Unification News for May 2005

Middle East Peace Initiative: A project of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace

Clergy from 27 countries confer on interfaith peace in Jerusalem

During a week marked by celebration of the founding of the Jewish state and remembrance of the past, delegates from 27 countries met in Jerusalem for the 14th in-country meeting of the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI).

As in past gatherings, MEPI, a project of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP), has had meetings with religious and political leaders on all sides of the equation. According to the Chairman of the MEPI Steering Committee Dr. Chang Shik Yang, "Though the struggle in the Middle East is not caused by religion, the solution to the problems of the region require not only cooperation and compromise among governments, but also the involvement of all religions.

Yesterday afternoon was spent with a visit to the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian lands, followed by a tour of the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. "Arabs and Jews are brothers at the root level, with a multilayered, multidimensional complex history. Just to observe the cycle of violence and payback is not enough. You have to invest yourself in the pasts of both sides, all the way back to Isaac and Ishmael," said Dr. Michael Jenkins, co-chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace-USA (IIFWP-USA).

Following rounds of meetings in Jerusalem, including an assembly at the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute, the group will meet with religious and political leaders in Gaza and Ramallah in the West Bank.

IIFWP is in the process of becoming a trusted presence in the region. Jenkins, said, "When we first came here two years ago several hundred of us went to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and were barred from entering by Israeli security. But when they saw we were a multi-faith mixture of Arabs, Jews and Christians and that our intent was respectful and peaceful, they let us pass. Now they smile and greet us when we come."

Dr. Emil Jarjoui, speaking on behalf of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmet Qurei yesterday, told visiting delegates of the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI), "We have determined that the only way to end this conflict is by common sense, by negotiation [with the Israelis]."

Jarjoui, a member of parliament and director of relations with religious communities, told the delegates, "We are fed up with wars and funerals and blood. We want to live like any other people under the sun and in the world. When we say this, it is not just words. We are determined to do it. But to do this we need for both parties to sit together as friends, as neighbors who can decide the future."

A member of the Legislative Council of the PLO representing the prime minister, Jarjoui told the group "The wall is going on for 720 kilometers. It is eating up the land. Let's build bridges of reconciliation and love instead of walls. If it is our destiny to live together in this part of the world, let's make a place that is livable. Our roots are here, we were born here and we want to die here. Our hope is that your group (IIFWP's Middle East Peace Initiative) might be the hand that is reaching to help us end this conflict."

He concluded, saying, "A wall that separates nations will never deliver security. Only peace will. Security will never result in peace. Peace is what gives you security."

Mr. Walid Sadik, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, said, "I live near the wall. Sometimes I hear shots. I see the smoke of burning tires and I wonder who has been killed, who has been hurt. I have been called a PLO agent by Israelis and a Zionist agent by the PLO, but I am doing everything I can to bring peace." In terms of assigning roles to peace brokers, he said, "The 1.2 million Israeli Arabs living inside Israel, should have the role of mediating between the two sides."

Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Muslim from England and a member of the House of Lords, who was a delegate to MEPI group said, "I fully understand the fears and sorrow of the Jews who have lost so many members of their families. But I urge Israel not to give in to the politics of fear. Let's embrace the politics of hope."

Dr. Fouad Hallak, policy advisor to the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, gave a slide presentation explaining the current state of the separation wall's development and the overall master plan for the barrier. Critics of the wall say that, when completed, it will cut the West Bank in half, isolating it from Palestinian Jerusalem, and that this will sever vital road links, will cut off access to jobs and will cripple the agricultural and tourism sectors of the economy.

Hallak said, "Israel, every country, has the right to provide security for their people. So if they want security, they should build the wall along the current "green line" border created in 1967. But they are building the wall well inside the established boundary, absorbing large portions of Palestinian land."

Rev. Darryl Gray, pastor of the Union United Church in Montreal, and one of the MEPI delegates, said, "As black person, I understand the very real historical fears of the Jewish people. However, that fear should not cause a race of people, who have been victims, to now become occupiers. I am convinced that neither side will have the courage and the will to reach consensus with one another unless both undergo a spiritual change. The challenge of peace for Palestine and Israel is not yours alone. You must lead in peace, and we [MEPI] will follow you. Our challenge is to work with you to secure peace. And lastly, the wall must come down Ð not just the physical wall, but the walls in our hearts. As long as there are walls, there will not be peace." The previous day, a portion of the MEPI delegation met in Gaza with Palestinian officials and NGO leaders at a MEPI symposium on the theme, "Prospects for Nation-Building and Peace-Building in Palestine: Trends of Hope."

Moderated by Mr. Tajeldin Hamad, Secretary General of the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, the program began with the Palestinian anthem, a moment of silence and the recitation of verses from the Holy Koran. Abu Ali Shaheen, nine year Member of the Palestinian Parliament and the keynote speaker, emphasized that "permanent and total peace is built on duties and rights and that peace cannot come from surrender."

Bringing a message of welcome from President Abu Abbas' office, Hon. Kamal Schrafi, Palestinian Parliamentarian, indicated that this conference was timely, noting that all efforts to support the peace process are urgently needed at this time, adding that he was disappointed by the lack of clear support by Arab leaders in the region.

Lord Ahmed, noted that while the IIFWP delegation came with a clear message of hope, he was sorely dismayed as he made his way through the security check points into Gaza, indicating that he felt he was entering the biggest prison on earth.

There were a number of other speakers included former U.S. Congressman Howard Nielson of Utah; Sheik Dr. Mohammed Madi of the Islamic University and Mr. Abdel el Haleem el Fringy, Chairman, Palestinian Economic Association. Dr. Thomas Walsh, Secretary General of the IIFWP closed the program noting with gratitude the hospitality, enthusiasm and hopefulness of the Palestinians in the midst of grave challenges.

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