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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Bridging faiths is path to peace

The Daily Gazette

March 2, 2009

By Michael Goot

ALBANY — The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not easy, but it must first start with people from each side understanding what the other side has to say.

“I believe we can hear the other side,” said Ethan Bloch, co-founder of advocacy group Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) at the Interfaith Dialogue on the Middle East, adding that the problem is people do not take the opportunity to hear the other views.

About 75 people attended a panel discussion held at The College of Saint Rose’s Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary on Sunday. The event brought together three speakers offering the Jewish, Muslim and Christian perspectives on Mideast peace issues.

Bloch said the media has a tendency to frame all the Mideast peace issues in terms of the “good guys” — the Israelis — versus the Palestinian “bad guys.” The real issues are more complex, and both groups have done bad things.

He acknowledged the abuses that Palestinians have suffered at the hands of Israelis. However, he said Israel is unfairly singled out by the world community, while the abuses of others countries receive less attention. Examples include China's oppression of Tibet, Russia’s treatment toward Chechnya or the United States’ treatment of the Iraqi people.

Bloch said he supports creating two states from Israel because he believes Israelis and Palestinians trying to coexist in one country would result in something similar to what happened in the former Yugoslavia, which splintered into different countries.

He said more Jews are coming around to this two-state idea. However, he said, the Israeli political leadership has only paid lip service to this idea and not reached out to Palestinians who want to negotiate.

Rashid Naim, senior lecturer of political science at Georgia State University in Atlanta and a practicing Muslim, agreed that the media may overlook treatment of Palestinians. A bomb blast that kills many at once gets media attention, but the beating of Palestinians civilians by Israeli Army officials in the West Bank is virtually ignored, he said.

Naim quoted a few passages from the Koran illustrating that, like other faiths, Islam stresses the values of equality, justice and providence. The Koran states to “never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice.”

He said that the Muslim world has had a long tradition as a haven for Jews escaping persecution from other countries. He also pointed out that at one point, the population of what was then called Palestine was 90 percent Arab and 10 percent Jewish. Now, Palestinian Arabs are the overwhelming minority.

His solution to the conflict is for those involved to ask themselves, “Are you living the values you believe in?”

Karl K. Barbir, professor of history at Siena College, picked up on that point in his remarks. He said the Israeli-Palestinian issue is part of a larger issue of nationalism. In the 20th century, 100 million people died in wars related to national conflict. Instead of people focusing on the values and ethics of their religion, they put their country first.

“The process must begin with also forgiveness and apology on both sides and for each side to acknowledge the wrongs that it has committed,” he said.

Interfaith Alliance of New York State board member Harriet Warnock-Graham said the event came about after Israel launched an offensive into Gaza in January to stop rocket attacks from Hamas.

She said Judaism, Christianity and Islam share similar lineage, so this issue affects all faiths. “We’re all children of Abraham. We had to start the conversation.”

Shafiq Williams, a Muslim from Troy, said he appreciated the dialogue about the Israelis and Palestinians, who are more similar than different.

“Both sides have the same needs, want the same things,” he said.

Alice Brody of Albany, who is Jewish, said this event was a start at bridging the faiths.

“We need to see things like this replicated over and over,” she said.

 

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