Making and Keeping Peace

A photo essay.

The VII Foundation
The VII Foundation challenges complex social, economic, environmental, and human rights issues through documentary non-fiction storytelling and education. This exhibit was chosen from The VII Foundation's Imagine: Reflections on Peace project, which you can learn more about at The book from which these excerpts and images were taken is available for purchase online at and in bookstores.

The wise person knows how much harder it is to create than to destroy. One requires vision and courage; the other simply reacts.

As free societies around the world reckon with surging populism and we gaze warily at one another, it’s worth taking a moment to revisit the journey of those societies that didn’t just linger at the precipice, but toppled over it. The twentieth century is all too notorious for its murderous record. After two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam, we watched as countries as distinct as Rwanda and Northern Ireland, Cambodia and Bosnia, Colombia and Lebanon descended into terror and tribal warfare. Man turned on man, neighbour hunted neighbour.

The images screened around the world for each one of these conflicts linger with many of us, and those who captured them in real time are often scarred with unspeakable memories. But, as laws of the heart go, restoration is like a green shoot, undeterred and unquenchable. These countries have and continue to build a different story. Not linear or tidy stories, but hopeful and instructive nonetheless.

What follows is a visual collage of trust’s struggles and rewards as it re-emerges in worlds once torn apart. We are grateful to the VII Foundation for allowing us to share this gallery from their journalistic compilation Imagine: Reflections on Peaceand to Jonathan Powell, chief British government negotiator on Northern Ireland, for his earned wisdom from the trenches. The following captions and excerpts are taken from this compilation.

—The Editors

Blurry photo of a young man and woman running up a hill. The photo is taken from the foot of the hill beneath them.

A young couple races up a hillside near Pigeon Rocks on Beirut’s westernmost tip. Photo by Nichole Sobecki / VII


Black and white photo of people fleeing, with smoke and rubble in the background.

Palestinians flee attack. Up to 1,500 Palestinians died in the Karantina massacre by Christian Falangist gunmen. Beirut, Lebanon, 1976. Photo by Don McCullin / Contact Press Images

To make progress towards peace, you have to build trust by going onto the other side’s turf rather than demanding that they come to meet you in grand government buildings. Shared risks can foster a bond.

A group of men huddles on the ground, looking upward at something out of the frame of the photo.

Bosnians dodge sniper fire at a peace rally in Sarajevo, Bosnia. They had been calling for the preservation of a multiethnic society when gunmen from a radical Serb political party opened fire on the crowd. Later that day the crowd stormed the parliament building in protest. April 6, 1992. Photo by Ron Haviv / VII

Experience suggests that two factors need to be in place if peace negotiations are to be successful. The first is what academics call a mutually hurting stalemate—that is, not just a stalemate, but one in which both sides perceive that they are paying a price and want the conflict to stop. . . . The second determining factor is having the right leadership.

A black and white photo of three women standing in front of a home in Rwanda.

A black and white photo of a man standing inside a building, looking out to his right through an open doorway.

In 1996 Laurencie Nyirabeza (top photo) was shocked to find that her former neighbour, the génocidaire Jean Girumuhutase (bottom photo), had returned to live in her village. She claims Girumuhatse killed 10 members of her family, including her children and grandchildren. He did not deny the claims. She and Girumuhatse were both interviewed by journalist Philip Gourevitch with Picone. When Picone returned later on this trip, Nyirabeza had died. Her surviving granddaughter said that her grandmother was never able to move on with her life and always resented the proximity of Girumuhatse. Photo by Jack Picone


A man and a woman stand next to a window, both looking out. The man is in shadow, the woman in the light.

Alice Mukarurinda and the génocidaire Emanuel Ndayisaba. Ndayisaba admits to killing dozens of people during the genocide. Alice is just one of his victims, left for dead in a swamp after he cut off her hand. Ndayisaba was imprisoned for his crimes, but under the laws of gacaca, the local courts set up to encourage truth and reconciliation, he confessed to his murders and was released. He later recognised Alice and admitted to her it was he who had tried to kill her that day in the swamp. In an unlikely partnership they have both reconciled and now work in a restorative group teaching reconciliation within the community. Photo by Jack Picone

Peace is not an event, the signing of an agreement, but a process which takes time. If there is a process in place, people have hope that there will be a settlement. But if the agreement collapses and there is no process, violence soon fills the vacuum. Former Israeli Prime Minister, the late Shimon Peres, used to like to say that the solution to the Middle East conflict was fairly clear in terms for land, of refugees, and even of Jerusalem, but the problem was that there was no process to get there. The good news, he said, was that there was light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news was that there was no tunnel. The job of peacemakers is to build that tunnel.

Three men with masks or obscured faces stand along an alley wall, waiting. There is rubble in the street.

Derry, North of Ireland, 1996. Photo by Gilles Peress


Girls play on a desolate street.

Near Ardoyne, West Belfast, North of Ireland, 1994. Photo by Gilles Peress


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