Belief and Action: Wales’ Heritage of Opposing Conflict, from WW1 to today

By Craig Owen

In Wales’ National Garden of Peace, between Cardiff’s Temple of Peace and the leafy grounds of Bute Park, stands an imposing stone unveiled in 2005 by peace campaigning group Cynefin y Werin, and dedicated to Wales’ Conscientious Objectors of all wars. Inscribed upon it is a challenge to all generations:

“If the right to life is the first of all human rights

Being the one on which all other rights depend

The right to refuse to kill must be the second.” 

43018316085_959e2a094d_o

Conscientious Objectors Stone, Welsh National Garden of Peace. Craig Owen / WCIA

15 May every year has been recognised since 1985 as International Conscientious Objectors Day – remembering generations of individuals who have opposed conflict by refusing to bear arms.

Conscientious Objection is one of many ways in which generations of peace builders have put their ‘beliefs into action’ by opposing conflict. From the 930+ Welsh objectors imprisoned in WW1 for refusing to kill, to the anti-Nuclear campaigners of the 1960s-now, and ‘Stop the War’ protestors of recent years, Wales has a strong ‘peace heritage’ of speaking out against war.

–> Gain an overview from WCIA’s Opposing Conflict / Belief and Action pages.

–> To find out more about Wales’ WW1 Objectors, read our WCIA Voices May 2019 review of Dr Aled Eirug’s seminal book on ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales‘, published by University of Wales Press 2019.

Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors

You can discover hidden histories of over 930 WW1 COs from communities Wales-wide, using the Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors on WCIA’s Wales Peace Map.

WCIA are indebted to Prof Cyril Pearce of Leeds University for making his “life’s work” available to future researchers through our Belief & Action project.

Hidden Histories of Objectors

From 2014-18, Wales for Peace supported many volunteers, community groups and schools to explore ‘hidden histories’ of peace builders from WW1 to today. The following selection is a fitting tribute for this WW100 COs Memorial Day:

View also some of the short films / digital stories created by young people working with  Wales for Peace community projects over 2014-18, below.

‘Belief and Action’ Exhibition Tour

In 2016, WCIA worked with the Quakers in Wales and a steering group of Welsh experts to develop the ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition, which from 2016-19 has travelled to 15 communities Wales-wide and been visited by many thousands of people. Funded by Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Remembers and launched with an excellent community partnership event between WCIA and the United Reform Church in Pontypridd, the tour aimed to explore the stories and motivations of WW1 Conscientious Objectors, but with a key focus on reflecting on issues of Conscience ‘Then and Now’ during the WW100 centenary period.

–> View WCIA’s 2018 ‘Belief and Action’ Report

Maeydderwen Belief & Action Exhibition

Young Peacemakers launch ‘Belief & Action’ at Ysgol Maesydderwen, May 2018

Last year, for 2018 Conscientious Objectors Day, Wales for Peace worked with Ysgol Maesydderwen in Swansea Valley to stage a Belief and Action exhibition, and also to launch WCIA’s Learning Pack ‘Standing up for your Beliefs’, downloadable from Hwb.

Objection_Then_Now_-_Cover_Eng

Learning Resources

WCIA, the National Library of Wales and Quakers / Friends in Wales have all produced substantial Curriculum Resources on Objection to War , including critical thinking materials and schools projects, available from the Welsh Government’s ‘Hwb’ Education Resources site for schools and teachers.

Find Out More / Take Action

Short Films by Young Peacemakers

Over 2014-18, Wales for Peace was privileged to work with schools and community groups to explore hidden histories of peace with creative responses – including  digital stories and short films

Short Film ‘Without the Scales’ by Merthyr Tydfil students of Coleg y Cymoedd / Uni of Glamorgan, with Cyfarthfa Castle Trust (displayed for Wales for Peace exhibition, Oct 2018), used records to re-enact the Conscientious Objectors Tribunals of WW1.

Short Film ‘Niclas y Glais’ by Ysgol Gyfun Llangynwyd, Bridgend (displayed for Pontypridd Belief and Action exhibition, Oct 2017) looked at the life of Thomas Even Niclas.

Digital Story ‘Conscientious Objectors’ by Crickhowell High School, Monmouthshire (displayed for Women War & Peace exhibition at the Senedd, August 2017) considered the feelings and experiences that led some WW1 soldiers to become objectors to war.

 

Political Tourist: The Final Chapter

Jane Harries

IMG_0524

It is Hanna who first introduces me to the concept of political tourism – a concept she has been looking at in her PhD thesis, an ethnography of the journeys of Machsom Watch members from their homes in Israel to the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank in order to monitor the treatment of Palestinians crossing these checkpoints by IDF soldiers.  Political tourism involves a journey in space and time but also between two different cultures, with an aim to witness and create sociopolitical change.

Towards the end of my visit I experience periods of self-doubt.  Why do I repeatedly come to the area?  To scratch at the wounds of the other?  To confirm a particular political standpoint?  Is what I am doing really voyeurism, and do my visits do any good?  Could I, in fact, do more good by being active at home?  All these questions are valid, and worth looking at in some detail.

One reason for visiting the region on a fairly regular basis is to come as a witness and to stand alongside those who are suffering.  This largely means Palestinian communities because of the effects of the military occupation and harassment by radical settlers. During my visit I receive the latest EAPPI update from the teams in the field.  Their reports show that abuses of human rights have dramatically increased in 2016, including an increase in displacements and house demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Coming to the area and witnessing the effects of these policies on ordinary people is very powerful, especially as this truth is rarely conveyed in the Western media.  Although I haven’t been directly involved with EAPPI this time, I have heard how the Occupation affects the lives of ordinary people in Hebron and Gaza.  It is very important for people affected by violence to feel that they are heard, validated and taken seriously in a world that has largely ignored them.

For political tourism to be authentic, there should also be a desire on the part of the ‘tourist’ to be open to learning and change.  Meeting Rachel and Jenna this time helped me to realise that there are Jewish settlers living on the West Bank who wish to work for peace and understanding with their Arab neighbours.  I may not agree with their decision to live where they are, but I cannot doubt their sincerity in wishing to work towards a more peaceful society.  To address structural injustice, it is government policies that need to change and individuals like Rachel and Jenna may just help to create the social pressure which is necessary to trigger political change.

There are a number of factors which need to be taken into account by those campaigning for a more just and peaceful society.  As a political tourist I am hugely privileged in that I am able to return to a relatively peaceful stable society.   The people I am standing alongside largely don’t have that privilege.  I am also aware that I am relatively empowered, whereas the people we are working with are to a large extent dependent on the rules and whims of military authorities which control their movements.  To be authentic and sincere we need to recognise these inequalities, and to approach the work we are called to do with humility and respect.   For women like Hanna these challenges are to be felt even more keenly as it’s her government that is the oppressor.  She works for political change, knowing that change could mean radical change for her own society.

For our actions to be sincere and authentic, we also need to act on what we have witnessed on our return home – by telling others what we had witnessed and campaigning for change. Nor should the fact that we are active in seeking solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict mean that we are inactive elsewhere.  We should speak out against human rights abuses and social discrimination wherever they occur – at home and abroad.

IMG_0520

On my last morning Hanna and I visit her local park and shopping mall.  Here we seem a million miles away from the noisy, dusty litter-strewn streets of Gaza. Even here, however, there are factors which indicate the nature of Israeli society.  Hanna points out the fact that nearly all those serving in the shopping Mall are Palestinian Israeli.  On observing more closely I see that she is right.  Socio-economic discrimination seems to operate in Israel itself for the Palestinian minority (around 20% of the population).

Just before I leave Hanna is keen to show me a couple of YouTube clips which give her hope.  These are of the singer Ziv Yehezkel, born into a traditional Orthodox Jewish family, but who has learnt about traditional Palestinian oud-playing and singing, and taken the tradition to his heart. He now performs traditional songs and melodies alongside a Palestinian Israeli soprano Nisreen Qadri, backed by the Jerusalem-Andalou orchestra.  As with Violette’s Nasijona project, Hanna dreams of an intergrated society  where Israelis and Palestinians can live, work and be creative alongside one another, respecting one another’s culture and heritage.  Like Violette, Hanna seeks for hope through the creative arts.

Political Tourist part 6: Discovering and Sharing Heritage for Truth and Peace

Jane Harries

 

Violette

Wednesday, 13th April.  I travel to Nazareth to reconnect with my friend Violette.  We first
met in 2004 when Violette was part of a visit of Israeli and Palestinian peace women to the UK organised by ‘Women to Women for Peace’, and have kept in touch ever since.  A Christian Palestinian Israeli and active within ‘Sabeel’, Violette remembers 1948 and how Galilee was before the formation of the Israeli state – a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side and cooperated.  She used to run a pharmacy in the centre of Nazareth, and has degrees from both French and Italian universities.

Over a delicious breakfast of pizza-type bread topped with zata’ar, parmesan cheese and labane, we talk about the work that Violette is involved in at the moment.  She is concerned that Palestinian culture is being lost and wants to find creative ways of keeping her heritage alive.  She shows me a YouTube clip of a drama created by her daughter Faten called ‘Living Stones’ in which the stones of significant buildings come to life and reveal the history and culture of the place.  We also talk about ‘Nasijona’, a project that Violette is creating in Nazareth, which aims to bring women together to revive handicrafts which are in danger of dying out, but also to recreate the harmonious Nazareth community that Violette remembers.  When I visited last year, the project was just an empty building and an idea.  Violette describes how the idea has now taken off and inspired women of different ages, backgrounds and faiths to come together.

We talk about barriers and the actions necessary to remove them.  Violette tells me a story of one of the founder members of Machsom Watch – the Israeli organisation that monitors the checkpoints (Machsom means ‘barrier’ in Hebrew).  Despite the fact that this woman had set up an organisation to monitor the abuse of human rights and the harassment of Palestinians at checkpoints, she had still been wary of visiting Violette in Nazareth, a predominantly Arab city.  This demonstrates that barriers are not only physical, but accumulate in the minds of those who never meet – creating myths and monsters.  She explains that ‘Nasijona’ is a combination of the two words ‘barrier’ and ‘way’ – translating as something like ‘the Way to Remove Barriers’.

We visit the Silesian School, which overlooks the city.  From here it is plain to see how the original Arab city is squeezed into a confined area, whereas Nazareth Ilit, the newer Jewish area of the city, expands across the hilltops.  Violette remembers how, after 1948, Palestinian families fled to the Silesian monastery after their villages were destroyed and they were forbidden to return.  Some were tricked into signing papers which they thought gave them the deeds to a new apartment in Nazareth, but were in fact an agreement to give up any claim to their land.  The current residents of Nazareth are the descendants of these displaced people.

In the afternoon we have lunch in a café in Nazareth.  Violette remarks positively on the fact that the menu is in Arabic.  Although Arabic is an official language in Israel, it is in places disappearing from public places, and is in danger of being supplanted by Russian.  We meet with Jonathan Cook, a British journalist and commentator and share our understanding of the present political reality of what is going on in the region.  I comment on the fact that I have just received the February update from EAPPI (the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel), which documents a dramatic increase in demolitions and displacements in Area C of the West Bankso far in 2016.  We conjecture as to whether the ultimate aim of the Israeli government is to annex Area C – 60% of the West Bank.  Jonathan thinks that this is what is happening, as does Jeff Halper (Director of ICAHD – the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions).  Once this happens we are into an end game – the creation of Bantustans which will be barricaded in and controlled like Gaza.  We talk about how good the Israeli government is at controlling the media, and agree that it’s important to keep on telling the truth about the reality we see.  This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, but is about speaking out for respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, based on values of true democracy and humanity.

nasijona

We finish the day by visiting ‘Nasijona’ in action.  Women sit around in groups and there is an air of contented industry.  Older expert needlewomen show younger women how to create traditional articles of beauty.  Under their deft fingers and patient smiles works of art slowly emerge.  Muslim and Christian, old and young, veiled and unveiled are joined in this enterprise – recreating heritage and community.  Violette points to one striking fact: they are all smiling.

This may not change the political map, but it defies a narrative of division, distrust and incompatibility.  Alongside traditional handicrafts, these women are recreating a culture of trust and hope for the future.

 

embroidery2