15 January 2005

Conflict resolution - a growing trend

By Andrew Boswell

The world appears very bleak from images on our TVs, and pictures in newspapers. People rightly say we need more positive news.

Well, it does exist, and we should find and celebrate it as a Norwich Quaker friend of mine, Elizabeth Stutz, did.

Inspired to discover the world in which hatred and recriminations have been laid aside, Elizabeth searched the Internet, finding thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who devote their lives to different ways of creating peace in their war-torn region:
  • The Parents' Circle, a growing, hundreds strong, group of Palestinian and Israeli families, who have lost close family members in the conflict.
  • BRIDGES, a new health journal being launched by Israeli and Palestinian health professionals with portions in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
  • young people from both communities growing up in friendship and understanding through art, drama, sport and travel.
  • nine different women's groups, working in harmony on different aspects of peace.
  • Christians, Jews and Muslims, worshipping and studying together in increasing numbers, celebrating reconciliation and the fact that they share the same Prophets, basic religious beliefs, and cultural background.
Now Norwich Quakers and the Norwich and District Peace Council have produced a web site - http://www.practisingpeace.org/ - which links to some of the many websites describing this work.

The international community urgently needs to know that Muslims and Jews are able to live and work together in harmony and we invite you to visit the site, and to support and encourage these brave people who are laying the foundations for justice, peace and human dignity. These people demonstrate that peace is possible where politicians have so far failed, through their courageous work.

The world hears daily of Middle East incidents in which extreme violence, cruelty and injustice are the norm. Constant negative news inflames negative feelings of hatred and animosity, and produces an atmosphere in which retaliation, vengeance and reprisals are seen as unavoidable. In this climate, the thought of a real peace appears impossible.

For this reason, it is of utmost importance that the harmony that exists among many grass roots citizens as well as professional workers and their work for peace should be recognised and understood by the international community, and used as a foundation for a peace settlement that both sides feel they can embrace.

Contact has been established between the Norwich website and those in Israel / Palestine and some heartening exchanges are taking place.

Aaron Barnea from the Parent's Circle wrote "We are glad … that, together with others, we may change a bit the generally pessimistic mood regarding the future of our region. Our families, victims of the ongoing conflict, are working together in order to show to both communities that cooperation and friendship is possible".

Heskel Nathaniel, Founder, Breaking the Ice writes of the 2005 "extreme peace mission", which, in September, "will take a group of Jews and Arabs in a breath taking expedition across the Sahara", following last year's, joint Palestinian and Israeli Peace Expedition to Antartica.

Our site links to over 30 sites, including audio and video content, and bears witness to the success of conflict resolution, noted by Scilla Elsworthy as the fastest growing method of dealing with conflict in the 21st century.

A few decades ago, there were few such stories worldwide, now there are many - in Britain alone there are over 50 institutes who research non-violent conflict resolution.

This growing trend is reflected in several books - in 2001 Scilla Elsworthy and the Oxford Research Group (ORG) published "War Prevention Works". This tells 50 inspiring stories from around the world of successful peaceful resolutions initiated and sustained by diverse civil society groups such as women, youth and faith-based organisations.

In 1999, the European Center for Conflict Prevention published a similar book "People Building Peace - 35 inspiring stories from Around the World". Now, 2005, they are publishing a follow up book with a further 65 stories from countries as diverse as Liberia, Macedonia, Argentina, Nigeria and Cambodia.

Mikhail Gorbachev's Green Cross International has launched a magazine "Optimist" - issue 2, just out, has an article on the Good Water Makes Good Neighbours project where Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians build peace through sustaining shared water resources. The UK's "Positive News" paper has been reporting such good news since 1993 the banner "Another world is possible, spread the word, let's make it happen". To find out more about Norwich's small contribution, please check out our website!

Thanks to Elizabeth Stutz for her inspiration and help for this column. Proceeds from the January and February One World columns have been donated to the Sarvodaya Movement, a Sri Lankan Buddhist charity working with the victims of the tsunami.