Grassroots Actions are Key for Peace in the Holy Land
Guest post by Dr. Frank Romano, December 7th, 2016
I sincerely believe that one of the keys to peace in the Middle is through grassroots efforts to organized interfaith dialogues, to bring people together when politicians, many religious leaders tend to tear them apart chasing their silver linings. The success of these efforts is directly proportional to the results of the dialogues which are designed to open up people’s hearts to each other, to help them overcome years of negative programming derived from the fear and hate exacerbated by ignorance of each other’s culture and religion. To illustrate that, I use an example of a typical interfaith dialogue I lead that could take place either in Israel or in the West Bank:
During one session, Jews, Muslims and Christians (sometimes they are orthodox, sometimes liberal practitioners) are sitting next to each other in a circle. They were breaking bread together and drinking tea or eating humus. After an hour, I asked Jacob the Jew to tell me about Muhammad, his orthodox Muslim neighbor or visa-versa. He responded by saying they are talking which, coming from isolated unmixed villages in Israel, is new to them. He added that they have something in common in that their children go to the same school in a third village. The Jew and the Muslim, in their discussion, instead of talking about divisive subjects like religion or politics, they talk about everyday things, like the price of lunch at school has increased, or the history teacher is weird, etc. They were really bonding, becoming friends. Then I asked Sam the Christian what he thought about the group and he responded that he had invited Jacob and Muhammad to experience Christmas with him and his family in December, that they were all going to break the Ramadan fast at Muhammad’s house tonight and would attend Chanukah festivities with Jacob.
However, he said there was a problem. Jacob’s and Muhammad’s religion are taking him down the wrong path because they don’t believe in Jesus as their savoir. That opened the “Pandora’s Box” on the topic of religion. Muhammad interrupted and stated that the Jews and Christians didn’t accept Muhammad as an important prophet and then Jacob opened up his Torah and claimed non-Jews don’t accept the importance of Moses and Abraham as the principle prophets. During the discussion that followed, they implied that they don’t share the same God and that they were going to heaven but not those from other religions.
As the facilitator of the dialogue, I didn’t judge any of them. I opened up my Torah (first five chapters of the Old Testament), the New Testament and the Qur’an and lead the following discussion on comparing the main principles and philosophies found in those writings. After an hour discussion, most of the members of the dialogue are surprised to learn that all the texts reflect many similar principles, such as the belief in one God, thou shalt not kill, the obligation to help the poor, treat your neighbor with respect. . .etc.
After an hour discussing that, I asked the group another question, this time focusing my attention on the Christian as he views his Jewish or Muslim neighbor.
“Since there are so many similarities among those sacred writings, do you think it is possible you may share the same God? After a short discussion, many members now say it is possible.
Then I close the dialogue with one last question:
“Does it make sense to kill in the name of God if you share the same God? You don’t need to answer that now. Think about it and we’ll resume the dialogue in a month or so.”
After we agree to continue the dialogue, I left them to ruminate over the last question without expecting an immediate response and then I returned two months later to the Holy Land to continue the dialogue.
Despite the bonding going on among the members of different religions in the above dialogues, they are useless without follow-up actions, which are occasions were the participants walk the talk working on peace projects. Working together, sweating together with few words is when the true profound bonding takes place. I believe those interfaith dialogues and peace marches in Israel and Palestine are thus taking steps, but those are just the first steps. In sum, our work doesn’t end there. The same mixed group, with my participation, continues bonding by rebuilding buildings destroyed during the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians. But the rebuilding, for the moment, has only taken place on the Palestinian side and should include buildings on both sides of the wall, including the Israeli side.
Interfaith activists also engage in the replanting of olive trees that have been uprooted to make way for the walls and part of the confiscation of land engaged in by Israel in the West Bank. Olives are the most important crop for Palestinians who often have difficulties harvesting them due to attacks by Israeli settlers who often steal the olives, even set fire to Palestinian olive trees, some hundreds of years old. In addition, many of the Palestinians who normally help their families harvest the olives are in jail or have left the lands, so there is a serious lack of farm workers to help in the harvest. Thus, I along with many other activists, join the Palestinians in the fields to help them harvest olives in October.
A final goal of organizing these interfaith groups and engaging in projects discussed above is to create a massive non-violent peace movement among Israelis and Palestinians, and world activists. We then encourage the activists to exert pressure on their governments to lobby the return of Israel and Palestine to the negotiation table in order to find a solution to the conflict. Only then will the people be finally free and prosperous.
My efforts over the last 10 years to organize interfaith events and peace & freedom demonstrations in the Holy Land are chronicled in my book: Love and Terror in the Middle East, 4th Edition.
In conclusion, the Holy Land is the epicenter of world conflict, and until a durable peace is found there, the world will remain at war.
ABOUT DR. FRANK ROMANO
FRANK ROMANO earned a PhD at University of Paris I, Panthéon Sorbonne. He is a Maître de conférences (assistant tenured professor) at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense in the Anglo-American Literature and Civilization Department and a member of the California and Marseille Bars. At present, he teaches law, literature, history and philosophy of law at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and practices law in France and in the United States. The author actively organizes and participates in interfaith events involving Jews, Moslems, Christians and people of other faiths in Israel and Palestine.