Pilgrims Witness for Peace

On Saturday 9th February, a group of around 20 pilgrims, including several Central England Quakers, walked a 16 mile journey through the West Midlands, as a witness for peace. Pete Doubtfire from our project Peace Hub reflects on the event.

Our one-day pilgrimage from Cathedral Square, Birmingham to the Elbit arms factory in Shenstone brought together local people, in support of the international Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage Movement. Through prayers, reflections and the act of walking together, we offered solidarity to those in Gaza, and in all of Palestine; and opposition to the Arms Trade, particularly the manufacturing of Israeli weapons in the UK.

At points throughout the day there were stops for contemplation, where the testimonies of Palestinians were read, detailing the harsh realities of life under occupation and displacement. Reflections, poems and prayers were shared from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh writers. Walking together provided the opportunity to develop fellowship and community as a group of pilgrims, and Sutton Coldfield Quaker Meeting (pictured above) offered spiritual and practical sustenance in the middle of a long day’s travelling. In the midst of a journey through urban and industrial landscapes we appreciated time to connect with nature in Sutton Park.

All of the spiritual preparation built through the walk was carried in our hearts as we approached our destination, a site of suffering and shame. The aim of our peace pilgrimage was to bring this light to shine on the darkness of the arms trade, and on our own collective complicity in violence and displacement. In the words of Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestinian group, ‘we offer these prayers, and at the same time we offer our hands and our lives, that we may become answers to our own prayers’.

As the sun set, we held a short vigil outside the Shenstone factory, which helps supply unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Israeli military and armed forces around the world. Elbit is Israel’s largest arms company, and its drones have been used extensively for attack and surveillance purposes, particularly in Gaza. The UK government claims it has provided no lethal or military equipment to Israel since the Hamas attacks of 7 October 2023. However, Quakers in Britain are concerned that evidence given by the government in court seems to contradict this.

Remembering, and praying for, all the people of the land we know as Palestine and Israel, a closing reading from the Kairos Palestine Document, offered the hopeful message “We will see here ‘a new land’ and ‘a new human being,’ capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.”