Interfaith Peacebuilding


July 2020
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Interfaith Programs

Welcome to Israel

“Your mom threw my mom out of the house,” said a Palestinian youth to a visiting American Jew. In a land where 3,000 years of history are so readily collapsed into one generation, the prospects for improved relationships often seem dismal. Our era needs women peacebuilders who can reopen the doors of locked hearts and homes to welcome the "other."

For those who ask what dent an individual can make in a conflict that goes back for generations and millennia, consider this account.

As one group of participants in a Middle East Peace Initiative trip headed by bus from Amman, Jordan, down to the Israeli border by the Dead Sea in April 2007, I told them, “We are going to the border with Israel, the kind of checkpoint where people have been killed by a suicide bomber. We will meet young Israeli soldiers with machine guns.” I warned them against taking photos, joking, or responding aggressively.

“We are on a peace mission,” we reminded people each time we arrived at a checkpoint. “Every encounter is an opportunity for insight and building relationships. Pray, meditate, or do whatever is meaningful to you in order to draw on spiritual resources that can promote understanding and goodwill.”

Furthermore, these guards are 18 and 19 years old, fulfilling their compulsory military service. They are someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s niece, someone’s nephew. “Suppose you were their parent, aunt or uncle,” I added. “Would you sleep easily at night knowing that they are on the front line to protect their country? Think of this when we meet them.”

One person on our bus had an American passport listing his birthplace as Damascus. There is no peace treaty between Israel and its neighbor to the northeast and not much goodwill. At the checkpoint, everyone in our group was admitted except him. Two people stayed behind with him while the rest of us went to a restaurant in nearby Jericho for lunch. We filled our trays with various dishes, sat down to eat, looked over the glittering array of souvenirs for sale, and took turns climbing on top of a disinterested-looking camel for a stroll around the parking lot. My mind was with the three people we left behind at the Allenby Bridge checkpoint.

After a couple of hours, they arrived at the restaurant with beaming faces.

“What happened?” I asked?

“Until I heard about this peace trip, it seemed like an impossible dream for me to come to Israel and visit the holy places,” the Damascus-born Muslim explained.

“I was so upset at the way I was treated by the soldiers. Then I remembered your voice on the bus telling us to think of these border guards as if they were our son or daughter, our niece or nephew. Something melted in my heart, and I looked at the young people and I saw them as my family."

They stamped his visa and said, "Welcome to Israel.”

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