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A report from the Peace Boat

March 28, 2011

Andi Nidecker of PSR/IPPNW-Switzerland, who participated on a Peace Boat cruise this month with Maria Sotiropoulu of IPPNW-Greece sends us the following “personal report”:

The “peaceboat” is a magnificent oceanliner, cruising 2-3 times around the world. It is basically a ship rented by the Japanese “peaceboat” NGO. It sells ordinary tickets to mostly Japanese citizen interested in making a cruise, but allows also students to make the same experience. It furthermore facilitates group sessions and learning experiences, or as in our case the Horizon 2012 strategy meeting to the topic “Nuclear weapon free zone Middle East” (“NWFZ ME”).

Many of you probably have heard of this peaceboat, but I was not aware of it until last fall and decided to participate. On the boat were approximately 80 people, as well as perhaps 100 young people and several of the Hibakusha. One evening we had dinner with them and to hear their stories was most impressive. What follows are mainly my own impressions and my report will be incomplete. An official more exhaustive summary will be made available later by our peaceboat friends.

We were a mixed group of motivated activists from Greece, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, India, Japan, the US and Switzerland. As we were cruising in the Northeastern Mediterranean, obviously the heightened tension in the region was discussed. While some of our colleagues from the Middle East obviously were impressed and concerned by the political “spring” in their countries, others were still skeptical and concerned, and spoke of the difficulties in their daily peace work. The political tension between some Arab countries and Israel were exemplified in new visa restrictions for Israelis and Palestinians, who both had to leave the peaceboat in Turkey, as they could not continue the trip to Port Said in Egypt.

The main focus of most of the talks, though, was the general interest in the 2012 conference on a “Zone free of weapons of mass destruction”. This is required in the 2010 NPT Rev Con final report and presumably will take place next year. In our meetings we pondered how NGOs could possibly contribute in a successful way to such a conference. Although the conference hopefully will indeed take place in 2012, for unknown reasons, until today no date for this conference has been set and neither has a facilitator been named, as required in the NPT summary. Our colleague from the UN office of disarmament affairs believes that the conference might take place in summer of 2012.

Many of us would consider it important, if focussed NGO events could take place between now and spring of 2012. Such events in Europe e.g. in Geneva, but also in Middle East countries as Egypt, would gather local NGOs and groups interested in the topic “NWFZ ME”. The goal would be to inform and teach activists and all interested on the requirements to build a NWFZ and debate difficulties and advantages. But the meetings would also be used to express the “will of the people” in a NWFZ ME. These smaller local meetings could perhaps ultimately culminate in a peaceboat cruise by delegates of global NGOs in spring of 2012. Ideally a cruise of the peaceboat in the Eastern Mediterranean and – through the Suez channel – around the Arabian Peninsula could be staged. Calls at several regional ports would again “express the strong will of the young generation to establish a NWFZ ME”. Again discussions and teaching sessions by experts and scholars were possible. And all this with the intention to hopefully exert some constructive pressure from below to increase the chances for the big conference by the governments to at least make a successful start later on…

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