|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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And so it is more than ten years on from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This anniversary has been significantly analysed in the mainstream media so after very brief analysis we will ask the question - did the peace and reconciliation groups achieve anything during the Troubles?
Peace processes are messy things, and the various sides were rather tardy off the blocks following the Good Friday Agreement. The symbiotic relationship between Sinn Féin and the DUP, and their respective rises to power, is perhaps illustrated best by the fact that Sinn Féin and IRA unwillingness to disarm greatly assisted the DUP in overtaking the Ulster Unionist Party. Trimble was seen by many in the Protestant and Unionist community as being too soft, rather than brave, in going into powersharing. When Paisley made the same jump, all these issues (including prisoner release) had fairly well played themselves out. It took nine years, until last year, to arrive at a stable situation with a Stormont government. There is recognition among the parties that the existing coalition system needs to change in due course but we are not at that stage yet.
The role of the peace and reconciliation groups in contributing towards the peace, and the bedding down of it, needs to be seen in the overall response of civil society. There were rare exceptional times when peace and reconciliation groups impacted on the whole of society and the Troubles - with perhaps Witness for Peace and the Peace People in their hey day being the prime examples. However, just as there is much more to come out about the role of state and non-state bodies in the violent incidents of the Troubles, so there are many stories that may come out of the quiet and sometimes brave acts of courage by ordinary and extraordinary people. One of INNATE's submissions to Healing Through Remembering's Living Memorial Museum project was on just this point; the contribution and involvement of ordinary people needs to be remembered including peace and reconciliation groups, churches, trade unions, human rights groups, and community groups (though it should not be imagined that the contribution of these was uniform or indeed always positive). What the Troubles would have been like, however, without the contribution of these sectors of civil society, is a difficult question to answer but a tentative conclusion must be that things would have been closer to going over the edge to far greater violence.
By world standards, 'the Troubles' was not a big conflict, mainly affecting a million and a half people in the North, though with obvious impacts, sometimes terrible, on the Republic and Britain. By world standards, again, it was quite contained. But by the standards of human grief, human decency, human feeling, it was a terrible time for many. As a society we may have not have gone over the abyss, though we stood at it a few times. So one point here is the extent of hurt and grief out of what was a relatively 'small' conflict. The hurt and the grief were, and are, not small.
Civil society did exercise some very limited control on the Troubles through 'popular opinion' and what actions were deemed to lose support for a particular group. This no warning car bombs on civilian targets became, generally, a thing of the past. But the power of civil society was limited and curtailed until those involved in the violence decided themselves that violence was not the way to go. The greatest strand in the peace came from the paramilitary groups and their supporters, and particularly Sinn Féin and the IRA. They deserve praise for coming out of violence though not for going into it, however it is true that many saw no choice (in this we disagree and feel the long history of nonviolent struggle offered opportunities but if these opportunities were not apparent then that is primarily the fault of others, including those who espoused peaceful solutions).
Northern Ireland is still coming out of the Troubles. Bedding down the peace has many more stages to go through and Northern Ireland remains an abnormal and divided society. There is work to be done in dealing with the past, in educating people - especially but not exclusively young people - in ways of dealing with conflict, and in overcoming the general fault lines between Catholic and Protestant. But, we can celebrate the fact that we are here and have survived; twenty-five or thirty years ago it was far from certain when and if Northern Ireland would leave behind the tyranny of sectarian and political violence. It is a remarkable story with many twists and turns, often very much stranger than fiction (e.g. Ian Paisley as First Minister certainly sounds fictional from the point of view of even ten years ago). Some of it is due to 'good luck' (extrinsic circumstances) as well as hard work, and intelligent strategising. But work is needed so that we never forsake the blue skies of non-violent interaction and political discourse for the grey mists of sectarian and political violence.
50 years after the foundation of CND in Britain is a significant milestone and marker. Even the re-emergence of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a mass movement at the start of the 'eighties is already more than a quarter century ago.
CND in Ireland has had to battle for its cause against a variety of forces. In the Republic, 'neutrality' has often been posited negatively and didn't look very neutral where the police forces of the state kept close tabs on what CND activists were up to. And, being in a small 'neutral' state, not everyone saw the relevance - though what can be more relevant than stopping the world undergoing nuclear holocaust? There were a lot of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) men around in the world, and the further development of tactical nuclear weapons is a recipe for disaster. In Northern Ireland, part of NATO and a paranoid society during the Troubles, CND was up against the "don't put your head above the parapets" syndrome. That said, those who got involved in Bishopscourt Peace Camp (1983-86, not part of CND as such though with CND people involved) in Co Down found that, with a human approach from both sides, the forces of law and order (RUC) did not consider them a threat.
Nuclear proliferation continues apace. Israel was, of course, the first country in the Middle East to come to possess such weapons. Multilateralism ('we'll give them up when everyone else does') has failed. The approach of CND, unilateralism ('we renounce the use of nuclear weapons') has not actually been tried. Nuclear disarmament remains a highly important issue which is part of the long term peaceful development of our planet. How can we feel safe when these weapons abound? The answer is that we cannot. A state which unilaterally renounces nuclear weapons and uses this as a springboard for multilateral disarmament may find they occupy not only high moral ground but also a good degree of political leverage. The idea that you should not go 'naked into the conference chamber' (Aneurin Bevan opposing unilateral disarmament in Britain, 1957) is certainly outdated; if you belong to an exclusive club which seems to wield power then more and more people are going to want to join, and this is what has been happening with nuclear weapons.
CND in Ireland can be contacted at Irish CND, PO Box 6327, Dublin 6. CND in Britain can be found on the web at http://www.cnduk.org and is at Mordechai Vanunu House, 162 Holloway Road London N7 8DQ,
e-mail: email@example.com and phone 0207 700 2393.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column
It is clear that humankind is in the midst of a crisis, one known but not effectively addressed by societies gorged on consumer products.
While at least one-third of humanity has no access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation, and live their entire lives in a condition of virtual starvation, the average household on these islands throws one bag of food out of every three they buy straight into their council bin. While children in countries such as Sudan spend their days walking across the desert to collect water for their families, and billions of people in the urban areas of the poor world don't have proper sanitation, it is common to see people in Ireland and Britain hose their yards and driveways with precious drinking water.
The affluent express concern about global warming while living energy extravagant lifestyles. Governments in the rich world talk about the necessity to reduce the emission of global warming gasses while encouraging and supporting projects that can only lead to a quickening of the pace of global warming. The projects include more airport runways, roads, coal and nuclear power stations.
Is the lack of response of the affluent to climate change, collapsing eco-systems and the global shortage of food, due to selfishness, apathy, delusion, or ignorance? Perhaps it is a combination, in varying degrees, of all of these. What one can say with certainty is that the response is unenlightened.
With few exceptions governments and big business serve their own short-term interests, and don't act, regardless of their PR efforts, in the long term interests of society. This means that changing the global economic system, which is based on the abuse of human beings and nonhuman nature, lies with us, the ordinary folk.
The mission of ordinary folk is to become enlightenment and enlighten. Enlighten as in coming to see how things really are, why things are this way, and nurturing suffice collective empathy to change the paradigm of selfishness that underpins the prevailing political and economic structures.
We have to do this, for if we continue to live as we presently do the future - which most of us will live to see, will be bleak beyond imagination. Not everyone can be as a powerful a force for positive change as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, but everyone can be a Rosa Parks, living the change we want to see and therein acting to change the predominant mindset that is disastrous for everyone, including the community of all living things.
Rosa Parks is known as the "mother of the modern civil rights movement" in the United States. On the 1 December 1955 she refused to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Her simple, but courageous action had repercussions throughout the United States, and as the official Rosa Parks website says, "redirected the course of history".
By Goretti Horgan
Three members of the Derry Anti War Coalition attended an International Tribunal of Conscience in Brussels at the end of February. The Tribunal accused Israel of war crimes, during its assault against Lebanon in July and August 2006. the accusations including Israel's breaching of Articles 2 and 4 of the UN Charter which bans war except for defence reasons; genocide crimes against Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and against Article 4 of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. An international panel of judges from Columbia, Cuba, France and India presided.
There was a stream of witnesses to these war crimes, each with stories that would have drawn tears from a stone. For example Salam Dahir, who was a civil defence worker in Southern Lebanon at the time of the war and who many people would recognise from the photos of the 30th July massacre at Qana. Salam told the Tribunal about the difficulties the Civil Defence team he worked with faced. He explained that the level of bombing was so great and ambulances were being attacked - in breach of international law - so they frequently had to wait hours before going to the aid of those who had been bombed.
Salam had personally witnessed the impact of what was later confirmed by scientists to be a thermobaric bomb on an apartment block. He showed photographs of the victims' bodies - not a sight anyone should have to see. Thermobaric bombs are not illegal but should be. However, it is against international law to use these bombs on civilian, as opposed to military targets. Yet, there is clear evidence of them being used not only in Southern Lebanon but even in built-up areas of Beirut.
An article published in the Marine Corps Gazette in 2000 details the effects of the use of thermobaric, or "fuel-air" weapons, by the Russians in Grozny. These bombs form a cloud of volatile gases or finely powdered explosives. "This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure. ... Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 meters per second. ... As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation. ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal hemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets."
The Tribunal also heard from two doctors of very clear war crimes in relation to the bombing of ambulances and of hospitals. Dr. Mustafa Badar is a GP and Mayor of the town of Nabatyeh in Southern Lebanon, about 20 kms from the border with Israel. More than 250 civilians were killed in his town alone. He personally witnessed the bombing of ambulances that were clearly marked with red crosses. He also spoke about the ongoing deaths in the South from the millions of cluster bombs which were dropped by Israel in the hours before the ceasefire that ended the war came into effect.
Dr. Hadar Degmak was based in a hospital in South Beirut during the war. He told the Tribunal about the bombing of South Beirut, an area which is highly populated, much of which was destroyed entirely. Two hospitals in the area were bombed, one of which was clearly marked as a hospital and could not have been mistaken for a residential building or office block. He and other doctors moved to a hospital near Beirut airport but even this suffered some bombing.
Perhaps the most shocking evidence brought before the Tribunal came from a number of scientists who showed that Israel had used missiles with warheads that contained enriched uranium. This was a surprise to many since the United Nations and others had said there was no evidence of the use of depleted uranium in the weapons used in the war. It turns out that this was true: depleted uranium wasn't used. However, Dr. Mohammed Ali Kobeissy, a nuclear physicist at the American University of Beirut, Dr. Paola Manduca, Professor of Genetics at Genoa University, Italy and Dai Williams, an English weapons expert, all produced scientific evidence to prove the use of enriched uranium in at least some of the bombs dropped in the course of the war.
A number of human rights' lawyers summarised some of the ways in which Israel is guilty of war crimes: first, the assault on Lebanon was not a war of defence. The capture of two Israeli soldiers on the border was not an assault on the sovereignty of Israel and, in any case, Hezbollah offered to swap those soldiers for prisoners in Israeli hands.
Inflammatory statements by leading Israeli politicians, such as saying that any village from which a rocket is fired will be destroyed or the statement of the IDF chief of staff that Israel aimed to put Lebanon back 20 years, are clear indications of Israel's policy of collective punishment. These statements, it was argued, indicate a will to commit acts of genocide.
Despite being asked on several occasions and in many ways to send a lawyer to the Tribunal to defend itself, Israel was unrepresented at the Tribunal. Unsurprisingly, given the amount of evidence against it, Israel was found guilty of a series of war crimes by the panel of International judges.