, however, was that those persecuted may turn persecutors in their turn and deprive the indigenous population of their rights. What would the authors of the Declaration today say to the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes in 1948 – and some again in 1967 –  many still living in refugee camps across the Middle East?

Balfour - West_Bank_&_Gaza_Map_2007_(Settlements)

Theresa May has talked about her ‘pride’ in the Balfour Declaration and in the creation of the State of Israel, a key ally for Britain in the Middle East.  Whilst rejoicing that persecuted Jews, including Holocaust survivors, found a homeland in Palestine, what do we feel about the plight of the dispossessed? Theresa May’s current government supports a 2-state solution in principle. What does the perpetuation of a military occupation do to the soul and psyche of the Occupier? Surely a conflict that is allowed to go on for so long cannot bring good for either side.

The Balfour Declaration is not a document that people know much about in the UK.  In Palestine it is part of everyone’s awareness – generally recognised as the starting point from which everything began to unravel, leading to a continuous process of dispossession which continues today.  To illustrate this point let me take you back to an August evening in East Jerusalem in 2012. At the time I was serving as a human rights observer on the West Bank and that evening we were called to an incident in Silwan. When we arrived we realised that the cause of the problem was seemingly small: an Israeli settler had parked his car in the middle of the road, preventing people from moving up or down. It was however Ramadan, and just before the breaking of the fast, and tempers get frayed. As we started talking to local residents and the Israeli armed police who had inevitably arrived, the expected question came: “Where are you from?” “Britain”, we said. “Ah, Balfour!” the local resident retorted – and went off into a tirade. The good thing was that once this had blown over he started joking with us, and the tension was released. The settler moved the car, and the incident passed off without any repercussions. This was not a lone incident, however. I have lost count how many times I have had to apologise for Balfour on the West Bank.

Bearing everything in mind how do we, the present generation, view the Balfour Declaration?  On the positive side, we can see it as an attempt to be balanced and to provide safety and security for persecuted Jews. It certainly was instrumental in the events leading to the creation of the modern State of Israel.  It can also be seen as an essentially political deal – an attempt to favour those who were believed to have influence whilst paying lip-service to the Arab leaders. It is hard to avoid the reality however, that the Declaration set off a string of events in the region which still have repercussions today, resulting in one of the world’s most intransigent conflicts and spelling death, dispossession and poverty for thousands.

Balfour-Israel-Palestine_peace.svg

The Israeli Palestinian Peace Process

Some sources:

The Balfour Declaration – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration

The Balfour Declaration – New Statesman, a more critical view: https://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/08/arab-palestine-jewish-rights

The Balfour Project  – Lloyd George –  critical view of Lloyd George’s part in the Declaration: http://www.balfourproject.org/lloyd-george/

Avi Schlaim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avi_Shlaim

What is Wales had been offered as a Jewish Homeland – Middle East eye> http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/what-if-wales-had-been-offered-jews-homeland-palestine-zionist-israel-526573400

Article on Theresa May’s stance – Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/balfour-declaration-israel-palestine-theresa-may-government-centenary-arabs-jewish-settlements-a7607491.html

Chaim Weizmann: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Weizmann

Palestine – Israel: Effects of Occupation – an educational pack (from the US): http://www.palestineinformation.org/dig_deep

Jane Harries’ blog from Palestine: https://janeharries.wordpress.com 

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Those Marvellous Women: Welsh Women’s Petition For Peace

By Gwenllian Jones

Following the death of thousands of men in the First World War, families and communities were in despair and in need of new hope. This came in the form of a social revolution for peace.

War destroyed the fundamental role women had adopted in Welsh society. The traditional roles as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were invaluable to Welsh communities; however without sons, husbands, brothers and fathers, women lost the significance of the relationships they had with one another. Women in the interwar period adopted the role of peace pilgrims in Wales, as Welsh women sought to deflect the possibility of another great war to protect future generations from the destruction that war created.

Welsh women’s contribution to peace has been examined by pioneers of women’s writing in Wales by the likes of Katrina Gass and Sydna Williams. Examining the contribution women made to peace campaigns in Wales will not only offer new discussions on women in Wales but also challenge conventional ideas that women were not politically or socially active. The position and role of women in Wales has often been overlooked, neglected or downplayed.  A key contribution, often an overlooked campaign, that represented how women in Wales did indeed offer much of their support for the overall fight for peace was the American peace petition and memorial. This petition and memorial was an attempt to appeal to the women of America to plead the American government to join the League of Nations.

The petition was first discussed at the Welsh school of social service in Llandrindod Wells in August 1922. A national conference in Aberystwyth in May, 1923, proposed that the women of Wales had more to offer in their roles as peace pilgrims in Wales and were given the opportunity to take charge of collecting names, forming a committee, creating the memorial, to take the petition and memorial to America and present to Government officials and the American president Calvin Coolidge.

Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths

Courtesy of Bangor Archives

The Welsh council of the League of Nations was founded in 1922, with financial support from the MP David Davis and led by the Reverend Gwilym Davis. Many men from Wales, derived from non-conformist areas, did not desire to fight in the Great War and because of this certain areas in Wales became known as pacifist regions. These men such as the poet Gwenallt desired to create a Welsh council that fought for peace rather than war, in which case the Welsh council of League of Nations gained mass support within Wales. Within three years of its formation, the League of Nations ‘boasted’ a membership of 31,299 with 571 branches in Wales and Monmouthshire. Following the proposal’s made to the women of Wales, the League of Nations fully supported the women’s claim to create a petition and memorial that would appeal to an international nation and collaborate the campaigns of men and women’s organisations and guilds.
To successfully complete the process, a women’s executive committee was created with twenty members including Mrs Hughes Griffiths as president, Mrs Huw Pritchard as organiser of North Wales and Miss E.Poole as organiser in South Wales. A form was created in both Welsh and English and given to each house and farm in Wales. In total the petition was signed by 390,296 women in Wales and Monmouthshire, representing 60% of the female population in Wales.
A script was created for the memorial and was written by Cicely West. The script highlighted the key reasons why women in Wales desired peace through emphasising the connection already made with America through Henry Richard and Elihu Burritt. Another key emphasis and also significant to highlight were how the women portrayed themselves as women who were not motivated politically. The key reasons why the women of Wales campaigned for peace were their concern for the future of civilisation to live in a warless world, to create humanitarian measures for trafficked women and children and to monitor the trade of opium and any other drugs. The repetition of the women emphasising the already connection between America and Wales and emphasis on a warless world highlights how determined these women were to portray themselves as peace pilgrims protecting the next generation from another Great War.

“Our constant hope and prayer is that our message may contribute something towards the realisation of the proud heritage of a warless world.”

On the 19th February 1924, a delegation consisting of Mrs Hughes Griffiths, Miss Elined Prys and Miss Mary Ellis left for America on the White Starliner Cedric from Liverpool with the memorial and petition. The women arrived in New York and were greeted by the welcoming committee of the United Association of American Women with Mrs James Lees Laidlaw as chairman. In total the welcoming committee were four hundred to five hundred women from America and represented the voices of twenty thousand American women in total. In New York, Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths gave a speech on the origin, nature and purpose of the memorial and petition. The following day the women were taken to Washington for a second presentation of the memorial and petition in order to meet president Calvin Coolidge, other government officials, the Committee of the World Court, the National League of Women Voters and the National Council for the Prevention of War. The Annual Report of the League of Nations in Wales stated in 1924 that the women, addressed their audience in saying “our constant hope and prayer is that our message may contribute something towards the realisation of the proud heritage of a warless world.”
Many national and local newspapers reported on the campaign, ranging from areas such as Belfast and Aberdeen. The Belfast newspaper reported that the script was “regarded as the finest pieces of manuscript written in modern times”, additionally “the first time in history that the women of one country have presented a memorial to the women of another country”. The reports indicate how significant this form of campaigning from women in Wales meant to the league of Nations and to women’s organisations across Wales and Britain.

A visit to the Holocaust Memorial/ Ymwelaid a chofeb Holocaust

By Nia Evans

Recently I visited Berlin for a weekend. Having spoken to a few friends I was advised that the Holocaust Memorial was a must visit. So on our first full day that’s where we headed, thinking we would spend an hour or so paying our respects  before leaving to explore the city further.

I can’t begin to express how much this memorial touched me, by the time we left it was dusk, having spent the whole day at the site. Time stood still as we were taken on a step by step journey following the stories of families across Germany and Poland.

The memorial is situated between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, I must admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect as we turned the corner and saw the ‘Field of Stelae’ in front of us. Designed by Peter Eisenman and situated above the subterranean Information Centre, we saw in front of us a vast collection of what is described as concrete slabs (stelae) which have been placed in a form of grid on uneven, sloping ground.

We were able to access the ‘field’ from four sides and walk in-between the around 2,700 concrete structures. The wave like form of the ground in which they stand means that each steale is of different height and from the outside it seemed that the structures were sloping upwards.  In walking between them however, it became obvious that the ground sinks down in the centre, as you walk further into the centre the increasing hue of the concrete blocks creates a feeling of being claustrophobic of suffocating and of isolation. This was incredibly effective.

Having spent time taking in the field of Stelae, we decided to enter the memorial itself, which is situated underground beneath the field.

Starting at the beginning of the exhibition with Hitler’s rise to power we were given an insightful context as to how  Nazism started, progressed and escalated. This included learning about the political and social climate of the time. As we moved forwards in the timeline, there seemed to be an obvious shift from setting the scene to focusing on the stories of the people targeted for persecution. We were guided through a section which included letters written by individuals, some were of hope that things would improve, others, even by children, were that of acceptance of their imminent death. One example that comes to mind is that of a postcard which was thrown out of a train carriage on the way to a death camp, expressing final goodbyes to loved ones, the author clearly knowing what was waiting for them. Someone had found the postcard and had posted it onwards.

We were introduced to families, learning about their lives before the war, and learning about their fate afterwards. This made the whole experience more personal, especially by the fact that the main element of each family section was that of a photo of the whole family together. Usually a large family, which records show were then decimated and the few remaining survivors separated and scattered away from their home to different areas of he world.

By the end, I felt like I couldn’t take any more in: the scale of personal stories, of testimonials, of suffering was almost too much to fully comprehend. One of the last rooms in the exhibition contained a large map of Europe highlighting each location and camp where exterminations took place. There seemed to be no country which wasn’t used to play a part in the persecution of the Jewish community. The organisation and structure in carrying out such horror absolutely astounded me.

As we were making our way to leave, I heard a female voice talking in one of the rooms. We stepped inside and realised that a video was playing of an interview with a woman who had featured in one of the family portraits as a young girl earlier in the memorial. I remembered from having read about the family that she had managed to survive the holocaust, the only member of the close family to do so. The name of this woman was Sabina van der Linden-Wolanski. In just popping into the room to see who was talking, we continued to wait and listen to the interview, five minutes passed, then ten and before we knew it, over an hour had past in hearing about the life of this woman and the writing of her biography Destined to live. It was such a powerful account of her life, it really was capitvating.  Her personal story of survival allowed the journey through the memorial to finish on a thought inspiring note.

In the future, I potentially won’t remember many facts or figures. It is the gut wrenching feeling of the scale and reading personal stories which will stay with me.

Of course, we only learnt about a handful of families and individuals. Some millions of stories will never be heard. This was murder on an industrial scale. I find, still, that the scale of such an attrocity incomprehensible. It all started with one person rising in power. In having attended, I have been left with a much better understanding of what exactly happened to lead to this horror during WW2. In increasing my understanding I have been left with a real determination to work for peace and to ensure that the world that I live in now is a world based on unity, happiness without any form of discrimination.

Es i am benwythnos i Berlin yn ddiweddar. Wrth drafod lle i fynd a pha atyniadau i’w gweld, soniodd sawl ffrind y dylai’r gofeb Holocost fod ar flaen y rhestr. Ar y diwrnod llawn cyntaf felly, dyna lle’r aethon ni, gyda’r bwriad o dreulio tua awr neu ddwy  yn talu teyrnged cyn gadael ac archwilio’r ddinas yn bellach.

Anodd iawn yw esbonio gymaint yr effeithiodd mynychu’r gofeb a’r arddangosfa arnaf i, erbyn gadael roedd hi wedi cychwyn nosi, ar ôl i ni dreulio diwrnod cyfan yno. Arhosodd amser yn ei unfan wrth i ni gael ein cymryd ar daith yn dilyn storiâu teuluoedd wedi eu lleoli ar hyd a lled yr Almaen a Gwlad Pwyl.

Mae’r gofeb ei hun wedi cael ei leoli rhwng gât Branderburg a Potsdamer Platz. Rhaid cyfaddef, doeddwn i ddim yn hollol siwr beth i’w ddisgwyl wrth gerdded at y safle, ond cyn pen dim dyna lle’r oedden ni, gyda’r ‘Field of stelae’ o’n blaenau ni. Maent yn cael eu disgrifio fel casgliad o ‘slabiau concrit’ sydd wedi cael eu gosod mewn grid anwastad. Peter Eisenmen sydd yn gyfrifol am ddylunio’r ardal, sydd wedi ei leoli uwchben y ganolfan wybodaeth danddaearol.

Mae pedwar mynediad i’r safle, un o bob ochr. Roedd modd i ni gerdded o gwmpas a rhwng yr o ddeutu 2,700 o strwythurau concrit. Roedd arddull anwastad y ddaear yn golygu bod pob strwythur yn ymddangos fel eu bod o faint gwahanol. Ar yr edrychiad cyntaf, roedd y ddaear yn ymddangos fel tonnau, fodd bynnag, wrth gerdded rhwng pob strwythur daeth i’r amlwg bod y llawr ar raddiant gyda’r pwynt dyfnaf yn y canol. Wrth gyrraedd at y pwynt hynny doeddwn i methu help a theimlo fel fy mod, bron iawn, yn mygu, o fod yn glawstroffobig ac yn unig.

Ar ôl treulio amser yn crwydro’r ardal yma, gwnaethom benderfynu mynd dan ddaear i’r arddangosfa ei hun.

Dyma gychwyn yr arddangosfa gyda hanes cynnydd pŵer Hitler, rhoddwyd cyd-destun craff ynglŷn â sut y dechreuodd, datblygodd a fwy na dim, sut y gwnaeth Natsïaeth ddwysau. Roedd hyn yn cynnwys dysgu am hinsawdd wleidyddol a chymdeithasol y cyfnod. Wrth symud ar hyd y llinell amser, gwelwyd newid amlwg wrth i’r ffocws symud o osod manylion cefndirol i rannu storiâu am y rheiny oedd yn cael eu herlyn. Mewn un ystafell roedd arddangosfa o lythyrau oedd wedi cael eu hysgrifennu yn ystod y cyfnod, roedd rhai yn negeseuon gobaith, eraill, hyd yn oed gan blant, yn amlwg dderbyn eu ffawd. Mae un enghraifft yn dod i’r meddwl lle’r oedd cerdyn post wedi cael ei daflu o drên oedd yn trafaelio at un o’r gwersylloedd marwolaeth, roedd y neges yn neges oedd yn ffarwelio gyda chyfoedion agos, roedd yr awdures yn amlwg wybod beth oedd o’i blaen. Roedd rhywun wedi dod o hyd i’r cerdyn post ac wedi ei bostio.

Cawsom ein cyflwyno i deuluoedd, gan ddysgu am eu bywydau cyn y rhyfel, a’u ffawd ar ei ôl. O ganlyniad, roedd y profiad cyfan yn un fwy personol, yn enwedig gan fod darlun o bob teulu yn hongian o’r tô. Mae cofnodion yn dangos bod teuluoedd cyfan, ac mi roedden nhw’n deuluoedd mawr, wedi eu chwalu, gyda’r ychydig rai oroesodd wedi cael eu gwahanu a’u gwasgaru ar draws y byd.

Erbyn y diwedd, doeddwn i ddim yn teimlo bod modd i fi weld na chlywed mwy o’r storiâu. Roedd lefel y dioddefaint, y storiâu personol ar tystebau yn ormod bron iawn i’w hamgyffred yn llawn. Yn un o’r ystafelloedd olaf roedd map o Ewrop, roedd y map yn dangos lleoliad pob gwersyll gan gynnwys lleoliad pob distryw. O edrych ar y map, roedd hi’n amlwg bod pob gwlad rhywsut wedi chwarae rhan yn erlyn y gymdeithas Iddewig. Heb os, ges i fy syfrdanu gyda lefel y trefnu a strwythur cyflawni’r  hunllef yma.

Wrth baratoi i adael, clywais lais dynes yn siarad yn un o’r ystafelloedd. Wrth gamu i mewn i’r ystafell, sylweddolais mai fideo oedd yn cael ei chwarae o gyfweliad dynes oedd yn aelod o deulu oedd wedi cael eu portreadu yn gynharach yn yr arddangosfa. Cofiais mai hi oedd yr unig aelod o’i theulu agosaf  oedd wedi goroesi’r holocost. Enw’r ddynes yma oedd Sabina van der Linden-Wolanski. O fod wedi picied i mewn i’r ystafell i fusnesu a gweld pwy oedd yn siarad, gwnaethom benderfynu aros a gwrando am gyfnod, pasiodd pum munud, pasiodd deg munud a chyn pen dim roedd dros awr wedi pasio wrth i ni sefyll yn dysgu am fywyd y ddynes anhygoel yma ac am ei phrofiad yn ysgrifennu ei bywgraffiad ‘Destined to Live’. Dyma gofnod pwerus o fywyd unigolyn  oedd wedi byw trwy gyfnod yr Holocost. O ganlyniad, daeth ein taith yn yr arddangosfa i ben ar nodyn ysbrydoledig.

Yn y dyfodol, mae’n bosibl iawn na fyddai’n cofio llawer o’r ffeithiau neu ffigyrau. Yn sicr, bydd y  teimlad trwm yn fy stumog ac emosiwn dysgu am hunllefau’r cyfnod yn aros gyda fi am gyfnod hir.

Yn naturiol, dim ond dysgu am fywyd llond llaw o deuluoedd ac unigolion y gwnaethom ni yn yr arddangosfa. Mae miliynau o storiâu na fydd byth modd i ni eu clywed. Dyma lofruddiaeth ar lefel anferthol. Hyd heddiw, dwi’n ei chael hi’n anodd dirnad maint yr erchyllterau. A’i gychwyn, gydag un person yn codi i bŵer ac yn defnyddio’r pŵer hynny i ddylanwadu ar y bobl o’i gwmpas. Mae gen i well dealltwriaeth erbyn hyn o’r hyn ddigwyddodd i arwain at yr erchyllterau yn ystod yr ail ryfel byd. O gynyddu ar fy nealltwriaeth dwi’n benderfynol o weithio at heddwch er mwyn sicrhau bod fy myd yn un sydd wedi cael ei seilio ar undod ac o hapusrwydd heb unrhyw fath o wahaniaethu.

 

Show solidarity with Women’s March on Washington- 21st January 2017

By Rosa Brown

On Friday, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Even if Mr Trump’s political inexperience, his inability to commit to clear policy outlines and those appallingly constructed tweets are overlooked, his ascension into one of the most prestigious positions in the world remains problematic.

Though it may be kinder to ourselves and our sanity to block out the US Election campaign trail, let us revisit that point in which 2016 reached new lows of shadiness. As of November 2016, there were seventy-five active lawsuits against the President Elect, ranging from fraud, unpaid bills and sexual discrimination. However, the presence of these lawsuits failed to damage the candidate’s campaign for good. As did the stories from women who claimed to have receive unwanted sexual advances from Trump, some of whom waivered their right to anonymity. Even Trump’s imitation of a disabled news reporter did not stand in his way to the White House. In summary, Trump ran a campaign focused on hate, mockery and lies and no one cared.

But they did. On Saturday 21st January 2017, there will be a Women’s March on Washington to stand against the demonising rhetoric of Trump’s campaign. The march is an opportunity to celebrate diversity as a strength of the community rather than a weakness. It is an opportunity to reject the fear of those who may look or sound differently, a fear that Trump’s success and certain figures in the UK is dependent on. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to recognise women’s rights as human rights, regardless of race, age, sexual identity or religion.

In solidarity with the event and its objectives, there are Sister Marches organised across the globe, two of which are scheduled in Wales: Cardiff and Bangor. Both marches encourage the participation of anyone and everyone to safeguard the freedoms that have been threatened by recent political events.

If you would like further details about these events please follow the links. More information about the global movement can be found at #breakthesilence.

Cardiff Sister March

Facebook page.

Bangor Sister March

march

 

A reflection on the positive developments the world has seen in 2016

By David Hooson

 Every year, December encourages us all to look back on the year as it comes to a close. In 2016 perhaps more than ever, upsetting events have dominated and can naturally dominate our memories of the year. However, there were also plenty of positive events this year, as well as things that can give us hope that the world is still progressing towards peace and understanding between all people. Let’s recall just a few of these positive developments.

The Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which was drafted at the end of 2015, was signed in April and came into effect in November. As the most comprehensive international agreement on climate change, with the most international signatories, it has been hailed as a historic step towards tackling the environmental challenges of the future.

The terrorist group Boko Haram, one of the greatest threats to peace and security in West Africa in recent years, was further weakened this year and now appears to be on the brink of total extinction. The January release of 1,000 women held hostage was a big moment, and a further 600 people have been freed in December. The group are still holding many of the Chibok schoolgirls they kidnapped in 2014, but some have been returned to their families throughout this year.

The 52-year conflict in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced, was resolved with a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. Negotiations had been ongoing for four years, and the first draft of the deal was rejected by a referendum in October. However, a revised peace agreement was signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders in November and the Colombian Congress voted to approve the deal. President Santos was also presented with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to his country.

In June, the United Nations’ 47-member Human Rights Council voted to appoint an independent expert on LGBT rights to monitor violence and discrimination against LGBT people globally. Past attempts to make progress on LGBT issues at the UN have been frustrated or defeated by opposition from countries where the law actively discriminates against LGBT people, so this decision represents a significant breakthrough. An attempt to overturn the decision through the UN General Assembly was defeated in November, giving this new role an even more solid basis to campaign for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The Council of Europe’s ‘Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ – known as the Istanbul Convention – was finally ratified by 22 countries, having been signed five years ago. In some of these countries, the Convention is now the strongest protection women have against gender-based violence, sexual violence and domestic abuse. The UK is now in the process of becoming the 23rd country to ratify the Convention.

In stark contrast to divisive media rhetoric and concerning hate crime statistics, refugees from Syria arriving in Wales were warmly welcomed by local communities. The number of refugees allowed into the country is determined by the UK Government, but Local Authorities across Wales have been more than willing to help families and individuals fleeing violence, with refugees being settled all across Wales.

Examples of refugees being welcomed:

Aberystwyth

Wrexham

There will be many challenges for the international community to address in 2017, some new and some continuing, but stories like these should give us hope that we can and will continue to make progress. Hopefully next year the stories of hope and progress will dominate, and 2017 will keep the world on track towards a peaceful future of justice and equality for all.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

By Georgia May

“Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. It imposes large-scale costs on families, communities and economies. The world cannot afford to pay this price.”Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General.

The 25 November marked the International Day for Violence Against Women (White Ribbon Day). The Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), along with Bawso, Welsh Women’s Aid, Llamau, New Pathways, Safer Wales and Unite the Union organised the ‘Light the Candle’ event in Llandaff, Cardiff. The United Nations made it an official day in 1999, and it marks the start of 16 days of activism against gender based violence, with the aim to raise awareness and invite change. However, a large limitation to the efforts of preventing violence against women is the lack of funding. So, the ‘Light a Candle’ event aimed to raise awareness through a march from Cathedral Road to Llandaff Cathedral, with the Light a Candle Service in the cathedral aiming to promote the cause further with really interesting talks from courageous survivors of violence, as well as speeches from key note speakers who gave us all more insight as to how Wales deals with this issue. Lastly, the fundraiser aimed to raise money for the cause.

The day started early, with the march commencing at 9am from Llandaff offices on Cathedral Road. The turn-out was impressive, with many organisations in attendance, along with members of the public showing their support for the cause. When talking to the participants before the march, the main reason for wanting to get involved seemed to be to show solidarity against violence against women, but also violence as a whole. This displays so much promise, because if there are people willing to put themselves out there and express their opinions then the elimination of such horrendous acts should be a quicker process, as there are more people who will stand together on this issue. Prior to the start of the march, signs were also distributed with strong messages- mine said “Break the Silence” in big, bold writing- which really worked well to promote the cause.

The march began and we were ready with our signs, and our chant “zero tolerance to domestic violence,” which really turned heads as we made our way to the cathedral. Whilst on our march, we were clearly gathering support from the public, with many cars beeping and waving us along on our way. I asked some marchers how this made them feel, and they said that they were quite touched as it showed that there can be collective support among different groups of people. I agree with this, being a part of the march and getting backing from those not participating did motivate me more. This suggests that if we all have the same attitude towards the issue, we will have a stronger way of eliminating violence against women.

Our march came to an end when we arrived at Llandaff Cathedral, where we had a moment of silence to reflect on the women and girls who have lost their lives to violence. This was a surreal moment as it reinforced what we had been marching for.

Once in the cathedral, the Bishop introduced the event and placed importance on working together to eliminate violence against women. This really should be the main idea to take from the day as one of the most important strategies. Then, Aisha Kigwalilo who is a member of Bawso Youth Network, performed to start the service.

Carl Sargeant was the first key note speaker, and with his years of experience in the National Assembly for Wales, he gave an insightful talk on Wales’ stance on violence against women and girls, which particularly linked to his current role as cabinet Secretary of State for Committees and Children. His talk expressed the zero tolerance that Wales has towards violence against women and about the sense of responsibility that citizens have to raise awareness and work together to try and prevent this.

Next, Alimatu Dimonekene, a campaigner against the harmful practice of Female Genital Mutilation, spoke to the audience. As a survivor of the practice, her talk was a privilege to listen to as it showed us the effects of violence against women on those who have been subjected to such horrible acts. She stressed her lack of choice in the matter and how it was something that she did not totally understand at the time. I think that this is something that needs to be tackled. Many girls within the cultures where FGM takes place are not educated as to why this is happening to them or the effects. This is why days such as this are important, as we need to raise awareness so that girls understand that violence happening to them is not okay. The audience clearly had so much respect for Dimonekene, which was lovely to see as it only emphasises the sense of collective that we went to establish.

The next speaker was Rhian Bowen-Davies, who is the National Adviser for Violence against Women, other forms of Gender based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence. This post is innovative as it is the first of its type in the UK, demonstrating that Wales are really committed to The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. With Bowen-Davies’ purpose to aid the pursuance of this legislation, she offered real insight into female based issues in Wales in particular. She used her experiences to come to the conclusion that not just women should stand together to fight this issue, but that we should approach this as a collective society.

Afterwards, a number of faith leaders from different religious groups- Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam- then took some time to speak on the issue. It was amazing to see a sense of solidarity amongst the groups in wanting to eradicate violence against women. This is promising as it goes to show that it really is becoming a shared opinion among very diverse communities.

The service ended with interactive songs from Laura Bradshaw, which got the audience involved, as well as concluding remarks from the priest.

The next and last part of the day was the lunch at Llandaff Rugby Club to raise money to support women affected by violence with no recourse to public funds. Although I could not stay for this event for long, the atmosphere felt very positive, which certainly motivated people to give to the cause.

Overall, the day was a success, raising both awareness and money for the cause. The main thing that I think everyone took from the day was that we must stand together in order to eliminate not only violence against women, but gender based violence altogether. It seems clear that we have already made massive progress in terms of campaigning efforts, and the fact there is a mutual stance on the issue among various social groups means that efforts will only increase, which is something positive to take from something as awful as gender-based violence.

Dreams, food, peace

By Alejandro de Miguel

Is it possible for the woman I met to follow her dreams? This question rumbled in my head while we were eating Farial’s feta pizza, an Italian-Middle East recipe, in a break of an activity in Woman Connect First as a part of the UNA exchange work camp 2016. Before eating I sneaked into the kitchen following a charming smell as mice followed the pied-piper and I saw her focused on her task putting a lot of effort into her cooking. After we all cleaned our plates she seemed really fulfilled, with satisfaction in her face, but I thought: Was it her life dream?

Farial grew up in Jordan, a small country in the Middle East. It is considered one of the safest places in the area and it is also famous because is really advanced in comparison to other countries nearby. However, she was brought up in a strict Muslim society and her life was decided from the very beginning. According to her: “there is no respect for woman in my country”. When she was young she aimed to be a journalist with a wish in her mind: ‘to give voice to women’s demands’. But, as a member of a sexist culture she was supposed to be married and so she did.
She started a new life with his husband and they had 4 sons.

Life brought them to Italy where they spent sixteen years. Europe was a radical change for her: ‘when I arrived to Europe I felt different, free’. Farial claimed that she was alone in a foreign country and she felt insecure but nonetheless she had to cook for all her family and be creative and diverse. Farial took advantage of her background in Jordan and her national cuisine and included some inspiration from Italian food. Even though she had never had cooking lessons she learned from the experience. Finally she found a new goal to fight for: her family.

After their Italian adventure, Farial’s family moved to Wales. She started to work as a chef in a restaurant. She cooked Middle East food such as falafel, hummus, cucumber-mint yogurt salad, etc. This period of her life was quite stressful because there were only two employees and a plenty of work regardless the fact that she had to take care of her children. At some point she decided to quit and do something different with her cooking skills.

Farial started to volunteer in a nursing home in Cardiff. She cooks Italian recipes for them and everyday she feels satisfied. She said ‘It’s not just about food, it’s about making people happy’. Farial found in cooking a way to make a difference.

Journalism and cooking are things apparently different, but in the way that Farial spoke about them, they are not so dissimilar. Both can be used to do something for others, so, in some ways, she did follow her dream, despite all the challenges she faced. Live is tough but Farial shows everyday that things can change when you put your heart into it.

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.