Posts Tagged ‘nonviolence’


MPT’s Fall Newsletter

October 29, 2012

Click here:  MPT’s Fall 2012 Newsletter 

Knowing that active nonviolence is always our MPT focus, how do we keep on doing the good work with informed action in community, and with commitment in the face of obstacles? And secondly: What are effective ways of overcoming our own, our community’s, our world’s sense of hopelessness, paralysis, atomization, apathy and cynicism?

This Fall 2012 Newsletter offers the following answers to those questions:

  • Some Tools for the Long Haul – Peter Dougherty (pg. 1)
  • A Noble Difference – Annette Thomas (2-3)
  • Where There Is Apathy, Let Us Bring Hope – Albert F.J. Kreitz (3)
  • This is It!: Experiencing Beloved Community – Kim Redigan (4)
  • Seeing the Other  – Kristie Guerrero-Taylor (5)
  • The Outcome Is Not In Our Hands – Sandra Schneiders, IHM (6)
  • Cynicism & Community – Lydia Wylie-Kellermann (7)
  • Making a Difference, Moment by Moment – Paula Marie (8)
  • Nonviolence Training (8)
  • Peace Teams and the Fall 2012 Peace Team (9)
  • Growing Community Events – Elizabeth Walters, IHM (10-11)
  • Help Continue the Dream (12)

MPT’s Summer Newsletter: Accompanying Mexico in Peace

September 27, 2012

CLICK HERE:  17_MPT_Summer_2012_Newsletter

Featuring these articles:  

  • MPT with the Mayans of Chiapas, Mexico  By Peter Dougherty
  • MPT Accompanying the People of Juarez  By Elizabeth Walters, IHM
  • Birth of Mexico’s Peace Movement  By Amy Smetana
  • Opportunities
  • Take Action!
  • Support
  • Centro Santa Catalina
  • Be the Change You Want to Happen –
  • Get Involved in MPT

Finding a Definition for Peace

July 12, 2012

What is peace? We are all familiar with the word, with the idea behind it. We use it all the time in a whole range of contexts and situations. It’s a part of common greetings during the holidays and at church. It’s seen on signs at various protests and spoken about in government debates.

You can buy it on jewelry or simply hold up two fingers to express it but if someone were to ask you what peace was, what would you say? It’s harder than it seems. Is it a feeling? A state of being? A foreign policy? Or an unattainable dream for the world? Whatever it is, dialogue between any people can expand the knowledge of it, enrich the meaning, and make the idea of it more attainable in the tangible world.

Eric Sirotkin is a human rights lawyer and peace advocate having done extensive work in South Africa, Korea, and the United States supporting peaceful movements and peace education. His time in South Africa in particular opened his eyes to the idea of “ubuntu” a philosophy of human connectedness. Ubuntu is the allegiance and relations between humans and the notion that every person belongs to a greater whole of one. Simply put by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it is the essence of being human because “the only way we can be human is together.” Sirotkin has embraced this and created Ubuntu Works Peace Education Project. With this he travels the world educating people on peacemaking.

Some of Sirotkin’s efforts include delivering presentations on peaceful conflict resolution and peace education. At a 2004 event at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, Sirotkin engaged the attendees in conversation about what peace really was. He began by explaining that the peace movement is commonly misunderstood because there is not a coherent/cohesive idea across the board for what peace really is when it is achieved. While it’s a universal principle that everyone can relate to, is it more than just a notion of non-violence? He encouraged the participants to think of a concrete idea of what peace was so that the goal of peace would have a more direct path to take. The process of achieving “peace” and the movement as a whole would become more effective if more people understood what the common ideas of it were. He further explains the difficulty of translating universal principals such as peace because the idea of it transcends across different times and contexts. To him, it is “always evolving” but opening dialogue about it will help others get a better grasp of what it really is.

Many people began by claiming that peace is the absence of war and the absence of fear. In today’s society war is a metaphor for everything. It is taught in schools, evident in daily language, and must be waged against all things bad in the world; terrorism, drugs, poverty, and even women. Everyone is taught to be scared even if they don’t know what they are afraid of. When they don’t know who their enemy is they will buy into violence.

Many discussed though that it is more than that. This idea of war is embedded in the American culture because of its focus on competition and intimidation. Some participants in the workshop noted that the way we treat our young people builds fear because intimidation is embedded in the curriculum and teaching techniques of our education system. While students may not be scared of their teachers, they certainly are afraid to get a bad grade, sometimes ask a wrong question or stand up in front of the class. With this comes the competitive attitude because from a young age students enter into sports and academia where the attitude and mindset is to win and be the best. There are many good lessons learned from being on a sports team or being pushed to excel in school such as team work, cooperation, hard work, determination, and responsibility but with the mind-set of winning, someone always has to lose. The concepts of helping one another is dramatically overshadowed when a student is punished and accused of cheating when they try to help an opponent or fellow classmate in need. There is a “dependency to build conflict” as one participant noted and “everything of value is to beat somebody.” Many of the participants concluded that the educational system needs to be reformed in order to create a space in the future where peace is possible even if it unclear what exactly that might be.

Coming off of the discussion on education many people began to explore what peace meant in the context of conflict. It was noted by many participants that conflict is always going to be there because it will never be possible to settle and resolve everything. What needs to be taught is how to deal with that conflict in a way that is not a reaction or competition but a response. One participant noted that “it’s not what we do but how we do it.” Peace is the process of how we deal with problems individually, nationally and internationally. Peace can come by listening, learning to negotiate, and working together to try to understand each other buy finding commonalities. It’s idealistic but it’s possible. Many people agreed that there is a need for this connection and cooperation amongst people across international borders even without conflict. There is a need to live with respect and compassion for others, putting all people on a more equal common ground. More importantly, these relationships need to be valued. One woman went as far to express her opinion on how we need to get over nationalism. She explained that peace cannot come when we have the power over model to fall back on. With nationalist tendencies there it will always be a back and forth struggle to resolve conflict than an effort to ensure lasting peace or justice.

There is a deeper level to this idea of peaceful relations between and among people. Peace is very much a personal thing as well. It’s something that is acted on globally and nationally but very much so individually as well. One woman explained though that this strive for individual peace should not be for personal excellence and for yourself, you should do it for the betterment of society. We need to be virtuous in doing something constructive for your community and the world when making yourself a better person.

The question of which kind of peace comes first (individual or societal) supported Sirotkin’s initial belief that the idea of peace is always evolving. It can begin with one person. Mr. Sirotkin quoted Paul Hawkins in saying “You can blame people who knock over things in the dark, or you can begin to light the candles.” One woman said “excitement is a most contagious thing” which is true. All it can take is one person becoming at peace with themselves to inspire others to do the same. On the other hand though a societal peace individual people will be able to become inspired as well. Widespread social peace will enable peacemakers to be able to reach those who may be turned off by the idea of world peace. It’s a constant cycle, an ever changing evolution. There is no one place to start but as many participants pointed out the least they could do and the most they could work on was start with themselves. One participant in noting the importance of individual peace, nonviolent communication and conflict resolution claimed “Our privilege is being deconstructed” we are having the same problems as the rest of the world and are learning that we are not so isolated like we thought. Our problems and battles seem bigger than they are because of the globalized world we live in. Peace is not about loving your neighbor but loving yourself so find that something good in everyone, don’t fuel negativity with negativity, and focus on your own everyday behavior and we’ll be amazed at what we can accomplish.

Going back to the original focus of discussion on what peace was, participants collaborated ideas on what peace was aside from an absence of war and fear. It is equality, equilibrium, balance, and connectedness. Tranquility economically, socially, and culturally. It’s more than that though, it’s a state of being, a goal, and always a struggle to strive to maintain that state but it’s also an opportunity. It’s a commitment to resolve conflict with civility moving away from the urge to dominate and becoming comfortable with differing points of view; adding diversity and tolerance into our lives. Peace is a place in the middle of conflict where one can really hear what the other is saying. Peace and the peace movement come off soft, gentle, and passive in appearance but many participants saw it quite differently. Peace is fierce and aggressive. If you think about it Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus were not mild or passive men. They were radical, taking action that involved the risk of getting hurt or having consequences. It is more than signing a petition and standing in the streets. They reached out and mobilized people encouraging them to take a stand and use their daily actions to dislodge the current power structure. The current peace movement isn’t like this anymore though, many don’t want to be destructive but unfortunately that’s what is going to have to happen. One man brought up a very interesting point that peace was a negative concept in society. Not negative as a connotation of bad but negative as in it goes against the status quo, it’s an idea that is not inherent in our society. Because of this the peace movement today “demands self-examination, accountability, and responsibility” and the people involved have to be willing to make the same sacrifices as any other independent movement.

Sirotkin noted that it is easier to mobilize and organize people when you are for something than to organize people against something. There are many people around the nation and the world who want peace but one man brought up that not many excited over it. He used an example that Americans get excited over football and therefore many follow it. Peace isn’t exciting enough for many to follow it and this man suggested that we change that; make peace exciting, make people want to be involved. Many don’t realize that we don’t have to wait for a war to end to judge if there is peace. Sirotkin pointed out that peace can come to other realms of life and then can eventually make it to the conflicts of war. Simply put, you don’t have to end a war to spread peace. As many of the participants discussed, you don’t have to only focus on the big things to make a difference, start small, start with yourself and the rest will fall into place. There is violence everywhere in the world. It doesn’t just happen in poor neighborhoods or war zones. One woman pointed out that the corporate world is a much more violent place and it is their behavior that influences the everyday person. Even Mr. Siortkin, a lawyer himself, claimed that the legal profession was one of the most violent with the constant ‘us versus them’ mentality. He also said that we tend to forget the good when times are so dismal and low with current events constantly reminding the public of the horrors around the world. Another woman pointed out that the everyday injustice that occurs in our communities is a form of violence as well. As discussed peace is more than non-violence, she said it’s the strength to love and dissipate these things.

Peace is an abstraction. It is difficult to define yet easy to understand. In striving for safety and security to live one’s life it is thought that we have to make people fear us so we have the security that they will not attack us and jeopardize our safety. People utilize violence for fearful purposes but that is because they do not know the means of nonviolence. If the methods of nonviolence were known, Sirotkin and many other peacemakers are certain that they would chose to utilize those over violence. As discussed and concluded in this workshop nearly 8 years ago, the peace movement can very easily start with the individual. What needs to happen though is all these people need to come together not only to support one another in their efforts for peace but to encourage young people as well. One of the problems with the peace movement that was pointed out repeatedly was that it consists of the same group of people. What is wrong with it? Why are people so turned off by it? There are very few young people who are active in the peace movement and one of the thoughts behind why this is is because of the way young people are raised today. So think about what peace means to you. Discuss it with another, expand your knowledge, and inspire each other. Take that and share it with others, especially young people. Act together, connect with others and you’ll be amazed with what you can accomplish.

Please feel free to share your personal ideas of peace and what it means to you.

MPT Intern – Shannon Riley

Please visit Eric Sirotkin’s website to learn more about the Ubuntu Peace Education Projects at

A copy of the transcript for this conference can be found at


Michigan Peace Team in D.C.

October 9, 2011
Nighttime view of Capital

Nighttime view of Capital from Freedom Plaza

During last summer’s U.S. Social Forum, MPT team had the good fortune to meet and work with Elliott Adams, the current president of Veterans for Peace (VFP).  We were honored to learn that, after his having joined us on Peace Teams at that forum and his subsequent attendance at our Training for Trainers the following Fall, he had recommended us to the Veterans For Peace group organizing the October 2011 Movement events in Washington D.C.   At VFP’s invitation – and with the financial support of many of you – five of us made the drive to D.C. to come and facilitate nonviolence and peace team trainings here for VFP members and others dedicated to keeping Occupy D.C. a nonviolent, well-coordinated demonstration.

It has been an amazing experience and we have been both welcomed and very well received.  Our trainings have been witness to a wealth of diversity, with folks coming from nearly everywhere across this country….from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine; from Alaska to Hawaii.  We even had a young woman from Sweden!  For many in the group, this is their first political “action” ever…yet there were equally as many “movement veterans.”  Experience ranged from having had no nonviolence training before attending our workshops, to folks who can honestly profess to being professional nonviolence skills trainers and facilitators.

Participants seemed to especially appreciate the ideas of centering as part of preparing for peace team work, utilizing “I-messages”,  and the time spent mastering the CLARA technique (which was a new tool for even some of the most seasoned participants).   Afterwards, attendees expressed a new feeling of preparedness in helping defuse any potential violence.  One young constituent approached us afterward to say he found us to be “wicked knowledgeable”- – high praise in the Generation Y vernacular.  Another participant relayed, “You are clearly in love with the work you do. It shows and makes the training really engaging.”

Folks brought stories from the Occupy N.Y. and Occupy Wall Street events that they had just come from, as did other participants from the many other “occupy” events around the country:  a nation-wide movement called Occupy Together.  One of the most consistent and inspiring things was the deep dedication to nonviolence we saw in these groups, crossing all age, race, and educational boundaries.   People are emphasizing the importance of seeing the humanity in all of us: young and old; Republican, Communist, Democrat and Tea Party members; military veterans and college students;  dedicated peace activists and seasoned police officers.

While we have been here, we have connected with former MPT International peace team member Beth Wichman-Beusher (now based here in Washington D.C.) and former MPT staff member Sayrah Namaste (who flew in from Albuquerque, New Mexico).  We’ve been making new friends with each passing hour and, together, we look forward to gathering early tomorrow, Day 1 of this convergence in Freedom Plaza, to remind our politicians that – together, in one voice – we want people over profits, an end to the war machine, health care for all, the termination of corporate welfare, and sweeping environmental protections for our wounded planet.

Our deep appreciation to all who made it possible for us to be here, to train so many in the ways of nonviolence, and help empower the voice of the people to be heard.

– Peter Dougherty, Mary L. Hanna, Martha Larsen, Jasiu Milanowski, and Sheri Wander: MPT’s  NV Training Team to D.C.

Please stay posted on all that is happening in Freedom Plaza and around the nation:  This is indeed the voice of the people.

Stand With Me

Nonviolence Through Forgiveness

April 21, 2011

In October of 2006, a gunman angry with God entered an Amish one room school house in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and proceeded to shoot 10 girls, fatally wounding five of them before taking his own life.  The community immediately made it a point to show their forgiveness for this man’s acts, even traveling to the gunman’s home to embrace and console his now widowed wife and fatherless children.  Twelve years earlier and oceans away, an entire ethnic population, divided and empowered by historically engrained colonial ideals, turned on their friends and neighbors engaging in the most brutal and horrific genocide in the history of the world.  In the 1994 Rwandan genocide, approximately 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were systematically slaughtered (Human Rights Watch).  In 2004, tens of thousands of prisoners who had confessed to the brutal murders were released and began to be integrated back into society.  They confessed their crimes again and were held accountable in Gacaca, small community courts.  A major aspect of these Gacaca is the plea for forgiveness from the families (or what is left of the families) of the innocent people they murdered.  In an overwhelming amount of cases, the murderers have been forgiven, integrated back into the community and even embraced.

These incredible acts of forgiveness are almost astonishing in their seeming impossibility.  How is it that people can ever be willing to offer forgiveness after such atrocities, and what is the point of these offerings of forgiveness?  These are perhaps rhetorical questions, with answers that change from time to time and from person to person.  However, we must make no mistake; this incredible forgiveness has been granted, and hearts have been healed by it.  Tolstoy once said “Let us forgive each other – only then will we live in peace”.  It is evident within the peace community that forgiveness is a pivotal part of living a non-violent life, creating and maintaing peace within ourselves and worldwide.  An incredible documentary that does an outstanding job outlining the importance of forgiveness in our every day lives is “The Power of Forgiveness” produced by Martin Doblmeier.  This compelling film includes interviews with Reverend James Forbes, Thich Nhat Hanh and Alexandra Asseily among others.  It details instances across the globe where forgiveness has been especially important, such as within the Amish community, individuals surviving the loss of loved ones in the attacks of 9/11, through South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions with Desmond Tutu.  The film shows as these communities and individuals wrestle with the prospect of forgiveness, and thereby sent me on my own personal journey to discover what forgiveness means to me, and to the wider international community as well as how we can and must use it on the path to peace.

The film emphasizes that we must first however establish a forgiving relationship with ourselves in order to access the power available through the pain of forgiving others.  This, however, is much easier said than done and necessitates an extreme amount of work, both inner and outer.  Thich Nhat Hanh explains that the act of forgiveness begins within ourselves.  “Forgiveness cannot be possible until compassion is born in the heart.”  He goes on to say “if you are filled with anger, what you do and what you say will create more suffering for yourself and the other person”.  When we are put in the situation where forgiveness is even an option there is often an incredible amount of pain and suffering weighing down our minds and precluding the process of moving on as a whole person.  If not addressed within an individual, even the memory of hurt is likely to be passed onto our children, barring the chance for reconciliation in future generations.  We can only teach our children forgiveness by not allowing our hatred and grudges to be passed onto them.  This is only possible after we have addressed and dealt with the pain, anger and hurt that has been inflicted upon us.

We all feel pain within our hearts at many points throughout our life.  Life innately holds suffering and often times this suffering is created and fed by our own minds.  A perfect example is the world’s infatuation with body type and how engrained this image is in our minds.  We often see individuals in magazines and billboards with what we’ve come to accept as the “perfect” body.  We compare ourselves to this type and find differences that we label flaws (larger hips, smaller chest, wider eyes) and exploit them.  We constantly bash these flaws and refuse to allowourselves to forgive our body and thereby embrace it’s shapes.  All too often, young girls punish themselves instead of forgiving and embracing, by starving their limbs.  Subsequently, in 20 years when this disease of the mind effects their everyday lives as well as those of their children they refuse to forgive themselves for what they’ve done to their body.  This endless cycle of hatred and refusal to forgive only breeds harm.  It is important to start with forgiveness, but when this is not possible we must interrupt the cycle of hate with forgiveness.  People and their bodies are not perfect and when we are able to see that, we can see that forgiveness is the only path.  One may strive to be perfect, but they will never reach their goal, and so they must turn to forgiveness to ameliorate the pain they may inflict upon themselves in pursuance of this goal.  We must reach deep within ourselves to discover how we are hurting ourselves with fear, pain and anger, then acknowledge how these feelings are effecting our minds, embrace the feelings, forgive ourselves, and move on, changing our actions accordingly.

Once our inner hearts and minds are free from the chains we bar ourselves with, we are free to embark on the journey of freeing ourselves from the chains imposed by the pain others have inflicted upon us.  It is important to note that often the forgiving of others can and should be a selfish act.  The weight that is carried with pain, fear and anger can be immensely heavy.  When one forgives, this crushing weight can finally be lifted and we are rewarded physically as well as physiologically.

Desmond Tutu suggests that we do not think of forgiveness as forgetting.  These two concepts are not linked; forgiveness is how you remember and what it is you do with that memory.  In forgiving, we are ridding ourselves of negative feelings for people.  These negative feelings only breed more suffering and so in ridding ourselves of them we are helping ourselves to feel relieved, lighter and physically and mentally more healthy!  Our blood pressure even goes down!  Forgiving does not, however, mean we accept whatever has been done.  As far as an action is concerned, we may “condemn” that action, but it is important to be able to distinguish between action, and actor.  An actor who is condemned and treated poorly in return for the negative thing they’ve done will never change.  However, by separating the actor from the action, we can show compassion to the actor, and toward the action we can use our anger constructively to stop further negative action.  Only if a person feels compassion toward them will they discontinue hurtful action.  We can yell, scream, hate and condemn the action which has been done, but when this anger is transferred to the actor in this manner, the victim is also committing a painful action upon a person and has done nothing to preclude the action, but spread the pain and grief it carries to others.  By accepting an apology, we recognize that the action and actor are not the same and are now able to acknowledge the real cause of pain; the action.

There have been some remarkable uses of painful memories that have served to move along the process of healing and forgiveness yet condemn the painful action to national memory.  One such use is in the building of the September 11th memorial and museum on the site of the World Trade Centers.  These will serve as an area for individuals directly and indirectly impacted by the attacks to reflect on their experiences and the possibility of forgiveness.  One similar such structure was dreamed up by Alexandra Asseily (governor and founder of the Centre for Lebanese Studies, Oxford and on the Board of the Guerrand Hermes Peace Foundation, Balamand University and a former member of the Advisory Board of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University).  After witnessing painful civil war in Lebanon from 1975 to 1991 she worked with internationally acclaimed archaeologists, architects and engineers to construct a Garden of Forgiveness in central Beirut among numerous cathedrals and mosques.  The garden encourages individuals effected by the devastating civil war to embark on the journey of forgiveness.  These efforts are wonderful expressions of compassion and help to facilitate the decline of infectious hate throughout our world, by catalyzing a journey of forgiveness for so many individuals.

The breadth of forgiveness is incredible.  It reaches through so many religions, traditions and ways of life that it is almost impossible to ignore its significance.  First, the Christian bible and teachings speak heavily of forgiveness.  A major part of Christian faith is the belief that the Christian God is a forgiving God.  After all, he gave his only son for the forgiveness of the sins of humanity.  Forgiveness is also extremely evident in Islam.  Allah is known by many names throughout the Quran, most of which have to do with forgiveness. The most common of which possibly is Al-Ghafoor; the most forgiving.  It is forgiveness that all Muslims seek, and it is forgiveness they receive and learn through to give, praying five times a day for it.  Jews around the world set aside two whole holidays each year for forgiveness.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur among others, are days of atonement and repentance, asking for and granting forgiveness.  Hinduism is the third largest world religion and also boasts a breadth of text urging forgiveness.  Hindus believe in the concept of Karma; a kind of cosmic reward for positive behavior, or punishment for deviance.  Through this thinking, adherents believe that by forgiving others they will personally be rewarded in the future or a future life through karma.  In The Mahabharata, a largely philosophical and devotional Indian text heavily laden with Hindu insights and teachings we find the following quote, just one of many referring to the positive outcomes of forgiveness in Hinduism and can be applied to religions around the world.

“Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve?  An unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities.  Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.” (Vidura addressing Dhritarshtra)

No matter what faith we come from, what God(s) we pray to, or what books we read, forgiveness is the ultimate proprietor of peace.  We are in a time when peace seems ever more indispensable to the existence of humanity, yet seems to be slipping through our outstretched hands faster than we can clench our fists.  In the current time, the act of forgiveness is a beacon of luminous sunlight we must embrace in order to heal our souls and attempt to harmonize our world.  Peace must begin within ourselves by tackling the evils of our souls and forgiving ourselves the discrepancies we as humans are apt to commit against ourselves.  Once we are able to become whole, the forgiveness we experience within ourselves can then shine out upon others, as out stretched hands to join together with neighbors, friends and foes to spread the hope for peace around the globe.

Pivotal pieces for further learning about forgiveness and the areas written about above: 

“The Power of Forgiveness” (2007) Produced and Directed by Martin Doblmeier

“As We Forgive” (2009) Produced and Directed by Laura Waters Hinson

“Amish Grace” (TV 2010) Directed by Gregg Champion

The Fetzer Institute, accessible at:

National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda, accessible at:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, accessible at:

“Emotional Awareness: A Conversation Between The Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, Ph.D” written by Paul Ekman, New York: Times Books.

Kellie Brandt-MPT Intern


“The Power of Being Arrested”

October 25, 2010

The aim of nonviolent activists is to change a situation using only the power of nonviolence. How do we know that they are succeeding; that they are on the path to change? How do we actually grasp their achievements? One tool to ‘measure’ the positive effects of such behaviours could be a kind of new scale. Like the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale, or the Richter magnitude scale for classifying the intensity of hurricanes and earthquakes, we could try to classify the nonviolence’s successes by the number of peace activists’ arrests in combination with the intensity of use of force in a government’s reaction. Well you might think that such a scale would be impossible to create, and honestly I would be the first to say that it is actually impossible to do. But still the idea is there.  And nobody would deny the fact that the more a government or groups counterattacks using what appears to be ‘disproportionate means’, the more the acts of the people in line of sight are ‘troubling’ them – – because peace activists are doing something right.  In the field of nonviolence, that means that peace activists are on the road to success.

Let’s apply the idea to a concrete situation: the Israeli-Palestinian’s conflict. The aim is not to support one party against the other. I do not want people to believe that, while pointing a finger at Israel’s reactions, I am voluntarily ignoring Palestinian ones, or that I therefore do not condemn Palestinians’ violent reactions. I am just using what I think is a relevant example.  Indeed, it seems like every time you look for news, you hear new cases in which Israeli authorities use what we can call ‘disproportionate’ means. Some of the latest instances which we can review are the cases of Rami Elhanan, Abdallah Abu Rahma, and Mairead Maguire.

Rami Elhanan is an Israeli Jewish nonviolent activist that has recently been spotlighted. Aged 60, Rami Elhanan is a former Israeli soldier who served in the three following wars: the War of Attrition in 1969, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and in Lebanon in 1982. After having lost his 14-year-old daughter in a suicide bombing in 1997, he became a member of the organization The Parents Circle-Families Forum that promotes solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost close relatives in the conflict. In September 2010, he became a crew member on the boat for peace and justice called the Irene. He was joined by other Jewish activists. Though he knew the crew could not reach Gaza –because of the blockade held by Israel and Egypt- to deliver the boat’s lading, he wanted to be part of this action in order to catch his fellow Israelis’ attention on “the crime experienced by 1.5 million Palestinians”. While attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza, the sailboat was intercepted by the Israeli Navy on September 28th. The aim here is to highlight the disproportionate reaction of the Israeli government. Indeed, as stated by Rami Elhanan, the sailboat was encircled by an armada of hundreds of naval boats and forced to stop before the army took control of the sailboat.  Although the peace sailors had no weapons and  didn’t offer any resistance to the army, the crew was escorted to the harbour of Ashdod where about a hundred of soldiers were waiting for them; they were searched and questioned for a half hour. The nine activists were eventually paroled.

Palestinian Abdallah Abu Rahma is a secondary school teacher and the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall. The committee was awarded the International League for Human Right’s Carl Von Ossietzky Medal in 2008 for its work in defence of human rights. Though the International Court of Justice stated in 2004 that the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was contrary to International Law, Abdallah Abu Rahma was arrested at his home in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 10th, 2009. At approximately 2a.m., ten Israeli military jeeps parked in front of his house, several soldiers entered the house and arrested him in presence of his wife and his three young children. Abdallah Abu Rahm, a nonviolent activist, was arrested because he demonstrated against the wall constructed by Israeli authorities, insisting on the fact that the wall violated the economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinians. Since his arrest, Abdallah Abu Rahma has been in Israeli detention in Ofer Prison. He was facing charges of “incitement” (Article 7(A) of Israeli Military order 101), “throwing stones” (Article 53(A)(2) of Military Order 378), “organising and participating in demonstrations without a permit” (Article 3 of Military Order 101) and “possession of arms” (Article 53(A)(1) of Military Order 378). The maximum penalty is 10 years of prison for each of the three first charges and for the last one people found guilty can incur a life sentence. On August 2010, Abdallah Abu Rahma was found guilty of “organizing and participating in an illegal demonstration” and “incitement” and acquitted on the other charges.

Mairead Maguire, an Irish peace activist and 1976 Nobel Peace, was arrested on 28 September 2010 while getting off the plane at Tel-Aviv’s Ben Gourion airport. She intended to spend the week in Tel-Aviv, a week dedicated to interviews with international peace activists in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. Despite an appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court, the deportation order was proclaimed valid on 4 October 2010 and the following morning Mairead Maguire was flown to the UK.  Actually, in recent years Mairead Maguire has become an active critic of the Israeli’s government policy towards the Palestinians people. Among other actions, she tried twice to run Israel’s naval embargo of the Gaza strip. On 30 June 2009, she was on board of a ferry carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The boat was intercepted by Israel; Mairead Maguire was detained before being deported to Dublin. On 3 June 2010, she was on board the MV Rachel Corrie. The boat was seized by the Israeli Navy; Mairead Maguire was released and deported after she was told she was subject to a 10-year deportation order.

Those stories all point a finger at one core idea: the Israeli government does not know how to handle nonviolent activists. This, in turn, demonstrates the true and undeniable power of nonviolence. How can you stop – on a legal basis – people that express their opinion in a truly legal and non-violent manner? The point is not to emphasize how nonviolence works, but how we can actually capture its efficiency.  It proves to be that the more a government uses ‘disproportionate’ means (like ten jeeps to arrest one pacifist man) the more nonviolent activists reach their goal (e.g., to spread the word on injustices and human rights violations);  that they are doing things right and thus “annoying” the government. What I am trying to say is that when reading the stories of people like Rami Elhanan, Abdallah Abu Rahma or Mairead Maguire, your first impression could be disillusionment. And how could it not be when you realize that in today’s world people are unjustly arrested, banned from a country just because they demand justice, and freedom and the respect of human rights for everybody? After all, the twentieth century is the century when great human rights conventions and declarations were passed. We can mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1948, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – known as the European Convention on Human Rights – drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe; the Charter of the Organization of the American States signed in 1948 which proclaims the need to consolidate democratic institutions and a regime of individual liberties and social justice based on the respect of Fundamental Rights; the American Convention on Human Rights – also known as the Pact of San José – adopted in 1969; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – also known as the Banjul Charter – passed in 1981, to cite only those texts. Are they meant to stay texts, ideas, nothing more than declarations?  Or are they meant to become a reality?

Thinking about the high number of people being bullied because they stand up for what they believe in (and for what a majority of countries agreed on as they signed the aforementioned conventions) and considering the fact that they wage these fights using nonviolent weapons, a real feeling of indignation arises in me… and I think that many other people feel this same way. But on the other hand, we must say that those ‘disproportionate’ reactions are actually a blessing in disguise.  Indeed, the more ‘oppressors’- which can be a government or a group of people – counterattack through violent means and acts of  intimidation, the more actually nonviolence has a chance to reach its goal. Because if ‘oppressors’ did not react, it would have meant that pacifists’ actions are too insignificant for them to worry about, whereas while reacting, ‘oppressors’ are acknowledging that their control is in jeopardy.  First, they exhibit their inability to handle the situation non-violently, and secondly, they condemn themselves by demonstrating their disrespect for human rights because they arrest or banish nonviolent people – whose stories are eventually reported at an international level.  In many cases, these oppressors’ actions are eventually condemned either by the International Community or the civil society.

Furthermore, with today’s advanced technological tools, like cameras and the internet, it seems to be both more difficult and more complicated for ‘oppressors’ to hide what is going on. Of course, there are still countries where censorship remains. China therefore turns out to be a relevant recent example, because Chinese people could not express themselves upon learning Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. As far as that goes, the documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised proves to be a good example of the increasing difficulty of hiding the truth. The documentary focuses on the events that lead to the 2002 coup d’état attempt in Venezuela, in which president Hugo Chávez was removed from office for several days. The two Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain were originally in Venezuela to make a fly-on-the-wall biography of President Chávez. They followed Chávez and his staff during seven months. They were therefore smack in the middle of the action when the coup took place on April 11, 2001. Bartley and Ó Briain filmed on the streets of Caracas – the capital city – when the violence erupted; they also filmed many of the political upheavals that took place in the presidential palace. So even though the Venezuelan private Medias tried to stifle what was really going on, the two filmmakers succeeded in telling what they really saw by making and broadcasting their documentary.

This leads me to think that ‘oppressors’ have less and less room to maneuver and so I am willing to think that planned executions, like Archbishop Oscar Romero’s, will rarefy. Oscar Romero was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador. On February 23, 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. This appointment was welcomed by the government, but many priests – especially those who openly supported Marxism – were disappointed because they feared that Romero’s conservative reputation would negatively affect liberation theology’s commitment to the poor. The assassination of priest Rutilio Grande – a personal friend – had a great impact on the archbishop.  Romero urged Arturo Armando Molina’s government to investigate, but his request was simply ignored. This led Romero to radicalize his position and began speaking out on poverty, social injustice, assassinations and the use of torture that took place in the country. The country’s situation worsened in 1979 when the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power.  A wave of human rights abuses by paramilitary right-wing groups and the government took place. To this, Romero – now becoming noticed at an international level – reacted by sending in February 1980 a letter to the U.S. president Jimmy Carter, demanding the U.S. stop sending military aid to the new government. He stated that this would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights”. Archbishop Romero was assassinated one month later, on 24 March1980 while celebrating a mass. The day before, he delivered a sermon demanding Salvadorian soldiers to stop supporting the government’s repression and violation of human rights. In 1993, an official U.N. report identified former Mayor and School of the Americas graduate Roberto D’Aubuisson as the person behind Romero’s assassination.

In the same vein, we can talk about South African Stephen “Steve” Biko. Steve Biko emerged in the late 1960s as a new nonviolent leader. He forcefully reasserted the principle of struggle through open and nonviolent resistance. He was arrested in 1977 after breaking the banning order that required him to stay at his own King William’s Town home. Biko was interrogated and tortured by the police; untreated, he succumbed to these injuries. Although the police claimed that Biko had been injured in a scuffle, the government was directly responsible for his death.

We can also look to the recent Israeli raid – in May 2010 – against the humanitarian ships of the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’, in which 9 passengers lost their lives, and several dozens were injured. The Israeli government could not prevent the event from becoming internationally known as videos from the raid were made and broadcasted in foreign countries. Widespread international condemnations followed the raid. While Israel’s government set up the Turkel Commission to examine the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and the flotilla raid, an international demand – calling for an independent investigation – arose. Subsequently, the United Nations Human Rights Council started a fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law that might have taken place during the raid on July 23, 2010 and on August 10, 2010 the United Nations’ panel started its work. This last example proves first that these kinds of events may become publicly known, and second that international pressure can result in investigations for the truth, and possibly prosecution of the guilty party(ies). Though hard work remains to be done in order to make international sanctions and convictions become effective, at least governments have to change their behaviour if they do not want to garner international attention for their actions.

To conclude, I just would like to remind the people that the more they hear stories like the ones of Rami Elhanan, Abdallah Abu Rahma or Mairead Maguire, they should feel hopeful instead of indignant or disheartened. First, because of the fact that we have indeed hear about them (they have not been squelched); secondly, because it demonstrates the government or groups’ difficulties in effectively handling or controlling non-violence (responding with the only means they are used to: violence);  and finally, because the more people hear about these ‘disproportionate’ reactions, the more they feel outraged and are thus willing to act to make these situations stop. That leads eventually to an increasing number of non-violent proponents. And if governments continue to act in the way they do, they are likely to arrest or banish their whole people, so that at the end they will have to answer one key question: on whose behalf are they governing?

–          Aude Feltz, MPT intern

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