In Eugene, Oregon last Sunday, June
9, 2002, "We refuse to be enemies" was the banner over the 300 Jews
and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, Christians and others.
There was a hummus contest. They they ate, danced to live music, and discussed ways to end the bloodshed.
And they saluted Palestinians and Israelis working for peace in the region.
"People can no longer wait on Middle East leaders," said Ibrahim Hamide, a Eugene restaurateur of Palestinian heritage. ""I feel it's a duty of mine to do something to correct a wrong, and I don't believe you correct a wrong by doing another."
Gail Eisen, a Jewish participant, said: "One thing that's gratifying to me about an event like this is it brings all of these people from different cultures together to help understand the common heritage. . .Jewish and Islamic cultures are virtually identical in many ways."
Dr. Harold Saunders, former U.S. Secretary of State, facilitated the Camp David Accords. He also defined this "public peace process."
Hal Saunders calls this "The Citizens' Century." The Palestinians and Jews in Eugene seem to think so.
"Things do not change; we change."
-- Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"
Published in the Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) -- June 10, 2002
Event unites all faiths
By SCOTT MABEN
An appreciation for common cultures and a desire for peace in the Middle East plus a friendly competition among the town's premier hummus makers brought more than 300 people together for a celebration Sunday afternoon in Eugene.
The Eugene Middle East Peace Group sponsored the gathering at the Hilyard Community Center to salute Palestinians and Israelis working for peace in the region and to raise money for families of victims of the violence.
Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, Christians and others ate together, danced to live music and discussed ways to end the bloodshed under a banner proclaiming, "We refuse to be enemies."
They also observed a few minutes of silence. Outside, prayer flags fluttered in the breeze under a late-afternoon sun. People scrawled messages of hope on the strips of cloth: "Every time I wish upon a star, I wish for peace. Let it come," said one. Another read, "I hope the next generation can learn to love."
It was the largest event yet for the peace group, which began meeting a year and a half ago. And it revealed that support for a peaceful resolution to the enduring conflict is strong, said Avishai Pearlson, a group member and immigrant from Israel.
"It comes from a place of goodwill, of having a good time together to prove to ourselves and each other that we are not enemies, that we have a lot in common and that we like getting to know each other," Pearlson said. "Instead of focusing on battling the violence, we focus on increasing the life and acceptance and love of each other and within ourselves."
People can no longer wait on Middle East leaders, said Ibrahim Hamide, a Eugene restaurateur of Palestinian heritage who immigrated to the United States in 1969 at age 18.
"We're stuck like a record, stuck in the same groove of knowing only one method of dealing with one another, which is, `You hit, I'll hit you harder, and I'll go lick my wounds,' " Hamide said.
Peace groups slowly are breaking through stereotypes and rebuilding bridges, said the owner of Cafe Soriah.
Hamide was born and raised in Bethlehem and has brothers and sisters living there. Even from 7,000 miles away, it's too personal for him to ignore the war, he said.
"I feel it's a duty of mine to do something to correct a wrong, and I don't believe you correct a wrong by doing another," he said.
Nir Pearlson, a Eugene architect and Avishai's younger brother, agreed. He said a celebration of shared cultures and traditions is the best way to promote peace.
"I think we've been able to really focus on the things that we agree upon," Pearlson said of the group. "And there are so many more things that we agree upon than things that we disagree upon." For example, members overwhelmingly agree that Palestinians must have land to establish a permanent state, that the Israeli occupation should end and that Israel must be made safe from terrorism.
Nir Pearlson also spoke about the "refuseniks," the Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories, just as he did in 1989 during the first organized uprising of Palestinians. His pacifism brought him 30 days in prison.
"For me it was basically making a moral choice," he said. "And refusing an order in the Army is a huge deal for a soldier."
Jewish and Islamic cultures are virtually identical in many ways, said Gail Eisen, a Jewish member of the peace group who said she has developed lifelong friendships with people from other nations, cultures and religions.
Dietary rules, ways of socializing children, the roots of languages and the importance of education are very similar between the two cultures, Eisen said. "One thing that's gratifying to me about an event like this is it brings all of these people from different cultures together to help understand the common heritage," she said.
The hummus contest, the brainstorm of Avishai Pearlson, is a metaphor for shared diet, customs, traditions and humanity, Eisen said.
Akin to an American chili cookoff, the contest invited people to vote for their favorite hummus dish by placing garbanzo beans in jars. The winner was Nadima Tahhan, a Muslim immigrant from Syria and the mother of Tammam Adi, director of the Islamic Cultural Center in Eugene.
Ibrahim Hamide is at IbMaha@cyber-dyne.com
Nazir Dahra in the Peace Group is at KrisKenyon@mindspring.com