the friend online
19 January 2007

International Edition: Promoting non-violence in the West Bank
Getting up at 2.30am and travelling over mountains and disused tracks to be in time for a team meeting that starts at 10am would be understandable if the journey was a very long one. However when the journey should only take about an hour, we need to look for other reasons. I asked the coordinator why he had had to get up that early and he told me that that time of night is the best time to travel in the West Bank if one wants to avoid the numerous checkpoints and road closures that make travelling so difficult for Palestinians. And it showed his commitment to meet with his colleagues and get support for his work in promoting nonviolence.

Last year I spent three months in Ramallah as an ecumenical accompanier, during which time I visited refugee camps, went out to villages affected by the building of the separation barrier and carried out training for a Palestinian organisation called MEND, which stands for Middle East nonviolence and democracy. When I left, they asked me if I would return to deliver some more training. So in March 2006 I was back running courses in team building, nonviolent communication skills and conflict resolution to the centres that MEND runs in the West Bank.

Overall I was enormously impressed with the commitment and dedication of all those working in the centres. They seemed to exemplify what is covered in the Arabic word summoud which means resilience, perseverance and affirming the positive in the face of adversity. Many of the coordinators have a background in military activity but for a number of reasons have now opted for nonviolence. For one of them the turning point was going to prison a few days after his first daughter was born and not coming out for 5 years, thus missing out on those precious early years. The volunteers in the MEND centres are mostly students who come along to learn about ways of handling conflict situations without resorting to violence as is so common in the West Bank (and increasingly in Israel as well). 38 years of occupation has had a big impact on Palestinian society and the violence that they suffer daily from the Israeli army has bred a violent response which has left its mark in many parts of society, from the community to schools and families.

The work in the centres involves workshops, courses and camps, as well as training for young people in media skills, such as making films. On the courses I ran, we looked at specific tools that could be used in conflict resolution such as mapping a conflict and mediation skills. These can be used at any level from dealing with soldiers at a checkpoint, resolving a conflict between a student and his teacher, or a dispute within a family. We looked at examples from all these settings and used simple drama techniques to act out situations which might take place.

We also thought about how the workers could show that what they were doing was effective and discussed simple evaluation techniques, such as finding examples of how the training the centres offered was making a difference, albeit in a small way, to changing the culture. Instances that were brought up included:

'I now feel confident enough to talk to and deal with the tough kids'

'Young people couldn't talk before the olders ones... now they can talk any time'

Some local people come to MEND to get advice about how to deal with soldiers at checkpoints.

UNWRA (the UN agency dealing with refugee camps) sent a child to one of the centres who was very isolated. He has now learnt social skills, is more relaxed and is able to use a camera.

Another area that we dealt with was personal development. Schools in the West Bank tend to provide a fairly formal curriculum and there is little scope for looking at issues such as self-awareness or how one relates to others. When I looked at the evaluation of the first courses run by MEND 2 years ago for the coordinators, the most positive comments were made about the exercises around personal development. For instance a simple exercise called Joharis Window in which one looks at different aspects of our personality, including what one knows about oneself and what others know about us.

I used this exercise on several occasions and it proved a good way of helping to break down barriers, and build trust, as well as increasing peoples self-knowledge.

When people live in such a stressful situation with so many constraints on their ability to live the kind of life we take for granted in the West, they need to find ways of supporting each other and letting off steam in ways which are not going to be harmful to others. Exercises in listening skills also play a key part in this and were included in the training I offered.

So what are my overall conclusions?

I believe the centres, along with other initiatives in nonviolence are very well placed to influence the prevailing culture and to show the community that violence is not the best way of dealing with the problems, whether that be the occupation itself or the day to day conflicts that occur in the community, school or family. This is not an easy task and some coordinators told me they had lost friends through adopting this approach. For many Palestinians non-violence is seen as something passive rather than as a different but equally active way of resisting things that are wrong. The local networks are very tight and many of the co-ordinators know the people in Islamic Jihad and Al-Aksa Brigade who are involved in violence in relation to the occupation, and they have been trying to influence them in a different direction.

For this to happen, the centres need support, and this includes finance, more training and help in reaching out to more people and institutions in their local communities.

This will not happen overnight but as the Chinese saying goes, 'A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step' and to quote Gandhi, the great apostle of non-violence. 'When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won'.


Gerald Conyngham


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition

International Edition: Multifaith and hope in the West Bank
Jane Garrett, Leeds MM & Jenny Bell, West Somerset MM
International Edition: a visit to the West Bank
Alan and Pauline York
International Edition: Promoting non-violence in the West Bank
Gerald Conyngham
International Edition: Report from the Middle East
Franco Perna
Countries of the Week: Israel & Palestine

Conciliation work in Nagaland
Sarah Alldred, Hardshaw East MM
News round-up
Green living may not be so simple – or is it?
Andrew Hughes Nind
Edward Hoare & Judy Kirby
Silence and patience
Susie Paskins
Why gay people should be welcome in churches
Stephen Cox
A portrait of George Fox
Simon Webb
John Hamilton: politician with a heart
Peter Smith

Things to do, where to stay, people to see etc...

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