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Peace Education

Heart to Heart for Peace in Israel and Palestinian Territories, December 2003

Door-to-door outreach and meetings in various settings offered opportunities to communicate hopes for peace and reconciliation and build personal relationships in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and many parts of the Holy Land during the month of December 2003 as part of the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI), responding to the call of Rev. Sun Myung Moon earlier that year for people from around the world to go to Israel and the Palestinian Territories to promote peace and reconciliation.

People from throughout Israel and 84 nations participated in a December 23 rally in Jerusalem’s Independence Park that attracted 20,000 local people and featured exchanges of gifts among representatives of different religions, symbolizing mutual respect and honor among people of the Abrahamic faiths. A December 19-23 conference in Jerusalem and Gaza involved 118 international participants plus local Jewish and Muslim leaders. A follow-up briefing was held at the UN on January 19, 2004.

Peace Task Force

An international task force of more than 100 individu­als from 84 nations and many faith backgrounds contribut­ed through, door to door outreach, various forms of meetings and engagement designed to develop awareness in Jerusalem and Bethlehem through interna­tional symposium, broad media coverage, and the sincere concern of the international community for the circumstances of all. Their work lasted three weeks in the region, culminating in a rally of more than 20,000 in Independence Park in Jerusalem.

The Peace Task Force invited people to join them for meals. When people first arrived the atmosphere was often tense, because it is unusual for such an assortment of Jews, Muslims and Christians to sit down and eat together. However, Dr. Glaubach and his wife, Rachel, always gave everyone a warm welcome and communicated the sense of being one family. A little choir would sing the theme song, "Peace, Shalom, Salaam Aleikum," and that warmed the atmosphere.

Mrs. Glaubach set up appointments. In the spirit of a good Jewish mother, she constantly came to the hotel with cookies and cake. She sat down at the phone at 9:00 in the morning and often did not leave until 11:00 at night.

One evening, a group of rabbis from the Lubavitch Chabad appeared at the door and cautiously entered the banquet room. As they sat and ate with everyone, they enjoyed the time together and believed that God had sent them there. Dr. Glaubach, who is a master at bringing comfort and assurance to all, invited one rabbi to sing. Another rabbi read a unity resolution signed by key world leaders. Then one of them, Rabbi Benjamin, spoke: "I'm so grateful to be invited here. I only learned about this meeting a half hour ago. It must have been divine guidance that brought us here. What a wonderful spirit is in this room tonight!"

Sitting around a table, sharing a meal together, Jews, Christians and Muslims often mention their hopes for a better world for their children and their grandchildren. Perhaps the growth in heart that family life cultivates stimulates people to think more deeply about what legacy they want to leave behind. Deeply longing for a world of peace, they become willing to take risks and try innovative ways to reach out to those who had always been the enemy.

Volunteers from America, Europe, and Asia visited community centers, schools, colleges, churches, mosques, and synagogues to share the vision of Heart-to-Heart for Peace. They met mayors and leaders, rabbis and imams, Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze. They found people who are longing for peace. They came to believe that the main barrier to peace is fear, and the only antidote to fear is true love.

Each small international, interracial and interreligious visiting team was a microcosm of the task force. Such teamwork among Orientals and Westerners, blacks and whites, and members of the family of Abraham has amazing impact in the Holy Land. Every encounter is so important, and the simplest person might have incredible connections.

Members of the Peace Task Force visited top religious leaders, including the Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, and the Grand Mufti of Palestine and Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrimah Said Sabri.

Delegations of Jews, Christians and Muslims went to the Knesset [the Israeli parliament], where they spoke to members about their mission, sometimes sharing a Kosher meal. One such delegate was former Georgia State Senator Donzella James. She observed, "Even though we come from different parts of the world, lawmakers have similar concerns. People of all races, nationalities, cultures and religions are affected by public policy. They answered our questions with carefully-chosen words."

One pro-union legislator was able to relate well to former senator James, who had previously been a member of a labor union. He thought it was very interesting that she would come to speak to Israeli legislators about peace when there is so much conflict in the United States. She told him, "We care about Israel because it is the Holy Land, and we came over to support your efforts for peace. Furthermore, people have to sit down and start talking together."

She reported that everyone was interested in peace becoming a reality in Israel. "They do not want to see the devastation of war," she said. "But they don’t see how peace can happen, because they have loved ones and friends who have been killed. Both sides have fears."

One group talked to a rabbi in Tel Aviv who runs an ambulance service. While they were with him, his beeper kept going off. One time, he looked down and commented, "Oh, there was an automobile accident on Zecharias Street. Our people will be on the scene in four minutes." Then a message came in about a bomb in a restaurant. Immediately the handsome, middle-aged man began to rock back and forth in prayer. Worry streamed across his face. It was a Mafia strike on a rival mob boss; four people were killed and fourteen injured.

Another group visited the Israeli Committee against Housing Demolition. The director was an American Jew who immigrated to Israel in pursuit of a dream. Now he was worried that the dream was becoming a nightmare for many, both Jews and Palestinians. He was concerned that his own people were making a great mistake in not finding a way to live with the previous occupants of the land. His focus was on educating people, both in Israel and abroad. Thus, host and guests found common ground in this focus on education.

While many people were interested, not everyone received the visitors graciously. A group of children surrounded someone from the Peace Task Force and spat on the ground. One rabbi exploded in anger when a delegation visited his synagogue. Others ripped leaflets into pieces.

Eight Christian ministers from the United States joined the Peace Task Force. They uplifted the spirit of the outreach. Jews and Muslims were deeply moved by Christians who demonstrated profound respect and love for their hearts and faith. Some of the ministers were invited to preach in Christian churches. But there were days when few people responded.

Rev. Hatoum was deeply inspired by the joint efforts. "In May, when you came the first time, there was no hope," he told said. "All factions were hopelessly entrenched in their positions. Now I believe that because of these pilgrimages everything is opening up. It is truly amazing. There is hope all over the Holy Land. We can see peace just over the mountains."

One morning Rev. Hatoum was awakened in his home at 3:00 by a dream in which Rev. Moon was speaking to a large gathering in Korea and urging them to keep pushing to bring people to a rally. Suddenly Rev. Moon turned to Rev. Hatoum in the dream and said, "Rev. Hatoum, go quickly. Go. There is no time to sleep. These people are working to save your land. Get up and go." Rev. Hatoum got up and drove two hours to participate in morning devotions in Jerusalem. His unexpected arrival and testimony ignited people’s spirits.

Some of the warmest welcome came from the city of Haifa. The following letter was sent by Yona Yahov, mayor of Haifa:

“Blessings from the depth of the heart on behalf of the City of Haifa and the citizens of Haifa, the city of tolerance. You are performing a sacred work. You bring us so much hope. We thank you from the depth of the heart. You give us so much hope by coming here in these so very difficult days, to be with us, and by continuing your efforts to lead the way to peace in the Middle East.”

The greatest beauty of Israel might have been demonstrated by an elderly woman who could not speak English. When someone from the Peace Task Force knocked on her door, she opened it with a welcoming smile. Stooped with age, she held out a handful of fruit. Somehow she wanted to give him something. It was a divine moment. Perhaps she was offering something in honor of the Hanukkah season, or perhaps simply because the Sabbath was coming. Regardless of the reason, the visitor felt it was a beautiful meeting of one soul with another.

Bringing the Christmas Spirit to Bethlehem

It was Advent season and in the shops of Bethlehem there were no Christmas lights. Young Europeans participating in the pilgrimage went up and down the streets, hanging decorations to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child. For the first time, Jesus’ birthplace was decorated for Christmas. It was a joyous act of service.

"We wanted to give people a chance to see the real situation of people in both Israel and Palestine," explained service organizers Akiko Ikeno and Massimo Trombin, "and we feel that the best way to do that is for all of us to share together the common experience of serving others."

In Bethlehem, families whose livelihood comes from tourism have suffered because of the lack of visitors since the second intifada began. International volunteers helped them decorate 150 shops. Service For Peace and the International Relief Friendship Foundation organized local high school students to join international volunteers in preparing the ground for Bethlehem’s first park. Volunteers worked alongside orphans to clean and paint their orphanage as well as decorate a street for the holidays. In addition, they worked with local youth to clean up the Lutheran cemetery.

These projects offered the visitors unique opportunities for more extensive contact with local people as they worked together for a common purpose. Such experiences of joint service have the potential to transform everyone involved.

Two young Europeans reported being especially moved by their contact with people living in Jesus’ birthplace and the opportunity to experience daily life with them.

Initially, Grace Barata went to Bethlehem on a tour bus to visit the Church of the Nativity. While others offered Christmas prayers at the shrine, Grace prayed for peace. She was moved and saddened to realize that Jesus was born in such humble circumstances. Since tourists were scarce, she was surrounded by persistent street vendors desperate for every dollar; yet she found them to be humble and friendly. This visit inspired her to return the next day to help decorate the town. As the volunteers passed by, shopkeepers opened their doors and called out, "Welcome to Bethlehem."

Fed up with the endless cycles of violence, Grace began to feel the same desperation as the people there and yearned for peace to become a reality soon. To see families and children suffering and hear stories of people fleeing and being killed made her very serious. She prayed that the Heart-to-Heart Rally could be a starting point for creating something substantial, since she had met good people on both sides who are longing for the fighting to end. From her experiences, Grace concluded that walls will dissolve when people are humble enough to learn from each other and recognize that they are not so different after all.

Frederic Martin-Prevel visited a Christian school for a cultural exchange program with children ages 6 to 16. He found the young people to be very warm-hearted and responsive in their welcome: "We sang, they sang. We danced, they danced. Each one of us offered our traditional songs. Even though the performances were not professional, we created an incredible, joyful atmosphere of heartfelt sharing."

While working alongside the orphans at the refugee camp, Frederick was struck by the shabby dwellings. Beyond the externals, what moved him was the spirit of the people, always wanting to give something even though they are poor. It seemed to him that their presence was what people appreciated the most. People in Bethlehem are stuck, rarely able to leave the Palestinian Territory and enter Israel. Through sharing with them, the visitors brought them not only joy but also contact with the rest of the world and helped them feel part of the bigger picture.

Rev. Mitri Raheb, director of the International Center of Bethlehem, expressed hope that "this event will be followed by future plans in our mutual efforts to establish peace in our region and our attempt to build a better world." Mohammed Shalaldeh, director of SOS Children’s Village in Bethlehem, expressed thanks to the young people for helping "add the joy of the Christmas spirit in children’s hearts, through planting trees, cleaning gardens and decorating the village."

Part of these peace missions involved reaching out across the divide to join hands and hearts in service. This resonates with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, often translated as "repairing the world." It means to serve society by helping those in need and serving God by liberating the spark of divinity within each of us.

Regarding the impact that such heart-to-heart service had on children, Naila Kharroub, the principal of the Dar Al-Kalima High School in Bethlehem, wrote: "Our children, like all the children of the world, are our hope and future. Your joining hands with them today was a bridge toward that hope and future. In so doing, you have brought a smile to every face that has long seen sadness. You have filled hope in hearts that have long witnessed despair. You have brought a sense of togetherness to those who have long seen disparity. And finally you have brought peace to the souls of many who have long got used to war and aggression."

Honoring Each Other’s Faith

As part of the interfaith peace initiative, religious leaders walked through the Old City to Al Aqsa Plaza. Father Abuna Hatoum, Rabbi Erno Lazarovits and Imam Haitham Bundakji met as representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths on this hallowed ground. Rabbi Lazarovits, a leader of the Hungarian Jewish community, was overwhelmed. He never dreamed he could go to this holy place and be welcomed by the head of Al Aqsa Mosque. At this seat of conflicting claims by Jews and Muslims, Imam Bundakji repented for the hatred he once held in his heart for the Jews and offered forgiveness for any wrongs done to Muslims by their Jewish family members. This moved the rabbi to tears. As the two representative brothers embraced, Imam Bundakji was moved to tears. Thousands of years earlier, Ishmael had separated from Isaac in tears. Their representatives shed tears of repentance and tears of joy over finding each other as long-lost brothers.

December 22, 2003, dawned clear, crisp and windy. Thousands of people from all over Israel and around the world assembled at Jerusalem’s Independence Park where they would witness. a ceremony communicating the idea that the three monotheistic religions must reconcile in order to advance peace in the Middle East, which will be a precursor for peace elsewhere in the world.

The afternoon was filled with Israeli music and the dynamic Fire Choir from Dimona, the home of the Black Hebrew Community. Their song, "He-nay Matovu Manayem" (from the words of Psalm 133) proclaimed that it is good that men and women of God can be gathered together in one place.

In the keynote address, Dr. Chang Shik Yang said: "We believe that we are standing at a turning point in history, a time when change is needed and change can come. Two months ago we rallied for peace at the United Nations. Two days ago we were in Gaza. Today we are here in Jerusalem, and tomorrow we will be in Ramallah. Wherever we go the message is the same. We must tear down the walls that separate us! We must stop the bloodshed! We must stop the violence! We must put aside our fears and prejudices and learn the ways of peace.

"We must come together as one in unity. It is our only hope. But it can never happen through doctrine or theology, and it cannot happen through political or economic power. It can only happen through true love. What is true love? True love means giving and forgetting that you gave. It means loving not only the people who are close to us, but even our enemies. If we cannot forgive, if we cannot love, we can never unite.

"Look around you at everyone who is here. Are we not all the same? Don't we share the same hopes and ideals for our children? If we can make peace here in Jerusalem, we will be sending out a message of hope to the world that the time has come to build an eternal Kingdom of Peace."

Master of ceremonies. Rev. Michael Jenkins announced: "Today Jesus will be welcomed by his family and honored by his people. This will remove the curse that has divided the children of God. On this foundation, Christians and Jews will reconcile. Then, representing Isaac they will bow with respect and love for their brother Ishmael as Jacob bowed before Esau. In tears, those brothers will reconcile. All bloodshed will finally come to an end. The new covenant of God is now with a new chosen people of every race, every people, every nation and every tongue."

Two Jewish leaders slowly approached two armchairs on the platform. The man bowed and placed a silver crown on one seat. The woman placed a robe on the other. Both bowed repeatedly as spectators from 70 countries on five continents stood watching. "The rejection of Jesus is restored and he is honored as King of Peace, welcomed by the Jewish people and embraced and loved as the Lord," declared Rev. Jenkins. A Christian clergyman placed two thick candles on a low table in front of the chairs.

Next to be honored was the Prophet Mohammed. Two Christians gave a black robe to Taj Hamad, a Sudanese Muslim wearing a white turban, as a sign of anointing and respect. "The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, is now recognized as God's prophet," declared Rev. Jenkins, and spectators applauded. "We believe in Mohammed," he said.

Then two Muslims gave Dr. Eliezer Glaubach a golden menorah as a symbol of reconciliation with the Jews and an acknowledgement of their calling to be a light unto the nations. "The best of what God gave you, you want to give to the other," explained Mr. Hamad, who said he experienced great release and happiness during the ceremony.

Messages for peace and reconciliation were delivered by faith leaders and offered to the crowd for reflection. There were congratulatory video messages from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the mayor of Haifa.

"We should break down all boundaries that divide people," said Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace. "We should live together in mutual respect and cooperation. Peace cannot be achieved by external means alone. True peace is rooted in the individual person and heart. We must seek God. God is the origin and the foundation of peace."

Rev. Jenkins proclaimed, “Welcome home, Jesus!” From his seat towards front of the park, Rev. Carl Rawls took a look behind him and felt as if he were looking through the eyes of John, who described in the book of Revelation, "a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations…of all tongues." At that moment, he felt he was in heaven.

Daniele Cohen, who came from Seattle, Washington, for the rally, reported: "When the crown for Jesus was presented, I felt the ground tremble like an earthquake was coming. Then I heard loud weeping and wailing, and it felt as if a great weight had lifted off the very land itself."

The ceremony climaxed with the lighting of a gigantic Menorah, followed by the simultaneous lighting of peace candles on the stage, in the crowd, and worldwide through live Internet webcast. By the end of the day, more than 120 million candles for peace were lit around the world.

In Jerusalem, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael and Jacob was proclaimed as a living God, with all power over the forces of death and darkness. December 21 is the shortest day of the year and, therefore, has the longest night. On December 22, the darkness began to roll back.

The vision of Rev. Sun Myung Moon for the pilgrimages was to remove the historic barriers and conditions that have blocked the unity of God’s chosen people and the unity of the Abrahamic faiths.

“Father Moon’s understanding is that God is not asking everyone to become Christians or people of another particular faith,” Rev. Jenkins explained. “God is calling people to fulfill the purpose of their own faith and honor one another with true understanding, recognizing that they all come from the same God. Critical to liberating the animosity and historic hatred toward the Jewish people is to take away the conditions that caused resentment and breakdown. Father Moon’s vision is that the central historical condition that put Jews in a position of great suffering was the fact that they were not able to understand God’s work through Jesus. This caused a fundamental division between the religion that sprung up centering on Jesus and its original root in Judaism.”

Rev. Jenkins went on to describe Islam as created by God to bring light and understanding to Christians, Jews and people of all faiths. “Yet when we don’t understand that Mohammed was sent by God and when we don’t truly respect Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, there is no way for the brothers and sisters of these faiths to come together with one heart. Therefore, the condition to reverse this was for Jewish representatives to honor Jesus as their elder brother by giving him a crown, which if he was truly understood, would have been a natural conclusion of the Jewish people. Judaism would have evolved into the absolute foundation for the Kingdom of God. It would be founded on the law but administered with love. Jesus was sent by God to bring the love component in order to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 18:7 that one day people would come to Jerusalem from Syria and Egypt and the surrounding nations and all be God’s people. Judaism was meant to be the central religion of the kingdom and bring harmony among all religions. The element they needed most was the element that Jesus was bringing, which was to love your enemy.”

As Dr. Joshua Ben-Ami states, historically, Jesus was a very popular rabbi in Galilee. He had a very strong following and was not rejected by the people or by the local authorities. However, the message of love transcending law was radical and difficult for many to understand.

“To restore this, we have to become one family, centering on the one God, with the law as the foundation and love as our principal guideline,” Rev. Jenkins added. “History was made on December 22, 2003 when Jews came forward and embraced Jesus as their elder brother and king of love. Christians repented for having mistreated Jews and Muslims, honoring Islam by proclaiming that Mohammed was sent by God. Muslims completed the circle by offering their Jewish brothers the Menorah and saying before God, We are one. Let Ishmael and Isaac forgive each other.’”

This was supported by another Abrahamic religion indigenous to the Holy Land, the Druze faith, which acted as a facilitating brother for the harmony of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Visit to Gaza

After the rally, more than 80 people went to Gaza for conference. Former president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, spoke out courageously against violence and the suicide bombing tactics of the Palestinians. In press conferences, he said that Palestinians who have committed suicide bombings in the name of Islam during the years of fighting with Israel have misinterpreted the religion. "All my life I have called on Muslims to ... be on good terms with others," said Mr. Wahid, a moderate who ruled the most populous Muslim country for a year and a half, until July 2001. "It's natural for us to condemn terrorism and ... suicide bombings." He said what many others wanted to say, and he had the standing to say it clearly.

A leader in Gaza said, "The situation here is tense. The people are deeply disappointed by the ‘peace’ efforts. The Jews and the Palestinian people are deeply skeptical that anything will work. However, when you come with the religious leaders it creates an atmosphere that makes us feel hope that we can come together."

Again, people visited the Rafah refugee camp. One resident went up to the host, Abu Ali Shaheen of the Palestinian National Authority, and angrily scolded him for not providing help for his family. As evening was approaching, some people in the group were taking flash photographs at the border. Suddenly there was machine-gun fire. To return to the Erez crossing on the north side of Gaza, they had to make many detours. In the middle of a crowded refugee camp, a fire in the road blocked the way and the bus had to take other streets. Everyone was relieved upon returning to Jerusalem.

Compiled by Joy Pople

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