This morning I read the story of Lucy Aharish in the Times of Israel and thought how many people beyond the borders of Israel/Palestine have never seen this reporter and never heard her story. And then I thought about how many more Israelis and Palestinians ignore the story because it simply doesn’t fit a narrative of unending conflict. There are so many stories even stories of enormous courage by Palestinians and Israelis alike that have tried and are trying each and every day to scale the walls of anger and fear and hatred and unremitting pain that help to insulate and isolate one from the other and to eternalize the violence. There are a seemingly endless flow of peace activists representing well known and little known NGO’s who live their stories in Israel and the West Bank and bring them to hungry audiences across the United States and in Europe to raise money and public consciousness. I heard Ali Abu Awwad tell his story a few months ago in a synagogue in Philadelphia, (Mishkan Shalom), and open the minds of an audience of so-called peaceniks to more than a few pertinent facts on the ground. He has started a new organization with the philosophical children of beloved Rabbi Menachem Froman called Roots.
I first heard of Awwad during his travels with Robi Damelin, an Israeli mother from South Africa who lost her son to a Palestinian sniper. She joined a very unique organization; Bereaved Families for Peace. You see Ali had been shot, spent time in an Israeli jail and lost his brother who was shot by an Israeli soldier. The organization, (founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Orthodox Jew who lost his son Arik, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas in 1994), has grown into a resource for some of the Israelis and Palestinians who suffered the ultimate loss of a child or family member in the conflict and found solace in a group that shares the loss and works together to promote peace in the name of their children.
At nearly the same time last November I heard Gershon Baskin speak, (at Temple Beth-Am in Abington). He is an Israeli peace activist who may be most famous for his role in negotiating the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas. Gershon founded IPRCI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information in 1988, which recently changed its name to Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. Along with his book, “The Negotiator” and a weekly column in the Jerusalem Post, Gershon has established a website to broadcast his international efforts to advance peace.
There are institutions in Israel/Palestine that have been busy seeking peace and living it each day for a long time. Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the Oasis of Peace, is an intentional community jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel founded by a Dominican Brother, Bruno Hussar in the 1970’s. While it is a vibrant model in its own right it includes an active School for Peace that has been teaching peace to Israeli, Palestinian and international students in its own special way since 1979.
There are individuals who walk the earth in search of peace including one who migrated to Israel many years ago after stopping at Berkley by way of his home in Hawaii; Eliyahu McLean. Eliyahu was given the title ‘Rodef Shalom,’ Pursuer of Peace by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement and serves as the leader of the Jerusalem Peacemakers, a group of interfaith clergy all working for peace. Eliyahu has been a vital bridge builder for decades bringing representatives of the three faiths and two peoples together to understanding and learn from each other. In 2000 Eliyahu led Yossi Klein Halevi on a spiritual journey to meet Muslim religious leaders that became the basis for Halevi’s book; “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.” In 2001 Eliyahu led our MidEast Citizen’s Diplomacy delegation to the home of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari in the Old City to listen to the history of this late great Sufi peacemaker. Today he brings groups to Hebron to meet Jewish and Palestinian leaders in that terribly conflicted community. He also works closely with Sheikh Ghassan Manasra of the Islamic Cultural Center in Nazareth and his friend Ibrahim Abu el Hawa, the proprietor of the famed Peace House on the Mount of Olives. You are welcome to learn more at http://www.eliyahumclean.com/.
There are so many peacemakers working on so many levels that do not get the attention that they deserve. One man is building the connective tissue between Israelis and Palestinians from across every divide. Dr. Yehuda Stolov began his Interfaith Encounter Association in 2001 using religion as a vehicle to bring two peoples together. He has begun so many different dialogues, between academics, settlers and Palestinians, school children and on and on and on until at last count there are some sixty dialogues going on every month throughout the length and breadth of Israel and the West Bank. You can learn more at http://www.interfaith-encounter.org/EnglishUS.pdf .
The land is rich in minerals and rich as well in its many paths to peace. A problem is represented by all those who are standing in the way as a result of the war of attrition that has removed peace from their hearts and replaced it with the hard realities found in living in security without peace. Others no longer believe that peace is possible, that Oslo and its Two State solution are a chimera and that the only road is a road to justice that must be achieved at the expense of Israel through an international BDS; Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign that is based on the recognition of the Nakba and the delivery of a Right of Return to millions of Palestinians living as refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and locally in the West Bank and Gaza. The Walls built by both peoples are high, with an oppressive occupation met by an aggressive resistance and anti-normalization drive that recently labeled and tarnished another great man; Dr. Mohammed Dajani for taking his students from Al-Quds University to Auschwitz. Dajani is the Founder/Director of the Wasatia Movement; http://www.interfaith-encounter.org/EnglishUS.pdf, which is focused on teaching moderation and dialogue. I have barely scratched the surface and hope you will continue the search…