Palestinian Imam Nadir Faris
(Nadir.Faris@philips.com) ) and Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan (JHDanan@aol.com) met
in the successful San Antonio (Texas) Tri-Faith Dialogue. In March, they
will begin the first Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group there.
Yesterday the Jewish woman and Muslim man published an article together, saying: "We cannot stop our grass-roots peace efforts while we wait for more sympathetic leadership."
They describe how they are fulfilling a precondition for true peace: helping their communities become truly interested in each other's lives and well-being, equally. They are ". . . motivated by the sacred tenets of our religions."
Published in the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News -- Sunday, 17 February 2002
and on the Web at: http://news.mysanantonio.com/story.cfm?xla=saen&xlb=130&xlc=611022
WHY WE DON'T ABANDON MIDEAST PEACE
By Imam Nadir Faris and Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan
We are an imam and a rabbi who haven't given up on Mideast peace.
One of us is a Palestinian who grew up on the West Bank; the other is a Jew who lived in Israel for several years. Both of us have lost friends and relatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both of us fear for loved ones in the region.
In the last year and a half of violence since the Oslo peace process derailed, more than a thousand human beings have died in the conflict (including about 250 Israeli Jews and more than 800 Palestinians). Many of the victims are children or teen-agers. Thousands more have been maimed or handicapped for life.
As Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres suggested in a recent interview, the only positive way to view the situation is that things have reached such a low point that there is nowhere to go but up.
In the midst of despair, some leaders on both sides have begun to speak out for peace. We believe that the time to act is now and that America has the strength and the strategic position to help resolve the conflict.
We worked together on a small interfaith committee of San Antonio Jews, Muslims and Christians initiated by the Rev. Bill Lytle and Dr. Saber Elaydi that composed an open letter to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In it, we ask the U.S. government to once again become more actively engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and present a vision of a peaceful resolution that recognizes the needs of both sides.
Some religious leaders from the local Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, along with a few hundred other citizens, have signed this letter, which will be published in the Express-News. We invite you to add your name by calling the San Antonio Peace Center, (210) 224-4673, by Wednesday. The text can be found on the Peace Center Web site, http://www.salsa.net/peace/.
The peace letter was only one of our peace activities. We have visited one another's houses of worship, taught together and prayed for peace together. We have worked together through such groups as the Peace Center and the Tri-Faith Dialogue of San Antonio. We hope to launch a Palestinian-Jewish dialogue group next month. We also have embarked on learning one another's holy languages, Hebrew and Arabic.
We are motivated by the sacred tenets of our religions. It often seems religion is one of the main sources of Mideast strife. Religion could be part of the solution when we realize that the sanctity of human life is the most sacred principle that both our religions command us to uphold. Both the holy Koran and the Talmud tell us that to save a life is to save a world, but to destroy a life is to destroy a world. It is our religious duty to do whatever we can to help save innocent lives.
Some people on both sides do not want to join in our efforts because they feel so strongly that the leadership on the other side is solely to blame. While neither Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat nor Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is likely to make dramatic strides toward peace, it is undeniable that Palestinian militancy pushed the Israeli public into voting for Sharon, while conversely, Israel's isolation of Arafat has only served to make him more popular among Palestinians.
We cannot stop our grass-roots peace efforts while we wait for more sympathetic leadership; indeed, the success of such efforts could encourage both sides to elect more moderate leadership in the future.
The dreadful events of the past year and a half did not occur in a vacuum. This is a struggle of two competing nationalist movements that goes back a century. Our peoples tell their story in two different ways, almost as mirror images of one another. Both peoples have suffered and been victimized in the world, and both bear some of the responsibility for the situation we are in today. (For a comprehensive and balanced history of the conflict, read "Righteous Victims" by Benny Morris.)
There is no escaping the fact that our national fates are intertwined. Reality dictates that our peoples are destined to exist together in a very small land with great historic and religious significance.
There is really no option that is both ethical and realistic, other than a two-state solution that recognizes the needs of both parties. (For serious discussion of the many details involved in forging such an agreement, visit www.bitterlemons.org, a forum for presenting various viewpoints, or www.ipcri.org, the only joint Palestinian-Israeli public policy think-tank.)
Politicians can make treaties. But only individual citizens can make grass-roots peace. We must be the ones to jettison harmful stereotypes and build real relationships. We must be the ones to turn former enemies into future neighbors and friends.
Julie Hilton Danan is rabbi of Congregation Beth Am. Nadir Faris is imam of the Fort Sam Houston mosque.