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‘Beyond Bloodshed’ – A commentary on the events in Gaza by Janet Fenton

WILPF Executive Committee member, Janet Fenton, published this fantastic article regarding the recent events in Gaza between Israel and Palestine. Find the original link in Bellacalcedonia here.

The events of the last few weeks are beyond the pale and the bloodlust arising is in stark relief. No one can condone any violent and terrifying attacks on children, the elderly and the sick, and the impacts of violence on this scale are thankfully outside the real and actual comprehension for most of us. This is equally true whether they arise as an unexpected and unacceptable incursion into community life, or the use of violence to control territory or limit people’s movement. Since Hercules encountered the Hydra that grew two heads for each that was cut off, it has been clear that unleashing violence is a strategy that increases exponentially until a different intervention occurs. 

Terrorists do not grow on trees or fall from the skies. They are spawned from injustice and nurtured by fear and outrage. Cut off the head of one and ten more will arise to take their place.

Difficult as it may seem, the events in the Middle East as well as the ongoing loss of life in Europe provide an imperative to condemn knee jerk military response and the use of force as ineffective as well as immoral. Whatever the rhetoric of racism and and indiscriminate violence, our first consideration for any reaction or intervention must surely be that it might alleviate suffering and/or reduce the violence. First do no harm.

Tom Clonan is an Irish Senator, former military analyst with the Irish Times, former Irish Army Captain who served with UN Peacekeepers in Beirut who acted as a whistle-blower through his PhD on sexual assault and harassment in the Irish defence forces. Tom knows a great deal about the use of force, and he has a better understanding of the role that Scotland could play than the present UK Government does.  He witnessed first hand the Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 which attempted to end rocket attacks on Northern Israel by Hezbollah, and culminated in the massacre of refugees at the village of Qana in April 1996, and he has also acted as a UN sponsored observer, and he visited and reported on conditions at Guantanamo. 

He visited Scotland recently and spoke of the impossibility of a military ‘win’ for either  of the ‘sides’ in the European conflict and of the urgency of developing a real understanding all possible element of cease fire that could be applied and of the importance of listening to civilian voices. He estimates that the action of the invasion of Ukraine and military resistance/or reaction has taken the lives of around 1000 young men and women in combined military forces every day. These are young people at the peak of their physical strength and stamina. That figure does not include the civilian death toll that their actions have caused.

The deaths have arisen directly as a result of the orders given by Russian generals, and also by the foreseeable reactions of the Ukrainian leaders and the orders that they have given, as well as actions by the European and US governments in providing the military aid and training in killing methodologies that are continuing and fuelling this crisis. Providers of weapons and supporters of the current regime(s) in the Middle East are accountable also for the deaths and suffering there.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), was established in 1915 in reaction to the carnage happening across Europe at the time. The decision that the women, who convened at the Hague, made was to resist and oppose all war and militarism, wherever they are found, and whoever perpetuates them. This was no empty gesture as they resolved to take action based on and informed by specific resolutions. They agreed to uphold human rights and equality, and to listen carefully to those affected in the conflict as well as to their governments. They acted on the importance of making delegations to raise civilian and governmental concerns directly to both belligerents and neutral parties as a step towards negotiations.

 We must challenge the very idea of war or militarism, and focus on practical alternative conduct and actions that offer support and assistance instead of contributing to the bloodshed. Neither adding to the violence nor telling perpetrators of human rights violations from a distance to stop it is strategically useful.

The fear and the complex history of people’s connection to disputed territories in the region all arise from previous catastrophic violence, which still needs to be addressed. The violent so-called solutions have repeatedly failed, as have external interventions involving threats or actual violence from parties outside the main conflicts involved in acting out proxy wars.

Humanitarian aid, not military support, is critical, as are global agreements that diminish or limit military escalation such as ensuring that all nuclear power plants are declared no-go areas for any military activity (as IPPNW are suggesting at the UN) and/or integrating national legislation to ensure that states protect civilians and refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. These are  examples of limited cease-fires which offer many possibilities (aid corridors, inter-positional, interalia, 24 hour cessation of weapons use, all or any of which could reduce the slaughter. 

There is no shortage of specific action that can be taken that does not include weaponising  people or condoning violence. At the very least, considering these should be the first priority.

In addition to calling for cease fire, they include offering support for conscientious objectors in Ukraine, initiatives to promote and support the mass non-co-operation by Ukrainians under Russian occupation and offering help to the more than 20,000 peace activists arrested by Putin’s police in Russia, fundraising for medical aid for victims and survivors of conflict everywhere, and raising awareness of the impact of gender-based violence, especially in post colonial wars and conflicts that arise in disputed territories. 

Will we call for real investment in renewable energy to end reliance on Russian fossil fuels, and explore how real food security can allow Ukraine to stop destroying its own environment and feed itself, along with other states that currently rely on Ukraine’s grain ? 

Are we as individuals offering solutions that address people’s human, rather than their government’s national security? Applying the lessons learned from the UN’s work on women, peace and security could ensure that we are actively upholding women working at a grass-roots level to alleviate suffering and insisting on women being included in efforts at negotiation to bring violent conflict to an end. 

Governments only have the capacity for organisation of militarised violence with the consent of the people who empower them. Without limitation on that capacity, it will escalate until we reach a point where the destruction of everything becomes inevitable. Violence and militarism are not an inevitable consequence of territorial dispute or ideological difference. We can lay down the gun and reallocate resources according to actual threats and causes of insecurity such as inequality and climate change.

While we all feel the frustration and distress at the horrific suffering currently induced by a militarised approach to security, if we accept with maturity and compassion that further arms and weapons will only increase the death toll, another way will be found, a way that is about meeting everyone’s needs, upholding human rights and taking on the environmental responsibilities that can make it possible to do that. Achieving that will require concrete suggestions and courageous actions.

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