Youths from the Christian, Muslim and Samaritan faiths on a field visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, part of a pilot program initiated by OneVoice Palestine titled The Role of Religion in Promoting Civil Peace.
New York, September 12, 2012—On a Wednesday evening in early July, the conference room at the historic Al-Yasmeen Hotel in the Old City of Nablus was bustling with chatter. A mixed group of 45 youths from the Christian, Muslim and Samaritan faiths had convened for a discussion on Islam’s role in promoting civil peace.
Mayor and Imam Omar Ishtayeh of nearby Tal village kicked off the conversation by briefly introducing some of Islam’s major precepts, before delving into comparisons to Christianity and Samaritanism in fostering interfaith understanding. After more than two hours of discussion, the event concluded with the young participants highly anticipating their next meeting. This was the third session of its kind under a pilot program titled The Role of Religion in Promoting Civil Peace, which OneVoice Palestine initiated in partnership with Generations For Peace to promote the co-existence of the three religions in Nablus.
One Voice Palestine has been developing a relationship with Generations For Peace for over three years, but this year has expanded the scope of their joint programs greatly, bringing events to five West Bank communities. The programs are tailored to address the needs of each specific community – from initiatives addressing gender issues and empowerment of women in Qalqilya, to social programming with disadvantaged children in Jenin, and interfaith dialogue in Nablus.
“Nablus is a melting pot with three religions mixed together, each promoting tolerance and acceptance of the other,” said Samer Makhlouf, executive director of OneVoice Palestine. “We wanted to shine a spotlight on the civil peace that residents enjoy, while also emphasizing that Palestinian national identity should prevail regardless of any religious background.”
African novelist Chinua Achebe first coined the term “civil peace” in 1971, which he used to title one of his short stories on life after the Nigerian Civil War. The concept of civil peace and the necessary conditions to achieve it have since become central to conflict resolution and peace-building. In Nablus, the unique co-existence among the three religions has become a model of civil peace. While the majority of residents are Muslim, there are several hundreds of Christians and Samaritans living there today.
Samaritans consider themselves the true Israelites, with strict religious observances closely related to Judaism. Their total population stands around 750, roughly split between Mount Gerizim, near Nablus city, and Holon, south of Tel Aviv in Israel. It is believed that many Muslim families in Nablus are descendents of Samaritans.
To further the experience for the participants, OneVoice Palestine organized field visits in the city to the Greek Orthodox Saint Photina Church at Jacob’s Well, the Samaritan synagogue in the Old City, and the Great Mosque of Nablus, among others. The high attendance and enthusiasm shown by the youth motivated OneVoice Palestine to expand the field trips to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and Hebron’s Old City and Ibrahimi Mosque. The sites join the Samaritan synagogue as casualties of the conflict, sustaining at times extensive damage.
Two members of OneVoice’s local chapter in Hebron joined the group during their tour of the Old City to highlight the unique political situation they face, with a few hundred Jewish settlers occupying the city center and making life for its quarter of a million Palestinian residents unbearable. “It was very important to show our youth the urgency and need for creating political solutions to solve the current problems before we devolve from a political conflict to a religious one,” said Mohammad Asideh, OneVoice Palestine’s outreach coordinator.
The group, which grew to more than 50 by late July, also enjoyed an iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast during the holy month of Ramadan, together and used the opportunity to evaluate the program and plan future activities. “Watching youth from different religious backgrounds come together and celebrate an iftar proved to me the importance of programs that emphasize religious tolerance and understanding,” said Asideh, who planned the evening. “Equally important, we engaged a large mixed group of youth eager for further involvement with OneVoice.”
As the peace process remains deadlocked, keeping the two-state solution alive across the occupied Palestinian territories has required an infusion of creative initiatives by OneVoice Palestine. By combining social and cultural activities with their political work, they have been able to grow in reach. With 18 active chapters, from Bethlehem to Qalqilya, OneVoice Palestine's Youth Leadership Program has expanded by more than 120 members in the first six months, with a total of nearly 600 youth leaders working across the West Bank. The 50 plus youths who participated in the civil peace program are ripe to join OneVoice Palestine’s two chapters in Nablus.
Youths from the Christian, Muslim and Samaritan faiths on a field visit to Hebron's Old City, part of a pilot program initiated by OneVoice Palestine titled The Role of Religion in Promoting Civil Peace.
Abdullah Hamarsheh, director of OneVoice Palestine's Youth Leadership Program, introduces the pilot program titled The Role of Religion in Promoting Civil Peace to youths from the Christian, Muslim and Samaritan faiths.
The group from Nablus, which grew to more than 50 by late July, enjoy an iftar, the evening meal during the holy month of Ramadan, together and use the opportunity to plan future activities.