Let the Spirit guide you!

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  2 Timothy 1:7

More than ever the world needs people who are inspired, guided, and empowered by the spirit of the one God who is wise and compassionate.

In response to terrorist attacks, whether in London, Manchester, Berlin or Kabul, we need to concentrate on spreading compassion for those who are injured, for the families and friends of those who are killed, and – most importantly – for those, mostly young men, who are suffering so much that they may be driven to commit barbarous acts of violence.

It is of course tempting to succumb to and spread hatred of the perpetrators of terrorist killings and of the people whom they purport to represent. Spreading hatred will only make matters worse, hastening the descent into a spiral of violence. Hatred is blind and stupid. One person’s response to the latest terrorist outrage in London has been to appeal for Britain to leave the EU altogether as soon as possible. Where’s the connection between Islamist terrorism and Britain’s membership of the EU?

Hatred drives people apart when what we need is an inclusive and cohesive society – within Britain, throughout Europe, and ultimately throughout the world, though that could be a long time in coming.

There seem to be two objects of hatred amongst many British people at this time: Muslims and the EU. Individual Muslims cannot be held responsible for Islamist terrorism any more than individual Christians can be held responsible for the crusades. Islam and Christianity, along with most of the world’s faiths, share commitment to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would they should do unto you. Or: “Do as you would be done by.”

I believe we are also guided at a deep level by the same spirit, the spirit of the God of Abraham, the fearless spirit of love and compassion. This is a spirit of power – not of military power or power over other people, but of the power of love, power which is shared with other people. It is the power of active nonviolence, for which my friend Martin Arnold has coined the term “Gütekraft”, i.e. goodness-force or goodness-power. Mohandas Gandhi called it Satyagraha.

This fearless spirit of love and compassion is neither blind nor stupid, but of a sound mind. It does not imagine that Jews are responsible for infectious diseases, that Muslims are responsible for Islamist terrorism, or that the EU can be blamed for all the ills of British society. It sees that many people are excluded from society by poverty. It sees that, whilst the EU is a deeply flawed institution, it has in many ways been a force for peace, within its borders at least. The problem is not the EU as such, but rather austerity and other economic policies which have widened the gap between rich and poor. This gap is much more obvious in Britain than in Germany. The existence of food banks is a major indictment of British society. I’m not aware of any in Germany.

I’m praying for a miracle next Thursday. I find it hard to understand how anyone in their right mind, who seeks peace and justice for all, would vote Tory. Only a Labour government would seriously tackle inequality, negotiate a “soft” Brexit, and work together with other governments worldwide to build peace and combat climate change.

Given the electoral system in Britain, this doesn’t mean that you should necessarily vote Labour. You should use your vote to ensure, if possible, that your next MP is not a Tory. This means voting for the candidate of whichever party has the best chance of beating the Tory candidate. He/she may be Labour, Lib Dem, Green or SNP. The Guardian has published a tactical voting guide for those who live in constituencies where tactical voting could make all the difference. You may want to look at it.

But whatever you do, let the Spirit guide you!

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Patience

Peace is a process which takes time, a great deal of time, and patience.

I believe it was Adam Curle who said that the process of reconciliation after a violent conflict takes at least as many years as the build up to the fighting. According to that reckoning, reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis will take well over 100 years. And the process of reconciliation cannot really begin properly until there is a just settlement of the conflict, i.e. an end to the occupation of Palestine.

Those of us who seek peace between Palestinians and Israelis – and that surely includes most Palestinians and Israelis themselves – need a great deal of patience. It is hardly surprising that young Palestinians are losing their patience as Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and takes the provocative step of closing the Al-Aqsa mosque for a day. Palestinian youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails are met with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas. More fatalities are likely.

There is an urgent need for new negotiations which will lead to a just and lasting solution to the conflict. The international community needs to insist on an immediate end to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. And there should be an embargo on all arms sales to Israel. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of that at the moment.

However, more and more countries, now including Sweden, are recognising Palestine as a state. The British government should follow suit, especially after the recent vote in parliament calling for recognition of the state of Palestine. If you live in Britain, you could check out how your MP voted and, according to how they voted, thank them or politely point out the error of their ways.

Quakers here in Brussels are collecting money for kindergartens in Gaza which have been supported by Norwegian Friends for many years. In Britain and Ireland, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, based in London, administers the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) on behalf of the World Council of Churches.

There are things which we can do as individual Quakers and as Quaker meetings. But ultimately we have no control over events in the Middle East. We can only do what we can to sow the seeds of peace and justice and wait for them to grow and bear fruit.

Much patience is called for. Working nonviolently for peace and justice requires a great deal of patience. Indeed, in Latin America peace activists, instead of using the term “nonviolence” or “nonviolent action”, talk about “relentless persistence”.

Patience and relentless persistence are required in personal relationships as well. We need to persist in loving one another, both our nearest and dearest and those who seem to be working against us, until we discover, as Thomas Merton did, that “it is the reality of personal relationships which saves everything”.

This statement is the conclusion of Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, which I quoted in my blogpost on “Joy”, published on 21 June. As a footnote to that blogpost I also gave the text of a letter from Isaac Penington to Friends (Quakers) in Amersham, written in 1667. In that letter he tells us: “Watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.

I’m reminded of a dream which I had quite a few years ago now, at a time when I was suffering from depression. In my dream, I was in a meadow at the bottom of the grounds of a large stately home or castle somewhere in Scotland. I found myself sinking into a bog. I was floundering and beginning to panic. A woman appeared and tried to pull me out, but that didn’t work and she was in danger of being pulled into the bog herself. I then heard someone telling me to stretch my legs down until I felt firm ground beneath my feet. So I stretched my legs down and, lo-and-behold, found firm ground. I was then able to walk out of the bog.

God provides the firm foundation, on which we can stand. No-one else can pull us out of the snare. “The Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

Peace

“I told (the Commonwealth Commissioners) I lived

in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.”

George Fox

 

Peace is about people living in right relationship with each other and with the planet. Peace is about justice and wellbeing for everyone. No individual can live in peace, unless the whole community is at peace.

“Shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace in the Bible, encompasses the wellbeing of the whole community. Shalom is characterised by just and peaceful relationships.

“Pax”, peace imposed by force, is not peace at all. It may be better than open warfare, but it serves to perpetuate systems of injustice.

During the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire Jesus challenged unjust laws which allowed a soldier to compel a peasant to carry his pack, a landowner to take the cloak of someone who was unable to pay a debt, or the master of a house to humiliate a servant by hitting him across the face with the back of his hand. Walter Wink has described how Jesus advocated imaginative forms of nonviolent action as a way of overcoming the violence of unjust laws and customs: carrying a soldier’s pack beyond the one-mile limit, giving the landowner one’s shirt as well as one’s cloak, turning the other cheek to the master of the house.

Jesus wasn’t advocating meek submission. He was encouraging poor folk to harness the power of active nonviolence, to stand up for themselves whilst at the same time demonstrating goodwill towards their oppressors. He told his followers: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you and spitefully use you.”

Martin Arnold, a retired German protestant pastor, has coined the term Guetekraft for the power of active nonviolence, the power of goodness. In four volumes Martin explains how Guetekraft, “goodness-power”, works – even against a ruthless dictator. Martin’s books are the fruit of research into the life and works of three practitioners of nonviolence who have successfully employed Guetekraft: Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Bart de Ligt.

It is because Guetekraft is powerful, that we do not need to resort to armed violence, which is invariably counterproductive, as Holly Near points out in the chorus of her song, “Foolish Notion”: “Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong? What a foolish notion that war is called devotion, when the greatest warriors are the ones who stand for peace.”

If we live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, as George Fox did, we will not be persuaded to join an army, however just their cause may seem to be.

Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence breeds hatred and further violence.

On the other hand, peace grows from the seeds of peace. Small gestures of goodwill begin the creation of a climate of trust in which antagonists can eventually cooperate to dismantle systems of injustice. It may be a long and painful process, but it is far more likely than military action to bear the fruits of peace.

Key to the way in which Guetekraft works is the willingness to accept the costs of engaging in nonviolent action rather than do violence to one’s opponent. Peace warriors may sometimes be called upon to make the greatest sacrifice as Jesus did. Franz Jaegerstaetter, the Austrian farmer who was executed because he refused to serve in Hitler’s army, comes to my mind.

Millions of soldiers died in the First World War. What a fruitless undertaking!

When he was dying, Jesus prayed for those who tortured him. He is the Christ within us, the life and power in whom we live and move and have our being.

Jesus told his disciples: “My peace I leave you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives peace do I give you my peace.”

This war-torn world of ours is very much in need of peace – in Syria, in Palestine and Israel, in Ukraine, and in northern Iraq.

Britain is in need of peace too. A society in which significant numbers of people have to go to food banks to get enough to eat is not a peaceful one. And Britain’s possession of weapons of mass destruction makes the world more dangerous and less peaceful.

The world is in need of the peace that Jesus gives. We are called as individuals to be peacemakers. And we are called as communities of faith to be a force for peace in the world.

It is hardly surprising that we have got into the habit of thinking that life is a right to be defended. But we need to think of life, like peace, as a gift to be shared.

There are Quakers serving with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I know of a Friend serving with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine. And there are Quakers serving in Afghanistan and in northern Iraq.

By no means all of us are called to this kind of service. There is much that we can do to foster peaceful community relations wherever we happen to live. And we can play our part in the peace campaigning and advocacy work of our faith community. When we join together with other faith communities and harness the power of goodness, we will become a force to be reckoned with.

Settlers and refugees

The milk that I buy in the small supermarket round the corner turns out to be a “Product of Palestine”, as I had hoped. It comes from the Al-Jebrini Dairy Co. of Hebron. So I guess they must have dairy cattle down in the south of the West Bank. I’ll look out for them when I go to Hebron on Saturday.

One of the “attractions” for anyone who wants to see the occupation of the Palestinian territories at first hand is the “settler tour”, which takes place in Hebron each Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath or “Shabbat”. I have yet to witness this ritual, but I’m told that both Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers take part in it.

The venue is the Palestinian market in the centre of Hebron. The soldiers enter first, around 3 p.m., making way for the settlers, who then wreak havoc by turning over the market stalls, scattering produce everywhere. They cause considerable damage, but I don’t suppose anyone compensates the stall holders.

I’m keen to see as much as I can, whilst I’m here in Palestine/Israel, and to talk to lots of different people. Yesterday I went to meet with two women, both of them mothers, in an Israeli West Bank settlement not far from Jerusalem. This morning I visited a small refugee camp just south of Ramallah.

These are two different worlds. But both of them are inhabited by mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. And, so far as I could gather, most people in both the settlement and the refugee camp just want their children and grandchildren to be able to live in peace.

Both the women in the settlement made it clear to me that, if it would bring about peace, they would be prepared to move out of the settlement and find somewhere to live with their families within the 1967 borders of Israel, in spite of having made the settlement their home around 20 years ago.

The three of us agreed that it would need a miracle for the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to agree to a two-state solution to the conflict. Both mothers would accept a one-state solution, so long as the state were Jewish.

I tried to ascertain what it is that would make a state Jewish. High standards of education, health care and social welfare provision were clearly important to both women. But all that could be equally well provided in an Arab state, in my opinion. A Jewish state would be democratic with every citizen having the right to vote. In my opinion, an Arab state could be equally democratic. (I accept, though, that in practice Arab states tend not to be democratic according to our Western understanding of democracy.)

What it seemed to boil down to in the end is this: A Jewish state would have the (military) means with which to defend itself and Jews would be in control of defence and security.

It seems that the average Jewish Israeli citizen wants to be sure that the Israel Defence Forces can keep any enemies at bay and that Israel’s borders can be made secure against the infiltration of terrorists.

One of my favourite songs is a Taizé chant: “Nie par puissance, nie par force, mais par l’esprit du Seigneur.” (Not by power, nor by might, but by the spirit of the Lord.) I’m afraid I can’t quote chapter and verse. But many of the Old Testament prophets said much the same thing: Don’t put your faith in horses and chariots. Put your faith in the Lord your God.

Peace and security cannot be assured by force of arms. Peace will reign when we put our faith in the God of love, who leads us to do justice.

Peace will not be possible in Israel/Palestine until the refugees who were driven out of their villages in 1948 and 1967 are compensated in some way, so that they can escape the overcrowding and poverty of the refugee camps. There is no realistic prospect of them returning to the villages that they came from. Many of these villages have been destroyed. But their “right of return” needs to be recognised and they need to be compensated for the failure to fulfil that right.

Hamba Kahle Nelson Mandela

The Central and Southern Africa Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends’ Statement on the Passing of Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela

We mourn the passing of our former President and leader, Nelson Mandela. Although Madiba was of a great age, his death marks the end of an era. The people of South Africa and the region are filled with love and sadness.  We also express our condolences to his family and friends, in their grief. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) of Central and Southern Africa wish to express our deep sadness at Madiba’s passing. At the same time, our deep admiration, respect and gratitude for Mandela’s life and the legacy that he has left not only South Africa but also Africa and the world.

“Freedom is in your hands” is a line from a well-known freedom song sung during the dark days of apartheid. Millions of South Africans stood up to the violence and brutality of the apartheid state and to the degradation of official racism.  Nelson Mandela was our leader, and it did seem that freedom was in his hands. Mandela’s human and spiritual qualities lit the path to genuine liberation. He was steadfast in his refusal to accept a lesser status for black people, steadfast in his refusal to hate white people, steadfast in his determination to bring about freedom and equality – liberating all of us, black and white. He was a man of rare magnanimity – of “great spirit’’, responding with forgiveness and reconciliation to provocation and suffering.

Nelson Mandela led with strength, grace, humour, and humility. He eschewed the riches that some take from high office. After stepping down as President, he focused his energies on developing and supporting the most vulnerable, the children of our nation.

This is a difficult time for South Africans. We will have to face our future without the calm, guiding presence of Mandela. We may feel uncertain, anxious, and even fearful. Mandela would not want this for us.  He would want us to reach out to each other, to stand together to meet the challenges of our future.

We recommit ourselves to the central challenge of our time – to continue Mandela’s struggle for equality and freedom. The Religious Society of Friends has long recognised that social justice is the basis for peace among people. We view the massive inequalities in wealth, not only in South Africa but also Africa and the world, as a dangerous threat to peace and stability. Genuine freedom includes the freedom to develop our full potential as human beings. Extreme poverty does not allow this and so the wealth gap must be tackled to allow for genuine social development.

We honour Mandela’s vision of a country at peace with itself and recommit ourselves to realising this in our life time.

Hamba Kahle Nelson Mandela, our Madiba!

6 December 2013

Friday prayers – Christian Peacemaker Teams – Nelson Mandela

Friday mornings are quiet in Ramallah, like Sunday mornings used to be in Britain. Today I got to go along to the mosque for Friday prayers around 11.30. A visiting Quaker friend and I were taken along by Saleem, whose wife works as a part-time administrator for the Quakers here.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God. And I learnt at a workshop at the recent international conference of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem that “Islam” means submission to God (Allah) and that, broadly-speaking, anyone who submits to God is a Muslim.

So it felt right to join my Muslim brothers in prayer, to bow to God along with Saleem and everyone else, and to kneel and prostrate myself with my forehead touching the carpeted floor. Would that it were as easy to submit myself to God inwardly as it is to submit myself outwardly.

Apart from occasional references to Muslims and the Quran, I understood nothing of the sermon. If I come to Palestine again for any length of time, I shall want to make a serious attempt to learn Arabic.

Christopher Hatton, a British Quaker who has been living in Hamburg for ten years, appeared just as I was about to set off with Saleem for the mosque. Christopher came along with us. He knows some Arabic, but I don’t think he understood much more of the sermon than I did.

Christopher was on his way to Hebron. He is about to begin his third stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Palestine. CPT aims to support Palestinian nonviolent resistance to injustice.

A couple of years ago Christopher served with CPT in the South Hebron Hills. One of their tasks was to observe the goings-on at “flying checkpoints” which were being set up on the roads by the Israeli occupying forces. The Palestinians, mostly shepherds going about their work, were treated less violently when CPTers were watching.

Christopher is now going to spend five weeks with CPT in Hebron, where a growing population of Israeli settlers is harassing the Palestinian inhabitants. The harassment is worst on Saturdays, when settlers, with the protection of Israeli soldiers, go on the rampage through the market. I plan to visit Hebron next Saturday and may get to witness that

When Christopher and I got back from visiting the mosque this morning, I opened up my laptop to show him some photographs. There was the news that Nelson Mandela had died.

I remember watching on TV when he walked out of prison in 1993. Few Nobel Peace Prize laureates deserve the prize as much as he did. After spending 27 years in prison (all but the last year or two on Robben Island), he negotiated a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, offered white South Africans reconciliation and forgiveness instead of retaliation and retribution, and voluntarily relinquished power at the end of a five-year term as president.

No doubt it helped that F.W. de Klerk and other leading white politicians recognised that the writing was on the wall for South African apartheid. They had the choice between a negotiated transition to majority rule and a likely bloodbath.

When will Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers in the Israeli coalition government realise that the writing is on the wall for Israeli apartheid? They have a choice between a two-state solution that does justice to Palestinian aspirations (and that has to include recognition of the right to return of refugees from 1948 and 1967) and a long battle against Palestinian resistance which could eventually result in majority rule in a single democratic state.

But perhaps the real question is: How much longer will the world tolerate Israel’s apartheid policies and their oppression of the Palestinians?

A paranoid state

The state of Israel is not evil, although it does evil things. But it does seem to be paranoid.

This is perhaps understandable, given the experience of the Holocaust, the belligerence of neighbouring states, and the hostility of many Palestinians. Israel fought off belligerent neighbours in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Israelis have been subjected to suicide bomb attacks and rocket attacks in more recent years. And only a week or two ago an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death by a young Palestinian whilst he was asleep on a bus.

Most Israelis are so fearful that, whatever happens, they want to live in a state with a Jewish majority, which is able to defend itself against outside aggression. The religious fanatics who want to establish a Jewish state across the whole of the Land of Israel are, thankfully, in a minority, although they have considerable political influence.

Most Israelis want a two-state solution, because Jews would be in a minority in a single state. They want to be in a majority in their own state, so that they can be in control of their own destiny.

A two-state solution may yet come about through negotiation. But it seems more likely to me that when peace talks fail a two-state solution will be imposed by Israel.

There’s an interesting article in today’s English language edition of Haaretz, entitled “The time to prepare for evacuation of the West Bank is now”. The author is Gilead Sher, a former chief-of-staff of Ehud Barak, when he was prime minister. Gilead Sher is now a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and co-chairman of Blue-White Future, an Israeli organisation which is pushing for the creation of separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

He writes: “Any border that is drawn between us and the Palestinians, whether arrived at by agreement, as a result of negotiations or set independently by Israel, will require the evacuation of settlements inhabited by tens of thousands of people, while retaining the large enclaves where most of the settlers live. …

“It is likely that the current round of talks, and maybe more rounds of talks in the future, will not result in an agreement that anchors the national interests of Israel, which will have to take measures on its own to draw the border and promote the two-state solution, in coordination with the United States.

“We must absorb these settlers who will be returning to Israel’s borders, whether they are determined by an agreement or the lack of one. We must prepare for the eventuality that the army will remain in places we evacuate and in the Jordan Valley until responsibility for security passes to an entity that is acceptable to us.”

So Palestinians in the West Bank can expect to be confined within a nominally independent state inside borders which have been drawn by Israel and over which Israel continues to maintain control. They might not be much better off than Palestinians in Gaza. And if they pose any kind of security threat to Israel they face the prospect of being bombed back a few decades as Gaza was.

If Israel were less paranoid, it might behave differently.

Prevention of another Holocaust need not be dependent on Jews having a state of their own in which they are in a majority. All of us, especially those of us who are not Jewish, need to actively oppose anti-Semitism just as we oppose any kind of racism. And Israeli politicians need to recognise that the oppression of Palestinians encourages anti-Semitism.

Good diplomacy should ensure that Israel is not attacked by its neighbours. In the past few months we have witnessed the success of diplomacy in dealing with Syrian chemical weapons. And now diplomatic efforts have brought us the beginnings of success in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme.

And we should not forget that Israel, with its nuclear arsenal, is arguably the most dangerous state in the Middle East. And the USA, not Iran, is arguably the most dangerous state in the world. Ask people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Few Palestinians would be hostile towards Israel, if they didn’t have to suffer so much injustice. Many more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis in recent years than vice-versa. House demolitions, restrictions on movement, and the theft of land, water and other resources in the occupied Palestinian territories all provoke hostility towards Israel amongst Palestinians. The best thing that Israelis could do to improve their security is to do justice to the Palestinians and end the abuse of their human rights.

If you met a paranoid person in the street, would you give them a weapon? Would they then be less paranoid, if they had a weapon with which to defend themselves? Or would they be likely to use their weapon to eliminate the people whom they fear?

Should the USA and other states be giving weapons to the Israelis? Israel’s military is funded to a large extent by US taxpayers. Whatever else might be done, there should be a total ban on arms trade with Israel and an end to all military cooperation, including military research.