Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, has been again in the Middle East working to prevent the violence of the Gaza Strip of spreading to much of the area. The Gaza Strip conflict has already spread to the West Bank with increased violence between Jewish settlers and Palestinian inhabitants. There is increased violence along the frontier of Lebanon with the activities of the armed faction Hezbollah and the displacement of Israeli villages. Negotiations in good faith seem far off, and political speeches grow more conflictual. Could there be a role for unarmed, non-governmental peace brigades to monitor frontiers and lessen tensions?
One possibility, inspired by the efforts of Shanti Sena (Peace Army) developed by followers of Mahatma Gandhi in India to deal with Hindu-Muslim violence is to place some nongovernmental teams on the frontier between antagonists in order to provide an opportunity for all parties to “cool off” and negotiate.
Friends of Humanity.
One such effort in which I was directly involved was an effort to place a peace team on the Nicaraguan-Honduras frontier in 1981. At the time, it was thought that the 400 strong U.S. troops stationed in Honduras might cross the frontier to attack the Saddinista-leftest government in Nicaragua or to help actively the anti-Sandinista “Contras” to do so. A group of persons associated with the Santa Cruz Resouce Center for Nonviolence in California and affiliated to the organization Peace Brigades International were able to put a team together and move to the Nicaragua-Honduras frontier on short notice. The group called itself “The Jalapa Brigade” after the small Nicaraguan city near the Honduran frontier where it was posted.
When the Jalapa Brigade was being put into place, the Ambassador of Nicaragua to the United Nations in Geneva was a former student of mine, and his brother, also a former student of mine, was the legal advisor to the President of Nicaragua. In fact, when the team arrived, Daniel Ortega, the President, introduced the team as “Friends of Humanity.”
The Gulf Peace Team.
Through the Ambassador, I was able to inform all the Central American Missions to the U.N. as to the aims and role of the Peace Brigade. In the end, the U.S. military did not cross the frontier. Perhaps it never intended to do so. It may also have been that the interposition of U.S. citizens with good organizational contacts helped to weigh in the U.S. military decision-making process. When the team left, the leader of the Protestant “Evangelical Committee for Development Aid” said:
“The proof of your triumph lies in the fact that no attacks were made while you were in the Jalapa area.”
There have been other such interposition efforts. One was the Gulf Peace Team created at the time of the 1990 Iraqi annexation of Kuwait. The aim of the 73-member Peace Team was to be an “international multicultural team working for peace and opposing any form of armed aggression by setting up one or more international peace camps between the opposing armed forces. Our object will be to withstand nonviolently any armed aggression by any party to the present Gulf dispute.” However, on 27 January 1991, the peace camp was closed by Iraq because the authorities had:
“decided that the continued presence of the camp was a security risk.”
Peace Team a Possibility?.
Likewise a January 2022 proposal of the Association of World Citizens “Ukraine-Donbas-Russian Frontier: Is a Nongovernmental Interposition Peace Team a Possibility?” was followed three weeks later by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Thus the creation of interposition peace teams in the Israel-Palestine conflict would not be easy to create for political and logistic reasons. There are economic and logistic resources required and, more importantly, there is the need to raise enough volunteers who are mature, culturally sensitive, and analystically-minded to achieve a critical mass that would make a difference in the decision-making of the conflicting parties. There is also the need to keep the unity of purpose within the teams if they have not worked together before.
However, the current situation is very dangerous. The dangers are widely recognized. Therefore all forms of conflict reduction need to be explored.
René Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.