Middle East Peace Programs
Interfaith Peace Conference in Amman
Written by David Fraser Harris, Secretary General, IIFWP-Middle East
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Over the past two years, the Middle East Peace Initiative brought over 10,000 Ambassadors for Peace from 151 countries to visit Israel and Palestine in what has been called a “heart to heart” campaign for peace. The Amman conference provided the opportunity for 72 North American Ambassadors for Peace to meet, understand and dialogue with leading Jordanian figures and Ambassadors for Peace. In a climate where the hopes for peace remain extremely fragile, a small contingent of Ambassadors for Peace came from Israel to observe and participate in the one-and-a-half-day program. At the same time, it was made known that at least one session of the conference was to deal with the role of religion and the importance of protecting Al Aqsa Mosque. As a result, a very wide range of Jordanians participated — including both those who encourage active dialogue in the interests of peace, and those who warn against naive trust or what some term a premature and therefore unprincipled move towards peace.
The initial program was held at the Regency Hotel on the evening of March 30th. The visiting American delegation barely had time to check in and change before the banquet began. They were joined by 50 Jordanians from all walks of life, and treated to a welcoming banquet hosted by IIFWP. The evening program was introduced by co-emcees, Sheikh Haitham Bundakji, born in Jerash and now Chairman of the Islamic Center of Orange County, California, and Dr. Michael W. Jenkins, Chairman of MEPI in USA. Words of welcome and greetings were offered in turn by Dr. Hamdi Murad, Islamic thinker and researcher; Archbishop G. Augustus Stallings, Co-President of the American Clergy Leadership Conference; Dr. Hee Sun Ji, regional chair of IIFWP; and Honorable Ina’m Al Mufti, former Jordanian Minister for Social Development. The visiting delegation were particularly touched by the words of the senator, who spoke of her own childhood in Palestine, of the harmony between Muslim and Jew in those far-off days, and of the opportunity she recently had to return to her birthplace, where she heard Arab Jews testify to her that they owed their lives to the protection her father had provided for them.
“The Role of Jordan: Realizing Enduring Peace in the Middle East” was the title of the conference which took place on the following day, again at the Regency Hotel. The first session focused largely on IIFWP’s approach to peace, and the core principles applied through initiatives such as the MEPI itself. This session was moderated by Imam Muhammad Jodeh, chairman of the Colorado Muslim Society. Speakers included Mr. Jim Flynn, secretary general of IIFWP-USA; Dr. Chang Shik Yang, Chairman of IIFWP in North America; Ambassador Samuel Zakhem, former US ambassador to Bahrain; and Dr. Masatoshi Abe, chairman of IIFWP, Israel.
The second session, entitled “Jordan and the Peace Process,” was moderated by Dr. Antonio Betancourt, secretary general of IIFWP North America. Speakers included General Mansour Abu Rashid, chairman of the Amman Center for Development; Ms. Rawan Al Bahou, acting director of the Regional Human Security Center at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy; Dr. Joshua Ben Ami of the Emil Frank Institute in Jerusalem; Ms. Sahar Al Fayez, national coordinator of the Euromed Youth Program at the Jordanian Higher Council for Youth; and former U.S. Congressman Curtis Nielsen. Particularly impressive was the list of peace initiatives presented by General Abu Rashid, which showed just how much can be done to put enmity behind us and work for the mutual prosperity of former enemies.
The final session was entitled “The Role of Faith in the Path to Peace,” with added subtitles encouraging speakers to address both the importance of religious cooperation and the importance of protecting Al Aqsa Mosque. The session was moderated by Dr. Michael Jenkins, and speakers included Dr. Hamdi Murad, the Honorable Rev. Dr. Walter Fauntroy, civil rights leader and former U.S. Congressman; Imam Haitham Bundakji from the Orange County Islamic Society in California; and Dr. Eliezar Glaubach, chairman of the I. Foerder Institute in Jerusalem; Father Nabil Haddad, Executive Director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center; Father A. Hatoum, from Nazareth, Executive Committee of the IIFWP Peace Council; and Ambassador Musa Al Keilani, chief editor of the a Jordan newspaper. The interfaith element was particularly evident in this session: when the prominent Christian leader, Father Nabil Haddad, rose to speak, he greeted everyone with the Islamic greeting, and proceeded to explain that he had been asked to convey a message to us all from Sheikh Izzedine Tamini, Supreme Judge of the Shari'a Courts of Jordan.
Before the final session concluded, we were honored to be joined by His Royal Highness, Prince Ra’ad Bin Zeid, who briefly addressed the final session. After thanking the MEPI for its work, he expressed hope that those present would return home with a better understanding of the situation. He encouraged us to continue with our work, adding that “we expect results.”
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