A Report from a Parallel Universe

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but the means by which we arrive at that goal." —Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was a busy day for the claims adjusters, adjudicators, and mediators at the International Securance Fund Commission offices in Jerusalem. Like most of the staff in the Jerusalem office, Shimon and Taysir had been recruited and trained locally to serve in all three capacities as needed.

Shimon liked the claims adjustment cases the best: they were generally straightforward, like no-fault insurance cases. The difference was that Securance coverage (see glossary, p. 16) begins at the point conventional insurance usually ends: in case of war. Processing claims of damage to property, as well as for partial or complete disability and loss of life, is fairly routine as long as they are sufficiently well documented. He was normally able to handle about a dozen cases on a given day unless, like today, he had to make a site inspection to evaluate a claim. Though it did provide a break in his routine, the trip to Ramallah and back had cost him a day and even then the case had not been fully resolved.

He had gone to verify structural damage to a school struck by an Israeli Army missile fired at the Palestinian Authority police station next door. The damage, though not obvious, was extensive and likely to exceed the standard $50,000 compensation. He pointed out to school officials that they could apply for a grant from the Palestinian share of the Peace Incentive Fund (see glossary, p. 16) to obtain money to build a new school. Alter-natively, if they accepted the Securance compensation award, they would have to wait until repairs were completed to be reimbursed fully for actual costs in excess of $50,000.

Taysir enjoyed mediation more than adjudication. The latter was much like the traditional practice of sulha, in which an arbitrator hears from all parties before imposing a settlement, using monetary or property transactions to substitute for physical retribution. But Taysir was uncomfortable having to make arbitrary decisions that might be contested later. He much preferred to serve as a facilitator at a "community conference," a form of mediation well suited for multiple parties and across ethnic divides, which has been adopted from a traditional Maori practice to be virtually culture-independent. The only explicit ground rule is that all participants agree to stay until "it is done." This allowed multiple affected parties to work out what they could agree to among themselves. He was often dismayed at how messy the process could be, but miraculously—almost invariably—agreements were reached that everyone could live with. With an average load of only two cases a day and a lot of hours of preparation, it might seem to be an inefficient process, but the 95-percent level of participant satisfaction, ownership of the outcome, and the community building that resulted made the investment of effort very much worth it.

Just six short months had passed since Shimon and Taysir had been recruited to open the Jerusalem office and already the claims from both sides of the conflict had grown from a trickle to a torrent, with waiting lists now in the thousands. Similar results were being reported wherever ISFC offices had been opened; Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Kosovo, and Sri Lanka had also been selected as hot spots for trials of Securance.

At the outset, the Jerusalem office focused on distributions from the Peace Incentive Funds to compensate for losses due to events during 2002. One of Shimon and Taysir’s first tasks had been to help set up a community conference with representatives from all communities affected to establish rates of compensation.

Through this process, the parties had agreed upon a standard compensation for loss of life of $1 million to be paid over 30 years, or $100,000 cash. The compensation amounts agreed to would apply to current and future losses. Compensation for losses in prior years would be diminished 10 percent for every year since the occurrence. By a similar process, parties to other conflicts were able to arrive at comparable though somewhat different terms.

To be eligible for a full compensation award, it was decided that at least one member of a family that had suffered a loss would be required to be trained as an International Peace Corps volunteer (see glossary, p. 16) and to serve as an active or reserve IPC volunteer. Since such service represents a purely constructive purpose, active volunteers would qualify to receive stipends during their service from their side’s share of the Peace Incentive Fund.

A controversial point turned out to be compensation for loss of life and disabilities due to participation in combat. In the end it was decided that families of combatants could seek compensation at 50 percent of the noncombatant rate, to be drawn equally from the PIFs of both sides. In order not to reward suicide, compensation for it was limited to 10 percent of the noncombatant rate.

Property losses were to be compensated at $50,000 or actual value, whichever was greater, with awards for past losses reduced by 50 percent for each decade since the loss.

A key peace incentive derives from the fact that compensation awards in a given year are deducted from the PIF of the other party to the conflict, thus diminishing the amount of money available to that side for grants in aid for purely constructive, nonmilitary, purposes. This includes a proportionate reduction in funds already awarded for approved projects. The effect of this penalty has been virtually to eliminate retaliatory actions by both sides.

For example, Israeli citizens had begun to protest military reprisals, confiscation of property for new settlements, and even arms purchases, recognizing that these jeopardized funding of the massive new desalinization project, scholarships, low interest loans, and housing projects for evacuated settlers.

Likewise, the share of the PIF designated for exclusively Palestinian projects was being cut to cover compensation for losses due to suicide bombings. Palestinian citizens quickly turned to organizations that had been promoting terrorism, holding them financially responsible for the reductions in funds available for their housing projects, schools, and scholarships, and pointing out that these same organizations were also jeopardizing funds for which they themselves are eligible, to be used for projects of purely constructive nature.

Only joint projects such as the Cooperative Water Administration and the recent Shared Highway Access Project are not subject to such funding cuts.

After a long, hectic day, Shimon and Taysir relaxed in a café near their office and reflected on how surprisingly easy it had been to establish the ISFC. As a global nongovernmental organization it had arisen independently of, but in coordination with, the UN. Members representing virtually all nations had been nominated over the Internet and chosen by popular election. The organization got its start by citizens’ direct contributions to a startup fund, initially led by a tithing movement of the Historic Peace Churches, who challenged others to contribute one-tenth of the amount of their taxes that currently support their nation’s military forces.

As envisioned by its founders, the ISFC has the potential to render conventional military forces unnecessary. Through a variety of mechanisms, the probability of armed conflicts is being reduced to nearly zero, at a fraction of the cost of conventional security measures.

As Shimon and Taysir viewed the crowds bustling past the café, Shimon remarked, "Who could have believed, just a few months ago, that such a scene would be possible?"

Is This for Real?

The fictional account above describes what I believe is truly possible, based on actual though little-publicized precedents. I have tried to present it in a way that would allow readers to set aside skepticism. This was originally drafted in the aftermath of 9/11/01, and since then, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has seriously deteriorated. This may make this alternate reality seem even more remote though surely no less needed.

The above scenario was drafted in an attempt to communicate a vision of how the world could be if we were to regard Jesus’ teachings as practical rules to live by. Surely there is none more practical than the Golden Rule: to treat others the way you would like to be treated. I would even include the seemingly impossible admonition: to love your enemy. This is actually more possible than it might appear if "enemy" is defined as he who hates you, rather than one you hate or fear. While that challenge may be daunting, it is possible and practical. Indeed, I think it may be the only way to eliminate enmity.

This scenario also attempts to explore what might be some of the ultimate implications, beyond refusal to participate in "outward wars," of the Friends belief in "that of God in every one" and the Peace Testimony, living "in the virtue of that life and power that [takes] away the occasion of all wars."

This scenario is set in the present to suggest that the difference between what is and what could be is not so great as to be impossible. It is further intended to prompt the question: "What steps can we, individually and collectively, take now to bring such a vision closer to reality?" One could even ask: "What has prevented this from becoming a reality before now?" Obviously, practical impediments exist that will need to be addressed. Clearly one of the biggest exists in our own minds: we must have the idea that something is possible before we attempt it. And it is always difficult to believe in a possibility or even to imagine something we have not yet experienced. We seem to be far better at imagining and preparing for the worst than we are at imagining and preparing for the best.

Have We No Choice but to Fight?

Much of what we perceive as possible is based on a somewhat limited and distorted sample of life simulated in the entertainment media, where the truth is adjusted in the interest of drama. Indeed, it is dismaying to see the degree to which the movie cliché is accepted, that sometimes we have no choice but to fight. What is true is that we must ultimately be prepared to suffer, and even die, in the struggle for what is right, while refraining from threatening or intentionally harming others. The scenario is intended to dramatize a few of the myriad alternatives and choices, many yet to be imagined, which could be described as "not fighting." Not fighting can include doing nothing, when appropriate. To believe that we have no choice is, as Albert Einstein said, a failure of imagination.

There is a long and largely invisible history of examples of courageous and exemplary actions, which have averted violence and transformed conflicts into opportunities for constructive change. Many people are unaware of the wealth of examples of "not fighting" to be found in this invisible history. In the perspective of conventional history, when violence or wars are successfully averted, nothing happened. Though there are many examples of courageous, creative, nonthreatening initiatives that changed the course of history, stories like those of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are commonly dismissed as unique circumstances or flukes. Such examples are far more common than one might think.

Among many of which I am aware are: the Maori peace feast, which halted British efforts of what today would be called "ethnic cleansing" in New Zealand; the successful protest demonstration at S.S. headquarters in Nazi Germany by wives of interned Jewish men, who were subsequently released; the successful frustration of German occupation forces in Denmark by unarmed citizens, in which the Jewish population escaped to Sweden; Peace Brigades International’s successful accompaniment of returning refugees in Guatemala from 1993 to 1995; and Ibrahim Rugova’s effective Gandhian resistance to Serbian domination of Kosovo between 1990 and 1997.

Here are two more incidents: Recently, in the West Bank town of Hebron, where a Jewish fanatic had massacred Palestinians at prayer in a mosque, the mosque was closed and a group of Palestinians planned a march to the mosque to hold their prayers outside. Members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (composed of Brethren, Mennon-ites, and Quakers) in Hebron learned of the planned protest and realized that Israeli soldiers would try to stop it. Four or five CPT members arrived just as the soldiers were taking aim at the demonstrators. They ran up to the soldiers, getting in the way and saying "Stop—don’t shoot!" They engaged the soldiers in debate long enough to allow the worshipers to finish their prayers and depart without incident.

In the second example, when the United States was experiencing agricultural surpluses in the early 1950s, the American Friends Service Committee initiated a campaign to call attention to a terrible famine in China by mailing small sacks of potatoes with a note attached: "If thine enemy hungers, feed him"(Prov. 25:21). At that time tensions were high over threatened attacks by the Mainland Chinese on islands in the straits of Formosa. President Dwight Eisenhower was meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to decide whether or not to strike China with atomic bombs. The president sent an aide to find out how many sacks of potatoes had arrived, who returned to report that they had received 40,000. Dwight Eisenhower is reported to have said: "If 40,000 Americans think we should be feeding the Chinese, what are we doing thinking about bombing them?" As history silently records, the bombing did not happen.


This is a no-fault global security insurance package administered by the International Securance Fund Commission (ISFC). The Fund compensates for property and casualty losses in the event of war that are not covered by ordinary insurance. In order to assure an affordable premium, an insured party must adopt recommended policies and practices that minimize risk of violence and war. Analogous to the way fire insurance rates are adjusted for compliance with fire codes that encourage the use of fire-resistant materials, safety devices, training, etc., Securance assessments are adjusted as follows:

  1. The participating nation’s base assessment is an amount proportional to its current per capita military expenditures.
  2. Credits, resulting in lower premiums, are awarded based on risk/benefit indexes resulting from an evaluation of national policies and conditions:
    1. Low risk assessments result from low levels of unemployment, income disparity, poverty, illiteracy, crime, prison populations and executions, and weapons manufacture and ownership; and from high levels of healthcare and electoral participation in democratic decision-making.
    2. Further, credits are earned for training of civilians for nonviolent defense as well as for citizen participation in an International Peace Corps (see below).
    3. Nations whose leaders comply with ISFC policy guidelines for exemplary governance and foreign affairs, in combination with the above credits, receive the maximum discount.
  3. Any nation can achieve participant status and eligibility for prorated Securance benefits/ coverage if sufficient direct voluntary contributions are received from that nation’s citizens.

Peace Incentive Fund (PIF)

Also administered by the ISFC, this is a special pool of funds designated for use in hot spots, where violence has been recurring, is imminent, or is currently ongoing. Any self-identified community that is party to a conflict within such a region can have exclusive access to a share of such funds, proportionate to its numbers, for constructive purposes. Compensation for property and casualty losses follows the general Securance formula, except that awards are drawn from the PIF of whichever community is responsible for the act of aggression or retaliation, diminishing their pool of funds for constructive projects in a given year, including those already awarded. IPC training (see below) is also required for eligibility to receive compensation.

International Peace Corps (IPC)

Its volunteers, in addition to serving in community self-help and public works projects, assist in providing humanitarian relief and rebuilding in the aftermath of destructive conflicts. Further, in situations where violence seems imminent, rather than withdrawing, IPC volunteers are trained to provide a nonthreatening, calming presence and help divert potentially destructive energies toward more constructive outcomes. They model and provide training for trauma healing, nonviolent conflict transformation, countering bullies, and coercion resistance. IPC volunteers are gradually replacing armed peacekeepers. They are prepared to place themselves in harm’s way and intervene in potentially violent situations without resorting to violent or coercive means, following models developed by Peace Brigades International, Peace Teams, and the International Nonviolent Peaceforce.

John H. Darnell

John H. Darnell is a member of Frederick (Md.) Meeting and of the Board of Trustees of Friends Journal. He currently serves as Energy and Environment Projects Coordinator for Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland. Some of the concepts in this article are referred to in "Reel Violence vs. Real Violence," by Arthur Kanegis (FJ Oct. 15, 1986).