Peace Day - September 21, 2008 - 48
International Day of Peace Vigil dedication and human traits of this wonderful woman. We immediately headed for Jerusalem and our home for the week, the Three Arches YMCA. After a quick shower, we headed to the Mount of Olives in the Arab section of Jerusalem to meet with Hagit’s good friend, Ibrahim Abu-El-Hawa (sometimes referred to as the Mount of Olives’ Gandhi), a Palestinian deeply committed to peace. During our time here, we would constantly reinforce an important fact that we had seen validated again and again, that there are two sides to every story, and that people are beautiful on both sides of the issues. That evening, we met with members of the Interfaith Encounter Association and its Executive Director, Yehuda Stolov. The group has observed the Vigils in the past, and was planning to do so again this year. This is a dedicated group open to the idea of interfaith cooperation and peace. We then met with Eliyahu MacLean, an Israeli peacemaker and a leader in the grassroots interfaith movement in Jerusalem. We would go with him and Hagit to meet with Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, Head of the Uzbek Community in Jerusalem, and well respected interfaith advocate in the Muslim community. The Sheikh expressed strong support for the Vigil, and was willing to serve on the planning committee. The following morning, we headed for Nazareth to meet with Kamel Barghouti, an Israeli Arab teacher who runs Arab/Israeli youth programs, and brings Jewish youth to Nazareth to do internships for a better understanding of Arab youth. He is an individual dedicated to peace and bicommunal relationships. We then headed for the Arab town of Shefar’Am to meet with Elias Jabbour, director of The House of Hope, International Peace Center, the first Arab initiated peace center in the Galilee. Elias is a Roman Catholic Arab, who along with his lovely wife, Heyam, runs the Center which is to bring better understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims. He is a lecturer at an area university, and provided insight to many of the problems in the area. Their hospitality was overwhelming . . . including the superb five-course lunch that would make anyone eager to receive a return invitation. Saturday was our moment of truth, as we headed for Bethlehem on the West Bank to meet with Mr. Ibrahim Issa, a Palestinian Arab and co-director of the Hope Flowers School and Center. Feeling that Americans might be a tantalizing target for Hamas radicals, we were somewhat uneasy that we were not in the proper meeting location. In due time, however, Mr. Issa appeared and we felt much more at ease. The School is set in a well constructed, well maintained building, and is open to children of all faiths from 1st through 8th grades. There are about 250 students, Arabs and Christian. The school was founded to provide a bi-communal curriculum, and stresses coexistence, cooperation and friendship among Arab, Jews and Christians It is unfortunate that so many people (perhaps mostly in America) see Israeli and Palestinian Arabs as committed to a culture of war or as suicide bombers. From what we have seen, this could not be further from the truth. Both the Arab and Jewish people we have met have been very dedicated, and actively working for peace. We left with a deep feeling of sadness that so many good people are caught in such an untenable situation. Sunday, a week-day in Israel, took us to the Nir elementary school in Kiryat Ono, a distant suburb of Tel Aviv. Here, children from 1st through 6th learn about Arab children. Last year, on the International Day of Peace, they had a joint program with Arab schools. That was the first time that most of the children met an Arab child and vise versa . . . for the most part, their mutual fears turned to a better sense of the others’ sameness. Is it any wonder that, from the messages that children hear from parents and the media, that they are inclined toward fear and hate? That night, Anat Daylan, drove from the Dead Sea region to meet us at the YMCA. Anat has for the past two years, engaged the Union of Light Network to conduct consciousness raising events and assemblages throughout Israel and will continue her support of the Vigil. Next we drove to the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv for a discussion with its Director General, Ron Pundak and his deputy Dr. Aliza Savir. The Center is dedicated to bringing Palestinians and Jews together in bi-communal projects that foster understanding, coexistence and friendship. One project includes the administering of medical assistance to Palestinian children and the training of Palestinian doctors in Israel. Next we visited the Parents’ Circle-Families Forum, “Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation & Tolerance”. These are people that lost family members in the Middle East conflicts and are seeking contact, understanding and peace. Aaron Barnea, a longtime peace activist recanted the lost of his son in Southern Lebanon. His story was deeply moving and stressed the pain felt on both sides. The group provides a 24-hour hotline between Israeli and Palestinian families to talk and understand each others’ grief. At the heart of their deep personal loss is a profound commitment to peace. We were told over and over again that the people want peace, if only the governments would stay out of it. We made the long drive back to Jerusalem in time to meet with Eliyahu MacLean and the Jerusalem Peacemaker’s group. Here, a group of thirty peacemakers listened to us explain the IDP Vigil and the potential opportunities it presents in the Middle East situation. Additionally, we listened as Eliyahu, Jewish Rabbis and Muslim Imams discussed and showed slides of the recent meeting of Rabbis and Imams held a couple weeks prior in Seville Spain. There seems to be much good that come from 48 Peace Day 2008
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