Peace is not constituted by the absence of war. Peace is a virtue, an attitude of mind, an inclination toward benevolence, trust and justice - Spinoza
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way - Gandhi
E waikahi ka pono i manalo (Unify purpose by achieving peace) - Hawaiian proverb
Waging Peace On War
All over the world, in the trouble spots of the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa and Latin America, there are people working away in the background to break the deadlock in political, religious and social conflicts.
On Rabin Square in Tel Aviv there are hundreds of white cardboard figures, the size of children. Before each one, a candle burns in memory of the many who have died over the past few months, victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The event was organized by parents mourning their children, Israeli mothers and fathers, and Palesinian mothers and fathers. Their pain has united them, and strengthened their resolve to condemn hate and retaliation because all they breed is more hate and more retaliation. Believers or nonbelievers, Jewish or Muslim, the parents are linked by their wish for conciliation.
They have made peace in the "Parents'Group," made up of 190 Israeli and 140 Palestinian parents. The organization was founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal who lost his son Arik in 1994 when the 19-year-old was lured into a trap and shot by four young activists from the radical Islamic group, Hamas.
Since then, Frankenthal has been untiring in his efforts to achieve peace between Arabs and Jews. Continual terror and counterterror attacks, hostile accusations of "being a traitor," bans and obstacles have not succeeded in stopping him and his friends in the parents' group from lobbying citizens and politicians in favor of a far-reaching peace agreement. To do this, Frankenthal, a religious Zionist, meets with leaders of the militant Hamas movement and the Islamic Jihad. "The current situation is dreadful for Israelis and Palestinians alike," says Frankenthal. "That's why there is no alternative to peace. There will never be love lost between us, but conciliation will take place."
Optimism and perseverence are characteristic of the many thousands of peacemakers around the world who come together in private foundations, associations and organizations. Indepen dent of government institutions, they try to bring hostile parties to the negotiating table and promote tolerance and reconciliation. Despite their many setbacks, there is much they have accomplished, as the work of Sant' Egidio demonstrates.
The Catholic grassroots movement started in 1968 by high-school student Andrea Riccardi and three friends today boasts 40,000 members and has local branches in some 60 countries. When it was first formed, the Community of Sant' Egidio took care of the poor, the elderly and the homeless on the outskirts of Rome, providing them daily with a hot meal. But through the years, they've taken on another task: diplomacy. The fellowship with the poor" so deeply rooted in the gospels has been interpreted as meaning "war is the mother of all poverty." And to prevent humanitarian aid projects from being destroyed in the course of combat, Sant' Egidio has shouldered the role of conflict and crisis mediator in Guatemala, Mozambique, Algeria, and the Balkans.
Numerous conciliation efforts have taken place beneath banana plants in the courtyard of the Sant' Egidio headquarters in the Trastevere district. African heads of state have met here with the leaders of rebel organizations; Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. secretary of state, the moderate Kosovo Albanian Ibrahim Rugova, Mikhail Gorbachev and many others have all conferred here at onetime or another. And every time, in the role of confidant, a volunteer member of Sant' Egidio.
During the course of over 30 years, the amateur diplomats have not only compiled thick address books and established networks throughout all areas of society; they have also developed excellent dialogue and negotiation skills. These are what helped them work a "wonder" for Mozambique: After eleven rounds of negotiations that took place over 27 months, the ruling Frelimo of Mozambique signed a peace accord with the Renamo rebels in 1992 which ended ten years of civil war and has held to this day.
"Sant'Egidio can neither mobilize an army nor sign fat checks," says Mario Giro, a Sant' Egidio diplomat who holds a regular job as an official for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. "Its only interest is to inspire earnestness, a culture of friendship and confidence in the warring parties, a skill they have acquired through years of experience."
They have no magic formula for resolving conflicts at Sant' Egidio. Moreover, the community is careful not to act in isolation but to incorporate official diplomatic activity. Signing a peace accord is only one step on the way to achieving peace, something that the warring parties are often not in favor of - because they profit from war. Material aid is a necessity if you want to create new perspectives for the people of a country torn by civil war, but so is military security - both of which can only be provided by the U.N. and its organizations or by governments.
Yet even the U.N. sends nongovernment organizations and public figures to mediate conflicts. One person often called in to mediate is Jimmy Carter, U.S. president from 1977 to 1981. Not only recognized worldwide for his integrity, Carter is also a peace expert with excellent connections. Along with his wife Rosalynn, he founded the Carter Center in Atlanta in 1982. In accordance with the center's motto: "Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope," Carter is working toward creating a better world - in Sudan and on the Fiji Islands as well as in Latin America and Bosnia-Hercegovina The guns may be silent there, but war still rages in many people's minds, fed by painful memories, hate and prejudice. Abstract appeals for tolerance and reconciliation don't work in Ranka Mandic's experience. Mandic is the principal of the Serbian elementary school Joban Ducic in Kasindo, a small town in the Republic of Srpska, near Sarajevo. According to her, everyday experience is better than peace theory. Along with the principals of a nearby Croatian school and a Bosnian Muslim school, she has started a visiting and exchange program in which, for instance, a Serbian educator teaches English to Bosnian children, the teachers from all three schools meet to exchange ideas or the children all participate in athletic competitions which are enthusiastically attended by their parents.
"While learning English together, the students at the same time learn to live with each other," says Traugott Schofthaler, Secretary General of the German UNESCO Commission (DUK) in Bonn. The DUK promotes the peace work carried out by the three principals who are also actively supported by the German unit of the NATO peacekeeping troops, SFOR, which are stationed in the area. "This is education aimed at understanding" says Schofthaler, describing the project. "The young people, their parents, the teachers: They each learn about the other's perspective on the civil war and little by little, begin to respect it."
Sometimes the way to achieve peace is to respect another's point of view, sometimes it means changing your own. "There will be no peace in the world as long as we are not at peace with ourselves," says Claude AnShin Thomas. The 53 year-old American, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, has been a Buddhist monk since 1994. "I am trying to end all wars in my own life and eradicate suffering on earth," says Thomas. "Opportunities for this arise at every moment and in every encounter." Thomas goes on pilgrimages for many months of the year. His mission, on which he is accompanied by friends of his spiritually based Zaltho Foundation, former soldiers or victims of war and persecution, takes him to the Balkans, to Auschwitz and Hiroshima - and to the business centers of German cities.
Last June, Thomas held one of his "street retreats" in Frankfurt at which participants spend five days and five nights living on the street like homeless people. "This experience is an opportunity for us to get in touch with our own pain," Thomas says. "At the same time, the retreat can be a way to connect us with people who suffer terribly in our society, but against whom we all too often 'wage war,' either in our minds or by actually excluding them from society.
"People ask me whether my efforts aren't useless considering all the conflicts and suffering," says Thomas. "I think they are useful: When I find peace, it helps my parents, my family, to find peace. And when my family finds peace, that affects our entire society. It is an arduous path, but it is a worthwhile one to take."
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Copyright 2002 Aloha International