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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 131: July 2005

Also in this editorial

From Meitheal to Super-Gombeen Culture – and back again?

It is dangerous to romanticise the past, and the Irish today are among the happiest people in Europe, believe that or not, at least according to a recent survey ( which among other things showed relatively high family interaction and involvement in voluntary activity.

Most people on this island never have had it so good. But as the recent Eurostat survey (mentioned in Billy King’s column) shows, this has been at an ecological price. It has also been at a social price. The pressure on low income families is intense and individual social, consumer units (= families, however defined) are more isolated than previously, and it is almost obligatory for both members of a couple to work outside the home, usually full time. Even if Ireland retains a high level of intra-family interaction, practical support and solidarity is now more difficult than it was (e.g. with children being unable to live near parents due to the cost of housing). However the end of forced emigration is one major factor in well-being, social and economic; remembering the difficulties of an emigrant in a strange land is not, however, something which everyone has collectively learnt when it comes to appreciating the position of newcomers to Ireland.

The past may be a foreign country (literally, in the case of Ireland, with mass emigration) but the future will bring considerable challenges. The end of the oil-based economy is not yet at hand but it is staring us in the face, both due to global warming and to decline in supply (reserves diminishing). The days of consumerism as a culture are numbered and if its days are numbered that must also raise questions about the level of inequality existing on this island; a system with an unjustly divided cake cannot survive so easily when the cake ceases to get larger. The development of a multi-cultural society, North and South, and the ending of sectarianism in the North are very considerable challenges which will continue to take years of hard work and constant vigilance.

But there is currently a tendency to think everything has its price (in the case of big houses and big gardens in posh parts of Dublin, it can be a case of thinking of a price and multiplying by ten). The introduction of so-called market forces to aspects of government, including absurd private-public programmes where the cost to the state is greater, show the dangers of thinking market forces are necessarily an answer. The arena of health and social provision in the Republic also show the dangers of a low tax, low expenditure system. The lesson has often been for the individual to simply think in terms of how much they can make from a particular project.

The end of the oil economy will mean big changes, costly, but ones that can and should be afforded by a rich country like Ireland. The hope is that it is not all too little, too late, to save the world from the worst ravages of global warming. Welcoming millions of climate change refugees is not a task which the rich western countries are going to lightly undertake – but it is they who have largely caused the problem.

In the changes to come there is the possibility of rebuilding the cooperative, meitheal-type working together of everyone in a society for the common good. Combining the happiness of all with meaningful, well-paid employment in a socially-sound, just and ecologically based society; that would really be worth struggling for. The individualistic, divil-take-the-hindmost, consumerist and gombeen culture which is so much part of where and what we are today (though certainly not the whole picture) has to go. There is no alternative if we want what is both fully sustainable (a much abused term in recent years) and just to all. Tiocfadh ar lá – our day will come.

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

A spire for Belfast
The recently announced plans of St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast to raise the enormous sum of 300,000 pounds to build a "spire of hope' illustrates the narcissism and disregard for nonhuman nature of the mainstream churches. One suspects from the simple life lived by Jesus Christ that such a grandiose project is something he would disapprove of if he were alive today. Building the spire, and illuminating it day in and day out, year after year, as is proposed, will involve the emission of greenhouse gasses. In addition, obtaining the materials to build it will almost certainly involve harming Creation in a number of significant ways.

The plan to build the spire reveals that the cathedral authorities, and the churches that have given their support, do not recognize the concept of ecological sin, which Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church is renowned for promoting. In 2002 he said that:"we witness death approaching on account of trespassing against limits that God placed on our proper use of Creation."

It is ironic that institutions that consider themselves pro-life behave, as a matter of course, in ways that result in death, destruction and misery, and while spending a great deal of time and effort praising the figure they imagine created the Earth, destroy what their revered figure created. This is perhaps what Karl Marx meant by the term "false consciousness".

If it is hope that the cathedral authorities want to give the people of Ireland, then they would be better building a 'garden of hope', or promoting ecological education, either of which would benefit humankind and nonhuman nature and be a fitting homage to the entity they praise.

Sheep Intifada
By Christy Bischoff

Christy is known to many people locally through her previous work at Quaker Cottage, Belfast, and she has also been involved in INNATE.

Below is a reflection I wrote while spending 2 months with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) living in Israel/Palestine, mostly in the small Palestinian village, At-Tuwani, south of Hebron. CPT is committed to supporting local nonviolent efforts and violence reduction.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) offers an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict. CPT provides organizational support to persons committed to faith-based nonviolent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality or is supported by public policy. CPT is just beginning to form a regional group in the UK. In Northern Ireland contact Tim Foley ( if interested finding out further information. Also check out

March 20, 2005

The sheep started to come from each direction. I could see four or more flocks come from over the hill, I looked behind me to see another five flocks. My stomach started to do little flip flops, this was an amazing moment. All of the sheep, the shepherds, and the women gathering herbs were headed for the hill where the sheep had not grazed in 4 years, close to the Israeli settler road and the Israeli settlement of Maon. One Palestinian man held in his hand the paper saying this land all belonged to him and his extended family (together 25-30 people). They were passing the part of the hill where just 2 days previous Palestinian shepherds had been chased away by men coming out of the Israeli settlement shooting. In the last 3 weeks there had been 8 attacks on Palestinian shepherds near these hills. But today, the shepherds had organized themselves, they came together, they asked for international presence. When intimidated, they decided to stand up, to find what power they have nonviolently. They carried no weapons, no stones, only the power they had from coming together and the love of the land and the determination to stay alive.

I want to continue with this story, but just to give you a little background information. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has a project in the village of At-Tuwani, a small Palestinian village south of Hebron. The village has problems, including much of the land from the village and surrounding villages is all in an area the Israeli military wishes to make a military training area. There is also an extremist Israeli settlement, Maon, right next to the village, and people coming from the settlement have on numerous occasions come out and attacked people from the village as they herd their sheep, work in their fields, or as children walk to school. The Palestinian village has close relationship with an Israeli peace group, Ta’yush. The villagers and their Israeli friends asked Christian Peacemaker Teams and an Italian based peace group, Operation Dove to commit to being an international presence in the village. Much of the work has included walking children to and from school and currently accompanying shepherds to the fields, carrying video cameras and attempting to ‘get in the way’ of the violence that has befallen the village. Over the last 4 months, with organizing skills on behalf of the Palestinian villages, and International and Israeli accompaniment, shepherds from At-Tuwani and nearby villages have been able to graze on fields they haven’t been able to graze on in the last 4 years because of fear from attacks from settlers.

-So as the shepherds grazed their flocks, there was also a nervousness in the air because they knew this would not go unnoticed from the settlement, Ma’on across the road. Soon enough security from the settlement came out and started taking pictures and called the Israeli military. The shepherds continued to graze their sheep, feeling some strength in their numbers. The military came, and the drama began (a similar drama seems to happen everyday, the shepherds go out in different fields, the settler security comes and calls the Israeli military or police, who come and then they go back and forth with how far the shepherds can go or not, sometimes threatening arrest or closing the land completely as a closed military zone) Today, however, on this land, it was not contested land, but here the Palestinian shepherd had proof this was his land. As he came to show the soldier his paper, the dialogues began.

The soldiers began to tell us that they could close the whole area as a closed military zone, that they had the order in their pocket, we argued with them how legal that was and what for, a few more Israeli settlers came down and it seemed to be getting more and more tense and then came the secret nonviolent weapon. A tour bus full of US Americans! By some divine timing, a tour we had scheduled to come and visit At-Tuwani, rounded the hill and when they saw us and the soldiers and settlers they braked and immediately piled out of the bus. The soldiers and settlers eyes got incredibly big, as the 20 US Americans, in oh so stereotypical manner began clicking cameras and loudly questioning what was going on. The soldiers backed away sheepishly as the owner of the land began to tell his story and the US Americans clicked their cameras as the sheep munched away peacefully and the soldiers slowly backing away from the cameras, and the settlers looking like their plans had been foiled. The rest of the day went by peacefully, with the sheep tasting the grass of long forbidden land, and the shepherds joyfully celebrating their small victory.

And so there was a small nonviolent victory, but I see in At-Tuwani a situation that is at once delicate, fearful, and a place where people are starting to come together and realizing the potential of nonviolence. But it is a long road, and the situation complex. Is it possible for these neighbors to live in peace with justice, do they go together, can they be separated? I realize my desire to have it happen quickly. So many of the days in At-Tuwani seem the same dance between Palestinian, Israeli military, and Israeli settler, and it feels tiring, but each day the sheep get fed, slowly, slowly. I think of the Montgomery bus boycott; looking back it sounds great, but at the time I am sure 1 year of walking to work was not easy and probably looked hopeless at the time. Nonviolence can be slow and it can be messy, I need these reminders of looking at the bigger picture, and at the same time being able to celebrate the small victories, like the other day in At-Tuwani...

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