Seeds of Peace: Jumpstarting the Peacebuilding Process

One of the most familiar sayings in the world is the Seedoften quoted adage that the “pen is mightier than the sword.” Although it is an old axiom, there is great truth to the statement – and there is perchance no better example of that reality to international peace than the late John Wallach. A 1965 graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, Wallach was the son of German immigrant parents that escaped from the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in 1941 and found their way to the hopeful shores of the United States. Attracted to the world of the media, publication, and writing, Wallach earned a master’s degree in social research and quickly found his way to Hearst Newspapers, where he served as Foreign Editor from 1968 to 1994 – writing syndicated articles through the New York Times News Service. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a frequent guest to television news programs on networks such as CNN, NBC (Meet the Press), and PBS (Washington Week in Review) – speaking out on matters of foreign policy, international peace, and worldwide cooperation. His rise to prominence as a newsman included an appointment as the BBC’s first Visiting Foreign Affairs Correspondent – and for his role in breaking the Iran-Contra story he was the winner of the Edwin Hood Award, the National Press Club’s highest honor given to a writer.

Wallach’s wri1878379968_cf300ting career served as a springboard into the world of peacebuilding and international goodwill, even receiving the 1991 Medal of Friendship from President Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in promoting US-Soviet relations. For his coverage of the 1978 Camp David Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accords, President Jimmy Carter presented him with the Congressional Correspondents Award – but his image as a peacemaker perhaps reached its highest level of recognition during his 1997-1998 role as a Senior Fellow of the United States Institute of Peace, which published his book The Enemy Has A Face: The Seeds of Peace Experience. Writing in the hope of establishing lasting reconciliation and peace between Arabs and Israelis, Wallach utilized the book as a means of outlining the Seeds of Peace Program – a visionary idea of his for planting the hope of peaceful coexistence in the Mideast through “open dialogue and reconciliation between Arab and Israeli youth.” Experts in the promotion of diplomacy and peace, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, have described the program as a dynamic idea for true and everlasting peace in that area of the world.

Established in 1993 through the efforts of Wallach, Seeds of Peace is a very unique camp experience that allows young people and educators living in areas of ongoing violent conflict the opportunity to meet their “historic enemy” face-to-face, with the specific purpose of advancing the possibility of peace. Meeting at an international camp facility in Maine, over 5,000 young people (ages 14-16) and their educators from 27 countries have participated in the experience – striving to “prove that solutions exist, peace is possible, and there is reason to have hope for a better future.” Very strictly dedicated to remaining apolitical in order to allow participants to express their beliefs without fear, the activities sponsored by Seeds of Peace are funded almost totally by donations, although it has also provided programs funded by the U. S. Agency for International Development. Based in New York City, there are also offices located in Tel Aviv, Ramallah , Amman, Lahore, Mumbai and Kabul – with the overall emphasis of achieving 350 new Seeds graduates during the summer camp, as well as the organization of regional programs for those who have returned home to promote the ideals they have gained from the experience. Now more than 20 years old, graduates of the program derive from Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Yemen, India, Pakistan, Maine, Cyprus and the Balkans.

The Seeds of Peace International Camp experience incorporates an abundance of deliberately intensive activities focused on the confrontation of prejudice, problem solving and conflict resolution. Although the program includes traditional American events such as singing around bonfires, Color Wars, and swimming, the major emphasis of the curriculum is dedicated to dialogue “where Israeli and Palestinian campers heatedly discuss their identities, homelands, politics, and pain.” The follow-up program that reaches out to graduates of the original camp experience includes education in negotiation and mediation skills, exercises in active listening, and role plays. New abilities that are acquired are typically included as part of a group negotiation simulation, or by some other similar means that allows for practical application of the learned material. As one writer has noted, “initial fear and mistrust of the ‘enemy’ gives way to friendship and understanding, as the campers get beyond the stereotypes and grow to know one another as friends.” In a nutshell, the Seeds of Peace philosophy is committed to establishing common ground as part of the negotiation process, by raising the level of tolerance between cultures that have been in conflict.


Seeds of Peace at the International Camp Experience
Photo credit: Seeds_of_Peace / / CC BY-SA

So how important is cultural and religious tolerance to the promotion of peace and the lessening of terrorism in the world? As mentioned elsewhere on this website when discussing the Museum of Tolerance, there is no other issue more crucial to the realization of peace! As noted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), tolerance is the “respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” Without tolerance, international relationships can disintegrate into an open disregard for justice, outright violence, blatant discrimination, and social marginalization. In a similar fashion to Seeds of Peace, UNESCO has praised and sponsored educational programs that promote tolerance – as a means of ending the vicious cycle of revenge that can sometimes appear on the world stage in the form of transnational violence. As stated by the present Chairman of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, Frederico Mayor Zaragoza, “let us educate for tolerance in our schools and communities, in our homes and workplaces and, most of all, in our hearts and minds.” All the more reason for the establishment of a monument such as the one sponsored by this web site. Please join us and sign the petition by clicking on the link below.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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Remembering 11-M: The Madrid Atocha Train Station Memorial

TrainEveryone remembers the anniversary of 911 in the United States, but how many of you out there are familiar with the events of 11-M? That combination of numbers, a hyphen, and one letter refers to March 11, 2004, the date of a diabolically-planned and horribly bloody terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain. Referred to as “the worst Islamist attack in European history” by one writer, the events of that day involved the explosion of 10 bombs on commuter trains headed into downtown Madrid, killing 191 people and severely injuring at least another 1800. Packed with dynamite and nails, the bombs literally tore train cars apart and shredded the bodies of those who died or were injured. Coming just three days before national elections, the attacks were first thought to be an attempt by the Basque separatist group ETA to influence the vote – which led to considerable political finger pointing and controversy that continues even today. The destruction leveled by the bombs came simultaneously, indicating a higher level of sophistication in organization that was later attributed to a group of 6 men led by Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan national who was sentenced to 43,000 to 50,000 years in prison. A Spaniard named Emilio Suárez Trashorras received 34,715 years in prison for supplying the dynamite that was used in the explosions.

2 Outside

The Atocha Train Station Memorial Is Cylindrical
Photo credit: UR Living Learning / / CC BY-NC-ND

The investigation of 11-M turned up no direct connection with al Qaeda, although there are indications that Zougam apparently had close ties with the Madrid al Qaeda terrorist cell. Rather than directly connected to al Qaeda, the attacks seem to be the result of self-radicalization inspired by articles posted on al Qaeda websites. The similarities between the Madrid attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing in the United States are obvious, demonstrating the influence such internet connections have in the realm of transnational violence. Zougam was the owner of a cell phone store located in the Lavapiés neighborhood of Madrid, so it was very likely his telephones that detonated the bombs, which were delivered to the sites of the explosions in backpacks. Train passengers who survived the attacks later identified him as the man who was “leaning against a carriage of one of the trains bombed on 11 March.” Indications from the Boston Marathon bombing are that the explosive devices were also delivered to the site in backpacks, and like the Madrid tragedy they were detonated remotely by cell phone. Zougam apparently acted in league with other Moroccan nationals and similarly inclined Indian nationals, all of whom were implicated in the violent crimes.

Spain’s ultimate construction of a memorial dedicated to the bombings came about with a great deal of controversy, largely due to the political ramifications of the attacks – but also owing to the fact that many Spaniards had previously died in other terrorist attacks implemented by Basque separatists – and none of those tragic deaths have been memorialized through a monument.  Ultimately, it was decided that the memorial, now

located in the Madrid Atocha Railroad Station, would be dedicated specifically to those that died in 11-M – thereby abandoning a national monument dedicated to those that have died in other acts of terrorism in Spain. Before the construction of the monument, the need for catharsis was obvious, necessitating the installation of “video walls” at the station – where Madrileños conveyed their respects to the victims of the March 11 terrorist attacks by leaving electronic messages, in lieu of notes and flower bouquets. One writer referred to this unique means of expressing grief and fear as a “high tech sanctuary” providing a “window to the souls of 192 people” that perished in the explosions. The need for a monument was obvious, as conveyed in the words of one citizen of Madrid, who stated “I don’t know anyone who died in the bombings, but I feel for them all the same.”


The View Inside Has A Spiritual Quality
Photo credit: airefresco / / CC BY-NC-ND

The Atocha Train Station Memorial is a 36 foot tall cylinder that rises directly out of the ground, in the form of a tower that is illuminated at night by lamps shining from the base of the construction. Floating balloon-like inside the cylindrical structure is a colorless film that is inflated by air – inscribed with thousands of messages of condolence that were made in the days and months after the attacks. Visitors enter the chamber from below, where they view the messages from inside a construction that is composed of glass blocks. Occurring on the third anniversary of the atrocity, the dedication ceremony took place just outside the Atocha Train Station and was attended by King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia, and President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Political fallout from the tragedy was very evident in the form of hecklers, including one survivor of the attacks who lifted a sign calling for the criminal trial of former President José María Aznar at The Hague. Fraught with controversy, the memorial is nevertheless one of the world’s most interesting and touching monuments dedicated to the victims of terrorism.

There are certain lessons to be learned from the Atocha Train Station Memorial, not just in Spain but in the United States and around world as well. As with the Benghazi attacks in recent U. S. history, the Madrid tragedy became an issue of political finger pointing, rather than a rallying point for promoting world peace. Would those who have died in terroristic events want their deaths tied to political maneuvering, or would they instead wave the flag of intercultural dialogue, tolerance, and peace? Families that have lost loved ones to acts of terrorism are quick to provide an answer to that question, and it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with world amity. Likewise, critics in Spain have pointed to the need for a national monument dedicated to ALL victims of terrorism, due to the many that have died in other terrorist attacks. This is also true in the United States, because hundreds of citizens of that country have died in heinous acts of transnational violence in places such as Lockerbie, Kuwait City, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Dhahran, and Nairobi – just to name a few. Like the victims of ETA in Spain, none of those victims have been recognized through a monument. Join this website in moving such a cause forward – click on the link below and sign the petition!

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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