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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace



'Combatants for Peace' aims to end annihilation

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

February 1, 2007
By Sylvester Brown

Rabbi Susan Talve wanted to make sure that I sampled some of the goodies before I left her temple Sunday afternoon. Her Palestinian friend, Fuad Jaber, kept
busy arranging long tables of Middle Eastern delicacies for the more than 200
people gathered inside Central Reform Congregation's auditorium.

"Israeli and Palestinian food is very much the same," Talve told me. "(Our
people) are cousins, you know. We have shared values."

Talve and Jaber are members of Children of Abraham, a local Palestinian-Jewish
dialogue group the Rabbi helped found three years ago. Originally, the group
considered calling themselves the Cousins' Club, because Jews and Arabs are all
said to be descended from the Biblical Abraham, but settled on Children of
Abraham instead.

"We represent the vast majority on both sides who want a peaceful Middle East,"
Talve said, defining the group. "We love Israel and we have true love for
Palestinians. It's about 300 people who never think of each other as 'other.'"

When it comes to the media's depiction of Jews and Palestinians in the Middle
East, I pointed out, it seems there's more interest in annihilating each other
than commingling peacefully. Jaber and Talve patiently insisted peace in the
Middle East is an attainable goal.

"My father was a passive resister, he never carry a gun. He believed that we
can all live together. Yet, he was tortured to death," said Jaber, who left a
Palestinian city near Ramallah, in the West Bank, in 1989. "I could hate. But
instead I focus on the human factor."

The Children of Abraham co-sponsored Sunday's "Combatants for Peace" event,
along with Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) and
other groups. The Combatants for Peace movement began in 2005 in the Middle
East when Palestinians and Israelis grew tired of brandishing weapons at each
other. The group's logo shows two figures tossing aside their weapons and
walking toward each other with open arms.

I spoke with guest speakers, Sulaiman Al Hamri, 42, and Shimon Katz, 29, before
they addressed the crowd. Al Hamri told me of his teenage years in Bethlehem.
He was among a group of young Palestinians arrested in the mid-1980s after an
Israeli soldier was stabbed. He spent more than four years in prison away from
his family for a crime he says he didn't commit. I asked how he'd gotten past
the anger.

"I am still angry," he said. "But in prison I had to make an evaluation. I had
to ask myself about means to confront occupation with cooperation."

While in prison Al Hamri said he met with high-ranking Israeli military
officers interested in "solving the conflict another way."

"We considered these officers the worst of the worse. It was a very strange
meeting, full of fear. But we had determination to talk, to talk and to hear.
We continued, and then, we found this group. Now we are here to talk to you."

Al Hamri's Jewish partner in the cause, Katz, served as an officer in an elite
Israeli combat unit. After spending time in India and learning the non-violent
philosophies of the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi, "something changed inside,"
he told me.

"I realized that violence only brings more violence."

The two men told me that their mission is more grassroots than political. There
is power in dialogue, said Katz. "This is our purpose, bringing people
together. Once you get to know each other, you won't be able to shoot one
another."

It's like a marathon, Jaber told me outside the auditorium. "It starts with one
step. If I don't finish, then probably my daughter's generation, or the next,
will."

Like Rabbi Talve, Jaber also insisted that I take food with me before leaving.

"You have to try this," he said, stacking a spiced biscuit and other delicacies
on a plate. "And this, it's called baba ghanouj. It's made from eggplants. And
this is fresh hummus. You squeeze a little olive oil on everything. It's
fantastic."

It was indeed. Driving home I thought about the good food, the shared values
and the hopeful prospect of peace among "cousins."

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