Dear colleagues in Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue and relationship-building,

     It is usual -- the easy way -- to take sides, in these times of mindless cruelty to one another.  Yet, taking sides cannot help.
     What would it take to stop?  Listen to one another?  See each other's equal humanity?  Be for both peoples, equally?
     In San Antonio, Texas, that's exactly what they do.
     Thanks to Barbie Gorelick ( came today's newspaper article about their successful Tri-Faith Dialogue -- even during these dark, painful days. 
     Barbie calls the meeting of these Muslims, Jews, and Christians "an oasis of sanity."
     About his recent, frequent conversations with Barbie, a Jewish educator, Muslim Ali Moshir Sadri says that "she becomes more balanced and I become more balanced."
     Rabbi Barry Block reflects: "We Jews need to see Israel and see it from the point of view of Palestinians, who feel like strangers in the land of Israel; Palestinians need to look at it from the point of view of Israelis, who feel like prisoners in their own country."
     Father Eddie Bernal concludes with this:  "Each can ask, 'What am I doing wrong that I can change?'"

Published in the San Antonio Express-News -- Friday, April 6, 2002

Local Jews, Muslims seek elusive peace

By J. Michael Parker
Express-News Religion Writer

     Palestinian terror bombings that began on Passover and an Israeli response, clamping entire cities under house arrest and putting holy sites under a shroud of battle smoke, made it difficult for local Jews, Christians and Muslims to contain their outrage this week. 
     Even the ones who've been regularly talking to each other.      Members of San Antonio's Tri-Faith Dialogue, in person and in e-mail, expressed anger and hurt at the behavior of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. 
     But as the city's religious leaders called for diplomatic action and restraint by leaders of both sides, members of the dialogue said the trust they've built since 1999 helped them realize working for peace across religious lines is more important now than ever. 
     "It's an oasis of sanity," said Barbie Gorelick, who helped start the group a year ago.  "We can vent our rage and pain with each other, because underlying our dialogue is love, trust and friendship."
     Ali Moshir Sadri, president of the Islamic Foundation of San Antonio, agreed. 
     "It helps to be involved in a group like this," he said.  "I've spoken with Barbie 30 to 45 minutes on the phone since the suicide bombings.  Through these conversations, she becomes more balanced and I become more balanced."
     Sister Martha Ann Kirk, a Catholic nun and member of the dialogue, said no one side has all the solutions, and it takes struggling together to move closer to common ground. 
     "We've had meetings that started with shouting and emotion, but we kept at it and got to a deeper level of discussion," Kirk said.  "We all believe that human life is sacred and that it's more important to protect lives and hopes for the future than to say, 'I've been the greater victim' or 'My people have suffered more.'"
     Jews and Muslims are "both in profound pain," she said, but members of the group "have learned to share suffering rather than blame each other."
     And while the news tends to focus on violent events, Kirk said similar dialogue and reconciliation is occurring in Israel. 
     Here and abroad, Jews and Muslims who engage in such talks risk being seen by their communities as "enemies within," because many Jews and Muslims oppose compromise, said Gorelick, who's Jewish. 
     "You may find yourself aligned more closely with someone from the other community who wants peace than with people in your own community who support either Yasser Arafat or Ariel Sharon," she said. 
     Neither Arafat nor Sharon knows of any way to lead people except by violence, she said, adding: "They're leading two great peoples into acts and tactics that both of their faiths prohibit."
     Meanwhile, Rabbi Barry Block of Temple Beth-El said he changed his Friday sermon topic to focus on Israel. 
     "We all need to pray for peace and work for it," Block said.  "We Jews need to see Israel and see it from the point of view of Palestinians, who feel like strangers in the land of Israel; Palestinians need to look at it from the point of view of Israelis, who feel like prisoners in their own country."
     Said Motawea, a member of the Islamic Center of San Antonio who is organizing a rally next Friday in front of the federal building on Durango Boulevard in support of the Palestinians, nevertheless said he and his fellow Muslims pray for an end to violence by both sides. 
     "We're opposed to suicide bombings.  We don't want innocent people killed whoever they are - Muslim, Jew or Christian," he said.  "President Bush must bring Sharon and Arafat together to negotiate, and he has the power to do it. 
     "If the United States plays an honest role as a mediator, peace can be reached.  It's not just suicide bombers; it's the Israeli army.  They're killing people in cold blood, demolishing homes and doing all sorts of uncivilized things."
     The Rev.  Buckner Fanning, former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, said he's glad President Bush plans to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to Israel to negotiate, but said former President Jimmy Carter would be a better choice. 
     "Carter, not being in government, could be more neutral and listen carefully to both sides," Fanning said.  "I admire Powell very much, but essentially, he's just a military man, and being secretary of state and being involved in diplomacy are very new to him."
     Fanning said political considerations should not stand in the way of "using the most effective person who could be used to bring a solution in the Middle East."
     "Palestinians and Jews in Israel need each other," he said.  "Each must come to see that cooperation and friendship are in their own self-interest."
     But the Rev.  Louis Zbinden, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said he's not sure that Arafat or Sharon would respond to "the reconciling nature of a Jimmy Carter."
     Zbinden urged Americans to remember that "not every Palestinian is an Arafat; good Christian people are being painted with the same broad brush."
     He also said that "peace-loving Israelis want their children to be safe going to school."
     At Travis Park United Methodist Church, the Rev.  John Flowers said people of faith in this country should be witnesses for justice for both sides and lasting peace in Israel. 
     "We need to re-emphasize that neither Judaism nor Islam endorses violence," he said. 
     And violence doesn't have to be the answer to a conflict between two factions that both claim to follow God, said Father Eddie Bernal, associate pastor of St.  Leo's Catholic Church. 
     "Each can ask, 'What am I doing wrong that I can change?'" he said. 

J. Michael Parker can be reached at