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Violence by terrorist groups has caused great suffering for Israelis, and has served as the rationale for many of Israel’s most restrictive policies regarding Palestinians. For that reason, it is all the more important to hear stories of Palestinians and international activists that are opposing Israeli policies nonviolently. Mairead Corrigan Maguire received the Nobel peace prize in 1976 for her work as co-founder of the Community of Peace People (www.peacepeople.com) in Northern Ireland. This is her story:
On Friday, April 20, outside Ramallah, Palestine, Ann Patterson and I attended the Second Bilâ€™in International Conference on Non-violence. We joined the Bilâ€™in Popular Committee on their weekly nonviolent protest march to the Israeli â€œapartheid wallâ€ to bring attention to the wall that separates Palestinians from their land and, in this case, cedes land to expand Jewish settlements in the area. Together with Israeli peace activists and internationalists from more than 20 countries, we made the trek to the wall. The internationals came from France, the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, and India. It was at the â€œsecurity wallâ€ that I was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet and gassed by Israeli Defense Forces [photos]. Watch the video:
Before the peace vigil, I participated in a press conference with the Palestinian Minister for Information, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, in front of the international press corps. Minister Barghouti praised the nonviolent vigil of the Bilâ€™in people and the nonviolent resistance of many people around Palestine, saying that Bilâ€™in is a model and example to all. He called for a stop to building the wall, and for the upholding of Palestinian rights under international law. I supported his call and thanked the people of Bilâ€™in â€“ offering my support for the nonviolent resistance to the wall because it contravenes international law, including the International Court of Justice decision in The Hague. I also called for an end to Israelâ€™s occupation of Palestine, which soon will mark its 40th year. I called for recognition by the international community of the Palestinian government, together with restoration of economic and political rights of the people.
Both Dr. Barghouti and I called for the release of the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, held by Palestinian militants in Gaza. I also called for the protection of journalists all over the world, whose ability to cover the truth is being infringed upon by violence. During the press conference the Israeli military drove through the gate onto Palestinian land, with many foot soldiers. They surrounded the international press gathered and warned us that if we did not disperse they would attack in five minutes. Dr. Barghouti and I condemned this as an abuse of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and of a peoplesâ€™ right to peaceful protest.
After the press conference, we returned to the village of Bilâ€™in and joined the peace vigil as it moved down the road towards the wall. Several hundred people participated with the Palestinians leading the march. I walked with my Palestinian interpreter who told me his home was on the other side of the wall. His 12-acre land had been confiscated by Israeli authorities and his 400- year-old olive trees uprooted and taken to Jerusalem to be planted in new Israeli settlements.
When those participating in the vigil got half way down the road, the Israeli soldiers started firing tear gas and plastic bullets directly at us. At another point they used water canons. We were a completely unarmed peaceful gathering. The soldiers blocked the upper part of the road, which prevented Dr. Barghouti and some of the Palestinians from joining the main vigil group. Then those of us in the main group were tear-gassed. As I was helping a French woman retreat, I was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet.
Two young women – one from the U.S. and one from New Zealand – helped me towards an ambulance. I saw an elderly Palestinian mother carried on a stretcher into the ambulance. She had been shot in the back with a plastic bullet. I saw a man whose face was covered in blood and a Palestinian youth overcome with the gas. About 20 people were injured.
When we could, Ann Patterson and I went back to the protest, where the people were being viciously attacked with tear gas and plastic bullets. I was overcome with gas and had a nose bleed that resulted in being carried to ambulance for treatment. We were advised by medial staff not to return to vigil and obliged to leave our friends several hours later still heroically trying to get near the wall. This attack from the Israeli soldiers was a totally unprovoked attack upon civilians.
We were all traumatized by our experience. With the gas still in the air, the words came flowing back to me from a Palestinian doctor who said, â€œThe whole Palestinian people, after 40 years of occupation, the whole people of Palestine are traumatized. It is time the international community acted to put a stop to this suffering and injustice of our people.â€ I agree: Enough is enough. It is time for action to force the Israeli government to enter into unconditional talks to end this tragedy of tragedies against the Palestinian people.
Click the link below to the speech Ms. Maguire’s gave at the nonviolence conference before the demonstration:
Nonviolence: The Way Forward for the Human Family
An address by Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Salaam Aleikom, Shalom, my Friends,
I am very happy to be here and I would like to thank the organizers of this conference for their kind invitation to speak to you. I have chosen to speak on the subject â€œNonviolenceâ€“the Way forward for the Human Family.â€ I am deeply conscious that many Palestinians have committed their lives to working for a nonviolent solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem, and they are committed to the nonviolent Palestinian resistance movement, to resist the wall and Israeli occupation. I fully support this movement, as I believe that all forms of nonviolent resistance to the wall are legal, as the wall itself contravenes international law, including the International Court of Justice decision in The Hague. I believe the separation wall is a monument to fear and failed politics. I look forward to joining you in nonviolent resistance at the wall.
I am aware that there is a strong Palestinian tradition of nonviolent resistance, and your history records that Palestinians responded to the Israeli occupation with a well-organized nonviolent resistance movement. I am aware, too, of the risk attached to participating in this movement, as at demonstrations, etc., many are targeted by police and picked up later, being â€˜chargedâ€™ with being at demonstrations – and their confessions are used to pick up others that they name under duress. Some are Palestinian children, 14 or so. This practice by Israeli security should cease immediately if there is to be any hope for peace. Yet, you continue to struggle in spite of daily hardships, checkpoints, oppression, and humiliation, in trying to do the basic things of life, like getting to work, educating and feeding your children.
I believe for many Palestinians daily living is so hard, it is indeed an act of resistance. I thank you all for this. I am honored to join in solidarity with you in your rightful demand for equality, freedom, and the upholding of human dignity through the full implementation of U.N. resolutions, human rights and international laws, which are currently being broken and violated by the Israeli government. I believe the European Council and all governments of the European Union should recognize the Palestinian government and cancel all economic, social, and political restrictions which have been placed upon it. The EU Council and Governments of the European Union should recognize the opportunity to revive the peace process with Israel and Palestinian governments.
I fully support and encourage you as you continue to peacefully organize, protest and resist, and to continue building your nonviolent grassroots peoplesâ€™ movement which will be the cornerstone of a new Palestine/Israel, and a new Middle East.
I am conscious, too, that there are many international peace activists here in Bilâ€™in and in the occupied territories. The inspirational work of the International Solidarity Movement is well known, and I would like to thank them for their work. I would also like to pay tribute to all peace activists who come from many countries to join in solidarity and support for those suffering injustice. These activists are people of courage, with hearts of compassion, and they have the wisdom to know an injustice to one is an injustice to all, and must be nonviolently resisted, until justice and peace is established. They pay a high price in stepping out of their comfort zones, into highly militarized, dangerous areas.
Sometimes much is asked of them, as in the case of Rachel Corrie, who gave her life protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli military. But it is the Rachels of this world who reminds us that we are responsible for each other, and we are interconnected in a mysteriously spiritual and beautiful way. Recognizing this, as the human family, each one of us has to stretch beyond self-interest, or the concern of just our own family, friends, community, religion, culture, nation, and seek ways in which we can help the whole community of life on earth, and protect the earth, our communal home. These courageous people disarmed in mind and hearts, and coming armed with love to serve, in organizations, such as International Solidarity Movement, the Israeli peace movement, Christian peacemakers, Rabbis for Human Rights and against the demolitions of Palestinian homes, Doctors without Borders, and many NGOs, show us it is possible for each of us to move beyond selfishness, tribalism, nationalism, and identify with the whole human family and the earth itself. This movement of nonviolent people, united in working for justice and equality, and irrespective of nationality or religion, unarmed and willing to take risks protecting civilians in danger, is one of the most hopeful and inspiring movements of our time.
I myself am very hopeful for the future of the Middle East. I first visited Israel/Palestine at the invitation of the Rabbis for Human Rights and against the demolition of Palestinian homes. I stood in the ruins of Palestinian Homes and I sat at the Military Trial of Abu Faiz, a Palestinian father of 13 children, whose only crime was to build a home for his family. Since then I have returned many times to participate in various ecumenical and peace activities. I also support people here working for a Middle East Nuclear weapons free zone, and the abolition of war.
From where do I get my hope? From the people of this place, and those Israeli/Palestinian peace activists who believe passionately that given justice and equality for all its citizens, peace and human security is possible in this holy land. I take hope, too, from the courage of the young Israeli reservists, who, following their conscience have refused military duty in the territories. (I hope that more British and U.S. soldiers will follow their conscience and refuse to participate in the continuing U.S./U.K. immoral and illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and further unnecessary and illegal wars, so that much continuing unnecessary suffering and death can be avoided.)
But I have watched, too, those in the resistance movements, who believe justice will only come through violence, and in their frustration, pain and anger, have turned to armed resistance, suicide bombs. Suicide bombs tragically take the life of those who use them, and have taken the lives of many Israeli people, and others, and such actions can never be justified. I would therefore like to appeal to those who use such violence, (including those who use the threat of violence by calling for the destruction of Israel) to abandon these immoral and illegal methods, and use nonviolent language and means of working for justice and freedom. They can take inspiration, as I do, from the words of Abdul Khaffer Khan, a great nonviolent Muslim leader who demonstrated the power of courageous Islamic nonviolence through the unarmed Servants of Godâ€™s army and parallel government to liberate the Pathan people from British colonial rule in Indiaâ€™s North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan). Abdul Khaffer Khan, also taught: â€œThe Holy Prophet Mohammed came into the world and taught us â€˜that man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of Godâ€™s creatures. Belief in God is to love oneâ€™s fellowmenâ€™.â€
From our own experience in Northern Ireland, we have learned that violence begets violence, and paramilitarism, militarism, violence, and war, do not solve the problems, but indeed are the cause of much reciprocal violence. We have also learned in Northern Ireland that when a government tries to deal with terrorism by curtailing civil liberties, or by complete disregarding and violating international norms and standards, then this only adds fuel to the pain, anger and fear, and is the cause of much reciprocal violence. If we want justice, peace, and human security, then the means must be consistent with the ends, we must use good means to achieve good ends. This lesson is important both for the Israeli government and the Palestinian authorities, and all citizens of Israel/Palestine if there is to be real progress towards peace.
I hope you will take inspiration from the peace process in Northern Ireland. We too, in our most recent history, have been in dark places where it seemed injustice and its child of violence was in danger of destroying us. In l976 we were on the brink of civil war, and the cycle of violence seemed impossible to break. Sadly a tragedy happened with the death of my sister Annâ€™s three young children (Joanne, John, and Andrew) in a violent clash between the Irish Republic Army and British Army. Out of this tragedy, there arose a massive grassroots peace movement, demanding an end to violence, and offering nonviolence as a way forward for the Northern Irish people.
Many other social movements, and efforts by the civil community, took place to resist violence and demand justice and peace. It was a spontaneous people’s movement. Ordinary people from all walks of life joining in solidarity saying â€˜enough is enoughâ€™ there is another way of nonviolence to solve our problems. We took our inspiration from Jesus/Gandhi/King arguing that nonviolence is not weak; it is active, powerful, because it comes from the soul and it therefore has the power of truth, and is simply the right thing to do. We refused to carry arms and refused armed protection. Our nonviolence was risky and dangerous, we received death threats from all sides, our property destroyed, were verbally and physically attacked, but we had the joy of witnessing in the first six months of the movement, a 70 percent decrease in the rate of violence, and the beginning of peace.
It was a long, difficult, and dangerous path; often we though things were so bad peace would never come. It took a long time for the message of nonviolence to be heard, but it was finally, and ended up in all inclusive dialogue when the British/Dublin Governments spoke to their enemies through representatives of the paramilitary groups, and all the Political parties. This all inclusive dialogue, eventually lead in l998 to the Good Friday Agreement, then to the historic meeting in March 2007 of Dr. Paisley (Democratic Unionist Party) and Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein) sitting at the same table and agreeing to share power in Northern Ireland on 8th May, 2007, when there will be a devolved Government in Northern Ireland, a Power Sharing executive and an Assembly. Truly miracles do happen, and should give hope to others!
There are many lessons to be learned from the Northern Irish Peace Process, one being that peace is possible, but it takes courageous political leadership, and also the civil community to compromise and take risks for peace. Perhaps the most important lesson is recognition by those in power that militarism, paramilitarism, and the so-called â€˜war on terrorismâ€™ does no solve these deeply complex ethical/political problems, and that nonviolent conflict resolution does work.
Here in Israel/Palestine I believe, it will also take a recognition that Israeli security lies not in oppressing the Palestinian people, but in dialogue and negotiations that recognize their right to equality and freedom. I hope the Israeli government will follow our example in Northern Ireland, and enter unconditional talks with their partners, the Palestinian authority in order to find solutions together. Peace is possible, if we act justly, accept and celebrate the diversity we encounter, give and accept forgiveness, work to heal the divisions of the past, and above all choose the path of non-killing and nonviolence, then we can build non-killing communities and a world civilization with a compassionate heart. Building such communities, starts in our own hearts, in our families, and then reaching out to the other with mercy, compassion and kindness. An important part of building peace is the need for Palestinians and Israelis, in spite of the fear and pain, to reach out to each others in forgiveness, and to build trust. This can only be done by a grassroots people to people contact and the Israeli Government can help this process by removing all restrictions which make it impossible for Israeli/Palestinian people to meet and work together. To build a peace process people must see improvement in their every day lives, through freedom of movement, economic development.
But there are no quick fixes to peace. It is hard every day struggle to be more peaceful ourselves, and to have the courage to accept diversity and difference, yet all the while listening to others with a deep respect for their perspectives and views no matter how different from our own. Trust building and friendship making are foundation stones for peaceful, democratic societies, and we the people of the world, no matter where we live, must do the work of laying these stones, and building the bridges with our enemies. Here in the Middle East, the task of making friends with your enemies is necessary, in order to open up the long-term possibility for an everlasting peace.
As in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics, must become their own best friends and build a shared future together, so too Jews and Arabs must become their own best friends, and build a shared future together. Here, in this holy land, the three great world religions, (there are many paths to God) united in their faith and love of Abraham, by working together, can become an ethical and spiritual force for good in the World.
These religions can teach that the holiest thing is the life of a human being and we have no right to kill each other, and are called to love our enemies and love the stranger. Such a clear peace message coming out of the heart of the holy land would change the world. But there is an obstacle to peace, and it is fear. We humans are often fearful and anxious, and sometimes we get stuck in the past, feeding our fear and negativity thus destroying our imagination and creativity. In order to overcome this fear let us remember Allah loves each one of us equally, the kingdom of God lives in every oneâ€™s heart, and this connects us as the human family, who need each othersâ€™ love and support in the difficult, yet joyous journey of life.
Salaam Aleikum, Shalom, my friends.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire received the Nobel peace prize in 1976 for her work as co-founder of the Community of Peace People (www.peacepeople.com) in Northern Ireland. She gave this talk at the Second Annual Conference on Nonviolence in Bilâ€™in, Palestine held April 18-20, 2007.
For more on Abdul Khaffer Khan see Nonviolent Soldier of Islam by Eknath Easwaran and My Life and Struggle: Autobiography of Badshah Khan.