Archive for August, 2007

Promoting peace in the Middle East – Combatants for Peace seek to end conflict

Posted on August 28, 2007. Filed under: 0. Peace, 1. World Peace, 3. Peace in Middle East, PEACE Success Stories |

Here is another inspiring story of combatants who had been on opposite sides of a war now work to build understanding and promote Peace in the Middle East. Let’s see this an another example of what is possible for PEACE.


Combatants for Peace seek to end conflict



By Melody Hanatani – Santa Monica Daily Press Staff Writer – Published on 08/27/2007

MID-CITY Ra’ed Haddar was only 17 years old when he believed the end of life was near.

Growing up in the West Bank village of Yattah, Haddar was only a teenager when he was imprisoned, punished for actions against the Israeli occupation.

He spent the first 41 days in interrogation, allegedly tortured and beaten.

“I waited for death every minute and I never thought I could go out alive,” Haddar said on Friday.

Haddar spoke of his childhood and later imprisonment, growing up in the midst of conflict between the Palestinian people and the Israeli forces, during a presentation at Temple Beth Shir Shalom on Friday. The Palestinian shared his stories along with former Israeli officer Shimon Katz, the two former adversaries now combining their efforts to promote non-violent means to secure peace in the Middle East.

The two men, Haddar, 35, and Katz, 29, are members of Combatants for Peace, a non-profit organization aiming to spread the message of non-violent peace efforts to end the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. They have been traveling in Southern California for the past week, visiting local churches, temples and community houses to speak of their experiences.

Katz, the son of an American mother and Israeli father, spent four years as an officer in the Israel Defense Force unit until 1999.

When he joined the military at the age of 18, Katz said he had little knowledge of the politics involved in the conflict. He was led to believe that Israel was trying to defend itself from terrorist attacks from the Palestinians, he said during an interview on Wednesday.

The region has been plagued by car bombs and other retaliatory acts by extremists over the years.

Katz said it wasn’t until he was sent to South Lebanon to defend against Hezbollah that he began to realize that his actions were counter productive.

“We’re actually creating more and more problems and more and more reasons for us to be attacked as Israelis,” he said.

For Haddar, the conflict was the world he knew, even as a child when his mother would use threats that the Israeli soldiers were coming to get him as a way to get her son to behave.

It wasn’t until a friend was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier that Haddar grew increasingly hostile and bitter.

“The violence starts building at a young age,” Haddar said. “When you see Israeli soldiers come into territories of town, demolishing … that does build something inside of us to resist the attacks; the daily attacks on our daily lives.”

He was arrested and tortured and released three years later.

It was his cousin’s murder that prompted Haddar to reconsider his stance toward the situation plaguing both sides.

“It was the murder of one of my cousins that gave me encouragement to go ahead for non violent resistance,” he said during an interview on Wednesday. “The daily violence and the people getting killed daily from both sides also gave me encouragement to go ahead and start thinking of ways to change the situation.”

Haddar went on to become one of the first members of Combatants for Peace, which formed in 2005.

He recalls the first meeting between the two groups, sensing a mutual feeling of distrust, the Palestinian and Israeli men staring strangely at one another.

Distrust slowly turned to understanding.

The organization is now growing with about 300 total members — roughly 150 Palestinians and 150 Israelis.

The stories of how Haddar and Katz came together left the audience of mainly Beth Shir Shalom members shocked, some shaking their heads as they heard of heartbreak and loss.

“Seeing each other as human beings is the first step toward communication,” said one member, who asked to remain anonymous. “What they do is a microcosm, a template for world peace.”

Tova Baba came to the presentation with her friend, who is a temple member.

“It takes all the good will of people like that (to make change),” she said.

Spreading a message of peace

Part of the reason why Combatants for Peace is campaigning in the United States is because its members believe that Americans will have a major role in salvaging the situation as an outsider, Katz said.

“We like Americans to be unbiased, to be neutral in this situation and be involved,” he said. “Americans need to know it’s their tax money paying for the separation wall and ammunition and security budget.”

Palestinians see Americans as never helping to build peace, stirring violence more than anything else, Haddar said.

They’re looking at the conflict from one perspective, he said.

“It doesn’t balance,” he said. “We hope that … something will happen from America.”

The organization believes in dialogue and reconciliation as a means to establish a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

“We want Israelis who never met Palestinians to speak to other Palestinians and ask each other hard questions,” Katz said. “We want Palestinians to meet Israelis in regular clothes, in face to face talks. I think that will make a big difference.”

By Melody Hanatani – Santa Monica Daily Press -Published on 08/27/2007

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The bricks of peace in Northern Ireland – Irish teens share Boca home to learn of peace

Posted on August 13, 2007. Filed under: 0. Peace, PEACE Success Stories |

Read the following inspiring story about the peace being strengthened in Northern Ireland, where after some 400 years of conflicts PEACE is triumphing. Bridges of understanding, tolerance and love are being built between Irish teens that in the past would have been separated by walls of hate, fear and mis-understanding.

Irish teens share Boca home to learn of peace – BY LIZ DOUP – South Florida Sun-Sentinel – August 12, 2007

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

They’re two Irish boys who don’t look like an experiment in building world peace. But lofty ambitions can start small.

Meet Owen Carey. He’s chatty, outgoing and likes the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s Catholic.

And this is Lee Brunt. He’s reserved, polite and likes the Red Hot Chili Peppers, too. He’s Protestant.

At home, in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, their paths would never cross. Their schools, neighborhoods, sports teams, even their buses are segregated by religion. It divides them as effectively as a concrete wall.

But for one month, Owen and Lee are sharing a family, a home, even a bedroom in Boca Raton.

The Children’s Friendship Project for Northern Ireland brought them together. For 20 years, the Pennsylvania-based project has worked to forge friendships among Protestant and Catholic children. This summer it paired 36 Protestant kids with 36 Catholics and sent them to homes from Boston to Seattle. Lee and Owen are the only duo who landed in Florida.

The project’s founder thinks arming kids with real-life experience, rather than guns and stereotypes, will help end Ireland’s religious-political war that began decades before these 16-year-old kids were born.

You can argue that solving such worldly problems on children’s shoulders is wildly idealistic. But change often comes slowly and uneasily – and one small step at a time.

Time to start talking
It’s dinner time at the home of Cathy and Evan Jones, the boys’ surrogate family. Evan, a ceramics artist, shows Lee how to devein shrimp while Owen cuts potatoes.

For more than two weeks, the couple has encouraged the boys to interact more with each other. Family friends take Lee and Owen fishing on their boats. The boys make ceramics in Evan’s studio and play video games, courtesy of Boomers. Tonight, they’re cooking a meal together.

Despite an orientation program that began in Ireland in January, the boys arrive in late June barely knowing each other. Even so, the project mandates that the kids share a bedroom, no matter how big the house.

“That way, when the door closes, these are two children in a strange country with strange people,” says Peggy Barrett, who started the program with her late husband. “They start talking to each other and find out how much they have in common.”

Beyond ‘The troubles’
Still, friendships don’t mushroom overnight. When the boys first arrive, they follow Cathy as if pulled by a string, rather than hang with each other.

For most of the month, they avoid any conversational minefields, keeping the topics light. At night, their talk turns to typical 16-year-old banter: music, TV shows and girls, they say, smiling shyly.

“The most important thing of all is to make a friend,” Owen says.

In school in Ireland, both boys learn about “the troubles,” as they’re tactfully called. But teachers often paint the opposing religion as the problem, they say.

Both understand that, simply speaking, “the troubles” swirl around who rules Northern Ireland: British-linked Protestants or the province’s Catholics. Just this May, two opposing leaders agreed to rule the country together.

But neither Lee nor Owen is naive enough to believe that peace comes so easily after decades of battles and bloodshed.

In the past, the boys’ families were touched by the violence, though they tread gently, and briefly, on that topic. Owen’s great uncle, a member of the Catholic-dominated Irish Republican Army, died in the violence. Lee’s grandfather served in the Ulster Defense Regiment, a British Army regiment known for fighting Catholics.

“It all seems so pointless,” says Owen. “The Catholics getting killed have nothing to do with the problem.”

“The killing is so senseless,” Lee adds. “They’re innocent people.”

The boys wouldn’t be here if their families wanted all that hate to seep into one generation after another. Indeed, Owen’s mother’s epiphany — fear that she’d passed on prejudices to her children — helped put Owen on a plane to America.

“She wanted me to see for myself,” Owen says. “Now I have proof that they aren’t what some people say they’re like.”

Different faiths
On a Sunday evening, the boys kneel together in prayer at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton. By coincidence the sermon is on tolerance.

“We’re to show mercy on all people and help all in need,” the minister says. “To love thy neighbor as thyself.”

By going to church, Lee and Owen fulfill another program mandate. They must attend a Catholic and Protestant service at least once during their stay. Though it’s each boy’s first visit to the other’s church, they don’t find the experience much different, which is precisely the point.

The boys also live with a couple who grew up in different faiths. Cathy, a first-grade teacher, came from a Catholic home. Evan, who runs a painting and decorating business, Episcopalian. They’ve been married for 26 years and are parents of two adult children.

“We never ask host families what religion they are,” says Barrett, the group’s founder. “It doesn’t matter. That’s the problem over there.”

Hurtful words
The conversation happens within the last few days of their visit. They’re chatting in Evan’s studio, working on ceramic pieces they’ll take home.

Owen, the more outgoing, dares to ask Lee.

“What is it you call us behind our backs?” he asks.

Lee pauses, blushes. This is dangerous territory.

“We don’t call you anything,” he says.

Owen persists. Lee relents. “Damn Fenians,” he answers. It’s a jab at the mostly Catholic Irish nationalists.

“What do you call us?” Lee asks in return.

“Black bastards,” Owen answers.

Though conversation returns to safer topics, this much is clear: Those are hurtful, harmful words, and they don’t match the boy each has come to know.

‘You’re sowing seeds’
The end of last month, Lee and Owen headed home, burnished by the sun and loaded with presents.

They return to a series of mandatory meetings where they’ll share summer stories with the other kids. In October, an annual reunion will bring hundreds of the program’s alumni together.

In Boca, the Joneses hope their summer hospitality fosters something more lasting.

“You hope you’re sowing seeds that will grow into something bigger,” Evan says. “It’s like floating a bottle in the ocean. Maybe 10 years from now they’ll be talking about what they learned here.”

For now, Owen and Lee know the right words to say, but will their actions follow? Will Lee speak out when he hears a Catholic slur? Will Owen stand up to those who say all Protestants are evil?

In the end, you can’t call their month-long encounter a success without knowing the future.

Just call it what it is: a good beginning.,0,6795188.story

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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Ivory Coast’s Warring Sides Burn Arms, Celebrate Peace

Posted on August 1, 2007. Filed under: 0. Peace, PEACE Success Stories |

Monday July 30, 2007 3:01 PMBy PARFAIT KOUASSIAssociated Press Writer


BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (AP) – President Laurent Gbagbo on Monday made his first visit to the former rebel stronghold of Bouake since a peace deal five months ago allowed for reunification of the country’s north and south. Gbagbo saluted the Ivorian flag alongside Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who until a few months ago controlled the town as the leader of the rebel-held north. The two set fire to weapons handed over by the rebels in a symbolic act of reconciliation.

“By setting fire to these guns which were the seeds of destruction, we are marking the end of the war,” Soro said. Then turning to his former enemy, he told Gbagbo: “Your coming to Bouake means that Ivory Coast has been reunited.” Marking the importance of the peace accord, Gbagbo was joined Monday by the presidents of South Africa, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau, as well as diplomats from Senegal, Ghana and Niger. The diplomats made a circle around the piled-up weapons and a torch with an open flame was passed from president to president, until it reached Gbagbo, who set fire to the arms.

The pile burst into flames with a loud explosion that sent several heads of state jumping backwards. “People of Ivory Coast, the war is over,” Gbagbo declared. For years, Ivory Coast – the world’s largest cocoa producer and once the most cosmopolitan country in the region – had been cleaved in two, with a rebel-controlled north vying for power against a government-held south.

The peace deal signed in March brought an end to the war which erupted in 2002 by installing Soro as prime minister in return for the New Forces rebels laying down their guns. Many peace deals have been signed, but the March 4 accord has so far had the most staying power. Soro’s rapprochement with Gbagbo has not been without its critics, especially in Bouake, where some former rebels did not back the peace deal. On a recent visit to Bouake, unknown assailants attacked Soro’s plane last month, shooting at it as it tried to land. Three people were killed in the emergency landing. Gbagbo arrived in Bouake this time by road.

About 9,000 U.N. troops and 3,500 French soldiers are deployed in Ivory Coast and most used to patrol the buffer zone that runs east to west, dividing the country. Since the peace deal, Ivoirians have begun dismantling the buffer zone.

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