Unification News for February 2004

IIPC in Gaza: The Risk of Peace

by Robert Kittel

The Interreligious and International Peace Council (IIPC) held a five-day international symposium in Gaza and Jerusalem, December 19-23, 2003 as part of the Middle East Peace Initiative series with the theme, "Considering the Root Causes of Conflict and Forging a Path to Lasting Peace." But why hold an international conference in a region at war?

In an article entitled, "Middle East Conflict Continues to Smolder," Voice of America correspondent, Sonja Pace, wrote from Jerusalem on Dec. 19th (the opening day of the symposium), "And so the cycle of violence continued, suicide bombings that killed and maimed Israelis and targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants that often left innocent civilians dead as well."

As the UN is pulling out of Iraq because of the dangers associated with military combat and terrorism, why hold a conference here in the Middle East, invite hundreds of foreign delegates from more than 30 nations plus numerous local guests, then put them and the IIPC staff at risk to holding programs in both Gaza and Jerusalem?

Palestinians and Israelis face this danger daily--by just living here. But each also has a vested interested. They are risking their lives for land, sovereignty, freedom and honor. But why would foreigners who have no connection to the Middle East organize a conference under such peril?

During our staff orientation three days before the symposium, our local conference organizer, herself a Jew but not associated with the conference sponsors, told the IIPC staff--many of whom had came to Israel for the first time--that this was a region at war. As she talked about the casualties, she tried to reassure the nervous foreigners, noting that no one in her own family or whom she has known personally was ever killed.

But the risk was real; life insurance was worthless here. The tourist industry had totally collapsed. When participants visited such religious sites as Gethsemane, Bethlehem, the Stations of the Cross, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which should be their most crowded during the Holiday season, they were literally empty. Why then hold a conference in this environment?

According to its most recent publication, the IIPC calls itself the "Peace UN" seeking "to be a model of good governance grounded in principles of courage, unselfishness, and active volunteerism for peace." Courage, the quality of mind that enables one to face danger and overcome fear, is all the nobler when the risk taken benefits strangers.

Firemen and police men and women are called to risk their lives daily in order to help strangers. In a small way, this symposium also sought the help unknown persons, using its international religious voice to reach out to both sides of the conflict, in order to support the complicated process of peace in the Middle East.

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