Women to Women for Peace – Building Bridges between Israelis and Palestinians in Wales, 2004

Kathyrn Evans

‘Women to Women for Peace’ – The Mission

The mission statement of Women to Women for Peace (W2W4P): “World Peace will come through the will of ordinary people like yourselves” encapsulates the vision behind the founding of the organisation in 1984:

“No young mother in this country or any other wants her son to go and kill the sons of other young mothers and I believe that if inter-visitations were arranged between parties of young mothers from Britain … and from other countries who chose to join in, bridges of understanding could be built … as a REAL contribution to world peace”

Lucy Behenna, founder of Mothers for Peace (later became W2W4P).

The organisation consisted of a group of likeminded people who came together to build bridges between people from countries which have contrasting and conflicting political, philosophical, cultural and religious interests. W2W4P had numerous highlights during their thirty-year history as a non-profit organisation working for international solidarity.

Why you need to know about Women to Women for Peace

I hope that once you’ve read my articles you feel the same as I felt; that there are lessons to take away and how vital it is to have international solidarity movements. The work of W2W4P has left me feeling proud of Wales for being part of an amazing peacemaking organisation dedicated towards pacifism internationally as well as locally, bringing solidarity to our front doors. I feel positive that there is always something an individual or collective group can do to reach out and show support to other countries in distress.

Jane Harries, who was a member of W2W4P for over 20 years, said:

“It is difficult to gauge the impact that W2W4P had on my life and that of my family for many years.  When our children were small we opened our home to a variety of extraordinary peace women.  There was Marina, who traipsed all the way from Moscow to Bridgend on the train, bearing traditional Russian ornaments which still grace our living room.  Then there were the women from the former East Germany who were part of the street protests in Dresden which started the decline of the DDR and led to German unification. 

As our children grew I was able to travel further afield and play an active role in visits that helped to break down prejudices and stereotypes between women from countries in conflict: Cuba and America; Israel and Palestine.  Thus W2W4P was able to contribute to building bridges of understanding and to help create networks focused on creating peaceful relationships. 

Even today when in Israel and Palestine I visit my dear friends Hanna (Israeli) and Violette (Palestinian).  They are both still working for peace – for a solution based on justice and mutual respect for both peoples.  I admire them greatly, and am grateful to W2W4P for the opportunity to get to know them and to support them in their vision.”

A successful example of W2W4P’s success in building bridges between people with contrasting values and beliefs happened in 2004 when 8 women from peace organisations from Israel and Palestine came on a joint visit to the UK, including Cardiff, Wales (where they spoke at The Temple of Peace). I would like to invite readers to explore the motives and outcomes of such an important visit, and to learn more about international solidarity in action.

Israeli and Palestinian women from peace organisations visit Wales, 2004

Aims of Visit

I have summarised below the aims of the Israel Palestine visit to show how these aims are relevant for today’s world which is characterised by ongoing international conflicts.  The story of the visit shows how a small group of dedicated individuals can make a positive difference:

  • To help build up a network of support for women and families in Israel and Palestine (two conflicting countries).
  • To raise public awareness:
    • Promote a more accurate international awareness regarding identity and presence.
    • The need to keep getting the message out so people will feel galvanised into activity out of conviction, not sympathy.
  • To engage in a mix of formal and informal meetings with the public, politicians, influential audiences and the media to promote awareness of the subject.
  • To help change how the conflict is framed:
    • For it not to be seen as solely a security problem .
    • Strong emphasis on occupation, inequalities, values and human rights.
    • Positive international intervention!
  • To break down international barriers and break through stereotypes, which are so often a big factor in conflict and crisis.
  • To promote a vision of peace and solidarity, and how it is possible through the will of ordinary people.
  • The opportunity for all members to meet in a neutral safe place:
    • To establish a real nucleus of friendship.
    • To work on existence and existing identities.
  • To develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for different national and faith communities.
  • To give the women a public platform, so their voice can be heard by the media, politicians and many other influential members of public.

Outcomes

Overall the visit was extremely successful. It was noted that the women from Israel and Palestine were brave, committed and shared the same hopes and concerns as women and families in Wales. Although they came from countries experiencing bitter conflict, the ability to meet and share their realities in a neutral safe space, enabled the women to develop a warm and affectionate relationship.  They fed back to members of W2W4P that they found the visit to the United Kingdom a positive experience and wished to continue their cooperation in the future. The visit encouraged a more informed understanding of the ways people were working for peace in the region. It was endearing that the women felt heartened and impressed by the level of support they were greeted with in Wales and England; they felt people’s concern for their respective communities, and for their work for peace under difficult circumstances.

The Israeli and Palestinian women returned home with a vision for the future.  They had gained inspiration from their visit and were able to formulate new ideas about how to move forward in their fight for peace and how people in the UK could support them in this. On returning home, they were able to organise joint initiatives and to meet in Jerusalem – building on the positive relationship that was made possible through the work of W2W4P.

The all important lessons of solidarity from Women to Women for Peace

Over its 30 year existence, the work and experience of W2W4P was tremendously valuable and rewarding. A lot can be achieved if we allow it to happen. The results from international solidarity movements can only be positive.  There is so much to learn beyond our borders and re-creating an organisation like Women to Women for Peace could allow us to make a positive contribution to peace in conflicting countries.

The motivation and dedication of members of W2W4P represents a desire for peace and friendship that can expand over oceans and cross national boundaries. It’s difficult to actually put into words how W2W4P held such inspirational and influential links to Wales in their fight for peace for thirty years. As an individual I am certainly proud of their achievements and want their successes to be heard.

What W2W4P has shown is how barriers and walls only perpetuate stereotypes, myths and fears; it is what the root of conflicts come down to. W2W4P’s motivation and passion have helped me to recognise what we have in common; Lucy Behenna, the co-founder of W2W4P in 1984 (originally called Mothers for Peace) states:

“Mother love is one of the greatest powers and it’s universal. Mothers of all creeds and colours, religions and no religions, whatever government they are under, desire the best for their children and I thought that great link between mothers we might use to help break down a little of the fear and mistrust.”

Lucy had “instinctively tapped into the most powerful peacemaking power in the world” and we need it back again!

For more information and stories from the Women to Women for Peace successes, please read my other article on their visit to Cuba and the time when women from Cuba and America came to Wales

Sources:

  • Sheila Ward, ‘A Most Remarkable Old Lady: Mother For Peace: Lucy Behenna’, Quaker Home Service, London, 1989
  • Women to Women for Peace Newsletter, October 2004
  • Women to Women for Peace Evaluation Forms
  • Women to Women for Peace Itineraries
  • Women to Women for Peace Meeting Agendas
  • Plaid Cymru press release October 2004, Jill Evans MEP.
  • Women to Women for Peace report and background statement, September 2004
  • Jane Harries, ‘Report of a Visit by Palestinian and Israeli Women to the UK – October 2004’. October 2004.
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Volunteers run successful Human Library Festival

By project volunteer Anna Ratkai

On 25 November over 250 people attended the Human Library Festival at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff organised by young volunteers from the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and refugee volunteers from Oasis Cardiff.

Eritrean coffee

Volunteer Osman’s Eritrean coffee draws a crowd

Attendees had the chance to explore all the interesting activities provided by organisations such as Stand up to Racism and The Welsh Refugee Council; listen to all the great musicians performing throughout the event; and try traditional dishes and sweets from around the world. So what is a Human Library Festival?

A Human Library is just like an ordinary library, however, in this case the books are replaced with people, who are happy to share their life stories with anyone interested. Our Human Library Festival featured books who had stories to tell about immigration and asylum-seeking in Wales, human rights issues and integration. For instance Amanda Morris talked about being a feminist who wears an Islamic headscarf; Paul Battenbbough chatted about what it is like to teach music in Oasis Refugee Center and Gareth Bonello explained how he has been campaigning for Human Rights through music.

The vibrant Library featured 12 Human Books who couldn’t have been any busier talking to the curious and engaged audiences

Engaging stories from human books

who left very positive feedback. A politics student from Cardiff University said he has learnt a lot about Human Rights and immigration related issues though these conversations, another attendee wrote this on the Library’s white board: “It was great to hear some inspirational stories. I must do more to support migrants and learn from them!”. It wasn’t only the audience that benefited from the event. The event was organised by young volunteers and asylum-seekers themselves, who enjoyed working together, building skills and becoming friends in the process.

The Human Library Festival also set up a Market Place in the stunning Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace. This Market Place hosted organizations who came along to represent their work as well as to engage the attendees in activities

Fantastic music at the event

related to integration and Human Rights. For instance, one such organization, People & Planet called the attention to the unjust distribution of economic benefits and their environmental costs in the world.

 

Food played a central role during the event – people had the chance to try different nations’ traditional dishes and sweets, while the Eritrean stall also gave the chance to explore coffee-making traditions and have a nice hot and refreshing traditionally prepared Eritrean cup of coffee! Sudanese curry, Turkish sweets, Omani dessert, Lebanese finger food and much more was served some of which was kindly donated by local City Road restaurants Deli Fuego, Al Wali, Saray and Mezze Luna.

BBC Radio Wales interviewed two volunteers of the project, listen to the interview here:

Celebrating Sudan at with Sudanese volunteers from Oasis

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09g655c (time code: 2:13:13 – 2:18:15).

Also, Journalism student Sagnik came along to the event and and was inspired to make this video.

Check out our Flickr account as well to see pictures of the event.

Many of the Human Books said they’d be more than happy to share their stories in the future, and many attendees inquired about the next Human Library event.

Thank you to People’s Postcode Trust, entirely funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery for funding the event.

Cynhadledd Ysgolion Cymru dros Heddwch | Wales for Peace Schools Conference

By  Mushfik Khan

The 4th Wales for Peace annual school conference was held this year on the 20th of September at the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay.

Wales for Peace itself is a 4-year heritage lottery funded project located in the Temple of Peace at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs in Cardiff. The main aim of this project is to learn about Wales’ peace heritage over the last century and to inspire the youth of Wales to research and discover the ‘hidden histories’ on how Wales as a nation over the decades has worked towards securing peace. This year’s event named ‘Young People Voicing Peace’, was primarily focused on young people from a total of nine schools located in Cardiff and surrounding areas who shared digital stories they had produced with Ffotgallery on different themes relating to peace. The conference therefore began by asking the question,

“In the 100 years since World War 1, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace?”

 Elin Jones, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales opened the conference with a welcoming speech.

David Hughes the European Commissioner for Wales then gave a short speech in which peacehe spoke of Wales’ voice in Europe. Mr Hughes emphasised how not only are we living in uncertain and “dangerous times” globally due to ongoing conflicts but in the United Kingdom, young people face an uncertain future due to Brexit. He explained how important cooperation and openness were in maintaining peace not only now but in the future as he stated, “those who forget history, are condemned to repeat it”.

The next stage of the conference involved the students sharing their digital stories in front of the audience of volunteers, teachers and fellow students. The stories touched upon a number of topics such as refugees and asylum seekers, women, war and peace and the voice of young people. One of the digital stories involved the students asking younger students what the word peace meant to them and one student responded with, “when everyone is happy and gets along” whereas another took a completely different approach to interpreting the word peace and stated, “I think when you be quiet, like in a library”, which received some chuckles around the room.

Before the break for lunch, the students had a chance to aytend various workshops and to explore themes such as, Wales as a nation of sanctuary, Wales and international cooperation, women’s role in peace making and the voice of young people in creating a peaceful Wales. The workshop which I attended was the voice of young people in creating a peaceful Wales and this workshop contained a series of activities which were designed to educate the students on the governmental process within Wales and it also encouraged them to be vocal and share their opinions. The students were asked questions like, “are politicians doing enough for peace” to which the majority responded no, stating that there are “still wars going on” and that the politicians could “always do better”. After the workshops, the groups regathered and shared what they did in their workshops and what they have learnt from them.

poppioes

The lunch break took place in the Senedd where there was an opportunity for the students to view the Poppies Weeping Willow exhibition and the Wales for Peace exhibition on Women, War and Peace which featured photos taken by photojournalist Lee Karen Stow.

The exhibition featured stories from women who had been affected by war or from those who had campaigned for peace.

To finish off the conference, there was a panel event which also included a member for the National Assembly for Wales, Ann Jones. The students were able to ask any questions displayregarding what they had learnt or heard throughout the day. This was a great way to end a great conference which allowed the students to  learn about Wales’ peace heritage and got them to think about what they as the future generation can do to ensure that Wales continues to strive for peace.

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 

Welsh among the ANZACs: WW1 in Palestine on the Centenary of Beersheeba, 31st Oct 1917

Hidden Histories of Welsh Fallen in Israel

By Eli Lichtenstein, North Wales

    

The Battle of Beersheba, British Palestine – now Israel

The story starts exactly 100 years ago (31st October 2017). In the Battle of Beersheba, the British army was taking what used to be my hometown, Beer Sheba from the Turkish army. The city was conquered mainly by Anzac cavalry. However, it would be impossible to take the town (whose main importance was, and still is, as a junction point) without heavy infantry involvement to the west of the parochial town. From there the joint British Anzac forces, split in a fanlike movement to Gaza in the west, and Hebron and Jerusalem in the north east and all  the way to the north. And what was until then part of the Damascus province became Palestine (and later part of Israel).

But as time passed something odd happened. We, the locals, remembered only the Anzac cavalry battle and somehow completely forgot all the rest i.e.  the Infantry and even two pilots (English, and Australian) who took part in the battle in the area, and were buried there. It is hard to say why. Is it somehow the romantic notion of a bygone era versus brutal and unglamorous modern warfare that makes us remember the cavalry and forget the rest? If so one might assume that it was, in hindsight, the last battle of its kind.  Furthermore it took place in the ‘Holy-Land’ at the town of Abraham against the ‘infidel’ and the ‘Bosch’.  One might assume that it struck a chord with the general public and could be used for propaganda purposes. On the other hand, could it be more a reflection of the Israeli attitudes following the War of Independence and the resentment created during the British rule of the area?

Either way, the results were the same. We all believed that the WWI cemetery near the old Ottoman Turkish station was solely occupied only by Anzac soldiers. I think I would still believe it to be so to this day,  if I hadn’t moved to North Wales and met several locals who told me that their great-great uncles are buried in Beer Sheba Israel.

When I finally visited the cemetery, I found that, contrary to popular belief, most of the graves are not of Anzacs – of 1179 graves at least one third are graves of Welsh soldiers. Furthermore approximately 80% of those who killed on the day of 31st October 1917, did not belong to the Light Horse Brigade, ie.  80% of the casualties were British. Which, again begs the question of how and why we choose to remember historical events.

It would be interesting therefore to find letters and photographs of those Welsh soldiers who died and are buried in the Beer Sheba Cemetery so that after a century in which they were forgotten by history we could bring their memories, thoughts and experiences back to life. By doing so I hope we could learn something about how the lives of their families and communities were affected, and a bit more about the consequences of war.

Pvt Percy Chandler – one of many Welsh Fusiliers who died and have memorials in Beersheba, British Southern Palestine (now Israel). Also recorded in the Welsh WW1 Book of Remembrance:   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to the Welsh Fusiliers in Beersheba Cemetery, many came from the local North Wales area – like Private Ifor Jones, who lived in York Villa Llandudno:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some Welsh soldiers came from South Wales like Private D.E. Matthews from Merthyr Tydfil, of the Civil Service Riflemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then finally it was the first time that I noticed that some of the tombstones are not only engraved in English, but in Welsh: Cwsg Milwr, Cwsg (“Rest Soldier, Rest) – T Roberts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then and Now

Above the WW1 cemetery shortly after the capture of Beer Sheva. See the train station master’s house (mid building) and the train in background and possibly a convoy of camels between the two buildings.

Below, the cemetery at 2017

   

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

 

An interview with an activist: Hanif Bhamjee

Michael Beya recounts his meeting with Hanif Bhamjee, founder of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Upon my arrival at the Temple of Peace where the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) is based, I began researching the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Wales.

In the early 1960s people globally were becoming much more aware of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (often shortened to ‘AAM’). By this time apartheid was reaching its peak.

AAM campaigners were grabbing opportunities to abolish apartheid using all means possible, including the involvement of schools, churches, political groups, local communities and sports organisations.

I was interested in what I understood was the Welsh Rugby Union’s (WRU) involvement in the campaign of boycotting all activities related to South Africa and urging South Africa to be banned from international sporting events.

This is how I became aware of a man who was a prominent AAM activist living here in Cardiff – Hanif Bhamjee. I met with Mr Bhamjee and asked him about his role and activities within the movement and also about the WRU’s contribution to the AAM.

What Mr Bhamjee told me contradicted my understanding of what happened.

thumbnail_Michael and Hanef

During our interview he told me about protests he was involved in when rugby teams from South Africa played in Wales.  He said they picketed games, and in some cases smoke-bombed pitches.  He told me that the teams began including 3 or 4 black players, to give what he says was the impression of being multi-racial.  But he said the movement knew that generally these players were going back to South Africa to play in black teams, not the national team.

Mr Bhamjee told me about discussions that took place between the WRU and the AAM, how in 1982 the WRU had decided it would no longer tour South Africa as an international team, but that rugby connections would continue between the two countries for a few years to come.

I spent an hour with Mr Bhamjee, and he didn’t just talk about rugby.  I was impressed by his own experiences in Wales as an anti-apartheid campaigner; experiences that had nothing to do with rugby.

He told me that his early history in South Africa was important.  He had been involved in the movement for a long time, and had met Nelson Mandela and others in the movement when he was 10 years old.

Mr Bhamjee had then moved to Birmingham, UK, and became involved in the AAM there.  He moved to Wales and was surprised that the movement only really existed in Cardiff; there were small groups in Swansea and Newport, but no Welsh organisation.  He said it was painstaking work.

“There was a lot of racism”, and that this was all over the UK.  “There were signs in the windows” he said, saying, “no Blacks…no Irish. Room to let.  But if a black man or an Asian guy went for it, it was suddenly gone.”  He said that he and his colleagues had tested this theory with some white friends.

He told me how the AAM in Wales grew, developing groups in Merthyr, Wrexham and Denbigh.  By about 1989 they had 22 branches in 22 cities and towns.

With this momentum, the movement demonstrated not only about rugby, but started boycotting products, like South African fruit and vegetables.  “You’d be amazed at the kind of stuff that was coming in here” he said, “from tools – like spades – and knives and forks.”

During the interview with Mr Bhamjee it emerged that a rebellious spirit grew in him; he viewed the AAM as something that left him out of the circle; he felt forgotten, which left him very disappointed.

He felt that his efforts, time and dedication that he had offered were left unrewarded. He couldn’t afford to go back to South Africa to find a job in the country of his origin, which he had fought for, for more than half a century.

I was also interested to know how Mr Bhamjee viewed the movement now, as active or passive.  He told me that it was over, and that the movement was almost discontinued.

I asked him about how he felt when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison with his fist in the air, if their expectations were too high?  He told me that when Mandela and others were released from Robben Island they were saying the right things, but that as time went Bhamjee began to have reservations about progress being made.

“When he came out in 1990, him and the leadership – all of whom were released from Robben Island – were all saying the right things, but as time progressed – 1991, 92…96 – you could see a dramatic shift in their views, and people don’t like to hear this…And then he retired early and nobody could understand why.  Some people said it was due to illness, but as soon as he retired the situation got even worse.”

Mr Bhamjee went on to refer to another senior member of the Party and his unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the direction he took.

I went on to ask him – as a key anti-Apartheid campaigner – if he had ever thought of going back to South Africa.  Here’s what he told me:

“I applied for jobs. I applied for jobs in the legal field, the diplomatic field because I was a lawyer…I didn’t get any interviews.  Then there was – years later – they were forming a legal aid board in South Africa so I applied for a job there.  And the woman in charge said you’ll get it because you’ve worked with legal aid firms…she phoned me up a few days before the interview and said sorry, higher authorities have decided we couldn’t shortlist you.…I wanted to go back.”

I asked him: did you feel forgotten, after all you’ve done for the AAM, all the links you had with the ANC (African National Congress, a political party)?  Now you go back home looking for a job, you couldn’t find one.  Were you disappointed?

Mr Bhamjee said “Yes, I was. I was extremely disappointed.  And I still am.”

It was an interesting meeting and interview with Mr Bhamjee. I am happy I met with him, learning about his experiences and thoughts about the AAM, past and present.

These are Mr Bhamjee’s opinions and his perspective on events as he witnessed them.

As I reflected on my time spent with Mr Bhamjee – and how I had my preconceived ideas corrected – I understood that there was much more discussion, research and debate to be held. Perhaps someone reading this will be among those who contribute. Any readers who have ideas or information not discussed here are welcome to contribute to further debate on the AAM.

For more information on the work of Hanif Bhamjee and Action for Southern Africa Cymru (the successor to the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement) click here

For more on the history of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in UK, including Wales click here