Report of Peace and Service Consultation 2011
Once again, 23 representatives from several Quaker organisations and committees based or active in Europe and the Middle East gathered at Kortenberg for the annual Peace and Service Consultation.
The theme of the weekend was The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied – a quote taken from the Haggadah, the Jewish text for the Passover Seder. We considered our response to outbreaks of violence as were witnessed throughout the year, from the uprisings in North Africa and some Arab countries, to the riots in England, and the terrible atrocity in Oslo and Utøya on 22nd July 2011, when 8 people died and 10 were severely injured in Oslo by a blast that destroyed the windows of over 1000 shops, and 69 people died in Utøya, average age 19.7 years. We reflected on the very different ways Norway and Britain responded to these events.
In contrast to the panicky and punitive response of the British political establishment & media to the riots in London and other cities in August 2011, we considered the profoundly different reaction of Norwegians to the tragic events of last July. The tone was set by the Prime Minister, who called for “more democracy, solidarity and tolerance”, and the Crown Prince who said: “We have chosen to answer cruelty with fellowship, we have chosen to answer hate with solidarity, we have chosen to show what we stand for”. The media were asked not to show photographs of the perpetrator or write about him in the early weeks. 200,000 people gathered in Oslo, holding roses, many immigrants participating and feeling fully included in sharing in the sorrow. However, three months later there are signs that the solidarity and tolerance are being challenged with the pending court case and calls for greater security.
Northern Friends Peace Board had already been working for 10 years on addressing the roots of urban violence following riots in Northern British cities in 2001. Examples of this work were given, such as the “Spirit of Bolton” initiatives. Investment in “social capital”, building networks, bringing communities together in events such as “Building Peace in Diverse Britain” help to develop resilience in communities. This is a process that takes time and has to be nurtured. We can all play a part by asking ourselves “Who is my neighbour?”
Round-up of Quaker work in the Middle East
Out of the depths of authentic prayer comes a longing for peace and a passion for justice [BYM’s Quaker faith & Practice 23.10]
- QCEA Programme
QCEA continues to address the role of the EU in the region. This includes advocating an arms embargo, challenging the benefits gained from Israel’s associated country status by Israeli companies who benefit from the occupation, and the labelling and checking of goods imported from illegal settlements. They have challenged aspects of Israeli policy under the Association Agreement which covers human rights and basic democratic freedoms. They also send out action alerts to individual Quakers, so as to coordinate letters to MEPs/MPs.
- Friends International Centre in Ramallah
The centre is in better financial shape, but continues to need support. The garden plan is progressing and groups continue to come. Quaker Voluntary Action groups come regularly to contribute work. Workshops address violence through drama. The ‘Right to Enter’ campaign continues. Friends from the Netherlands recently helped to lead Neuro-Linguistic Programming training, which was much appreciated.
- Amari Play Centre
The project is valued by the 40 children each year that it works with.
- Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel
EAPPI volunteers go the West Bank for periods of three months and on return speak and write about their experiences. Twenty volunteers are sent out by QPSW each year and over the years have now given more than 2,000 speaking engagements, raising awareness amongst Friends and others and stimulating letter-writing to MPs and other advocacy work. . Evidence gathered by EAs and can be useful for human rights organisations in their work.
Britain Yearly Meeting’s Meeting for Sufferings considered the call from Ramallah Friends to support Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions at two meetings earlier this year, with wider consultations amongst Quaker Meetings in Britain feeding into this process. Meeting for Sufferings agreed to boycotting products from illegal settlements in occupied Palestine. Guidance for Friends is given on the BYM’s website. There will also be encouragement for people to buy Palestinian products, recognising that some respond better to this as positive action.
Report from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation
The World Council of Churches held an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica in May 2011 with nearly 1000 participants from more than 100 countries to mark the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches (WCC). There were 12 Quakers present. Other churches have come a long way in thinking and action towards that of the three historic peace churches. Many churches are moving away from the doctrine of the “just war” and are describing themselves as peace churches. Responsibility to protect (RTP) was accepted as a good principle, with the differences of opinion being about how to do this – those who believe that military intervention is sometimes necessary were in a minority among these present at this particular meeting. Policing is however seen by most as one necessary part of protection. See a fuller report elsewhere on this site.
There is much that Quakers can do between now and the Busan WCC meeting in 2013 at all levels, starting from local meetings. The Just Peace concept is strongly connected to economic, environmental and other types of justice.
The home of QUNO Geneva is a 1920s villa with a garden with a swing. This is a great asset, enabling QUNO to invite diplomats and NGO representatives to lunch in what feels like a home rather than an office.
With a programme staff of no more than eight, QUNO has to focus on a small number of issues which are of concern to Quakers. They aim to work on issues that are not taken up by other NGOs, possibly because they are too difficult or require long-term investment. The use of child soldiers is one such issue that no other NGOs were working on. After many years of persistent work QUNO has laid this down, now that about 100 NGOs have taken up the issue. QUNO is now considering climate change as a future work focus, especially where this is a contributory cause of migration.
Charles Tauber gave a presentation via Skype from Vukovar on his work in Croatia since 1995. Vukovar has been through a distressing time, with the 20th anniversaries of the war. Animosities are still deep. Vukovar has a long history of ethnic mixing and is a city of great beauty. Differences were suppressed under Tito, which has led to justice being delayed and denied. There are mass graves around the area of Vukovar, with many landmines and war-damaged buildings. Schooling is segregated and psychological distress is contributing to a lot of social problems.
The future of this work is uncertain, with diminishing funds and energy levels contributing to this in spite of the huge continuing needs. Help with fundraising would be welcome as would more contact with the wider Quaker community.
The Power of Apology
When hurt has been done, it is important for the person who has caused hurt to acknowledge this. When this is not possible, for example when the person has died, it is nevertheless helpful for the person who has suffered hurt to hear an apology from someone representing the person who caused the hurt. Through role play in small groups we have learnt how receiving an apology can make forgiveness possible and free us from resentment and bitterness. Just as apology and forgiveness can mend hurts in personal relationships, they are of great importance in the process of reconciliation between groups and nations. Forgiveness as part of the reconciliation process following conflicts such as those in South Africa and Northern Ireland has been documented in An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics by Donald W. Shriver Jr. and The Art of Forgiveness by Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz. The Power of Apology by Beverly Engel (2002, John Wiley & Sons) lists three ingredients of a meaningful apology: a statement of Regret, acceptance of Responsibility, and a willingness to Remedy the situation.
Advocacy and Networking
The QCEA Representatives, who will be retiring towards the end of 2012, talked of their 10-year experience of bringing Quaker concerns to decision-makers in European institutions. Events in particular member states, the economic situation and global trends affect the focus of the work. There are recurring cycles, with elections and appointments taking place at regular intervals and that need to be taken into account when planning the work. Civil society has to be proactive when deciding what work it wants to do, but the timing and style of work has to be dependent on the timetable of the European Institutions. Unexpected events will also shape and impact on issues and on related work.
The number of different people and organisations involved in the European institutions is hugely complicated, but it is important that Quaker concerns and messages are fed in at the appropriate level and time. The challenge is how to make the small contributions from bodies such as QCEA as effective as possible. Networking with people in the institutions is important in helping develop an understanding of how this can best be done.
Decision-makers like relating to networks of bodies working on issues of common concern, and working with bigger-players can be a strategic choice in ensuring messages are heard. Networks can vary in their breadth and in their geographical and thematic focus. Networking takes time, with attention to talking to one another and reaching common positions being important.
QCEA’s involvement in networks requires having expertise in the relevant area, whilst at the same time being able to forge links between separate but related issues. QCEA can be more radical and outspoken than some NGOs.
We have a sense of the connections between our different areas of work, and have found stimulus in the ideas and suggestions that have been shared, and excitement at the learning and fellowship. Our consultation has felt gathered, dealing with issues of the day and giving space for mutual support. We look forward to meeting again at Kortenberg again on 2-4 November 2012.