Raising Peace: taking away the occasion of war



Aletia Dundas, New South Wales Regional Meeting

This article is based on a presentation given at the Raising Peace event, on ANZAC Day, 25th April 2022


On this ANZAC Day like every other one, I remember all soldiers who have lost their lives, their innocence, their hope in humanity and who have courageously borne the unrecorded, emotional cost of war.

 I grew up a Quaker, and so was exposed to pacifism from a young age. The Declaration of Friends to Charles II in 1660 has motivated me to explore what it means to refuse all outward weapons for any end. I have always wanted to challenge the idea that pacifists are passive and explore what a testimony to peace meant in practice. I have always been guided by George Fox’s intention to “take away the occasion of war” and the idea that significant work is needed to prevent and repair from war. In my early twenties I became involved in the Alternatives to Violence Project, which was begun in prisons, offering inmates tools to respond nonviolently to conflict in their lives. I found the principles of balance really helpful – respect for self, balanced against caring for others; the idea that the best way to find a nonviolent path was not to be passive, or aggressive, but to be assertive, and to use creativity, humour and compassion to transform difficult situations.

 The prison program was so successful that it was then run in communities where I became a facilitator, and also in schools, where it was known as HIP (Help Increase the Peace). The Friends Peace Teams have been involved in similar workshops in Rwanda, Burundi, Indonesia etc., adding trauma healing concepts to AVP to make it applicable to communities affected by violent conflict.

Alternatives to Volence Programme

In my late 20s I studied a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. I learnt about Johan Galton’s definition of “positive peace” – the integration of human society, as opposed to negative peace – the absence of war, and realised that this was what George Fox and so many Quakers were also saying. We need positive, active peace – with justice! I was also taken with Ghandi’s principles of nonviolent direct action and the salt march as a concrete example of active nonviolence in the pursuit of peace and justice. I wanted to offer examples of active nonviolence in response to criticisms that pacifists are passive, cowards. I was in awe of those who went as Human Shields to Iraq, and began to explore examples of nonviolent direct action in Afghanistan in response to the occupation there.

I also became involved in civilian peacekeeping and was fascinated by the different models being trialed by different organisations. The idea of protective accompaniment put forward by Peace Brigades International talks about three areas of influence:

  • The presence of international volunteers protects threatened activists by raising the stakes for potential attackers.
  • It provides moral support and international solidarity for civil society activism by opening space for threatened organisations thereby giving them the confidence to carry out their work.
  • In addition it strengthens the international movement for peace and human rights by giving accompaniment volunteers a powerful first-hand experience that becomes a sustained source of inspiration to themselves and others upon their return to their home countries.

I served in a similar role through the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel and was able to witness first-hand the everyday challenges of living under military occupation. I was able to offer support to both Palestinians and Israelis working nonviolently to end the occupation and achieve justice.

After completing my Masters, I was offered a Programme Assistant position at the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva, focussing on Peace and Disarmament. This was an opportunity to see how Quakers put our convictions about peace into practice at the international level. In 1947 Quakers won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts following World War II, and in 1948 the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) became an accredited NGO at the United Nations, allowing Quaker United Nations Offices to open in New York and Geneva. These offices have been active for 75 years, seeking to convene quiet, diplomatic conversations, and living out the belief that countries should resolve disputes through dialogue. I like the quote by Duncan Woods, who was a Representative in the 1990s:

QUNO is another way in which Quakers live out a commitment to prevent war and encourage positive peace. Through convening quiet conversations between diplomats, UN officials, representatives of NGOs and those directly affected by war, trust is built, meals are shared, and possibilities for agreement open up. One historical agreement was the Mine Ban Treaty, formalised in 1997 as a result of many years of similar meetings and discussions.

 My colleagues on the Human Rights desk at QUNO Geneva focused on Women in Prison, and the impact of parental imprisonment on children of Imprisoned mothers. In parallel with Quaker Service agencies and smaller initiatives such as Friends Peace Teams, QUNO has offered solidarity with communities in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. QUNO has been able to bring civil society perspectives to UN discussions and ensure that those perspectives shape agreements made. QUNO has also responded to recent crises – exploring and advocating for the human impacts of climate change, and the inequalities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 In recent months with the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine, there is a deep desire for a Quaker response. However, while Quakers are involved in humanitarian assistance, and sowing seeds of reconciliation, the opportunities for QUNO’s specific engagement are limited once a crisis has erupted. QUNO will continue to focus on long term efforts where it can have the most value.

Despite the significant challenges facing us with the global pandemic, the climate crisis, and increasing natural disasters affecting those least equipped to bounce back, I am still hopeful about the next 75 years, knowing that there are so many people and groups working to build a positive peace and take away the occasion of war. Let’s not forget, and let’s not stop working for the change we want to see in the world.


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