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Peace Education

European Conference Considers Issues of Ireland and Middle East

Netherlands-2010-12-12-European Conference Considers Issues of Ireland and Middle East

Bergen aan Zee, Netherlands - "In this wicked world, states operate not under ethical considerations, but by what they feel benefits their own situation," asserted former Dutch Prime Minister Prof. Dr. Dries van Agt, currently President of ‘The Rights Forum,’ an organization that strives for a just Dutch policy in the Middle East.

The setting was the Dec. 10-12, 2010 European Leadership Conference on "Peace in the Middle East and Lessons Learned from the Northern Ireland Peace Process." 

The former Dutch prime minister spoke of the ‘Middle East peace process’ as a means to turn Palestine into a collection of small enclaves on the West Bank while Israel establishes ever-growing settlements to a level at which their presence in the occupied territory becomes irreversible. Urging that international pressure on Israel is essential to seek a drastically different approach, he concluded with praise for the Israeli doctors, lawyers, rabbis, and housewives who often at great risk and certainly discomfort to themselves, sought to help their Palestinian brethren.

Ian White, a former CEO of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in the Republic of Ireland, speaking on "Lessons Learned from the Northern Ireland Peace Process," emphasized inclusiveness of all enemy parties as essential to success and related this to the need to involve Hamas in negotiations pertaining to Israel/Palestine. Ian might have become a "Protestant paramilitary" had it not been for his mother’s influence, and he later married a Roman Catholic! He revealed some of the 122 lessons to be learned from the Irish peace process:

  • You don’t need to trust your enemy to begin to talk, but you needed to trust the process and the mediating third party.
  • There were so many factors and a change or failure in one area might affect all others.
  • Interests are as important as "rights." Understanding the interests of the other might enable compromise: one person might want an orange for the juice because he was thirsty, another merely the rind to make a cake. If so, then they can share!

He suggested that there could be creative ambiguity in language, and emotive words should be avoided. There is a need for humility: "you do peace with people, not to people." While one might not be able to be neutral, one could try and be objective.

Mrs. Manal Timraz, a British Palestinian born in Egypt, brought up in Norway and managing a restaurant in Coventry, England, had her commitment to peace brutally challenged when she lost 15 close family members during one Israeli attack on Gaza. Her struggle to find peace and forgiveness led her to found the Million Candles for Peace campaign. She spoke poetically of a how a sceptical young Israeli border guard eventually helped her relight a candle that had been blown out and later become an activist for peace and reconciliation himself. She humbly concluded: "I not know whether what I do does anything, but at least I didn't stay at home."


Mr. Rob Schrama spoke vigorously of his "Jerusalem Hug" and upcoming "Jerichon" campaigns, using his artistic talents to create events to unite, inspire, and mobilize Israelis, Palestinians, and international visitors to turn Jerusalem into a city of peace. The 2011 festival will last a week and include a laser light pyramid 800 meters high over the Old City. He hopes to eventually create a "critical mass to bring change" just as he had seen when he was a professor in East Germany at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.


Senior UPF-Netherlands Ambassadors for Peace Dr. W. van Eekelen (who had recently returned from Korea), Jhr. Dr Beelaerts van Blokland, and Dr. Jan Willem Bertens, all colleagues of former premier Dr. van Agt, expanded the afternoon's participants to more than 70. There were 45 attending the whole weekend, residents of 15 European countries, but a number originally from far further afield. Dr. van Agt later remarked on how impressed he was by the Huize Glory conference center and the interest and openness of his audience, which included a number of Muslims and non-native Europeans.


Saturday's cultural evening included contributions from the conference participants, including poems and songs from all around Europe. A Muslim woman exclaimed that this was the first time she had ever sung in public. There were jokes from a Sufi imam (with a senior Albanian politician adding an extra punch-line), Rob Schrama involving everyone in his Jerusalem peace songs, and Dutch Ambassador for Peace Ann Harris movingly singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me."


Friday evening: "The spiritual and moral Dimension in Peace Building"


Dr. Edy Korthals Altes, Honorary President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and former Dutch diplomat, spoke on Friday evening with reference to his recent book Spiritual Awakening: The Hidden Key to Peace and Security, Just and Sustainable Economics, A Responsible European Union. After praising the “excellent UPF presentations,” he said that during the Cold War he had realized we had the unprecedented potential to destroy our planet. This, and the vulnerability of modern society and our interdependence, demands serious efforts for peace. Religions neede to move from confrontation to cooperation, like the spokes of a wheel, the more you moved to the centre, the closer you came, to God, the Essence, and to one another.


UPF's New Vision for Lasting Peace


Friday afternoon was devoted to an "Introduction to the Universal Peace Federation" and its "New Vision for Lasting Peace," presented by Mr. Timothy Miller, Vice Chair UPF-Europe. Saturday morning followed with Mr. Jack Corley of UPF-UK & Ireland talking on "Understanding the Root Cause of Conflict" and "Restoring Peace and Happiness" (Conflict Resolution).

The many favorable and enthusiastic comments about all aspects of the weekend included the common, but always fresh, remark that we arrived as strangers and now feel as family, delight from a Muslim to meet an imam who was humorous, a single mother commenting that she now felt she should consider getting married, and others appreciating the profundity of the lecturers' explanations of UPF’s principles and the motivation of the Founder, Rev. Dr Sun Myung Moon.

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