I recently got a lesson on the process of opening a broader dialogue on peace and generating a viable two state agreement between Israelis and Palestinians when the organization I represent, (ICMEP; the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace), sponsored the appearance of Gershon Baskin in Philadelphia. We worked overtime to create a venue that would enable Dr. Baskin, (Founder and Co-Chair of the Middle East think tank; Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and a central figure in the negotiations that brought Gilad Shalit home to his family and to all of Israel), to broadcast his opinions to the mainstream Jewish Community and a fair number of representatives of the Philadelphia interfaith community. After much effort we settled by default on the venerable Gershman Y and managed to set up a few key interviews with media including the Jewish Exponent;

http://www.jewishexponent.com/article/25359/Negotiating_for_Shalit/ and the WHYY public radio program Radio Times; http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2012/02/10/israeli-activist-gershon-baskin-on-the-release-of-gilad-shalit-and-the-prospects-for-peace/

Gershon has been around a long time and these days writes a regular column for the Jerusalem Post, so his views are well documented and his work is well known in Israel. But he is an avowed peacenik and that carries a mark almost as stark as other letters that have designated those outside the mainstream in other times. So garnering broad media coverage let alone a significant public audience for his appearance meant walking a path that is not well trodden or generally successful. However, it is a founding principle of the Jews, Christians, Muslims and those of other faiths affiliated with ICMEP that part of the solution to the puzzle of Middle East Peace involves introducing people on all sides to each other positively and engendering an opportunity to promote communication, education and even some understanding so enemies can begin to look at each other as human beings, (all G-d’s children), and then consider with all the fear, anger and trepidation that is axiomatic how to move one step closer to peace.

I believe we must do this, (as hard as it is), if people here in Philadelphia, across America and far more importantly throughout Israel/Palestine and the entire Middle East are going to be able to envision a positive resolution to this seemingly endless conflict. Many years ago, in 1977, Anwar Sadat made a surprise appearance in the Israeli Knesset and said;

“There is a psychological barrier between us:                                                                     A barrier of suspicion.                                                                                                 A barrier of rejection.                                                                                                   A barrier of fear and deception.                                                                   A barrier of hallucination around any deed and decision.”

I would be a liar if I said there were not good reasons for all of this. But it is way beyond the time to expend extraordinary energy in removing all the barriers and building bridges that connect people to each other and encourage people and governments alike to work together to identify and walk the path toward a secure and lasting peace.  Almost 300 year ago Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said; “The entire world is a narrow bridge. But the main thing is not to fear.” We must all find ways to live up to his challenge.