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Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum

Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum: The Crisis in Syria and Its Regional Impact

Jerusalem, Israel - UPF-Israel held a consultation in Jerusalem on the topic of "The Crisis in Syria and its Regional Impact: Assessing the Prospects for Peace and Stability" on Oct. 16, 2013. The date was significant since it was the national Memorial Day for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who lost his life in the quest for peace.

The consultation followed a similar gathering that took place in Amman, Jordan, on the previous weekend, as UPF's response to the ongoing crisis in Syria. Dr. Thomas Walsh, the International President of UPF who chaired both conferences, explained: "We are already painfully aware of the magnitude of the current crisis, the loss of life, the displacement of persons, and the horrors of war. We all fear the potential for this crisis to escalate even further."

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The Jerusalem conference, which took place at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, brought together some 15 Middle East experts, academics, social activists and religious leaders for a day of reflections and discussions regarding Syria. It began with a brief assessment of the current state of affairs in Syria, a review of some of the humanitarian efforts being carried out to alleviate the incurred human suffering and concluded with exploring the important role which religions could play by speaking with one voice of the need for dialogue, cooperation and peace.

In his opening remarks Mr. Hod Ben Zvi, president of UPF-Israel, said: "As a son to parents who are holocaust survivors and in the spirit of UPF's founders Dr. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, I sincerely feel we have a moral obligation to call for ending the sufferings of all human beings whether friends or foes."

The title of the first session was: ‘’The Current Situation in Syria: Assessing the Prospects for Peace and Stability.’’ The session was chaired by Mrs. Adi Sasaki, director of the Jerusalem Forum for Peace and Security.

The first speaker, Dr. Mordechai Kedar from the department of Arabic literature in Bar Ilan University, argued that the root of the crisis in Syria is the artificially imposed national structure by the colonial nations over the diverse ethnic and the religious groups, disregarding their rivalries. Moreover, he noted that President Bashar El-Assad’s ethnic group, the Alawites, are a minority who control the majority of Sunni Muslims, who consider them infidels. He suggested a remedy fashioned after the Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia model: establishing smaller independent states corresponding to the various ethnic and religious affiliations. Dr. Kedar suggested that this solution could be applied in other Arab countries that were constructed in a similar way.

The second speaker, serving in the foreign ministry, talked about the regional aspects of the crisis in Syria. His observation was in the context of the Sunni - Shi'ite conflict in the Arab world. Shi’ite Iran is trying to have a stronghold in the Middle East through creating territorial continuity through Turkey-Syria-Lebanon-Gaza. For this reason Iran is supporting Assad in this current crisis.

The final speaker, Dr. Eldad Pardo from the department of Islamic and Middle East Studies in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, talked about the new concept of the state in the post-modern world. While the pre-modern world was imperialistic, the modern world gave rise to revolutions such as the American Revolution and the Khomeini revolution in Iran. In the post-modern age, entities such as Hamas, the Palestinian authority, and Hezbollah are not states, but they have an army, and Palestinians are accepted at the UN, at the White House and so forth. He asked whether they are a state or not?

In conclusion, Dr. Pardo suggested that interfaith dialogue has a key role in the quest for a solution, since the vast majority of people in the Middle East believe in God. Thus, religious values can forge a common base with all the states, movements and undefined entities. Gradually they will be able to come together, find a common language and search ways for peace.

The second session was dedicated to the humanitarian efforts to contain the suffering from the war in Syria. The session was chaired by Ms. Miri Kamar, Secretary General of UPF-Israel.

The first speaker, Dr. Amram Hadari, head of the trauma unit in Ziv hospital in the northern part of Israel, described the treatment that Syrians with severe injuries are receiving in the Israeli hospital. Often the patients' arms or legs are severely injured, sometimes leaving amputation as the only resort. They are also often treating injuries to eyes damaged by explosions. Others were victims of chemical weapons. Dr. Hadari said that most patients needed lifesaving infusions of blood, which is donated by Israeli people. In addition, since the victims are brought over with nothing, Israeli citizens offer them clothing and toys for the children. They also raise money for expensive items like prostheses. Overall, the money that the Israeli hospital has invested in taking care of the Syrian victims exceeds US$ 2 million. Finally, the psychological aspects are taken into consideration, and the victims are also treated to alleviate their sufferings from loneliness, fear and anxiety.

The second speaker was the founder of Israeli Flying Aid, a non-governmental aid group which engages in helping victims of humanitarian disasters in countries without diplomatic ties to Israel. Her organization assists survivors of natural disasters and human conflict in the world's most dangerous regions. The complexity of such humanitarian aid missions means that they are often limited in their response, constrained by bureaucracy and reliant on the host country, which itself may also be entangled with corruption. As a consequence, victims of crisis are often denied aid.

Her team is staffed by volunteer doctors and post-trauma therapists. They are a microcosm of the Middle East society – having Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze members.

This young lady gave a moving testimony about her staff's determination to save lives under almost impossible circumstances; they are committed to saving those who are not protected even by their own countries and people. They work with remarkable sensitivity to the victims, who many times are not even aware of the fact that their lives have been saved by an Israeli organization. For example, she said, there are children from Muslim countries who receive medical treatment in Israel and are made to believe they are in a European country in order to prevent a risk to their lives if they ever unknowingly admit being treated in Israel upon their return home.

Another example was of an injured Syrian who was afraid to come with her to Israel. Even though he was being offered free life-saving treatment, he was too scared to accompany her. In order to save his life, IFA arranged for a doctor from Lebanon and an ambulance from Turkey to bring him to a trauma tent that was paid for by Israeli money. Thus this person was operated on and given the best treatment. “For me,” she said with shining eyes, “this was the vision of a new Middle East.”

Even the official authorities find ways to support such humanitarian efforts. The Israeli army donated 20,000 blankets, and the health ministry donates medicines.

The third session dealt with "The Possible Contribution of Religious Leaders to Reconciliation and Peacebuilding" and was chaired by Dr. Nurit Hirshfeld, director of Jerusalem Forum for Interfaith and Cooperation among Religions.

The first speaker, Dr. Hanoch Ben Pazi, from the Jewish philosophy department in Bar Ilan University, talked about the personal responsibility of people who witness the crisis in Syria. He elaborated on the lessons that can be extracted from the thought of the renowned Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. In conclusion, Dr. Ben Pazi asserted that morally, ethically and religiously – we, as people who witness the situation in Syria carry a responsibility for the situation. Consequently we, the people in Israel should substantially take this responsibility and search for ways for improving the situation in Syria.

The second speaker was Rabbi Ada Zavidov, a woman rabbi of a Reform Jewish community in Jerusalem. Rabbi Ada said that all human beings originated from the same parents, Adam and Eve, and all people in the world were created in the image of God. Therefore, one should not kill another person, and human blood should never be shed: not in Syria, not in Egypt, not in Africa; not by chemical weapons, and not in any kind of way. One child in Syria is the whole world; a child in India is the whole world. No matter where in the world, blood is blood and murder is murder; thus, it should never be allowed! She stated that this is as clear as the air that we are breathing. Rabbi Ada ended her speech with a moving prayer for peace.

The last speaker was Dr. Thomas Walsh, who shared his impressions from a parallel conference which took place just recently in Jordan. He noted that the role of religion is to strive to reach peace based on the high moral values embedded in each religion. Dr. Walsh went on to say the following: "There is growing, yet still inadequate awareness of the important role which religions could and should play in international relations. Some of the obstacles are related to outdated attitudes toward religion on the part of the mainstream community of international relations experts, and some of the obstacles are related to religion’s own inadequacies and unfortunate practices. These obstacles can be overcome, and religion can be a significant and constructive player in global affairs. Religious believers of diverse faiths and ethnic or national backgrounds should come together in a spirit of harmony and cooperation and speak with one voice of the need for dialogue, cooperation and peace."

Following the last session, an interesting discussion developed. Father Joseph Saghbini from the Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarchate in Jerusalem affirmed the important role of religious leadership. Dr. Kedar said that the religious leaders have more power than politicians; therefore, once they decide to collaborate, they can reach higher and nobler goals. Mr Ben Zvi suggested that the reason that has not happened yet is because religious leaders are letting the political leaders take the lead and are satisfied with the benefits that the political system offers them. Religious leaders are called to be the brave moral voice, he concluded, rather than tag along the politicians.

NOTE: UPF has convened or contributed to a number of civil-society forums on the crisis in Syria:

Vienna, Austria: All-Sides Consultation for a Political Solution to the Syrian Conflict, Mar. 8-9, 2014
Buenos Aires, Argentina: To Establish Peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World, Feb. 6, 2014
Geneva, Switzerland: Track 2 Consultation: Toward Peace and Reconciliation in Syria, Executive report of the consultation Jan. 25, 2014
Washington DC, USA: Women's Role in Syria's Transition and Reconciliation, Jan. 15, 2014
Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences Convenes Consultation on Syria, Jan. 13, 2014
Jerusalem, Israel: The Crisis in Syria and Its Regional Impact, Oct. 16, 2013
Washington DC, USA: Peace Zones as Avenues for Stability in South Sudan, Syria, Colombia and Korea, Oct. 15, 2013
Amman, Jordan: Prospects for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria, Oct. 13, 2013
Vienna, Austria: Syrian Christians in Austria Torn Between Hope and Despair, Apr. 16, 2013
Jerusalem, Israel: The Impact of Syria and Egypt on Israel's Security Measures, Feb. 14, 2013
Washington DC, USA: The Tragedy and Hope for Syria, Sept. 26, 2012

See also: Interfaith Declaration on Peace in Syria, Oct. 13, 2013

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