19 October – Pax Christi calls for end to escalating violence in Palestine & Israel
Pax Christi International has worked for many years with Palestinian and Israeli human rights and peace organizations to support their work for a just peace in the Middle East based on human rights. Around the world our members and partners are praying for all those whose lives are being destroyed by violence. We are convinced that nonviolent, legal and political solutions are the only way to stop the violence.
We believe the painstaking work to build confidence and peace between people is totally compromised by this current rise in violence. Palestinian youngsters who attack Israeli civilians play an important role in this, and so do the Israeli security forces that exacerbate the violence and do not protect Palestinian civilians.
In these days we have seen the Israeli Defence Forces and police officers using excessive force in a ‘shoot to kill’ policy against Palestinian civilians, resulting in injury and death and provoking counter-violence from the Palestinian community. If crimes are committed they must be dealt with as crimes and not as acts of war according to the rules of law enforcement. Perpetrators should be arrested.
More must be done to defuse a culture of fear and hatred. The Israeli Government and the Israeli Defence Forces are inciting and provoking extremists on both sides of the conflict in attempts to escalate violence and justify further military action. Such actions must be challenged.
Through our years of partnership in the region we have witnessed time and again the deep frustration and oppression of Palestinians who have lived with forty-nine years of illegal occupation. This is an unresolved injustice for more than four million people and we plead with the international community, including the EU and the United Nations to renew its resolve to address the root causes of the conflict. The cost of failing to do so is too great to contemplate and undermines the security of both Israeli’s and Palestinians. International protection for Palestinian civilians has emerged as a key need in this present phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The occupation should be ended in order for peace to be achieved.
We also urge the EU and the United Nations to work more closely with peace and human rights groups on the ground, including the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Arab Educational Institute, Wi’am, B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Stop the Wall, The Israeli Committee against House Demolition and Kairos Palestine. They and other Palestinians and Israelis seeking a nonviolent resolution of forty-nine years of injustice need support, encouragement and accompaniment and are essential partners in any peace process.
September-October Prayers and Fasting for Middle East and North Africa
We are so encouraged by the number of events that our members have been involved in linking the Week for Peace in Palestine & Israel and times of prayer and fasting for the wider Middle East and North Africa. The J&P group in St Joseph’s parish Hanwell had a holy hour of prayer using Pax Christi resources, including the postcard ‘The people of Palestine & Israel need bridges not walls. They invited those taking part to write their own message or prayer for peace. Pax Christi members Denise Carter and Michael Mitchell organised a vigil of prayer for persecuted Christians with Churches Together in Rustington, Sussex . It was held at St Joseph’s Catholic church. Each hour of the vigil 11 candles were lit to represent all those who are being killed for their faith, and at the end of each hour the 11 candles were blown out. Many wrote messages of solidarity which Pax Christi will send on to partners in the region. These are some of the messages: “Your faith puts me to shame and inspires me. God bless you” and “For Christians in Palestine. Be strong, let your hearts take courage. Trust in the Lord. You are not forgotten”.
In Leeds Pax Christi and Justice & Peace worked together to host a conference entitled God has broken down the dividing walls. More than 50 people attended and heard from CAFOD and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Other events took place in Warrington, Crosby, St Alban’s, Birmingham and Southampton. Many sent messages to say that they would fast and pray at home on 2 October, international day of nonviolence. St Matthews Church in Kilmarnock held a vigil between 4 – 8 pm. Sr Kate from Harrogate said she would pray with us and ‘fast’ from some gripping reading she was involved with. Josie from North London said that she had used our prayer resources at home and found the peace & justice Rosary reflections of particular help.
In London on 2 October more than twenty people gathered at different times during the day for the prayer and fast outside Downing Street. The purpose was to make the link between the refugee crisis, the on-going suffering in the region and Britain’s involvement in the arms trade.Two of our number had made the journey from Warrington and Salford and we were also joined by Westminster and Southwark Justice & Peace Commissions. Prayers were said every 90 minutes and during these we focused, in turn, on Israel & Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. Hundreds of people passed by taking leaflets from us which part of the letter we had sent to Mr David Cameron: ” We urge you to take a lead in stopping arms sales and deliveries to the Middle East. The region is awash with weapons and we have played a terrible part in this trade and continue to organise arms fairs and arms sales”.
29 September Pax Christi Conference: Women and Peacemaking 1915 – 2015
Bassa Jang! Enough War! This was one of the clear messages delegates at a conference on Women & Peacemaking heard in London on Saturday 26 September. It came from children in Kabul who are involved in a peace education programme at the Borderfree Centre for Nonviolence in Kabul. Mary Dobbing, our first speaker, has made two solidarity visits to Kabul to visit the Afghan Peace Volunteers. She recounted that on one visit they set up a SKYPE link with groups in the UK working on drone warfare to enable the young people in Kabul to be involved in a question and answer session. #Enough! was set up as part of a global day of listening, which takes place on 21 of each month, linking schools and universities around the world with the young people in Kabul. Marie Lyse Numuhoza shared her personal story as a refugee from Rwanda. Like thousands of others, her family was torn apart by the war in early 1990s and fled the country, spending years in refugee camps. Searching for answers Marie-Lyse began to ask questions: Why did the war happen? Whose interests were being met by the war? For her the answer was that the original conflict between Rwanda and DRC was fuelled by a desire to control natural resources. This, she explained manufactured divisions between Hutu’s and Tutsi’s. Today Marie Lyse is an active member of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom UK and among other things works to promote UN Resolution 1325 which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations and peace-building.
Virginia Moffatt is a writer, runner, CEO of Ekklesia and a mother and wife. Virginia’s presentation helped participants to better understand some of the tensions in peacemaking and family life. How does one create security for one’s own children while challenging wars that destroy the lives of other children? How does one balance the need to be at home and sometimes work away or be imprisoned. Virginia and her husband Chris Cole have also had to negotiate the implications of taking part in nonviolent direct actions that lead to imprisonment or bailiffs turning up on the doorstep. Virginia has used her running to help support the project “Circuses to Palestine” and writes a Diary column in Peace News. Mia Tamarin became involved in peace activist at 14, as a curious teenager. Living in Tel Aviv, Israel she became aware of the injustice of the occupation of after a visit to the West Bank and meeting Palestinians. With other high school students she decided that she would resist military conscription (which is compulsory in Israel). Applications for CO status were rejected and Mia served four short terms in military detention. Mia admits that being a CO in Israel is easier than in many other countries. However, militarism is such a key feature of Israeli society that non-cooperation can have consequences for a whole family and Mia’s own family moved to the UK. The presentations of these women helped to flesh out the aim of the conference, to explore the personal and political in peacemaking and to be energised to continue the task today. The day opened with the film “These Dangerous Women” produced by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom about the women who tried to stop the First World War and who took part in the international peace conference in The Hague in 1915. Participants were asked to complete the sentence: To make peace we need to… here are some of the responses: “Raise our voices”, “Be educated about the horrors of war”, “Prioritise people over profit”, Stop talking sentimentally about peace & human rights while selling weapons”” The Conference, which attracted 45 participants, was organised by Pax Christi and WILPF and supported by Ekklesia and the FWW Peace Forum. Photographs of the conference here
15 September, People of faith say NO to arms fair More than 140 people gathered in the wind and rain outside the London ExCel centre last night to keep a vigil of silence and prayer on the eve of Defence Services Equipment International arms fair. This is the world’s largest arms fair and among the delegates attending are Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Pakistan, three countries features on the FCOs own list of “countries of concern” in terms of human rights abuse. Organised by the Quakers and Pax Christi, Sam Walton of Quaker Peace & Social Witness opened the event saying : “We are here as people of all Faith’s and none. A huge amount of work has been done over the last week and over the last two years to try and stop this arms fair. There has been a great outpouring of concern, outrage and sadness from across the UK and around the globe that this arms fair will take place this week. Our country cannot promote peace & democracy, London cannot be a city of peace, if it is where repression begins, where torture begins, if it where the seeds of war are sown.” Bishop Thomas McMahon, emeritus Bishop of Brentwood Diocese joined the gathering. He has been a faithful follower of this vigil for many years and commented on the large turn-out this year. Affirming what Sam had said he went on to acknowledge the importance of witness, reminding those gathered of the scripture passage which invites us to “be witnesses of these things” Pax Christi members carried placards with the words of Pope Francis: ” And we seek peace for this world, subjected to arms dealers who profit from the blood of men and women”. While the vigil was taking place others attempted to hand out leaflets to those passing in and out of the building, to inform them of why the vigil was taking place.
8 September, No Faith in War: DESi 2015 faith day of action, reflection from staff member Peter Hickey
I was feeling a certain amount of trepidation as I made my way to protest against one of the largest arms fairs in the world, last Tuesday morning. I had planned to catch a train down to London’s Excel Centre where a number of people would be gathered in peaceful protest and where I would help lead a time of prayer as part of the Pax Christi team. After a short time of milling around and some opening prayers we began to spot a large number of trucks and heavy vehicles, all of which were approaching the Excel Centre with what we could only assume where the means and tools of war. The gathering songs and socialising quite quickly ceased and many of the crowd began to step out into the road and form a barrier across the road to the Excel Centre. The courage and the commitment of so many people who stood, sat and lay down in the road that day was so powerful and the simple message of Peace and how futile war really is seemed to be far reaching to all who passed by. Pax Christi led a time of prayer from 11am. With prayers, readings and hymns we reflected on the Gospel message of Peace and I felt invigorated by a deep unity among all of us gathered together for that time. We concluded our prayer time with a statement from Pope Francis and the recitation of the ancient Angelus Prayer. Only moments after we had concluded the Angelus people began to point behind me and as I looked I saw a silent and solemn funeral procession on the horizon. Fr Martin Newell led the procession and a child’s coffin painted in dazzling white and draped in flowers was carried by young resisters to the roadside. What followed was a beautiful liturgy of heart felt prayer, readings and reflections offered up for the victims of war.
As the service of remembrance drew to a close I was struck by the sudden movements of a young woman from the Catholic Worker who hoisted the coffin up from the ground, walked into the middle of the road, and having gently placed it down in front of her proceeded to throw red paint (which clearly symbolised the blood shed through war) onto the road around the coffin. She gently knelt down and in what seemed like genuine serenity began to sing and pray for peace. We soon joined her. I think we were all touched by the beautiful symbols in front of us and it wasn’t long before the ultimate symbol of war appeared in the distance. A huge tank which appeared to be loaded with weapons began to make its way along the road. In a moment I saw dozens of people rush towards it and holding up a banner they began to drive the vehicle away. By simply standing up to the tank and walking towards it, the tank started to reverse and soon enough had disappeared behind the horizon to a tremendous cheer and collective shout of joy. I was so deeply moved at the humility and the frailty of so many men and women who gathered that morning in Faith outside the giant and looming presence of the Excel. The commitment and deep Faith of my brothers and sisters left a huge impact on me. A day of drama and witness that I won’t forget for a long time. For a time that morning I felt like the constant noise and agony of war seemed to fall silent and instead a gentle yet piercing cry from the heart; Let there be peace among us.. More photographs here