It was an idea sparked through a Facebook comment exchange with a fellow friend, who suggested that I should organize an event to support and call for peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as I was expressing my unhappiness with what was happening there.
That was all it took and not before long, the status update, although only shared 33 times, provided an opportunity for me to be linked up with a few other individuals who were keen to join and organize one, which eventually led me to ‘From Singapore to Palestine’, who coincidentally were also planning to organize and was looking for people who could help.
Although there were those who ridiculed the idea or suggested that rather than organize such an event, it would be better to just send prayers, I knew that it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to only send prayers because I was raised and taught that prayers alone will not bear fruit because it also requires effort. And I had friends there, I knew people there and I knew that they needed HOPE.
Hope, to encourage and motivate them to carry on with their daily struggle, and hope cannot be felt through prayers alone.
So, that was how it began for me.
Right up to days before the event, we weren’t sure if we would receive the Police Permit approval but we did, at the 11th hour and the turnout at Hong Lim Park on 26th of July at 4pm, was encouraging and motivating.
Planned for only 3 speakers, but we ended up with 8.
Regardless, thank you everyone for your attendance. Your support has given hope to my friends involved in the conflict.
There will no doubt be another of such event in the near future.
To those who left early or didn’t have the opportunity to attend and be a part of it, here is a copy of my script.
A very good evening, ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls, fellow Singaporeans, it brings me great joy, to be here with you today, in what, would go down in Singapore’s history, as the first ever peace gathering.
A peace gathering, that is an irony in itself, because this gathering, could not have taken place, had the peace, between Israel and Palestine, been broken.
So, while we celebrate, this achievement of being able to organize this peace gathering today, and will be celebrating the end of Ramadhan with our loved ones. We, are gathered here today, because we believe that peace is important, because we, reject violence and because we, reject the sufferings that people have to go through because of violent conflict.
Today, I will speak and share with you about my beliefs, my personal experience and how, I am involved in this conflict, and the perspectives that I see.
My dear friends, like many of you here, I am affected, by the pictures and videos, that have been shared on Facebook. I am affected, by the physical violence that continues to kill and injure civilians. I am affected, by the speech violence that I continue to read in the comments on Facebook.
Violence, my dear friends, is beyond just the physical violence that we are so familiar with, but violence, can also come in the form of words. Words, that cause emotional hurt, to people that we love or to strangers. Words that serve no other purpose than to cause discord and unhappiness between people.
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, violence, is often a result, of OUR REACTION. Like a volcano that erupts, and blows its lava up into the sky, causing destruction to everything and anything in its path. Or like a young child, who hasn’t learnt how to express its emotions properly, throws a tantrum when the adult fails to understand its message or request.
That is how violence is. It is destructive, it is noisy, it does not make you or me happy and it is extremely challenging to control. To exercise self-control from being reactive, is not easy my dear friends and we all know, that when we react to situations, we often end up in regret.
So the question then, why do we still continue to react, when we can choose to respond.
We are all humans, gifted with the use of our intellect, to be able to tell what is right, and what is wrong. To be able to assess, and understand, the repercussions of what we do today, will have consequences in the future.
Because when we respond, we are in control, of our decisions, of ourselves. When we respond, we determine the outcome and we, are aware of the consequences. Most importantly, when we respond, it is an informed choice that we have taken.
And I learnt about making choices to Respond, and not to React, when I was serving my National Service and I understood about the importance of Responding through the life of people that I met when I was serving my fellowship in the US.
About a week before the end of Ramadhan last year, I flew to the US and spent 4 months, completing my fellowship, at the University of California, Irvine, as advisor, to a student group called, Students for Global Peacebuilding.
It was there, that I had the opportunity, to not only learn about Peacebuilding, but also to meet the very people who have committed their lives, to peacebuilding work. The circumstances which led them on their journey, may not have been the best, but they certainly believed in the importance of positive peace, as how it is called in the peacebuilding community.
I met a church pastor, who at one time was so adamant about blowing up a mosque, that he had already prepared himself, his family and his congregation to die, in the name of God, when he realized he was wrong and turned instead to peacebuilding work.
I met a gangster, who at one time, never wanted to be a gangster, but because of his environment, he ended up in one. He, who at one time, wanted to quit and was ready to quit after the last mission given to him, but he ended up paralyzed, because he had received two shots in his back, one of which, hit his spine.
I met a Muslim, a Briton, who was the founder of an organization that served to kill non-Muslims, but was arrested before he could commit that act.
And I met a mother, who lost her daughter through violent conflict. She was a PhD student doing her research in the area, helping others.
And all of them, had one thing in common – they believed in peace, no longer interested in the violent activities that they had once engaged themselves in, because they could have caused destruction to others, and to the people they love.
Besides meeting such inspiring individuals, I also worked with students from the Olive Tree Initiative, students who were passionate about the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, students who had travelled to the region to learn in-depth and to gain experience first-hand, and to listen to the stories from the people involved in the conflict, from the settlers who live in constant fear to the academics and the policy makers, and they returned home, more confused than when they first embarked on their journey, because they no longer saw the conflict as how they previously did.
During one of the classes that I was a Teaching Assistant, we had guests from The Parents Circle Families Forum, who were on campus to share their experience of losing a family member directly to the conflict.
The Parents Circle Families Forum, is a group of people who had come together to provide emotional support to one another. These individuals, have lost a family member to the conflict, and consist of both Palestinians and Israelis.
Let us all exercise the use of our imagination. You can choose to close your eyes and listen if you want to. If you are a parent, I want you to imagine this. If you are not a parent yet, I want to imagine that you have a sibling.
Imagine that you have a son/brother, your son/brother has always been a peaceful person and is also involved in peacebuilding work. Your son/brother, strongly believes in nonviolence and condemns war.
One day, your son/brother receives a reservist call-up. This reservist call-up, requires your son/brother to put on a uniform that another party recognizes as an enemy, and will kill on sight. The other party does not know or bother that your son/brother is a peaceful person because when the moment son is wearing that uniform, he is an enemy to the other.
So, your son/brother contemplates on reporting for duty because he does not want to kill anyone. And after much thinking, he decides that he should serve. He will serve because he believes that if he is on duty, he will be able to protect the other by being in control of his men. He will serve because he believes that he can educate and influence his men to take up nonviolence and join him in being peaceful.
And so, while your son/brother is on reservist duty, protecting the other side, he gets shot by a sniper because he was wearing that uniform, the uniform recognized as an enemy to the other.
How does that make you feel as a parent/sibling?
Would you take vengeance if you had the opportunity to?
These were the same kind of questions and emotions that went through the mind of this young man’s mother. And she decided that in order for her to move on, she had to find this sniper. So, she went in search of his sniper and eventually met up with him.
And what did she do?
She decided, that it would be better off for her, to forgive him, because that was what her son would have done. That was what her son believed in – nonviolence.
How many of us here would have the courage to be able to do that? To meet and forgive the person who killed our family member, in person.
This lady, this mother, that I’m talking about, is a real person. She did lose her son to the conflict, shot in the head by a sniper.
My dear friends, this lady, taught me what it meant to Respond, and not to React. Now, she travels to share her story together with many others from The Parents Circle Families Forum, to talk about peace and why as outsiders in this conflict, we should not be picking sides.
And I quote her, “Don’t bring this conflict back to your friends. Don’t choose which side to support. This is not a soccer team where you can choose sides to support. This is a real conflict. People die.”
If we had to choose a side, then choose peace. Choose peace because for as long as we choose to take a side, we are still supporting the conflict, if death does not come to the team we support, death will come to the other side. And this is not a conflict where we want to keep toll on the number of deaths, we want to have peace. Positive peace.
So, what is positive peace some of you may ask? Positive peace is a time of peace where people are able to trust one another. When we can trust one another, we can live in peace, happily, and that is what positive peace is all about.
And how am I involved in this conflict?
I have friends who are Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews. Not only have I met them, I have photographs taken with them and I share memories with them, and they, these two friends of mine, have memories with one another as well.
I fear for their safety. I fear for their lives. I fear for the lives of their family. I fear for the lives of their friends and students, who do not support this violence, who only want to live in peace with one another.
Ever since the start of this war, I have been keeping myself updated through them on what is happening on the ground in Israel. Trying to confirm with them, the authencity of the stories heard on the media and they have been actively demonstrating against the war and for as long as peace does not come to the region soon. They may die in the hands of a Hamas missile or an Israeli bomb, and it doesn’t matter which one will kill them, because when they die, I will lose a friend, or two friends.
Even my Israeli Jew friend is not spared from the violence of his own Israelis when he was protesting. The right wing Jews were there and had reacted violently towards the peaceful protest that my friend was involved in, because he, wanted the war to end.
Today, I hope that all of you here, will support for peace. I hope that all of you here, will side for peace and for humanity because the blood that flows out of an Israeli or Palestinian, is the same type of blood that runs through our veins.
Let us stop this war through nonviolent means, through education and through cultivating love and trust amongst, and between one another.
So being here today, let us spend the next 5 – 10 minutes, sitting in silence, in remembrance of the lives that has been lost, not just through this violent conflict, but also, the other violent conflicts that is happening around the world today, in Syria, in Myanmar, in Ukraine, in Iraq, because every single life is precious.
Every single life that is lost, is a life that could have made a difference to the world in a positive way. Because every single life that is lost, could have been the life of your own family member or a close friend.
So, let us all sit in silence, and reflect upon ourselves, how we, can choose to respond nonviolently from today onwards, through our actions and especially through our words.