Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

People are not plants! Why do people move? Let “humanitas” speak!

By Rev. Paul Lansu

In recent months and years, boat people have arrived at different tourist beaches in Méditerranée countries.[1] In many cases, tourists have been helping these people coming bringing them on land. In other cases, tourists have been upset because of the landing of death bodies, Libyan migrants for instance, in the backyard or on the beach of their hotel. Tourists asked as soon as possible for another hotel where they were not confronted with the migrant problem and to continue their vacation free of worries. This is about human dramas and dilemmas and the world turns its back on evading confrontation. Let the others solve it!

There is at least a group of people who are indignant and want to help refugees in concrete terms as much as possible. Nowadays, people are being blamed for saving migrants’ lives and providing the humanitarian assistance, which EU Member States are unwilling or unable to provide according to international law and EU law.

These humanitarian activists are very often strongly opposed by, among others, different governments and political leaders of the European Union, such as Italy. It has gone so far and it has come so far that aid workers are being punished. The targets include volunteers, peace and human rights activists, NGO’s, lawyers, crewmembers of rescue ships, migrants’ family members, and journalists, mayors and priests. Solidarity has been and is criminalised by the EU countries. The number of facts of people who have criminalised for humanitarian activities has grown rapidly since 2015. Is this the new normal?

Fear of migrants sells. The anti-immigrant discourse in Europe and elsewhere as in the USA is very high today. Fear of immigrants earns politicians votes. Immigrants will keep coming.

Helping people both legally and morally turns out to be a crime. It seems anti-migration and criminalisation is becoming a normal practice. In this way, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2] is totally eroded and made unbelievable. However, that means that the standard reduction has increased dramatically in recent years and that care for other people is no longer important. It is a burden!

Are migrants no human beings? Are not all men created as equals? So human dignity is at stake. The European Economic and Social Committee stated that solidarity is not and will never be a crime.[3] In addition, Caritas Europe issued a statement against the criminalisation of solidarity as a threat to our democracies.[4]

It is not just about migrants

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be held on Sunday 29 September 2019 on the theme “It is not just about migrants.” In the message of his Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees,[5] Pope Francis highlights his repeated and explicit calls of concern for migrants and refugees should be understood as being integral to his deep concern for all of humanity.

His message aims to convey to us how deeply involved  ‘’as Christian communities and societies we are and that we are all called to respond and to reflect how our faith and commitments are engaged in responding to vulnerable people on the move.”

In an increasingly globalised world, where migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion, Pope Francis reminds us that each encounter with the other, is an encounter with Christ and in extending the hand of love, friendship, assistance and support to the most vulnerable, we are extending our hands to Christ and open our hearts for the Other(s).

The heart should have no borders

On 26 June 2019, Pax Christi International awarded its annual peace prize to European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL),[6] Greece. ELIL is one of the few organizations that provide legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugees flock en route to Europe. Since the founding of ELIL in 2016, around 150 lawyers from 17 countries have provided free legal aid to more than 9,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

ELIL is grateful that their work to uphold the rule of law, to protect human rights and to ensure substantial access to legal aid for refugees in Lesbos is recognized in this way. It is hoped it will help raise awareness of the elementary importance of ensuring that legal assistance for refugees throughout their asylum procedure.  The work of ELIL is very relevant and critical activism for peace and justice.

The Pax Christi International Peace Prize awarded to ELIL is a meaningful and political statement. Especially, because the political debate in Europe is deeply polarised and is in many ways demonizing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. This completely conflicts with the vision of a Europe that should respect human dignity and fundamental rights.

In his speech at the award ceremony, the outgoing co-president of Pax Christi International, Bishop Kevin Dowling, stressed the importance of human dignity and of solidarity, which are common threads in Catholic Social Thinking. Refugees and migrants are primarily people and should be treated as people. A constant lowering of norms and values is breaking through in our democracies. Let “humanitas” speak!

People are not plants!

Why are people on the move? First, people are not plants! Migration is a constant in human history. Our planet has become a world in motion. Between 1960 and 2017, the overall numbers of migrants tripled. Today, 3 à 4 per cent of the world population, or one out of every twenty-nine humans, lives in a country different from the one they were born in. Mass migration has become the defining human phenomenon of the twenty-first century.

Today, according to UNHCR there are at least 70.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide,[7] both within a country (IDPs) as well as abroad. Never before has there been so much human movement. In addition, never before has there been so much organised resistance to human movement. One effect of this is the withdrawal of countries from multilateral institutions and treaties.

Walls, fences or barriers will do nothing to stop people on the move. Not at the Mexican & USA border, not anywhere else. They will keep coming, on foot or in boats, by digging tunnels, on planes or on bicycles, whether you want them or not. Drive is a human element. Nevertheless, open borders is not an option in principle. However, at least people should keep their hearts open.

It is very important to listen with an open heart to the stories of refugees. What they have experienced and what difficulties they are in. In most cases, migrants have left a love behind, sometimes their whole family. Many of the refugees have taken big risks and travelled in dangerous situations. Their only option is to leave from a country of misery toward a better and promised country. Is it because our globe already has many inhabitants that we are denying migrants to look for a better life?

Consequences of colonialism

The many conflicts and wars of the last centuries have caused a lot of migration. People do not want to be involved in armed conflicts. They seek protection for themselves and their families, preferably in their own neighbourhood, or if necessary further away.

A deeper reason is to be find in colonialism, which began with a huge migration, when millions of Europeans moved overseas to invade, settle and rule other countries and even over other continents. That resulted in huge displacement of locals and in worldwide slavery. Slavery was abolished in the last century. However, in some countries slavery existed until a few decades ago.

Many of the issues that make people emigrate are home-grown: corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement by local rulers, and inherent societal issues that preceded colonialism, such as the treatment of women. Western values have been imposed on other civilisations, which contrasted with the individuality and the character of the local population.

All around the world, civil upheaval causes people to flee, and many conflicts have been ongoing for years or decades. There are the wars that everybody knows about, such as in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria; then there are the little-known ones, such as the Moro Muslim conflict in the Philippines,[8] which has cost a cumulative 120.000 lives, and the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo,[9] which has taken over 60.000. Many of these conflicts have their origin in colonialism or botched colonial population transfer or map making. One of the latest dramatic examples is the 2015 Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.[10] Almost a million of them have fled over the border to Bangladesh.

Small arms

War creates refugees. The purchase and sale of small arms is another cause of people on the run. Just as the sale of small arms fuels domestic strife and spurs migration, the sale of heavy weapons is instrumental in creating conflict between nations. To date, 130 countries have signed the 2014 United Nations Arms Trade Treaty,[11] the only serious effort to stem the trade in conventional arms around the world.

Climate change

Climate migration is not new. In the twenty-first century, the number one driver of migration might be climate change. According to the UN, a fifth of the world’s population will be affected by floods by 2050. Therefore, many of them will move to dry land. According to the International Organisation for Migration,[12] at least 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050. The figure could be as high as one billion, which would be one out of every ten people. That means that in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant.

You can set up a wall to try to contain 10.000, 20.000, and one million people, but not 10 million. Migration by climate change has been dramatically increasing in the recent past. Since 1992, droughts, floods and storms have affected 4.2 billion people. Today, 1.8 billion people are suffering the effects of drought, land degradation and desertification. According to the UN high commissioner for refugees, since 2008, 22.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of climate-related extreme weathers events, like hurricanes or droughts. Climate change affects everyday life.

In conclusion

This debate requires individual and common solidarity. Solidarity is one of our norms and values. Solidarity will first be structural, organized solidarity. It is painful to see that most governments remain stuck under the .7 % of the development cooperation budget. The same governments argue for the elimination of the causes of migration but do little or nothing specifically about it. You cannot maintain double and contradictory rhetoric.

Today, and since the 1980s, solidarity is not a buzzword. It remains in full completion. Trends within political groups push solidarity towards the private sphere. It is not always certain that the necessary involvement with other people will continue to exist. Charity is good and it is good for interpersonal relationships. It is also necessary, but rather temporary, fragmentary. If solidarity dies, it harms the citizen.

From a justice perspective, we know that you should always look at a social system from the point of view of the least-favoured, in this case the people on the move. So from the bottom up. Never from the top down. The ratio essendi, the ground of our being, the ground of existence of each of us is being human, unique and irreplaceable. Everyone must be given a fundamental equality. Why not?

____________

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK-0DbOG3zk
[2] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
[3] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/news/statement-criminalisation-solidarity
[4] https://www.caritasinternational.be/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/190617_Caritas_Europa_criminalisation_solidarity_FINAL.pdf?x67227
[5] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-05/pope-francis-message-world-day-migrants-refugees-full-text.html
[6] https://www.paxchristi.net/news/pax-christi-international-recognises-european-lawyers-lesvos-recipient-2019-peace-prize/7296
[7] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moro_conflict
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ituri_conflict
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Rohingya_refugee_crisis
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_Trade_Treaty
[12] https://www.iom.int/migration-and-climate-change-0
Peace

Jerusalem keeps making headlines: Is it a city of peace?

by Rev. Paul Lansu

It is not apparent to everybody visiting the city of Jerusalem in the Holy Land. But next to the geographically, religious and historic reality of the city there is the spiritual dimension of Jerusalem as the Eternal and Holy City of Faith.

In the Gospel readings, Jesus wishes his followers a good trip to Jerusalem.[i] Jesus himself is also on his way, with Jerusalem as the final destination. For us, people from here and now, Jerusalem can be a travel destination. We do not even have to take the plane for that. It is a destination in the spiritual sense: Jerusalem is the city of ultimate and total peace, the city of security finding in God.

The city of stone Jerusalem as it is today is still far from that peace. It is now more a city of dissatisfaction and division. However, that reality also speaks for itself: peace is and remains a difficult task, both in the city of people and in one’s own heart. Jesus very much wishes us to find that peace. It must be our first word and our first task when we come to people: wishing for peace.

That peace must already be evident from the way we go. As a “lamb among the wolves,” Jesus calls this. You go on the road to people happens in all defencelessness. You do not have a thick wallet in your pocket to unpack with it, you do not wear trendy fashion clothing, and you have nothing with which you can force or enforce. You only have yourself, the only message being the vulnerable message of God’s love for people.

Jerusalem, this is where you can experience the confidence of God. That place cannot always be found. That destination is not included in a travel guide. It lies in yourself; it is in places where you meet people who radiate peace and where you can give peace yourself. However, a spiritual approach to the city of peace is not unconnected to reality of today.

Come and see

It might be extremely revealing if you as a believer could visit the city of Jerusalem “in persona”. Smell and feel the city. You need sufficient time to empathize with the extreme and many aspects of the city, both religious and cultural.

The Old City as a whole is particularly rich and hides a huge wealth of history and religious tradition. However, Jerusalem is also marked by a violent past. To date, there is deep division. The future is uncertain.

Three monotheistic religions together form a tripartite in terms of holy places and presence: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Two peoples are claiming Jerusalem as their capital city: Israel and Palestine.

Intertwining of holy places

Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital. According to Jewish belief, there is the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, as well as the holy of holies of the temple of Salome (First Temple)[ii]. The Western or Wailing Wall[iii] symbolizes the Jewish presence.

Jerusalem has the same religious significance for the Palestinians as it does for the entire Islamic world. The city is considered the third most sacred place in Islam, because the prophet Mohammed would have ascended from that same rock to heaven. At that place is now the “farthest mosque”, the Al-Aqsa.[iv]

From a military, strategic and geographical point of view, Jerusalem is not very important – there is no industry, no river, and no airport – but the cultural and religious importance of the city is immense. Ideology here transcends the location. Concerning authority over and access to Jerusalem, it will be difficult to compromise.

In 2017, President Trump stated that the USA recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.[v] Congress had been in favour of this since 1995 and had made funds available to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama had repeatedly signed for a six-month postponement of the placement. The official move took place in May 2018.

For the Palestinians, this is a provocation and blocks a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital for both nations. Despite the further Judaization of the city of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem should also become the capital of the Palestinians as recognised in international law.

In response to the USA move to Jerusalem, 128 countries voted in emergency session of UNGA on 21 December 2017,[vi] to null any decision or action that could alter character, status or demographic composition of Jerusalem. Call on states to refrain from establishing their diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The role of the UN in the peace process should not be compromised.

Keeping the Status Quo of Jerusalem

Free access to the holy sites for all three religions is essential. The history of insisting on the free access goes back to the Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 637 AD with Patriarch Sophronios and declined to pray at the Church when the noon call to prayer was heard. This symbolic and practical measure by the Caliph ensured for generations to come the right of Christians to their own holy places unhindered.

In 1852 Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid issued the Status Quo decree[vii] that sought to regulate freedom of access, possession and worship in the Holy Sepulcher and six other Christian sites. Later in history, the holy places remained under the existing religious custodianship arrangements.

The UNGA Resolutions 181 of 1947 and 194 of 1948 recommended respectively for Jerusalem to be placed under international trusteeship and the internationalisation and demilitarisation of the city in order to presence free access and protection of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Also after the June 1967 war and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza, the freedom of access to the different religious sites have been ensured. The international community repeatedly stated not to accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status quo of Jerusalem. Today, it is stated that Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations.

Judaism and Islam have both the same sacred sites

Some religious Jews argue that they should have the right to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif, the Temple Mount.[viii] They are right in principle. In an open society and climate of political and religious tolerance, Jews should visit holy sites of Muslims and vice versa. Muslims should be allowed to visit the Western Wall or the Rachel’s Tomb,[ix] both sacred to Jews and Muslims. In addition, the Abrahamic Mosque in Hebron is divided as well.

The policy should be no exclusivity over the holy sites. They should be open and reachable for all believers. All monotheistic believers of the three religions should guarantee the multi-cultural and multi-religious mosaic character of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and Bethlehem are one identity

Since 2002, the Israeli government has built a separation wall and introduced a permit system.[x] These measures have virtually divided Bethlehem from its twin city Jerusalem. Historically and for pilgrimage and tourists purposes, the twin cities have never before been separated. Bethlehem sits practically at the southern border of Jerusalem.

The United Nations when it proposed a Corpus Separatum[xi] idea, Bethlehem and its surroundings, were also included together with Jerusalem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem cannot be separated from each other; their historic, religious and geographic complementarity must be considered in any future political settlement.

In conclusion

  1. The international community should develop the political will to unequivocally oppose unilateral plans to change the status of Jerusalem; to continue to respect Security Council Resolutions 478 and 2334 (stop annexation and further building of settlements in East-Jerusalem); as well as to take measures to ensure an end to the occupation, and its ongoing violations of international law and human rights such as house demolitions in especially East-Jerusalem.
  2. The international community needs to persist in monitoring infractions on the right to free access to holy places by Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike. Maintaining the Status Quo, in spite of talk that circumstances and conditions have changed, should be the basis in regulating relationships to sacred holy places. This is important especially when there are holy sites sacred to more than one religion.
  3. Lastly, the need for a political solution remains paramount. Jerusalem remains a universal city and the international community should do whatever in its means to ensure this character of the city and to ensure access to the relevant holy sites for the different religious communities. Jerusalem will never be one, open city until the reality of two Jerusalems (East and West) is recognised and accepted by both sides. Sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel can only be achieved if Jerusalem remains the current home of Israelis and Palestinians alike and the future capital for their two nations. Jerusalem should be the city of the blessing of all peoples.

“Come and see” is the Biblical call to come to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in order to visit the holy places but at the same time to get in touch with local people. A pilgrimage becomes a quest for spirituality through encounters with other people, and a quest in search of God’s truth. It is recommended for pilgrims to seek people-to-people encounters, a path that leads to mutuality, solidarity and the real discovery of human community. By doing so, pilgrims and all people of good will can support and bless all Palestinian and Israeli peace builders.

___________ 

Faith in Action – 800 years of Francis and the Sultan[xii]

Francis of Assisi is commemorated on October 4, 2019. This day is dedicated to Francis’ meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, 800 years ago; a particularly inspiring peace initiative in the time of the Crusades to break through the enemy thinking. Francis and the Sultan is a story of inspiring meeting and peace building. However, if we want to make such moments of reconciliation possible 800 years later, then it will also be necessary to invest more in peace.

On Friday, October 4, 2019, around 2 p.m., simultaneously with Muslims’ afternoon prayers, worldwide church bells will sound as an invitation to pray in solidarity with each other for peace, dialogue and get-together.

____________

[i] See Luke 10, 1-20
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon%27s_Temple
[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Mosque
[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_recognition_of_Jerusalem_as_capital_of_Israel
[vi] https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/ga11995.doc.htm
[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_Quo_(Jerusalem_and_Bethlehem)
[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount
[ix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel%27s_Tomb
[x] https://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement
[xi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_separatum_(Jerusalem)
[xii] https://indianexpress.com/article/research/pope-francis-abu-dhabi-st-francis-sultan-of-egypt-5572722/
Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality, Social Issues

Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself: Peace within one’s own society

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

To work on peace in one’s own society constitutes working on opportunities for everyone. Of central importance is the notion of human dignity for everyone. Human dignity and security are the same for everybody and shall be inclusive. It is important for every individual to experience leading a meaningful life. In order to do so, people require sufficient opportunity to think and act.

This reflection is based on the notion that our own society has both ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ elements: It is small, it houses a diverse array of people, languages and cultures, and it displays an open attitude to the world. Our own society is concerned both with domestic and global injustice. Our regions encounter tensions from abroad like (armed) conflicts between population groups through migration.

There are so many things that move us and that could shape concrete initiatives to strengthen democracy and peace in our own society. In order to contribute to peace in our own society in a meaningful way, we shall search the depth and the width of what moves us; through the ensuing peace spirituality, we shall make a difference in our society and in the international community.

From the experience of injustice to indignity

The road to peace in our own society starts with one’s own perception and experience of injustice, unfairness and immorality. A high degree of indignity accompanies this process. This human reaction can lead to passivity or activity and – in case of the latter – either to nonviolent action or to armed resistance (such as the new IRA[1]).

Radicalisation can be both violent and non-violent. To think radically can lead to radical behaviour. People can radicalise, with different outcomes as a result: From the Occupy movement to Al-Qaeda or IS (Islamic State). In the past, such as in the 1980s, we knew both radical extreme-right and extreme-left groups in Europe that did not shy away from the use of force. Left- and right-wing extremism continues to exist and religious fanaticism has become more visible.

It is important to systematically analyse why people radicalise. What is the situation? How do they think? How do they behave and how does this evolve? Society should seek to act preventively with regard to extremely radical behaviour.

It is important to be aware of feelings and sentiment as these can contain cues that something is not right. They point to possible problems in the environment that require attention. This indicative function of feelings is an important factor in human behaviour.

Political radicalism is the consequence of isolation and threats, which result in strong communal feelings among group members, but which also speaks of the experience of being excluded from the larger environment. Others are confronted with an unclear identity, perceptions of exclusion, humiliation, and direct experiences of discrimination, racism and exclusion.

Working toward social change

Our society is not perfect and requires a patient and consistent approach when it comes to working toward social change. Change starts bottom-up. If people feel like they are being treated unjustly and experience injustice within society, this can nourish forms of social unrest and can lead to a strong need for societal change.

We shall transform our individual or collective indignation into responsibility and action. Peaceful actions have the power to transform social questions, injustice and conflict into social change and they shall promote the common good. Most people are social beings who consider honesty and justice important and who want to do the right thing.

Aspects of social imperfections

The societal challenges that we see both in our own environments and globally are centred around poverty; employment; migration and asylum seekers; the use of social media and Internet; global warming and/or climate change. Gender inequality constitutes another problem: in many regards, women are being treated differently. This is a huge injustice that also hinders development: the productivity of many population groups is severely hindered because women are denied opportunities. Other examples, within Western societies, that require our attention concern sufficient educational opportunities for children and youth, as well as the ageing of the population (an ever-growing number of people gets older and older). Care is at the heart of society!

Quality of life

Our grounding principle is that all people should be treated equally, with equal respect. This concerns decent quality of life. Authorities should treat people respectfully and should refuse to humiliate them. Sometimes, some people require a bit more help and care, and they should be able to receive that. The means to the disposal of the authorities should be distributed as equally as possible among all citizens, yet with special care for the weaker and more vulnerable. People have to be taken seriously. In general, people want to participate in society.

A just distribution of goods and means is an important basis for peaceful coexistence. Human rights offer moral guidance that help the vulnerable against the powerful. Respect for human rights constitutes a ‘basic ingredient’ for peace and for nonviolent dealings with conflict.

A nation’s richness lies with her population and her quality of life. Human development should contribute to the creation of an environment that enables people to enjoy a long, healthy and creative life. Development is a dynamic concept and entails that things can improve. A simple and basic rule is that injustices should be decreased and eliminated.

Diversity is a treasure

Our world needs more critical thought and more respectful discussions. To think critically by entering into dialogue with others. Also in public debates, there needs to be respect for all people’s equal dignity. Diversity is a treasure. Uniformity is boring!

Philosophy’s Golden Rule goes as follows: treat others the way you want to be treated.[2] This regimen also dates back to the command of charity from the Biblical book Leviticus 19:18. People desire to be treated as full members of society and want to feel like their opinion matters. Of course, this is not solely about the rights but also about the responsibilities, that all people have with regard to humanity.

Freedom of opinion is a primary right, but it also comes with certain restrictions. Some freedoms limit others. It is for instance not allowed to incite violent extremism or to idealise terrorism.

There is much to do about civilians’ identity. Someone’s loyalty should in the first place lie with complete humanity and only then with his or her country, region, religion or family. Often, a Frenchman is first and foremost a Frenchman, and only then a human being! A Christian Palestinian is a human being first and then a Palestinian. All of us are human beings first and foremost.

Displaying loyalty or identity can take place secondly, with regard to ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Nations can be large and diverse. India alone is home to 320 languages and 1.2 billion people. Flanders has many different dialects and most of the larger cities are home to tens of different nationalities and a mix of Christian and other religions.

Religion and society

One’s religion does not automatically lead to radicalisation. The belief in a just world may provide meaning and direction. The convergence of state and religion is not a positive thing, especially not if it is codified in the constitution. No against state religion doctrine! No against religious ideology! But yes against a doctrine of freedom of religion that provides the necessary protection of human possibilities and equality with regard to religion.

The free practice of religion is a given. A situation in which a religious majority is dominant vis-à-vis religious minorities is an unhealthy situation. Here too, the rule states that all people should be respected, no matter their religion or ideology. Minorities require equal treatment. A democracy shall protect the rights of both its majority and its minorities. This requires decent governance by the authorities.

All religions and churches shall take their responsibility for society’s well-being, but they shall do this from a viewpoint of both critical reflection and distance. One religion cannot impose its rules and laws on a population, just like an ideology should not be able to do this.

Religion can provide extra value to a population’s growth and development. Religion – from the Latin relegare or ‘to reconnect’ – can inspire public life and can stimulate moral and social behaviour. This is closely related to reconciliation work, which means the restoration of relations – reconciliare or ‘to arrange anew’.

As meaningful frame and moral compass, religions often satisfy a wide array of fundamental needs, such as the need for meaning, social identification, connection, certainty and stability. It is true that some (ab)use religion to interpret it in a violent way and to promote violence. Religion cannot and should not be used to accept and justify the use of force.

Religious singularity can be used to work toward a pluralistic society. Freedom of speech, of association and of conscience, political access, and so on, are each crucial elements of a society that protects cultural and religious pluralism.

Humanitarian interventions

Sometimes, one’s society is violated within or by a democratic state. Democracies are not perfect either. Intervention may be considered, especially in failed states. Military and economic sanctions are only justified under certain grave conditions, for instance in case of a crime against humanity like genocide.

Even when such crimes take place, intervention may often be a mistake from a strategic point of view, especially when the country in particular is sufficiently democratic and can be convinced to reject its own actions. As long as there is a reasonable chance that the democracy in question can solve the issue, intervention by force is completely unwarranted.

However, authoritarian regimes where the mechanism to resolve such severe crimes is absent – for instance through suitable criminal tribunals – provide an altogether different context. Each person who is not safe in his/her own country or society has a right to protection. We shall reject indiscriminate use of force against civilians. There is a duty to guarantee all people’s safety. Authorities have the duty to protect their civilians. A secure society is a free society.

Emotions control people and policy

Civilians’ (peaceful) coexistence is dominated by emotions. Compassion is about empathetic concern, respect and solidarity. Compassion may never be used passively or selfishly. Compassion is only real once it is used actively and when it is directed toward other people. It is important to try and understand underlying emotions. Emotions can support policy that is aimed at furthering peaceful coexistence and the notion of human dignity and equality.

Conclusion: choose nonviolence

Democratic rules can bring about the nonviolent resolution of conflict. The authorities shall allow their citizens to act in accordance with their conscience, as long as this entails that they act according to democratic principles and to norms of nonviolence. Civil obedience is acceptable when it takes place in a public, conscientious and nonviolent manner.

Active nonviolence is a way of life and a way of treating others. We shall work towards a ‘warm’ society in which everyone is respected, no matter their beliefs or origins, a society free from prejudice, discrimination and repression. We shall cooperate with other religions and ideologies and work towards trusting one another.

____________

[1] https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provisional_Irish_Republican_Army
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule
Peace

Do elections offer hope for change? Peace remains absent in Israel and Palestine

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi Internationa

Elections in Israel took place on 9 April 2019. Elections are a key element in any democracy. Citizens have the final say. Do elections bring hope for change? Is there a new beginning or is it just the same as before or worse? The voters opted for the status quo and for the continuation of a right-wing policy. They choose to continue the conflict instead of making peace with their Abrahamic cousins. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to form within a limited given time a new government and it is decided to have new elections in September 2019. Israel is a much-divided society. Palestinian citizens of Israel (22%) failed to bring out the vote.

Minority rights in Israel

A fifth of Israel’s citizens are being delegitimized in the past and that is one reason why so few Arabic citizens went to vote. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel are law-abiding ones who contribute to the building of the state. They work in all parts of the country, pay their taxes, follow the laws, contribute to the economy, teach in the universities and care for all Israelis in the hospitals and clinics. They are part of the Israeli society so why is there that discrimination? We only can support the Arabic citizens to go voting in September.

Religion and nation

Israel continues to move to the right. The majority is silent. Israeli society is becoming more and more religious and conservative and less and less tolerant. The aspiration of being a society based on equality no longer exists in reality.

Since the adoption of the Jewish nation-state basic law of 19 July 2018[1], division and exclusion has more deepened. Israel should be the nation-state of the Israeli people, with full political, civil and individual rights for all its citizens. A non-Jew cannot become a member of a Jewish nation-state without changing their religion. Being Jewish is not only being a member of a nation – it is also being a member of a religion. This is a fundamental problem. Religion and state should be two different identities and be separated in functioning. Belonging to a nation should be inclusive. Freedom of religion and belief is a human right. All citizens should be equal!

Peace is not an issue!

Peace is not only missing in reality, it has disappeared from the political agenda, both on the national and international level. The result of the elections will not bring a new dynamic certainly not in the direction of a constructive peace process with the Palestinians. On both sides of the conflict, there is a firm assertion that there is no partner for peace on the other side.

The acceptance of the non-existence of a partner allows the current and future leaders to escape from dealing concretely with the primary existential issue facing Israel – the question of its borders, and the human makeup of the people living under the control of Israel and their basic political and human rights.

The main drive of Israeli politicians has to do with the prevention of war and terrorist attacks and to keep Israel safe. Security of the Israeli population comes first. The Israel government has the right and the duty to protect its people. Defending your population is a moral duty. However, defence does not mean expanding your territory through the further development of new settlements and the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories. Safety for your/one people is only possible if there is also safety for the other neighbouring people.

The current leadership in Israel and the one in Palestine will not bridge the gaps between them on the fundamental core issues that must be agreed upon. The main question is the acceptance of the two nations as a reality. The acceptance of each other’s existence is the start of a peace process towards a situation that offers sufficient guarantees for both peoples.

There have not been any genuine Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations during the entire previous two terms of the past Israeli governments. It is almost a generation that has seen the reality not changing, just opposite, more settlements, more injustice and inequality and continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Division on all sides

There is a growing gap between the Arabic population and the Jewish majority in Israel. At the same time, racism is on the rise, part because of hate speech and preaching of fear. We see a much more divided society, lacking social solidarity and with a declining vision of a shared society. Arabic citizens of Israel have been delegitimized and categorised as second citizens. The Arab people of Israel should be counted as full citizens.

Jerusalem is also more divided than ever and becoming more conflictual with ongoing government plans to remove Palestinians from their homes.

The continued division between Fatah and Hamas remain a serious impact on the lack of a consistent approach of the Palestinian leadership and its people as a whole in the direction of a peace process and a final two state solution. Elections should be held in Palestine as well and new leadership should be able to start a process of contacts and networking with Israeli politicians in order to unblocking the immovable situation.

If you’re not with us, you’re against us

Each time you criticise the policies of the Israeli government you are categorised as a “leftist” and in some cases blamed for “anti-Semitism” or “Arab lover”. If you talk about peace, you are a leftist! Such a way of responding to not having to take criticism seriously was embraced by other (Western) governments and in May last by the national parliament in Germany, the Bundestag, in stating that support for the BDS campaign[2] is an expression of anti-Semitism.[3] Any citizen has the right to be critical of Israeli policies. There are alternatives!

March of Return

The situation in the Gaza Strip is constantly tense. The weekly nonviolent action “March of Return” continues to be held already more than one year. Many Palestinians believe that nonviolence is the path to follow towards the end of occupation and possible self-determination.

The nonviolent protests launched by Gaza civil society activists, and quickly taken over by Hamas (which resulted in violence also because of retaliation by the Israeli army), are meant to be a constant reminder that Palestinians are not going anywhere, and that the situation in which they live is very unacceptable. Israel and Egypt have enforced a siege and closure on Gaza since 2005. Cycles of violence between Hamas and Israel continue with ups and downs until today.

When Israel withdraw from Gaza in 2005, Israel demolished all of the settlements, not leaving anything, not one stone, that could have been used, for example, to resettle Palestinian refugees or to offer housing for Palestinians still living in camps.

Can young Palestinians live in hope?

Some 35.000 young Palestinians left Gaza in 2018.[4] The young Palestinian generation are the most non-political generation of Palestinians since the beginning of the Palestinian national movement. This is probably a result of lost hopes and emigration, failed peace processes and unfulfilled promises. There is indeed little belief that peace is on the horizon.  Young people have no chance to build up their own society (politically) and a lot of anger, hatred and a loss of hope have replaced that.

Deal of the century?

The USA administration will soon present their so-called “deal of the century”. So far, it seems the talk of a new deal seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.

No doubt, that expectation for the deal is very much in favour of Israel. There might be some positive elements in the plan for the Palestinians. At the same time, they cannot accept further Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank along with their continued statement that east Jerusalem is Palestinian while west Jerusalem is Israel.

The Palestinians are expected to reject that deal.[5] Any deal that leaves Al-Aqsa (meaning all of Arab east Jerusalem) in the hands of Israel will be rejected by the entire Arab and Muslim world. The Palestinians will confirm their ultimate wish for independence and sovereignty.

Jerusalem is not for sale!

A step in the “deal of the century” is an economic workshop-taking place later in June in Bahrain.[6] Palestinians believe that their national agenda will be bribed out. Aspirations will be further delegitimised. “Jerusalem is not for sale”! Palestinians will never leave Judea and Samaria for a pocket with money. You cannot buy out Palestinians from their homeland. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.

Who has given the USA a mandate to present a deal? It can be assumed that the international community will also reject the suggested deal if it is not be based on the two-states solution and allows Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, but offers no political solution for Jerusalem. It should be the responsibility of the United Nations to accompany a peace process. The international community should protect the Palestinian people from punishment through financial and political isolation.

Call for human dignity and common good

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land made a statement[7] in May 2019 saying that peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks. Continuing difficulties in Palestine and Israel have caused many people to question, “whether international diplomacy and the peace process were ever actually based on justice and good will,” “Many in Palestine and in Israel feel that since the launch of the peace process, their lives have become more and more unbearable.” “Many have left; many more consider leaving and some are resorting to violence. Some die quietly and others are losing faith and hope.”

Conclusion

It is time for the Palestinians to go on the offensive with a strategy of peace that focusses on their own right of self-determination. Endless occupation is not the option. The hope is that the two peoples can live in each own land, side-by-side. The two-state solution should be made again relevant.

Any resolution must be based on the common good of all who live in the Holy Land without distinction. All people in the region have to learn to live together as equals and human dignity in the Holy Land.

____________

[1] https://www.timesofisrael.com/final-text-of-jewish-nation-state-bill-set-to-become-law/
[2] https://bdsmovement.net/
[3] https://www.rt.com/news/459605-germany-bds-anti-semitism-motion/
[4] https://www.timesofisrael.com/35000-palestinians-left-gaza-in-2018-via-egypt-and-turkey-report/
[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-mideast-plan-insight/palestinians-say-u-s-deal-of-the-century-will-finish-off-their-state-idUSKCN1T124F
[6] https://beholdisrael.org/first-phase-of-deal-of-the-century-to-be-released-in-bahrain-at-the-end-of-june/
[7] https://www.lpj.org/assembly-catholic-ordinaries-invites-people-of-the-holy-land-to-build-bridges-of-respect-and-love/
Peace

Why do we wage war? There are only losers in war

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi Internationa

Fighting and killing have always constituted a large part of the ways in which we interact and solve conflicts. History contains countless examples. These are manifest in the stories and occurrences that have been handed down to us from the past as well. Some wars lasted for years, decades even, such as the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). More recent examples include the war in Afghanistan (1979-present) and the Syrian civil war (2011-present).

When fighting and killing take place by and among organised groups, we call it a war. It is factually correct that the total number of armed conflicts has decreased since the Second World War, yet if armed conflict takes place, it now usually does so in larger groups or coalitions and with an increased technical capacity for destruction and killing.

We live in an era characterised by extremely destructive arms technology. According to SIPRI, global spending on armaments in 2018 has amounted to 1800 billion dollars.[1] This is an increase of 2.6 percent in comparison to the previous year. Globalisation entails that we are confronted online on a daily basis with all atrocities taking place around the world. The visibility of human suffering is unavoidable.

Civil war is a phenomenon of every age. It involves rival groups that compete over power or territory within a country or region. Since the Second World War, we have known civil wars (often with an international dimension to them) in Korea, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Ukraine, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Yemen.

Civil wars occur more often in poorer countries in which tensions rise between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. An underprivileged population has little to lose and is therefore more vulnerable to becoming a participant in an armed conflict.

Getting rid of the causes of conflict

Many of the causes of conflict or tension are nothing new. Globalisation, with its exchange of products, people and knowledge, can be traced back to the Chinese silk routes in the second century B.C. In more recent times, it is mostly the technological revolutions in the field of telecommunication and transport that lead to change. Mass migration and the reactions it elicits are just as old: fear among autochthons and contempt for those newly arriving, with each migration always having to start at the bottom again. Mass migration is a source of poverty and conflict.

New violence develops in those places where there are a lot of feelings of hate and vengeance continues to exist among the population and its political leaders. The Balkans, for instance, have been home to one conflict after another since 1804.[2] The necessary initiatives of ‘healing’ were never, or not sufficiently, taken. An armistice or the end of a war should never result in an orgy of vengeance and retribution by the victors. There are no victors in war!

The demand for revenge and retribution is primal, just as the fear for societal tensions. The need for vengeance can be huge and can take on radical forms, such as brazen murders and beheadings. Already in the fifth century did Saint Augustine say: “Evil may not be countered with evil.”

The other is to blame

Certain politicians play into the fears of civilians. Populists exploit feelings of insecurity and fear. They use scapegoats and instigators of misery and point either to individuals, groups of people, or certain nations as the ones to blame for that misery. In times of uncertainty or crisis, there are irrevocably prophets of doom that join the public debate. Media copy those stories and over-emphasise the ‘evil’ around us and the other that is to blame. Besides wars, we are also confronted with rumours and their amplification on social media. We are consumed with thinking about terrorism and real or imagined threats.

Lately, ‘division’ is stronger than ‘connection’. Admittedly, as humans we grapple with situations of incomplete security, fear and suffering. Fear by itself is not bad. We must take fear seriously. Vengefulness and hate are bad. We must hold our plural society together! It is necessary to remain watchful over our information to counter manipulation and to keep thinking critically. We need space for reflection.

Keep cooperating even if it is difficult

In theory, wars become impossible through international alliances. When you can bring countries together, the chances of war between them decrease. When you can develop a web of agreements, treaties, mechanisms and institutions like the European Union, it becomes impossible to wage war on one another. Ideally, member states relinquish much of their sovereignty to a larger whole. But what is made by people can also be broken down again by people — a scenario that might take place for the European Union.

The current trend goes in the opposite direction: nation-states turn into themselves and demand full sovereignty. In that case, misunderstood power and influence get the final say again.

The international community’s responsibility

The international community has sometimes intervened in countries that had, or ran the risk of, armed conflict. Often this happened to prevent armed conflict or to enforce an armistice or peace, such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995.[3] An intervention is often preceded by the UN Security Council’s authorisation, but in reality also takes place sometimes without a mandate, such as in Serbia in 1999 because of the intense violence in Kosovo.[4] The US and UK’s war in Iraq in 2003 was characterised by a lack of international unity and authorisation as well.[5] It generally does not improve the living conditions of civilians during or after a conflict; rather chaos and division have often increased.

People do not want war

Why do we wage war? There are only losers in war. Most people will say that they do not want war. But why is there still war in that case? And why are there still too few alternatives that can efficiently solve conflict?

Many think of war as a natural occurrence, that it is natural for politicians to think of a possible war. It is like a machine that has been set in motion and that cannot be stopped, which impedes reflection and does not take alternatives into consideration.

War can be avoided. Diplomacy and mediation are common means to deal with conflicts. International mediation constitutes a means to solve interstate conflicts in a peaceful manner. Nonviolent means are to be preferred with regard to preventing and solving conflicts.

Lawful violence is reserved for the state. In a society such as ours, the monopoly on violence lies with the state. Civilians moreover expect transparency concerning the violence used, as well as being able to check the means applied.

Application of humanitarian law criteria

It remains a difficult decision whether or not to intervene in a conflict. Each conflict is different, has its own context and requires different analyses and considerations. International (humanitarian) law and the UN Security Council are concerned with the international criteria for conflict intervention.[6]

Humane concerns sometimes require us to intervene. Specifically, this is concerned with the prevention or the halting of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. There is the responsibility to protect civilians and the principle of humanitarian intervention. The international community is required to act responsibly and to prevent and counter injustice and conflict.

The area of tension is related to a double assessment: (1) are there any remaining diplomatic options to prevent or solve the conflict; or (2) have all diplomatic means been exhausted and is there an urgent requirement for the international community to intervene, if must be with limited use of force and under strict stipulations. We should reserve both options. However, we prefer the first option.

Superpowers like China and Russia insist that principles of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs have precedence over other (Western) notions about humanitarian intervention. However, Russia applies exceptions to that rule and intervenes in situations where it considers a Russian minority in a neighbouring country to be under threat, such as in the Crimea, or interferes in regions like Eastern-Ukraine.

Russia and China’s attitude risks letting authoritarian regimes think they can get away with mass human rights violations and even with ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. The international community just stands and watches.

Martial law remains applicable: there are crimes against humanity and genocides with accompanying tribunals. In theory, even dictators may not go unpunished, we should prevent impunity from becoming a standard.

What do we do when certain regimes are not able to protect their own populations against extreme violence within the state or by external states or groups – or when these regimes reject international interference? Do we just let that happen?

Here, we find ourselves in a tough situation: often, nations frantically hold on to their right to self-determination. This impedes the global cooperation necessary to solve the problems of our time.

____________

[1] https://www.sipri.org/publications/2019/sipri-fact-sheets/trends-world-military-expenditure-2018
[2] “The Balkans, Nationalism, War and the Great Powers – 1804 – 2012” by Misha Glenny, Granta, 774 pp.
[3] https://www.usip.org/publications/2008/03/peace-agreements-bosnia-herzegovina
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_bombing_of_Yugoslavia
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_War
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_to_protect
Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Easter – Life is stronger than death; Rise up to live again

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the final entry in a series of reflections throughout Lent and Holy Week from Rev. Paul Lansu. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Ps 118 (117) | Col 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

Today is Easter. How will we celebrate, being that Easter is the feast of the victory of life over all negativity?

Hopelessness pollutes our life space. So many streams flow into the sea of our despair. Long-term unemployment scars many a heart. Violence awakens fear in the vulnerable, young and old. Famine gnaws away at the fabric of our society. Scandals in high places erode trust. It gets easier and easier to paint a grim picture of a pointless life ending in disastrous faith. But the darker the night, the more significant is the torch.

Our torch is the risen Christ. This Easter, as perhaps never before, Christ’s message is vital for the people of our time. It is vital because it is life giving. It is a message of hope highlighting that the God who made the world and its people has both safely in his hands and his helping is nearer than the air we breathe. In fact, he is living in our hearts and in our relationships. He has taken on our human condition even unto death. Rising from the dead, he has changed utterly the meaning of our lives.

Search and find

“Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks Mary Magdalene as she weeps by the side of the empty grave. The Easter Gospel left behind the women and disciples confused. They did not know where the Lord was and did not yet understand anything about rising from the dead. They also experienced deep loneliness and abandonment in their great loss and distress. Where are you Lord? When we need you most, where are you? Why should we believe in a good God of Life, when he could have prevented so much unnecessary suffering symbolised on Good Friday?

The resurrected Christ is asking to be found or discovered. If we really look, we can see him everywhere. He can be found among people who pray and work together in a constructive way, in open-minded people who follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle, and in people who have become wise enough not to judge others because they prefer to give life rather than be excluded from it.

We are made to love and to be loved, to reach out in forgiveness, generosity and trust to every brother and sister, especially those in greatest need. Following the torch of his example, we are called to keep hope alive for all those whose lives we touch, hope in the power of God’s love working in and through us for one another. To undermine this hope is the essence of evil.

In a hopeless situation, prayer gives us an instrument for inner peace and solidarity. Through our faith and prayer, we connect with each other in a way that we cannot explain but can feel. This feeling becomes an uplifting presence that translates itself in silence, music, words, body language and empathy. We literally stand next to each other and turn our eyes in the same direction for hope. Standing empty-handed together before God is better than simply standing with empty hands.

Look deeper than what you see

The point of Easter is to see beyond the grave, to see beyond the destruction of human life, to see beyond the observable facts. If we try to understand and rationalise everything, we could go mad. Easter gives us a window through which, besides looking at the world with our brains, we can also look with our hearts and hands.

Faith should keep us alert and in tune with the world. Faith adds something that the modern world has lost — namely a sense of belonging to a love greater than our understanding. This source of love inspires us to deal with our neighbour with more tolerance and to look at ourselves in a less egocentric way.

The religious answer to the question of “who or what are you looking for” is that we should look beyond what we see and understand. He is to be found in the victory over suffering, in the bare helping hands that remove the stones, in the protest of workers who demand changes in the financial world, in the volunteers and professionals who risk their lives working among the victims of poverty and conflict.

At Easter, we celebrate the fact that God moved Christ beyond the Cross. On this instrument of torture he cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Your will be done.” On Easter Sunday, God responds to that cry by showing that he wants to live. Even though life is destroyed, his last will and final testament is to restore it.

The positive in life is much stronger than the negative

Negativity has not the last word. We celebrate that at Easter. Only God has the last word. Beyond so many dead spots in our existence, there is another way to discover that brings us back to life. That is why Christians dare to celebrate Easter without forgetting Good Friday. We can continue to believe in the power of life. We must testify to that power with so many who now need support and encouragement in these days. It is our Easter mission as Christians.

Light a candle

The Easter candle is a symbol of the Risen Lord, the source of all our courage, hope and love. However, we must not reduce the energising flame of faith to the flickering flame of a simple candle. Easter is a time to fan the flame of faith into an inferno that will burn away all fear and selfishness and inflame all hearts with love and hope. Such is the vision. Easter people will not settle for less.

Peace events or marches are organised in many places in different countries on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. Participants manifest, for instance, against nuclear weapons and/or other contemporary challenges such as the climate, exclusion or migration. Many believers also carry a candle as a sign of life. It remains a task to keep policymakers alert to keep looking for solutions to the major challenges of our time.

At Easter Sunday, we will see the result of our Lenten campaign as an expression of our solidarity with the poor, the weakest, especially with those populations that live in oppression or occupation. We are the risen body of Christ in our world, called to love one another.

Alleluia – Christ has risen! Alleluia.

I wish you a Happy Easter.