An update on the World March for Peace and Nonviolence that we featured on the site in August!

Article by Rana al-Arja (Common Ground News Service)

BETHLEHEM — A million people around the world are marching for peace. In the past few days alone, they walked through the streets of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina; Zagreb, Croatia; and Gendema, on the Sierra Leone-Liberia border. At the same time, halfway around the world, others marched in Mexico City.

Next on the agenda? Berlin, Paris, Freetown and Santiago.

The first ever World March for Peace and Nonviolence — a grassroots initiative aimed at bringing people throughout the globe together in support of peace and an end to physical, economic, racial, religious, cultural, sexual and psychological violence — began its journey in New Zealand on Oct. 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

The nearly 100,000-mile peace march, which reached Bethlehem on Oct. 14, will continue until January 2010 through most of the world’s major cities.

The march was initiated by World Without Wars, an international organization launched by the Humanist Movement, which was founded in 1969 by Mario Rodriquez Cobos in Argentina. The Humanist Movement promotes nonviolence through five official organizations, hundreds of locally established councils, and newspapers. As the march tours the globe, local individuals and civil society groups host World March representatives and organize marches, meetings and cultural events.

Prominent politicians, academics and celebrities gave their endorsements to the march. A group of Nobel Peace Laureates, including Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama and Shirin Ebadi, drafted a charter for a World Without Wars, calling for the creation of “a more peaceful, civilized world order in which more effective and fair governance, respectful of human dignity and the sanctity of life itself, may become a reality.” The charter will be presented to the promoters of the World March on Nov. 11 during the World Summit of Nobel Prizes in Berlin.

The main actors of this global event, however, are not notable academics, politicians or celebrities. They are ordinary people who go out in the streets of their communities on the designated dates to send a message of peace and hope that one day wars will become obsolete, weapons will be eradicated and inequality and discrimination will become nonexistent.

The goal is to create a new global consciousness that opposes any forms of violence and discrimination. Nowhere has the significance of this message been more symbolic and salient than in Israel and Palestine, the holy land for three monotheistic religions, which has not seen peace for over six decades. The initiative to hold the march in Palestine was undertaken by the Holy Land Trust, a Bethlehem-based non-governmental organization that seeks to spread the principles of nonviolence, empower the Palestinian community and strengthen dialogue.

Since its establishment in 1998, the Holy Land Trust has worked to empower the Palestinian community through holding workshops and training programs on the meaning of nonviolence. Today, Palestinian individuals and organizations are working nonviolently to combat the occupation of Palestine through weekly peaceful demonstrations, rebuilding demolished houses and other activities. A recent U.N. Development Programme report indicated that the majority of Palestinians do not support violence. In fact, 70 percent of Palestinian youth oppose it as a means to resolve conflict with Israel.

Nonviolence goes deeper than pacifism: it embraces peaceful coexistence, active citizenship, resilience and creativity. The celebration of these ideas united both Muslim and Christian Palestinians as they marched through Bethlehem.

Local officials, including Bethlehem Gov. Abdul Fattah Hamael and Mayor Dr. Victor Batarseh, took part in the demonstration. Giorgio Schultze, European Union spokesman of the World March, and Luisa Morgantini, vice president of the European Parliament, participated in the march, as did Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox church and Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust. All expressed their vision of peace in the Holy Land and a shared Jerusalem.

The world march also made stops in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — embodying the hope for unity and peace.

From Russia’s icy Moscow to Uruguay’s sunny Montevideo, from Bethlehem to New York, the March will continue its way, drawing more supporters and peace advocates. Though it might not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the march is a potent symbol of hope and nonviolence for both sides.

Rana al-Arja is the coordinator of Making the Impossible Possible Campaign at Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service. Readers may write to the author at or Search for Common Ground, 1601 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20009.