Seeking peace happens in-between the bombing campaigns, when things are out of the spotlight. Individuals see a need and address it. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness,” according to James 3:18.
Simple right? God ordained? Right? But there is a problem. In many cases it is illegal. Due to our fear of terrorism, U.S. law says that “giving material assistance” to terrorists is a punishable offense. No one wants to see terrorists funded, but these laws are written too broadly. “Giving material assistance” can include giving a seminar on peaceful conflict resolution, giving a ride to someone to talk about peace, or sharing a cup of coffee. Sometimes we hear about “back door diplomacy.” When politicians want to “save face” and appear “strong” to their constituency, they refuse to talk to “the enemy” directly, but they will send secret delegations to see what can be done. This demonstrates the realization that at some level people must talk to resolve differences. This is happening now as the US tries to get Iran to cooperate in the alliance against ISIS. The State Department can reach out to talk, but Track Two and Track Three Diplomacy is currently illegal if any of those people engaged have been listed on the Treasury Department’s list of terrorists. This gets really complicated because the list changes all the time and people uses aliases. It is currently a 927 page document with three columns of names and aliases. Go ahead, download it. See if you can find some random name you pull off of Al-Jazeera. Am I supposed to ask everyone I meet in a conflict zone if they are on the list before I give them a ride or buy them a cup of coffee? Should I compare their ID to a list in my phone? “Excuse me, before you buckle your seatbelt, can I see a photo ID?”
I know of peacemakers that have stopped doing conflict resolution training in places like Gaza for fear that someone from Hamas might be in the audience. If they are found to be “training terrorists,” even in peaceful non-violent conflict resolution practices, all of their bank accounts can be frozen, and they could be driven into bankruptcy through expensive legal proceedings. So peacemakers avoid areas where known terrorist organizations operate, but aren’t these areas that most need peacemakers?
The Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act (HAFA) is an attempt to modify the laws and give peacemakers the space to intervene in these areas. It needs to be passed, but since January it has been stuck in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. I suppose they have bigger things to be concerned with, but by not passing this law they are preventing the peacemakers from making peace and the drums of war sound louder and louder.
We sit back and ignore the peacemakers. We deny them the tools and access to belligerents. We let the world reach a boiling point and then drop bombs as though that will fix anything. The result thus far has been to kill a few “jihadists” and a lot of other people caught in between “us” and “them.” The families of those caught in the middle become radicalized. We have seen the pattern play out again and again. Let’s not forget the billions of dollars we have spent and the families who have lost fathers and mothers and children. The world is looking for another option.