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Peace in the Holy Land: Hailstones of Fire and Water?
Education is key to peace in the Holy Land, affirmed many of the distinguished members of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land (CRIHL) at the event "Preventing Incitement and Promoting Peace," held this afternoon at the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC.
Here to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, the ten members of the council, which is composed of the most senior religious officials of the Holy Land, had come mainly from Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, but also from Norway and Connecticut (Yale University).
Four members were the speakers; the others joined the panel to field questions from moderator David Smock, Senior Vice President at USIP, and then from the audience.
Speakers included Canon Trond Bakkevig, founder of CRIHL and pastor of the Church of Norway; Mahmoud Habbash, Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs; Rabbi Yona Metzger, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel; and Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Israel/Palestine and Jordan.
CRIHL's bottom line is working for peace from the top down, by setting examples for the grassroots to follow. The group formed in 2005 after first convening in 2002 in Alexandria, Egypt, invited by then Archbishop of Canterbury and hosted by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar. There a joint declaration was issued binding the participants to work toward peace and abhor religion-based violence--specifically, to keep channels of communication open, work closely with their political counterparts, and to engage with local and international communities to work toward peace.
Canon Bakkevig, first to speak, affirmed that peace is a necessity that is possible to achieve, a matter of willingness and ability. Since CRIHL was formed and even though it has met regularly, violence in the name of religion and territoriality has flourished in the Holy Land off and on. Despite this, these clergymen perpetrate the themes that the land is holy and Jerusalem especially holy as its center; the three narratives should be respected; and the status of the holy sites should not be changed.
Further, derogatory statements about any of the three religions should not be tolerated; desecration of holy sites should be forbidden and, perhaps most important, the problem of images of the "other" perpetrated in schoolbooks must be addressed, an effort led by Professor Bruce Wexler of Yale University.
The results of Wexler's project are hoped to eliminate hateful stereotypes found in schoolbooks and to replace these with objective identifications to promote peace and harmonious coexistence. Bakkevig later expressed this goal as three activities: "education, education, and education."
All four clerics expressed concern for the future, for teaching younger religious leaders to have confidence in each other, and to promote peace in the Holy Land.
Mahmoud Habbash, next to speak, said that peace in the Holy Land is a tough issue requiring open hearts and minds. Any achievement in this direction, however small, is of vital importance.
Equal rights for all is a paramount principle, as is comprehensive justice. Once these goals are achieved, said Habbash, the whole world will have peace, security, and stability, all of which will be sustainable.
But words must translate into action, he emphasized, requiring concessions on both sides, Palestinian and Israeli--both must benefit and neither be deprived. Peace can't be complete until you wish the same for your brother as you wish for yourself.
Muslims, Christians, and Jews must look toward their common interests. Palestinians have been oppressed, suppressed, humiliated, and enslaved; continuation of murders on both sides is an enemy of peace, said Habbash.
But peace can't exist for one side at the expense of the other; that's the logic of the jungle, where creatures kill, rather than love, to survive.