It was last Thursday when I happened to come across the initiative to transform July 15, the Jewish fast day of 17 Tammuz (Shivah Asar B’Tammuz) and the 18th day of Ramadan, into a joint fast for peace. I’d been spending a few hours that day trolling the web, looking for information about how Israelis were coping with the steady barrage of Hamas rocket fire and how Palestinians were holding up on the fourth day of Israel’s retaliatory aerial strike.
Notice of the interfaith fast was buried at the very end of a Forward article. I might’ve missed it completely were I not so engrossed in the story: Rachel Fraenkel touching hearts by welcoming a group of Hebron-area Palestinians to her shiva; a group of courageous Palestinians, defying Hamas and BDS, going to offer comfort to a bereaved Jewish Israeli family.
I immediately emailed the members of my hometown’s interfaith dialogue group: could we possibly organize a community-wide “break-fast for peace” at our local mosque in less than a week?
Turns out we could. Several Rabbis quickly endorsed the idea and encouraged synagogue members to attend; the Jewish Federation Board and the Islamic Society got the word out; the Mosque graciously agreed to delay Iftar (the traditional meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast) by fifteen minutes until the conclusion of the Jewish fast; a Christian Reverend offered to say a few words; plans for a moderated conversation on the shared Abrahamic values of peace, justice, compassion, and the sanctity of life were set into motion.
And so it was that tonight over 150 of my hometown’s Jews, Muslims, and Christians joined mosques, temples, and churches across the United States, Israel, and around the world to share a sumptuous meal together; to hear the chanting of the Maghrib sunset prayer; to understand the significance of the breach of Jerusalem’s walls, precursor to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the Jewish people’s exile from the Land; and to express a solidarity for peace.
I learned yesterday, also via internet trolling, that the masterminds behind what became a global fast for peace in the Middle East were Eliaz Cohen, a second-generation Israeli settler from Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, a poet and long-time peace activist, and Ali Abu Awwad, a West Bank Palestinian from Beit Ummar near Hebron and long-time supporter of nonviolence. The Times of Israel helpfully recounted the background story of how an idea conceived by two friends on their way home from the Fraenkel shiva call went viral, turning into an international faith-based movement to promote coexistence. Who would have thought that just two people could do so much?
Thank you Eliaz and Ali for harnessing the awesome connective power of the world wide web to spread a message of peace. After the revolting “three Shalits” hashtag on their side, and the obnoxious “The People of Israel Demand Vengeance” Facebook page on ours, thank you for reminding us that the internet can also be marshalled to end hatred and bloodshed. Thank you for giving the world the Choose Life Facebook page and the Twitter hashtag #HungryforPeace.
Thank you Eliaz and Ali for giving my community, and so many others, the chance to spend one day focused on our shared humanity. True, Israel must defend its citizens and Hamas is committing war crimes by indiscriminately attacking Israelis and putting its own citizens in harm’s way. Yes, Hamas’s flagrant violation of international humanitarian law doesn’t give Israel the license to extensively destroy Palestinian property or endanger innocent lives, a form of collective punishment. But tonight we had a reason to move beyond the usual finger-pointing and blaming the other side for “starting it”.
We recalled the Talmud’s golden rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” and the passage from the Sunnah: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself”. We talked about a people once exiled, and another still exiled. We noted suffering and inflicting suffering. We spoke of panicked children, running in fear from the bombs, cowering in fear in bomb shelters. Thank you for giving us the space to voice a collective trauma, and to hope for a better tomorrow.
Thank you Eliaz and Ali for showing that true peace won’t come from yet another round of secret American-backed peace talks between cynical leaders but through a sustained grassroots dialogue—where people can begin to understand each other’s interests, hopes, and fears, and as written in the Quran, can come to “know one another”. Thank you for reminding Israelis and Palestinians—and Americans too—that this conversation must now involve more religious leaders, who’ve for too long been side-lined by a secular peace camp.
Thank you Eliaz and Ali for setting an inspirational example for others in Israel and Palestine to follow. Thank you for reminding us that before July’s war in the sky came June’s vicious ground battles: four teenagers murdered in cold blood and enraged young people filling the streets with murderous calls for revenge. Israelis and Palestinians now owe it to their children to take action to oppose all brands of violence, and to promote shared values and peace. Thank you for reminding people of goodwill that if hate-mongers and terrorists hijack the peace agenda, it’s because they let them.
And thank you Eliaz and Ali for helping us to help you. Safe and far removed from the rain of rockets and bombs, we feel useless. Thank you for empowering us today to make a difference–for your part of the world, and for ours.