Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2013, Pages 70-71

Waging Peace

Friends of Sabeel Examine a Path to Peace in Albuquerque, NM

More than 300 people from around the world attended the Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) Sept. 28-29 conference on "The Path to Peace in Palestine and Israel" in Albuquerque, NM. Sabeel, an international peace movement started by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, seeks justice and peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on international law.

During their year of planning, conference organizers discovered that divisions within the American Christian and Jewish communities were equally profound. The local Jewish establishment accused Sabeel of being anti-Semitic and successfully pressured the Episcopal Cathedral to rescind its invitation to host the conference. Aware of the perils, the Immanuel Presbyterian Church nevertheless courageously stepped up to the plate.

An impressive array of human rights activists were brought together in Albuquerque. Diverse workshops included water justice, Zionism, and advocacy for alternative Jewish and Christian voices. Nadia Hijab, a Palestinian American, cofounder of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, traveled from France to share her insightful analysis of U.S. foreign policy. Mark Braverman, a Jewish American, used Christian theology to remind church-going people that their religion required them to stand up anywhere, anytime to defend human rights. Guilt over the Holocaust is no excuse, he said, and the actions of Israel's government are no exception.

Miko Peled's credentials defied anyone to accuse him of anti-Semitism. His grandfather signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence and his father, a general in the 1967 war, also fought with a Jewish militia in 1948. Rejecting the national narrative of entitlement, Miko Peled's mother refused the gift of a Palestinian home upon the creation of Israel. Nor did the tragic killing of Peled's 14-year-old niece in a 1997 suicide bombing dissuade his family from following the path of coexistence. Peled has devoted his life to informing Americans. He warned listeners: "Israel is already one state. It is a racist, apartheid state. We must transition to a democracy with equal rights for all."

Most sobering of the speakers was Jeff Halper, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He echoed Peled's assessment that the two-state option was over, and warned that, except for enclaves with concentrations of Palestinians, Israel is on the verge of annexing the West Bank, which already is fragmented by settlements, checkpoints and Jewish-only highways. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a group the American-born Halper founded, rebuilds Palestinian homes as an act of resistance—although, he admitted, there is no way to rebuild the thousands of homes Israel has demolished. Halper, who became an Israeli citizen in the 1970s, maintains that the U.S. Defense Department, not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is the greatest Israeli lobby in this country. The U.S.-Israel military connection includes nuclear submarines, intercontinental missiles, surveillance technology and the militarization of America's police force, Halper charged. Security politics, military technology and homeland security have come together, he added, claiming that Israel uses Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to showcase or test new weaponry.

Sharing information through the arts is as important as insightful political analysis. Students for Justice in Palestine sponsored a traveling art exhibit. "A Child's View from Gaza," has drawings depicting life under occupation through innocent eyes. Iktamel, a Palestinian university student, stood near the precious drawings, eager to engage passersby who were drawn to take a closer look. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb shared slides of a mural project sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Paintings in blazing colors show kite flying in Nablus, a farmer protecting olive trees, a megaphone telling all to follow their dreams, and a peaceful world with shooting stars and verdant flowers covering the earth.

Pamela Olson, author of Fast Times in Palestine, and this writer, author of Walking the Narrow Bridge, chronicled life-changing experiences through their memoirs. Olson's story began in 2005, at the start of the second intifada; mine in 1967, when I found sanctuary with a Palestinian family during a war. Bekah Wolf, daughter of a Santa Fe cantor, discussed her path to activism. While exploring her Jewish roots, she met and married a Palestinian from the West Bank with whom she has a child. These stories exemplify a world where love triumphs over ethnic and religious differences.

Halper said he believes the greatest hope for the Middle East is to become a regional economic confederation. Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada Web site, invoked the possibility of miracles, reminding the audience that "We never expected apartheid in South Africa to end." It's impossible to say what will trigger a change in Israel's horrendous direction—the Arab Spring, alternative Christian and Jewish voices, informed leaders, studying Holy Scripture, creating the next generation of leaders, compelling narratives, music, art, or sharing food—like the dinner catered by local Palestinians who prepared a feast for attendees as if cooking for a celebration.

"We are here to build a social movement, not just to get informed," said Rabbi Gottlieb, who recognized the struggle to overcome militarism, racism and economic exploitation in Palestine/Israel is part of a global struggle. Sabeel founder Rev. Naim Ateek added that a beautiful resistance included restoring systems that perpetuate human dignity. "Peace must be based on justice," he said, "but first comes repentance."

Although the conference theme of Justice in Palestine and Israel is far from being realized, links were forged among the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular communities. One Jewish woman said, "Being surrounded by so many compassionate Christians has been very healing." Clearly the fault line is not between Arabs and Jews, but between those willing to support a just peace and all that entails. Therein lies the hope.

—Iris Keltz

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