Today, Saturday, March 16, 2002,
thanks to Jim Harb (JimHarb@aol.com), we learn from Knoxville, Tennessee of yet
more new life in the wave of authentic Palestinian-Jewish relationship
J.P. Dessel, a professor of Jewish studies, "praised both communities as 'courageous in the way they continue to meet and dialogue.'"
In Knoxville, Palestinians and Jews are not moving away from one another, but closer. Palestinian Jim Harb concludes, "We're just now moving into new territory for a deeper dialogue."
Published in the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel -- Saturday, March 16, 2002
Israelis, Palestinians hunger for peace
By Hayes Hickman, News-Sentinel staff writer
As violence continues in the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians would seem to make unlikely allies, even in Knoxville.
Yet a group of people from both local communities is striving for exactly that, and their ongoing efforts to reach reconciliation are proving successful.
It began simply as a picnic, first held after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Since then, the peace overseas has deteriorated but the picnics in Knoxville have continued.
Louisville resident Jim Harb, an American of Palestinian descent, helped organize the first meeting and now touts the success of what has become an annual event.
"There has always been a core group of people who have said, through thick and thin, we will try to maintain the effort at reconciliation between our two communities on the local levels," Harb said. "The major thing that has happened is the transformation within the individual."
Generally, Jews and Arabs have had a healthy past of social and business relationships in the area, but the outreach among Israelis and Palestinians specifically had never occurred, he said.
But since 1993, the annual event has come a long way toward replacing stereotypes with friendships.
Harb admits the union has not been perfect. As violence escalated in the Middle East, attendance from both sides has waned in certain years.
Both sides have harbored a wide variety of conservative and moderate opinions within each group. And as both hope for peace, sometimes sympathies compete with allegiances.
J.P. Dessel, a professor with the Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee, has seen the difficulties that both communities face within themselves and each other.
"Every day people change their minds after what happened the night before," Dessel said. "Sometimes it's more left, sometimes it's more right.
"It's important to stay away from pointing fingers and naming atrocities, because there are atrocities on both sides. ... All it does is engender that need for revenge."
Nevertheless, Dessel praised both communities as "courageous in the way they continue to meet and dialogue."
Harb said the violence of Sept. 11 has also brought a new sense of importance for strengthening ties. While the annual picnics were traditionally social events, the participants have more recently discussed the possibility of meeting more often, and expanding their scope to include non-Israeli Jews and non-Palestinian Arabs.
"We're just now moving into new territory for a deeper dialogue," Harb said.
Hayes Hickman may be reached at 865-342-6323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.