Unification News for April 2004

April 4 Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Haitham Bundakji, an American Muslim cleric from Orange County, California, was up front in the al-Aksa Mosque, Friday, when shots rang. The imam just ended his sermon, but there was no mistake about the noise. People were running screaming and then, he said, he saw fire and smoke.

Someone got on to a loudspeaker and called the Israeli policemen to leave, and fear God. "Allahu Alkbar," God is Great, the caller repeated. Bundakji, a Palestinian who immigrated to California and became a chaplain at the Garden Grove Police Department, was one of some 80 clerics and laymen from the United States, Canada, and several other countries who came to Jerusalem in an ongoing effort to reconcile the three monotheistic religions. Their idea is that a religious reconciliation could help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The trip was organized by IIFWP, an organization founded by Rev. Moon.

Al-Aksa Mosque is Islam's third holiest site. Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven from a nearby rock now topped by a golden dome. To Jews, it is the holiest site of all, the place where their ancient temples had existed. Bundakji brought the group there, Sunday.

An later attempt by the group to enter Bethlehem through an army checkpoint, failed. The crossing was closed and the visitors shared the Palestinian experience of crossing the lines illegally, and on foot. The busses drove up to the outskirts of the Christian town of Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem. White haired visitors and men using canes joined the others in climbing a steep incline to the Palestinian side where local busses awaited them. Police did not interfere with the group that used that route to get in and out of the Palestinian area. Only half a dozen people were at the Greek Orthodox section of the Church of Nativity during a Palm Sunday prayer. The street that used to be the main entrance to down, from Jerusalem, was now a dead-end route leading to a barricaded army post.

The road to the Deheishe refugee camp, south of Bethlehem, passed by the bombed out Palestinian security headquarters and burnt out rusty remnants of camouflage colored Palestinian security pick up vans. The refugees' plight clearly aroused the visitors' sympathy. A hat was passed along the visitors' two busses and within minutes $700 were collected. However, sometimes group members had difficulties getting their message across. Bundakji said he had tried to talk to an Israeli police captain involved in Friday's clash. Bundakji said he showed his California police card, and smiled. "Please, may I speak to you," he said he asked. The officer had no patience for niceties. An agreement negotiated with the Wakf provided that the worshippers be allowed to leave quietly, Ben-Ruby reported. "Get out. Out," the captain reportedly ordered. "But I am your friend... I love you," protested Bundakji.

The emotions the Rev. Michael Jenkins, Deputy Chairman of IIFWP and other visitors demonstrated at the meeting with the Wakf leaders seemed to have gotten across. "We pledge our lives to protect al Aksa Mosque," Jenkins, declared. Church bells chimed when the group met Salhab and they were still together when a moazin called Muslims to prayer. The call originated on the mount's loudspeakers and quickly resonated throughout the Old City. Jenkins closed his eyes tightly and clasped hands with Salhab and Bundakji.

Bishop George Augustus Stallings Jr. held his palms, facing upwards, as Muslims do in prayer. Tears rolled down some participants' cheeks. Salhab smiled when members followed Jenkings in repeating the Arabic and English version of the Islamic text recognizing God as the only God and bearing witness that Mohammad is his Messenger. "You can see the leaders here are beginning to feel that we are really sincere," Rev. Phillip Schanker proclaimed.

"The seed (for resolution of the conflict) is germinating and developing," added Jenkins. He expected to succeed, "If we can be patient to continue to relate, especially on the basis of love and family and faith." The political path would lead to a dead end now, he indicated. "We can't relate on politics. Political relationships will lead to very definitive yes or no questions that we're not ready to address yet.... Even if we get political resolutions or different accords, if our hearts are still full of anguish and enmity it will end up tearing down any accord, it will just come out again," he said. Earlier, on Saturday, about 21 members of the group visited Gaza and met with senior Palestinian officials and activists.

The trip was coordinated with Ra'fat Sa'dallah, the chairman of the Palestinian National Association for Youth in Gaza, who received them and arranged a tour in Gaza City. Jenkins of the IIFWP and Haitham Bundakji, who is also director of the Islamic Center of Orange County, CA., headed the delegation that included Islamic, Christian and Jewish clergies as well as U.S. senators. "

The IIFWP has plans to keep sending delegations, included Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergymen, former Israeli Knesset members and a senators in the United States Senate," said Sa'dallah. The delegation later held a meeting with Palestinian religious leaders, Palestinian Authority representatives and individual Palestinian initiators.

 Download entire page and pages related to it in ZIP format
Table of Contents
Tparents Home