Middle East Peace Programs

One of the most striking experiences for many MEPI participants is the degree to which historical resentments can continue to affect people today. Some of the most memorable encounters are with people who have found ways to let go of such resentments.

 

Sheikh Aziz Bukhari (lower right) welcomes Ambassadors for Peace to his home on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. Some sections of the home date from the time of Jesus.

 

 

For example, on the eve of the 1956 Sinai War, the commander of an Israeli battalion near the Muslim village of Kfar Qasim gave orders for a curfew to begin within a half hour. However, the villagers who had left for work had no knowledge of the curfew, and they were gunned down without warning as they returned home. (Those responsible were brought to trial but given light sentences; however as a result of the case, the Israeli Supreme Court made a landmark ruling on the obligation of soldiers to disobey manifestly illegal orders.) Forty-eight men, women, and children were killed. The grieving survivors sought to rise above the past and find ways to live among their neighbors.

Dr. Hassan Amer, a Muslim psychotherapist from Kfar Qasim, is heir of those survivors’ commitment to transcend the past. He invited American Ambassadors for Peace to spend a day in his town and hosted them for a meal. “It is a privilege of mine to serve you and have you in my town,” he said. “You cleanse my heart. I am willing to sacrifice my soul, my heart, and myself for this mission.”

There were many stares as the Americans exited the bus in this little-visited town. University students engaged in animated conversations about current US foreign policy. Resentment against an entire country can sometimes be directed at an individual citizen. Sometimes the only response an American visitor could offer was, “We are sorry.”

A shopkeeper invited a small group inside for coffee and conversation. “There was some initial animosity,” one American reported. “But then a teacher invited us to join him at a table, and we found a common topic of interest: concern about our children’s future.”

“There are two dialogues in the world,” a sheikh told the visitors at the local mosque: “the dialogue of violence and the dialogue of peace. As religious people, we support the dialogue of peace. I hope you will succeed in this great challenge.”

MEPI participants have visited people in Jerusalem neighborhoods. One shopkeeper described how his ancestors had lived in this land for 2,000 years, most of the time peacefully living side by side with people of different faiths. He believed people could learn to do it again.

A woman with a young child said that her father had promised her a future without wars when she was a child. But at age eighteen she had to do military service. As a mother, she would like more than anything to ensure for her baby a world without war.

“If you are here for peace, please come in my house,” another Jewish woman said. She described a transforming experience in 1967 when mothers’ hearts transcended the barriers between people. A Palestinian mother holding a baby was struggling to cross a barbed wire fence. She looked at this Jewish woman in the eyes and handed her the baby to hold until she reached the other side.

Peace in the future depends on people letting go of past resentments.

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