Pax Christi International and many of its Member Organisations are deeply engaged in the situation in the Middle East -- the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the instability in Lebanon, human rights violations in Syria, the development of contacts in Jordan and Egypt, the tensions around Iran and the war in Iraq, and the Spring Revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
2011 had new prospects for freedom in the Arab world. The movements in Tunisia and Egypt voiced a cry for democracy. At Tahrir Square in Cairo, Muslims and Christians came together and prayed for change. In other countries, the movement towards democracy and accountability seems unstoppable despite the cruel repression it has faced. Inspired and empowered by these examples, many individuals and groups around the world now show enormous courage in choosing nonviolent routes that lead to peace and justice. They raise their voices and speak truth to power, acting out inspirational stories of nonviolence to restore peace and build bridges between communities and religions throughout the world. In the face of violence, repression and feelings of vengeance, we see common people everywhere trying to push the present moment into a turning point towards peace. More than ever before, hope is a keyword.
Pax Christi International has Member Organisations in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. Pax Christi has developed different contacts in Iraq and Iran, and with human rights and peace groups in Israel.
Pax Christi International collaborates on a regular basis with the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, submitting oral and written interventions during different HRC sessions and country reports to the Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR). In 2010, Pax Christi International submitted a report on the status of human rights in Lebanon for the UPR, a written intervention on the human rights violations in Jerusalem, and another written intervention on minority rights in Israel. In 2011, Pax Christi International focused its intervention statements on human rights violations in Syria.
Pax Christi International developed and supports different campaigns on justice, peace and reconciliation in Israel-Palestine.
The situation in Israel-Palestine is rapidly deteriorating; the peace process is static; and, despite the announcement of ‘proximity talks’, hopes for a productive outcome are minimal. The heightened level of militarization in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) is creating fear and insecurity and, with impunity, continues to collectively punish innocent civilians. Israel likewise suffers from the outcomes of a militarized state that forces its young people to police its borders from non-state actor attacks. These attacks undermine peace and collectively punish Palestinian civilians who take no part in such random acts of violence. Pax Christi International stands against any loss of innocent human life.
More than sixty years after Palestinians experienced the “Nakba” – the catastrophe that led to the loss of Palestinian land and sovereignty – and Israelis celebrated the founding of the modern state of Israel, the reality on the ground is worsening. Israeli insecurity and the continued occupation have led to the building of a Separation Barrier in the West Bank, which in many places snakes through land beyond the green line and isolates Palestinian communities from each other. The realities on the ground in the West Bank have created severe economic hardships, preventing the growth and development of a viable Palestinian state. This is exacerbated by 600 or more check points that have a devastating impact on Palestinian access to health and medical assistance, jobs, and other social opportunities. Many Israelis feel the occupation to be the biggest threat to Israel’s peace and security. The occupation has led to arbitrary arrests, house demolitions, and restrictions and permitting to build new homes – all actions by the Israeli state that have caused anger and resentment from new generations of Palestinians.
For this reason, Israeli peace and human rights NGOs join others around the world to advocate against the continuing growth of settlements in the West Bank. In the short term, these settlements create displacement and the dispossession of land and water resources reserved for a Palestinian state under international law. In the long term, it will render the final status issues more complicated because of Israel’s claim that settlements are de facto Israeli land.
Palestinians and Israelis are disappointed by the silence of the international community and the lack of political will among the nations to hold 1) Israel accountable for its statist crimes of oppression and collective punishment, 2) Palestinian non-state actor leadership accountable for its funding and supporting of violence on Israeli civilians. Both sides believe that a united international community can bring parties to the negotiating table for a just and sustainable settlement. Pax Christi International and its Member Organisations have developed programmes and actions, mostly in collaboration with ecumenical partners:
• Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel http://www.eappi.org
• Inter-faith Peace Pilgrimages to Holy Land.
• Developing a Spirituality and Theology of Pilgrimage for Palestine
• The Bridges Not Walls Campaign.
• Right to Conscientious Objection.
• World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel.
• Stories of Peace for Advent and Christmas in Bethlehem
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel:The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) supports Palestinians and Israelis working for peace by monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, offering protection by accompanying local communities in daily activities, and by advocating with churches for a peaceful end to the Occupation. The programme, which began in 2002, is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC). Pax Christi International is a co-founding non-government organisation (NGO) of this programme. Different Member Organisations of Pax Christi International have already sent delegations. The EAPPI is doing four things: protection, monitoring, solidarity and advocacy. The EAPPI programme has been active in six places; mainly in West Bank and Gaza, but also in Israel.
Inter-faith Peace Pilgrimages to the Holy Land:The Holy Land is considered a sacred place by Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as by other religious groups such as the Druze and Bahà’i. Pax Christi International promotes peace pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The pilgrims believe in the sanctity of all human life as it is expressed in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths and in the vocation of all humans to overcome violence through the power of truth, love and forgiveness. These pilgrimages are an expression of solidarity, encouragement and hope for all those who, through prayer and action are patiently, and often with great sacrifices, promote peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. The pilgrimages combine both the biblical and historical dimension of the visit (for instance Nazareth, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem), as well as contacts with Church leaders, politicians, analysts and peace and human rights promoters. Pax Christi Member Organisations from different parts of the world are planning a Peace Pilgrimage.
Developing a Spirituality and Theology of Pilgrimage for Palestine: The Alternative Tourism Group in cooperation with the World Council of Churches and Pax Christi International held a consultative meeting in Geneva on a “Spirituality and Theology of Pilgrimage for Palestine” in May 2010. The meeting brought together a group of theologians, church and ecumenical leaders, tourism activists and political analysts together to discuss tourism, pilgrimages and Palestine. The purpose is to develop a study guide for pilgrims and encourage those visiting the region to “come-and-see” the realities of Palestine and Israel. Pax Christi International promotes this initiative. More on this group and its activities can be found at the following website:"http://www.atg.ps"
Bridges Not Walls Campaigns: The “Separation Barrier” constructed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories is a grave breach of international law and must be removed from occupied territory. Pax Christi International has called all its Member Organisations to focus its activities on the new symbol of occupation – the “Wall of Shame.” This wall creates a prison. Imprisoning people contributes to injustice, human rights violations and internal conflict. The International Court of Justice declared the wall to be illegal in 2004 and instructed Israel to dismantle it. Nevertheless construction continued. From 2011 onwards Pax Christi International has been campaigning against the Wall.
Right to Conscientious Objection: The Israeli Defence Force imposes the occupation. Their role at checkpoints, in military incursions, in ‘policing’ the wall and the demolition of houses makes them a key player in the occupation. There are however, brave signs of hope from within the military, on the part of those who refuse to serve the occupation – many claiming that the missions of occupation and oppression do not serve the purpose of Israel’s defence. These conscientious objectors (CO) or ‘refusniks’ often suffer harsh punishment.
Pax Christi International has always worked to uphold the right to conscientious objection to military service. Pax Christi International urges its Member Organisations to engage in solidarity actions with CO’s in Israel. This might take the form of publicising the cases of CO’s within their own country, giving practical support to ‘Refuser’ organisations, letter-writing to refusers and their families, and advocacy work with the Israeli Government to urge them to recognise the right to conscientious objection.
World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel: The World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel is an annual Week of Action advocacy initiative, convened by the World Council of Churches and supported by Pax Christi International. It takes place from 29 May to 4 June each year.
The goal of the World Week for Peace is to raise awareness in churches and civil society, and to impress upon governments the need for new efforts to end the conflict and negotiate a settlement. Three types of actions will be developed: pray, advocate and public action. Member Organisations of Pax Christi International are invited to join the World Week and develop their own type of actions in collaboration with churches, church related organisations, religious communities or congregations, and with NGOs at the national and local level.
Stories for Peace for Advent and Christmas in Bethlehem: During Advent and Christmas, we invite you to share in the ongoing moments of hope and change in Palestine. In the Holy Land, new initiatives for nonviolent change gain attention and traction. While in the past we made a call for wishes and prayers, Pax Christi International would like to invite you to share in this new climate of hope by exchanging stories for peace.
The stories may be short or long, do not need to be literary, and may be about any situation in the world, including one’s own life. They may be fabled, fictitious, or based on true events. What these stories will have in common is a message of peace and justice, non-violence and bridge-building that have inspired people on a personal level.
Stories of peace will be used in Bethlehem, Palestine, and elsewhere. They will be printed and handed out as personal messages, educational materials (e.g. at schools), and in the context of interfaith prayers (in places of worship) and in the peace house of the Arab Educational Institute opposite the Wall at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.
Although this gesture may seem small, an inspirational story provides genuine support to those who receive them. It is a sign of hope. It is a sign that people outside the region care about their destiny. It is a sign that they should not give up and that change for a real peace is indeed possible.
Individuals, communities, churches and congregations, organisations and partners are all invited to email Advent and Christmas stories of peace to our partners in Bethlehem.
Please e-mail your stories for peace before 25 December (Western Christmas) and/or the 7 January (Eastern Christmas). While English is the preferred language, non-native English speakers may also send stories of peace in their mother tongue. Messages can be e-mailed to the Arab Educational Institute at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 2003, the conflict in Iraq has been one of the focal points of Pax Christi International. As a non-governmental peace movement working on a global scale in the field of human rights, we are committed to aiding the Iraqi people in their quest for peace and reconciliation. A delegation of Pax Christi International visited Iraq in September 2009 to underline this commitment. In the spirit of our solidarity with the people of Iraq, the Executive Committee of Pax Christi International and the Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink Peace Fund decided in 2010 to present the Pax Christi International Peace Award to Msgr. Louis Sako, the Archbishop of the Chaldeans in Kirkuk and one of the most prominent defenders of Iraq’s endangered minorities.
The minorities of Iraq (which are the Yazidis, Shabaks, Turkoman and Assyrian Christians) are threatened from all sides. Since the withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq's cities in June 2009, the attacks against minority groups have increased dramatically and show no sign of abating. The violence has already resulted in the death and displacement of thousands. Each day their situation is becoming more acute and threatens to permanently destroy the very fabric of their communities. As they face these unprecedented levels of violence, the Christians and other minority groups risk being wiped out. This fact is a matter of great concern for Pax Christi International and indeed for all those who believe in peace, humanity and the unconditional principles of universal human rights.
In 2009, Pax Christi International organised a seminar in Lebanon on “Preventing and Dealing with Violent Radicalisation” in cooperation with its partner organisation, the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights (LACR). The seminar was attended by 30 representatives of civil society; mainly partners from the Middle East. Pax Christi International in conjunction with the Association Justice et Miséricorde in Lebanon (AJEM) has been developing materials on the issue of religion and violent extremism.
Pax Christi International made an oral statement on Lebanon and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), item 6, at the 16th Session of the Human Rights Council taking place in Geneva, March 2011. The statement welcomes the significant number of recommendations regarding torture made by states during Lebanon’s review under the UPR; it commends the government of Lebanon on accepting these recommendations and announcing a number of key reforms it is committed to for the eradication and prevention of torture.
The suicide of young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi in early January 2011 ignited protests around the Maghreb and Arab world. Frustrations with a lack of democracy and social and economical equality, which simmered under the surface for decades, burst and formed into massive scale protests.
The initial phase of the popular risings was marked by a sense of optimism. The Tunisian revolution brought down the Ben Ali regime and inspired the demonstrators of the Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. President Mubarak’s retreat after weeks of peaceful protests was seen as a milestone in Arab history. Hopes were articulated for a widespread sweep of democratic revolutions, comparable to post-soviet Eastern Europe.
However, after a few months passed, the initial optimism seemed to be premature. Popular uprisings in Syria, Jordan, Bahrain or Yemen did not succeed in overthrowing contested regimes. In several countries, demonstrators were confronted to violent oppression. Egypt and Tunisia seem to have been the exceptions.
In Libya, the popular uprising against the Gaddafi-regime has turned into an open war. Intervention by the international community, initially justified as an operation of air strikes to protect civilians, is turning into a ground battle with a growing number of civilian casualties and refugees. Are we witnessing the making of a new Afghanistan or Iraq? Will Libya be the scene of long-term armed-violence and instability? The Spring Revolution focuses on the social dynamics in the Middle East and the repercussions they have on regional and international politics.
Pax Christi International expresses its sympathy and solidarity with the Member Organisations in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. Letters of concern have been sent to the leadership of the United Nations and the European Union on the ongoing violations of human rights in Syria. Written interventions on Syria have been made before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva.
In 2013, Pax Christi International ran a solidarity campaign to raise awareness about the suffering of civilian communities in Syria and to express solidarity with those trying to survive in Syria and as refugees in surrounding countries. The ‘Bread is Life’ campaign took place from 13 February to 31 March 2013, to coincide with the Christian observance of Lent. For more information, see the ‘Bread is Life’ campaign page.