By Tamar Schneck*
“People have to recognize the humanity of people. We are talking about real people; it is not about the numbers.”
Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and a prominent Muslim-American leader who works on many interfaith initiatives, said this to the 50 attendees at an International Engagement Program (IEP) event at the Sterling, Virginia mosque on October 4.
The IEP fall tour featured events at political, academic, and religious settings, including the event at the ADAMS Center.
Both Samer Makhlouf, Executive Director of OneVoice Palestine (OVP), and Tal Harris Executive Director of OneVoice Israel (OVI), spoke at events in faith communities about the danger of designating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a religious one.
At the event at the Suffolk County Y, a Jewish Community Center in Long Island, New York, Makhlouf emphasized this point saying, “the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not religious...This is not a conflict between the Muslims and the Jews or the Christians and the Jews or the Christians and the Muslims. It is a political conflict, between two parties that are un-equal, and it has to be addressed this way.” Only when the conflict is addressed as political, will the issues be resolved and the fighting end.
Harris addressed the positive use of religion, saying that it can be used as a tool to bridge gaps. In fact, it was an interfaith initiative that brought Harris to conflict resolution. At the age of 17, he joined an Arab-Jewish Israeli orchestra, and he realized “once we managed to follow a tune together, and follow a harmony together, that’s when I began thinking that maybe we can synchronize on another, more political, level.”
Harris and Makhlouf also visited Christian communities. They stopped at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian, a OneVoice connection made through a longtime activist and supporter of OneVoice, Reverend Bill Borror. They also spoke at Pacem in Terris, a Wilmington-based peace organization that hosted OneVoice in partnership with Westminster Presbyterian.
At Pacem in Terris, an attendee asked about contact between Palestinians and Israelis, asking if Palestinian and Israeli youth ever interact. Makhlouf answered that unfortunately, the situation on the ground prevents Israeli and Palestinian youth from meeting one another, and OneVoice’s approach is different as we work in parallel, which is more impactful.
This is one of the many reasons why OneVoice works so hard to change the status quo and end the occupation, so that ultimately, the youth of the region will be able to interact. However, OneVoice believes, as both Harris and Makhlouf mentioned, that the political step of a peace agreement and two-state solution must be reached in order for the peoples to begin on the path of reconciliation.
The topic of religious incitement was also addressed on the tour when an attendee at the Suffolk County Y event asked about religious incitement in the Palestinian educational system.
Makhlouf replied, unequivocally, that stories of religious or non-religious incitement within the educational system are rumors, and in reality, there needs to be agreement on what is defined as “incitement.”
“Criticizing the occupation is not incitement,” he explained. “As far as I know and from what I studied, there is no incitement in the Palestinian books. The Palestinian educational system even authorized a history book that includes the Israeli narrative.”
These types of rumors are often the manifestation of misunderstanding the conflict as religious, instead of addressing the real political issues. The important work is to recognize and address the conflict in its true context as well as use religion positively. As Rizwan Jaka, the moderator at the ADAMS event, said, it is important that the mainstream know “the narrative is not Jewish against Muslim…actually Jews and Muslims are coming together in America in big numbers…we have to be hopeful, practical, realistic, and not whitewash the situation, there are lives on the line, there are futures on the line, so we have to hope and pray.”
*Tamar Schneck is the Fall 2013 IEP intern.