Letter from the Road #16

Path of the Friend

Elizabeth Rabia Roberts


Creating a Nonviolent Culture


“After the final no there comes a yes,
and on that yes the future of the world depends.”
– Wallace Stevens

Elias and I returned to the United States from Iraq in time to permit me to attend the first five-day meeting of the International Governing Council of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. My work with the Peaceforce is my “yes” to the future. I carry its message of promise and faith along with the “no” of my anti-war, anti-imperialism protests. The fact of the war in Iraq happening will not stop my anti-war work. But it gives me even more determination to move forward a positive vision for the future for my country and my planet.

We have known for a long time it is not enough to be against something; we learned it as we grew out of our adolescence and raised our children through theirs. “No” only defines us against the other; “yes” embraces the whole of our interrelated identity and reality.

The Nonviolent Peaceforce represents the vision of tens of thousands of citizens and hundreds of organizations from all regions of the globe who are working together to establish a standing, civilian peace corps available to apply “third party nonviolent intervention” techniques in areas of violent conflict.

In 1999 at the Hague Appeal for Peace conference, where over 9,000 people from more than 100 nations gathered to create strategies to make war obsolete, the Nonviolent Peaceforce was initiated to help realize this vision. In New Delhi, India, in December, 2002, 110 delegates from 47 nations met together to select the first International Governing Council of the Peaceforce (with two representatives from each of eight regions in the world, plus two youth members). We also voted on policy decisions and identified the first conflict areas into which peace teams would be sent within the next year.

This is no idle dream. This is one of the most practical visions that I know about now. Had there been an organized, trained international peace force of several thousand people in Iraq, this coming war might have been prevented.

At this time the Peaceforce is preparing to send its initial peace teams to Sri Lanka (where five ceasefires have failed in the past due to recurrent violence; violence is once more building between the Tamils and the Sinhalese). In addition, the Peaceforce is working with organizations in Israel/Palestine and Korea to develop plans to send peace teams to those regions in the near future.

Peaceforce team members will receive extensive training and will commit to a minimum of two years of paid service. Reserves from around the globe will be maintained to replace or supplement active team members in appropriate circumstances.

The Peaceforce will only go into countries at the invitation of local peace or humanitarian organizations. It has already received 19 formal requests from different countries, far more than it has money or personnel to respond to now.

When in a region the Peaceforce will use proven techniques of third party intervention. For example, peace workers will accompany vulnerable leaders and negotiators in conflict zones; create an international presence in vulnerable towns and border areas to let combatants know that attacks and massacres will bring international attention (this is most similar to the work Elias and I did with the group Witness for Peace in Nicaragua). Peaceforce teams will also monitor conflict situations through eyewitness reports and supply these to relevant organizations, government agencies, and the media. Peace teams may also place themselves between opposing groups in an attempt to prevent the continuation of violence. This is what young Rachel Carrie was doing in Gaza when she was run over by a bulldozer.

The Peaceforce is committed to non-partial intervention, not taking sides in a conflict but rather appealing to both sides to use means other than violence to resolve their conflict. There is much discussion in the Israel-Palestine “Working Group” about how Peaceforce members might intervene on both sides; for example, standing between Israeli Defense Forces and civilian Palestinians, and at the same time riding buses in Israel that are frequent targets of attacks by suicide bombers.

The Peaceforce is an important step toward limiting global violence. There is so much good work to be done. We must move beyond talk to choosing what we love and care about to work for.

All peace, social justice, and environmental movements are seen now for the intertwining realities they are and will continue to become. All of our efforts in these movements will assure that the Iraqi citizens and children and the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers do not die in vain. If they must perish, may their sacrifice provide the motivation for us to keep on working to assure that such a war will never occur again.

We cannot prevent conflict but we can prevent violence, and we will.

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