Salaam and Greetings of Peace:
Below is a letter from the Holy Land, about some rare good news and positive steps toward peace. Inshallah, it will grow from a trickle to a mighty stream. We are all cousins of the same family, and the only true winner in war is Iblis (Satan). May Allah guide us on the right path.
It has been a difficult time in the Holy Land, with immense suffering for the people of Gaza, Israel and Lebanon. We ask you keep sending prayers for peace and healing for the peoples of the Middle East.
In the midst of all the awful news coming from our part of the world, I also want to report to you some of the positive news.
1) The Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace
2) The Abrahamic Reunion meets in Tel Sheva, June 20
3) Religious peacemakers and grassroots peace groups respond to the war
SECOND WORLD CONGRESS OF IMAMS AND RABBIS FOR PEACE
Seville, Spain March 19-22
Over 100 Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, and 100 experts in Jewish-Muslim dialogue work came together for 3 days of dialogue, prayer, and practical project building. Joining us were eight Muslim sheikhs and Imams from the Gaza Strip.
The mayor of Seville welcomed all of us, recalling that during the Golden Age, Seville was a place where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in and peaceful co-existence together.
At the plenary the Palestinian Imams from Gaza emphasized the difficulty of everyday life for the citizens of Gaza. There was some tension, as some of the rabbis felt that the discussion had turned from religious to political. One rabbi later said, it’s important for us to listen to our brothers from Gaza even if we don’t agree with everthing.
Andre Azoulay, the Jewish advisor to the King of Morocco, asked me to organize an evening of sacred singing with the Muslims present at the Congress. The Imam of the Dome of the Rock, Abdel Karim al-Zorba led the beautiful chanting, reciting Quranic verses and Islamic poetry.
The Chief Rabbi of Rishon L’Zion, Yosef Azran, sat next to the Imam and started to sing the most beautiful Piyutim (sacred songs) in Arabic, then in Hebrew. Before we knew it, the Rabbis and Imams were sitting in the circle together chanting sacred songs back and forth in Hebrew and Arabic for 3 hours! Observers commented, “Now THIS is the heart of the Congress!”.
By the second day, we had broken up into smaller working groups. We helped facilitate a dialogue about the situation in Gaza between one of the Imams from Gaza and Rabbi Zion Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of the Negev Communities who lives in Sderot, a town near Gaza that has been shelled by Qassam rockets.
Even though a close family friend of the rabbi was killed in a Qassam rocket attack, he didn’t mention it. His first response was: how can I help organize humanitarian support for the Palestinians of Gaza from the Jewish towns around Gaza.
By the last day of the Congress, over 20 working groups had been formed, working on issues like racism, Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, sharing Jerusalem, rereading the holy texts, misconceptions about Islam.
Most of us present at the Congress left with a renewed sense of hope that if the most religious of the Jews and Muslims could learn to cooperate, then perhaps we were taking a step closer to achieving the seemingly impossible dream for peace in the Holy Land and the wider world.
See pictures from this historic event, visit this website and click ‘participants’.
ABRAHAMIC REUNION IN TEL SHEVA, JUNE 20
Abrahamic Reunion group member Khalil Albaz, the Imam of Tel Sheva, welcomed us to Bedouin town of Tel Sheva, in the Negev, southern Israel. The head of the Tel Sheva council and the people of Tel Sheva welcomed us.
Rabbi Zion Cohen, whom I had met in Seville, came from his town of Sderot on the border of Gaza. “We as religious leaders need to call out against the violence… our response to the situation should be more meetings like this, to plant the seeds of peace!”
Joining us in dialogue and prayer was an ultra-Orthodox Hasid, religious Muslim Bedouin women, the chief of the police in Tel Sheva and others. Abrahamic Reunion group members Sheikh Bukhari and Ibrahim Abuelhawa called for the Children of Abraham to unite. Ibtisam Mahamid and Elana Rozenman spoke about the important role of women in peacemaking.
At a closing prayer circle, Imam Khalil Albaz led a blessing to support and empower some of the young Bedouin women present, who have a project to produce and market traditional herbal remedies and medicines. Devorah Brous of Bustan spoke of her partnership with these women.
Reverend Charles Gibbs, the Executive Director of URI, offered a prayer and then blessed the work of the Abrahamic Reunion. That we could bring people of such diverse backgrounds together in such a difficult time gave all of us hope for a better future.
In all the midst of all the bad news about the violence in Gaza, the main TV news channel in Israel broadcasted 3 minutes on prime time of our gathering.
Please visit this link to see some amazing pictures from our recent gathering in Tel Sheva. http://interfaith.israel.net/telsheva_June2006/
RELIGIOUS PEACEMAKERS AND GRASSROOTS PEACE GROUPS RESPOND
On Wednesday July 19, over fifty Jews and Arabs gathered at the Latrun monastery to plan the next ‘On the Way to Sulha’ gathering, scheduled for August 22-24. See http://www.sulha.com
The theme of this years gathering is: Therefore Choose Life! Ihab Balha, Muslim co-director of the Sulha Peace Project said: now is the time to live our values, not just when its easy… to have compassion for ourselves and the others who are suffering in this war, esp. people from Gaza, Haifa, Tsfat, Nahariya, Beirut.
It was announced that next Thursday, July 27 the Sulha Peace Project, Bereaved Families Forum, Middle Way and others are planning a major prayer vigil in a central public space in Jerusalem, inviting religious leaders and common people to pray together. They will bear witness to the pain of Israelis who have fled the north and read letters from friends in Gaza and Beirut about their situation.
Behind the scenes, Rabbi Menachem Froman has been a bridge for dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, seeking to bring about a cease-fire based on principles found in Islam and Judaism.
Jerusalem Peacemakers, director
Abrahamic Reunion, coordinator
Interested people can follow the Abrahamic Reunion activities and reports on Yahoo. The list is called IEAreports@yahoo.com. Email them to be put on the list.