Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Post #80 - Seriously Seeking Peace

As I wrap these posts on Israel/Palestine, I wanted to highlight some of the groups that are focused on a different kind of confrontation.  Persian poet Rumi wrote: "Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field -- I will meet you there."

The group called New Profile is an organization in Israel that deals with the impacts of militarization of Israeli society. In a country where military service is required of its youth – three years’ service for men and a year and nine months for women – New Profile says that it is working for Israel "to be a state with an army and not an army with a state."

New Profile feels that the only way to stop the occupation of Palestinians is to “civilize Israeli society” and to stop raising children to be soldiers. By their senior year, they say, Israeli high schoolers spend the majority of their time preparing for military service. But they also point to road rage, increased use of weapons, and dysfunctional ways soldiers treat their loved ones upon returning as by-products of militarized Israeli society.

The One Voice movement, with offices in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, London and New York City, touts achievement of "consensus for conflict resolution" and "mobilizing against violent extremism" as its goals. Its advisory board has included luminaries such as boxer Mohammad Ali, former ambassador Thomas Pickering and former U.S. undersecretary of state Stuart Eizenstat. This moderate grassroots group seeks to engage Palestinians and Israelis in greater civic involvement. In advocating a two-state solution, One Voice works at the local, regional and international levels. It is part of the larger PeaceWorks enterprise.

Another is the US-based Dialogue Project, which works with diaspora Palestinians and Israelis, American Jews, Muslims and Christians, and others, organizing "dialogue circles" at the neighborhood and community levels, and "reconciliation trips" to the Holy Lands. They say: “Dialogue is a balance of advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is reasoning with supportive data. Inquiry is suspension of reason and exposing your mental models and heart, giving the other person a 'window to your reasoning' and to your humanity". Yet this kind of thing seems very, very hard for us to do.

Breaking the Silence allows former members of the Israeli Defense Force share their first-hand experiences of the impact of what IDF is doing and advocates for clearer rules of engagement being promulgated and disseminated to the soldiers. Most heartening is the recent public announcement of what had been carried on for some years out of the spotlight – meetings between former Israeli Defense Force members and former Palestinian fighters, held on a regular basis, to allow both groups to know one another as individual human beings and to find their common humanity. The group, called Combatants for Peace, is carefully balanced in its percentage of Israelis and Arabs. Members of the group speak with one voice to those outside the group. They mourn the loss of life, the loss of hope, the loss of innocence, but refuse to accept that things cannot be improved – that people cannot learn to know one another and stop the killing. The Combatants were recently recognized with a 2007 "Common Ground" award in a ceremony in New York. Its co-founder, Bassam Aramin now heads Al Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue. Their website is found at: .

Co-authors Yehezkel Landau (co-director of the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Co-existence, in Ramle, Israel) and Imam Yahya Hendi (Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University, spokesperson for Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America and director of the Peace Office of the Muslim American Society) have written:

"In fostering inter-religious peace-building, a Christian mediation role is helpful on two counts: to encourage polarized Jews and Muslims to find common ground, and to inspire Western Christians to make amends for their own bloody history toward the other two Abrahamic communities….the notion of “political sovereignty” often eclipses the fundamental religious truth that only God is sovereign over creation, and that we human beings are God’s regents or servant-partners in blessing and perfecting this world…"

This means that all political realms are under Divine judgment and that their power is relativized by God’s ultimate authority. The ramification for Israel and Palestine, under any agreement establishing two adjacent sovereignties is that these two states should be understood as means for ensuring the rights and opportunities of people, not as ends in themselves.

The Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), founded in Jerusalem in 1988, is the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in the world. It is devoted to developing practical solutions for the conflict, and advocates a two-state end-condition. In addition to producing educational materials and holding conferences, the Center maintains a database of Israeli-Palestinian conflict-resolution.

Fr. Michael B. McGarry, Tantur Ecumenical Institute
On the main road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem lies the Paulist-run Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies. Growing out of interfaith conversations that began during Vatican II, Tantur was established in 1972 to bring scholars, students and spiritual sojourners of all Christian faiths together. It has also succeeded in bringing Jews and Muslims under the same tent of honest seeking after hope based on worship, dialogue and an introduction to the land of the region itself, which has seen so much of revelation and of turmoil.

Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, Bereaved Families
Perhaps the most powerful witness to peace is that offered by the Bereaved Families Forum. A group formed by Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones to the bombs and bullets, they make this appeal: "We, Bereaved Families' Forum can and must influence the public in Israel and Palestine. We have been active for the past 6 years. Both sides regard us as credible. Our credibility stems from the common understanding that we have paid the price for the absence of peace. Everyone understands that we do not act out of love for the other side but out of love for our own people. Bereaved Palestinians love their own people and bereaved Israelis love their own people." Their representatives eschew "picking sides" in the conflict, but rather look to a common future in which no else need lose a brother, sister, son or friend.

Another group, called Creativity for Peace, working out of both Israel/Palestine and Santa Fe, NM, is the "only organization...that simultaneously works with young women from both sides on leadership and peacemaking."

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."  (Edmund Burke)

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