New Humanist

Words for the Candlelight Vigil for Peace and Nonviolence in Gaza

By Chris Wells, North American Spokesperson for New Humanism – Held in front of U.S. Mission to the UN, January 13, 2009, New York City – Slideshow

For years, we have looked on with sorrow at the violence and suffering in the Middle East. It seems like there’s no way out. What’s happening in Gaza today is heartbreaking. How should we respond? What’s the best way we can help; not only to end the current attacks but to act in favor of a deep and lasting peace?

Those of us on the outside, or those who identify with one side or the other, may feel that we have to choose sides. But does this contribute to peace?

The choice that matters is not between one side and another. The choice that matters is between violence and non-violence.

Non-violence goes beyond denunciation; it goes beyond pointing the finger at those we consider guilty. It’s an attitude that seeks reconciliation and it requires courage, reflection, compassion, communication and organizing. It’s not easy. But how else to escape the endless wheel of revenge? How else do we build a future that won’t be continually undermined by those few who profit from the violence?

Thousands of young Israelis are demanding that their government stop the invasion of Gaza. Many have been imprisoned, like the brave conscientious objectors who refuse to join the army. They are choosing non-violence. Young Palestinians are protesting the violence of the Israeli government but they are also demanding that Hamas stop its missile attacks. They are choosing non-violence. These Palestinian and Israeli pacifists are showing the way, maybe because they recognize that violence has not made and will never make either side safer. And we need to support them as they work to persuade their neighbors of this truth.

Non-Violent action begins when we realize that today, out of the misery of violence, we are building the future. It’s what Gandhi did in India after the violence of colonization, what Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement did after centuries of slavery and segregation. At some point in the process something has to change — to go beyond the closed logic of invasion and cease-fire, attack and retaliation.

A new level of consciousness is necessary, bringing a new kind of social action and a new kind of leadership. What would a change in consciousness mean? It would mean that Palestinians stop supporting Hamas unless it completely renounces violence; that Israelis stop voting for leaders that bomb the Palestinians. It would mean that Israelis and Palestinians work together to build their common future.

What is our responsibility as US citizens? Our government plays a key role in arming the Israeli military; this has to change and we must commit ourselves to this. But we also know that the violence in Gaza is just one manifestation of a whole system of violence that is deeply rooted, pervasive and ongoing. The great need today is to awaken a global consciousness that completely rejects violence; both as a way of resolving conflicts and in all its forms. Because the deep systemic economic violence, the racial violence and discrimination, the religious violence, all provide the fertile ground for invasions and wars.

A broad change of consciousness is possible. It’s already happening with environmental awareness. So finally, I want to make a proposal. I want to invite you to join the World March for Peace and Non-violence, which aims to raise consciousness precisely about these things. It begins in New Zealand in October of this year and will pass through more than 100 countries in three months, ending in Argentina. The March is a real way to foster tolerance and understanding; to raise a great cry for peace, uniting the voices of millions; and to build consensus for the urgent need to lower tensions and to disarm, starting with nuclear weapons and then moving to conventional arms. The World March is a cause in which all races will converge, all peoples, all cultures, all religions; overcoming the suffering that we cause to others and the suffering that others have caused us.

We mourn today for the people in Gaza and in Israel. We call for a total and immediate cease-fire and an end to the blockade. But let’s also join together to build the foundations of a non-violent future, to escape the vicious circle of fear, recrimination and hatred. So that children will no longer be born with enemies they didn’t choose in a war they had no hand in creating.

The choice that matters is not between one side and another. The choice that matters is between violence and non-violence.

Thank you very much.

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