Support our Nation today - please donate here
Opinion

Two gardens and a children’s petition: Wales and Palestine

05 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Gaza. Photo PA/Wire

Linden Peach

Solidarity with Gaza grows within Wales. Unsurprisingly. Peace activism is in our DNA as a people, traceable to the Welsh peace petition of 1923 with its astonishing 390, 296 signatories (recently on display at the National Library of Wales) and has long been a theme in our eisteddfodau and in the work of our leading twentieth- and twenty-first century writers.

The list of names is overwhelming, including T. Gwynn Jones, David ‘Gwenallt’ Jones, T. E. Nicholas, Waldo Williams, George Davies, Iorwerth Peate, Emyr Humphreys, Gillian Clarke, Nigel Jenkins and Menna Elfyn.

Like them, The Stop the War coalition and other peace movements have refused to bow to pressure from Westminster. Protests in support of a permanent ceasefire in Cardiff, Haverfordwest and London have all gone ahead, and will continue to do so, while individuals and organisations from all over Wales have joined forces to establish Peace Action Wales (Heddwch ar Waith), a Welsh call for peace and justice that reverberated in the last century when Gwynfor Evans proclaimed that ‘Wales as a nation has the ability to give an important lead to the rest of the world’.

Pacifism

As I have argued in Pacifism, Peace and Modern Welsh Writing (UWP, 2019), Welsh pacifism is different from English pacifism. It is embedded in concepts of ‘personalism’, the importance of recognising another person’s worth, and ‘Parch’, respect for everyone’s spiritual potential.

Nation.Cymru pointed out in an article in 2018 that the commemoration of the war dead in Welsh-language communities is different from in English communities, embracing the individuals we have lost and their families rather than the symbolism of war.

The article was published not simply to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice but the formal opening of the Welsh National Peace Garden, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the National Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff by Lord David Davies of Llandinam.

In Lord Davies’s conception of the Temple of Peace and Health there is an Arabic influence that has been overlooked. He thought of it as ‘A New Mecca’, a place of pilgrimage for people from across Wales where they could pledge themselves to peace.

At the opening ceremony of the Temple, he asked, ‘Is it too much to hope that every man, woman and child, from one end of our beloved country to the other, shall participate in this act of self-dedication of the people, by the people, for the people, by making a pilgrimage to this shrine?’

But the establishment of the peace garden which was also an important part of his dream was delayed by the Second World War and its aftermath as the plans for a Garden of Hope, a Global Garden of Peace, at Khan Younis in Gaza have been thwarted by the Israeli bombardment.

Both gardens, one created and the other still proposed, share the hope that there can be a better future for families and children and, through their living infrastructure and landscapes, provide an alternative way of living to the cycles of conflict and trauma, a strong theme in the writings of the prominent mid-twentieth-century Welsh pacifist Iorwerth Peate.

Islam

The National Peace Garden in Wales (like the proposed Garden of Hope in Gaza) was envisaged as a space for contemplation and meditation. To go there now is to remember the importance of gardens to Islam, the four gardens of the Qur’an and the values which they share with Welsh pacifism.

The gardens in the Qur’an and the National Peace Garden of Wales differ from the Christian narrative of the Garden of Eden, which is focused on the expulsion of the first humans, in that their purpose is to make their Jannah (Paradise) accessible to everyone.

The geometry in Qur’anic gardens, with their pure lines and symmetry, reflect (as in the Welsh Peace Garden) the geometry of flowers, plants and the Natural Order. At the heart of the National Peace Garden of Wales are the subjects symbolised in Qur’anic gardens including contemplation, meditation, justice, knowledge and beauty.

One aspect of the proposed Garden of Hope in Gaza has a special resonance for Wales. It was, and is still, intended to create and provide a safe area for children and families to play together and relate to each other.

Healing

As in the National Peace Garden of Wales, an important part of its mission is the promotion of healing, personal spiritual development and building the resilience of individuals and families. It almost goes without saying that children have played a large part in the Welsh peace tradition, ever since the first Message of Peace and Goodwill broadcast by children of Wales to the rest of the world in 1922 and the Welsh bard Gwenallt’s poem ‘Plant Yr Almaen’ (Germany’s children) from the Second World War with its startling image of the small children’s coffins.

Today, it is impossible to remember the formal opening of the Welsh Peace Garden, with children from the Roath Park Primary School, without grieving for the children killed on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

But the number of children in Gaza who have been killed, have suffered horrendous injuries, have lost their families, and/or have only animal feed to eat, if that, takes one’s breath away.

Twenty-year-old Minie Nadine Murtaja, a poet from the al Nasr neighbourhood in Gaza writes: ‘we walk on stones that once were a house, carrying stories and secrets, / we walk with the screams of children, and the groans of mothers / pulsing over and over in our ears.’ Her words connect the National Peace Garden in Wales with the Qur’anic gardens of Palestine. Once heard, they are never forgotten.

Reconciliation

As I said in my article in the (sadly) last edition of Planet, a magazine that has done so much to build the Wales of today, the emphasis among Welsh advocates of peace in the twentieth century shifted from high-level-peace-building between the major powers to building reconciliation, understanding and trust between communities.

Stability through a new-found respect for the value of the individual, self-determination and peaceful coexistence has to be the key to breaking the years of conflict, occupation, displacement and blockade which have dominated Israel-Palestine relations.

Linden Peach is a writer and cultural historian. He is the Director of Educational Development and research supervisor at Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gareth Westacott
Gareth Westacott
1 month ago

What absolute nonsense! To try and claim that Islam is a religion of peace is utterly grottesque. And to try and make any kind of link between Islam and the Welsh pacifist tradition is offensive.

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
1 month ago

How peaceful was Christianity during the time of the Conquistadors in The Americans!

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
1 month ago
Reply to  Johnny Gamble

America’s*

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

The very word islam means peace!

Your ignorance is incredibly offensive!

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.