October 3-5, 2002, in Jerusalem,
was a remarkably successful interfaith seminar for Palestinians and Israelis --
THE HUMANITY OF THE OTHER.
Yehuda Stolov (firstname.lastname@example.org) reported from the Interfaith Encounter Association in Israel, who teamed with the Nablus Youth Federation to invite the broader public from across the Palestinian land and Israel.
The Interfaith Encounter Association is dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study. They believe that, rather than being a cause of the problem, religion can and should be a source of the solution for conflicts that exist in the region and beyond.
These Palestinians and Israelis spoke of a "human peace."
Their report said: "It was clear from the start that we do not have the responsibility here to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we do indeed have the responsibility to develop human peace among us."
"In what we do together is the paradigm of what needs to happen -- that the Israeli and Palestinian PEOPLE will join forces to build together human peace that will replace the vicious circle of violence that the leaderships do not succeed to stop.
They are "committed to continue the process" and wish to meet again as soon as possible.
The Humanity of the Other
For the first time in two years, an Israeli organization - the Interfaith Encounter Association - and a Palestinian organization - the Nablus Youth Federation - organized in the Holy Land a joint conference that was open to the wide public. The conference took place at Tantur Center in Jerusalem and was funded by the European Commission. We were men and women, secular and religious, Jews, Christians, Muslims and even one visiting Native American, from across Israel and the PNA.
For many of us, in both groups, it was the first time to meet 'the other' and the doubts where there whether there is the will in the other side to really meet. It was clear from the start that we do not have the responsibility here to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we do indeed have the responsibility to develop human peace among us, the group of the conference participants, and that in order for that to happen, especially when the range of political views was wide in both groups, we have to concentrate on the religious perspective of our discussions. And we started on that track right away. After a short personal introduction in the plenary, participants set in small mixed groups for an informal exchange, over tea and coffee, about their relations to their religious traditions and other issues, followed by joint listening to music.
During the conference we heard a Rabbi from west-Jerusalem, a Christian scholar from the Old City and an Imam from East Jerusalem. All three portrayed their respective religious views about the humanity of members of other faiths, especially the Abrahamic faiths, and the need to manifest that humanity in our relations with 'the other'. It was interesting that both the Rabbi and the Imam mentioned the story of Kain and Ebel as the example for the wrong way to deal with differences and stressed the need to overcome the tendency to follow that way, and develop an alternative conversational way. After each of the presentations, we split into discussion groups of 12 and shared with each other our reflections about the presentation and other issues deriving.
Especially moving were the Muslim Jumaa prayer of Friday and the Jewish prayer for the beginning of Shabbat - to both all other participants were invited and many accepted. Muslims, Jews and Christians sat together witnessing, learning and respecting each other's prayers.
Equally special was the session on Friday night in which all participants shared and taught each other songs from the different traditions. We felt so well about our micro-cosmos of human peace that we built in our group when the news came about clashes in Nablus itself. We then realized even more the importance of what we are doing together, as these 'news' were repeating what we constantly hear for the past two years, while what we started to build together is the really new alternative. After the participants from Nablus made sure their families were not hurt, we continued to conclude the conference. Nearly all participants, from both groups, expressed their excitement about the process we went through, the transformation it brought to us and the need to take it further to more people and more depth. During the concluding session we received a phone call from the Mayor of Nablus, congratulating us for the conference and its success, encouraging all of us with special emphasis on the Palestinian participants to continue in this way and stressing that what we do together is the paradigm of what needs to happen - that the Israeli and Palestinian PEOPLE will join forces to build together human peace that will replace the vicious circle of violence that the leaderships do not succeed to stop.
As a collective we concluded that we are committed to continue the process and wish to meet again as soon as possible, with the aim to have our next joint conference in the coming January. We then said farewell with warm hand-shakes and with hugs.
The Interfaith Encounter Association is on the Web at http://www.interfaith-encounter.org