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Heavy metal, Middle Eastern band of brothers!

Who knew heavy metal could promote peace?  But that’s just what’s happening as the Israeli band, Orphaned Land, and the Palestinian band, Khalas, have toured Britain.  They come from different countries.  They even write different kinds of lyrics. But they have shown how art has an ability to transcend lines that politics often can’t.

Who knew heavy metal could promote peace? But that’s just what’s happening as the Israeli band, Orphaned Land, and the Palestinian band, Khalas, have toured Britain. They come from different countries. They even write different kinds of lyrics. But they have shown how art has an ability to transcend lines that politics often can’t.

We’re constantly bombarded by implicit and explicit images of the relationship that Jews and Muslims supposedly have in today’s world. We are bombarded with the cliched reminder that we “used to get along” but recently have become enemies.

We’ve almost become used to it, accepted it as some sort of reality.

And, ironically, all these “interfaith” events can often cause us to feel even more disconnected. They just don’t seem as genuine as a true connection. It would seem the only people you would need to show such “unity” with is people you don’t get along with.

Which is why we need to look deeper. We need to look wider. We need to see that “unity” doesn’t mean press. It doesn’t mean “shows of support”. It means genuine connection and giving.

And the truth is that the world is scattered with that. The truth is that the press likes to say just one side of the story, likes to focus on conflict. But there is unity. There is connection.

All we need to do is look!

Listen as the tour leaders speak of their unity and message:

Sources: Sky News, PopChassid, metalinjection.net, The Guardian, alarabiya.net, cnn.com

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March 26, 2015 Posted by | Arab lifestyle, Geography, Human Rights, Interfaith, Peace, Religious Reconciliation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Praying to the God of Abraham

Left:  Muslim pray at the Kaaba in Mecca. Right: Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Left: Muslims pray at the Kaaba in Mecca. Right: Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Both pleading to the God of Abraham.

Praying to Abraham’s God 

Sam, Shafik and Muhammad in front of the holy Kaaba in Mecca.

Sam, Shafik and Muhammad in front of the holy Kaaba in Mecca. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Last night I was invited by three Muslim friends to join them in the holy city of Mecca.

I took this photo (above left) of my Muslim brothers praying at the Kaaba (a worship place built by Prophet Abraham). It reminded me of another photo (above right) I had seen of Jews praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (the foundation stones of the worship place built by Prophet Solomon).

These stone buildings are not objects of worship. They are merely places to focus one’s attention on the one and only God of the universe.

We must remind ourselves that both Jews and Arabs are genetically descendant from Prophet Abraham. They are “cousins.” They both pray to Abraham’s God.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer

As I joined hundreds of men and women in making the ritual tawaf (the prayerful circumambulation of the holy Kaaba), Scriptures came to mind reminding me that disagreements, no matter how difficult, must never lead to hatred. Hatred has no place in true faith.

While I praised God for his loving kindness, I tearfully prayed as the great Messiah Jesus taught us to pray, “God, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The context of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, known to Christians as “the Lord’s Prayer,” outlines a heartfelt appeal to all of us (men and women) who make a public show of prayer. We are in essence told to humble ourselves in our relationships with others;  seeking not to offend but rather to make amends.

Praise to the God of Abraham

In many Christian congregations (especially the Methodist), congregants stand and sing the hymn “The God of Abraham Praise.” This old hymn has an interesting background

One night in 1865, the English hymnist Thomas Olivers was attract­ed to a service in a London Jew­ish syn­a­gogue where he heard an inspiring soloist, Le­o­ni, sing an an­cient He­brew mel­o­dy. His baritone voice was filled with deeply profound emotion. Olivers was im­pressed and immediately was moved to write a hymn to the same tune. The re­sult was the hymn, “The God of Abra­ham Praise.” This hymn is actually a par­a­phrase of an an­cient He­brew yig­dal, or dox­ol­o­gy:

The God of Abraham praise,
who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love;
Jehovah, great I AM,
by earth and heaven confessed:
I bow and bless the sacred Name
for ever blessed.

Films you should see

There are a number of award-winning films that have been released during the past few years that help one to understand what’s behind the conflict between Israel and Palestine–the heart of the Middle East crisis.

Below you will see the closing scene from a great film Language of the Enemy (2008) about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its resulting calamity. In the film an American Jewish university student falls in love with a Muslim Palestinian doctor. The young man is tragically killed by Israeli soldiers. This scene depicts the heart-rending despair separating Jews and Arab Muslims. It ends with an agonizing cry “Abraham!”  If you haven’t seen this movie, get a copy and watch it.

I also highly recommend the award-winning films The GatekeepersFive Broken Cameras and the recently released Omar.

Unless we feel their pain we will never understand their suffering. Please join us in praying and working for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. Our collective hope and faith is in Abraham’s God

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Human Rights, Religious Reconciliation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel and Palestine: Is there any hope for peace?

Israeli soldier confronts man during routine patrols in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

An Israeli soldier confronts a Palestinian man during routine patrols in the occupied West Bank.

(last updated 20 August 2013)

Is peace possible?

Israelis pound Gaza during recent fighting

Israeli rockets targeted Hamas fighters in Gaza during recent fighting. The killed and injured, though, included more than 100 civilians. Among them were many Palestinian children.

Given the most recent crisis between Gaza (Palestine) and Israel in which hundreds of men, women and children were either terrorized, wounded or killed, and given the fact that just last week official United Nations observer status was granted to a newly recognized state of Palestine, I consider this the most important blog post I’ve written since moving to the Middle East one year ago.

As wars and violence intensify in the Middle East, the search for an evenhanded settlement of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is all important. However, over the past more than 60 years of war, many of us have become unaware of the original root cause of the struggle.

Today, many believe, even if both sides are at fault, the Palestinians are irrational “terrorists” who have no point of view worth considering. But having met with numerous “stateless” Palestinians living in the Middle East, I believe that the Palestinians actually have wide-ranging grievances. Many Jews also agree. (Watch the short video by Jewish Voice for Peace at the bottom of this post.)

Principles of peace

The Geneva Initiative , also known as the Geneva Accord, is considered a “model permanent status agreement” to end the Israeli – Palestinian conflict based on previous official negotiations, international resolutions, the Quartet Roadmap, the Clinton Parameters, and the eventual Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 (endorsed by the Arab League and then Saudi Crown-Prince Abdullah).

Israeli citizen carries a sign calling for peace.

Israeli citizen carries a sign calling for peace.

Parameters of the accord were negotiated in secret for over 2 years before the 50-page document was officially publicly launched on December 1, 2003, at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. The Geneva Initiative was perceived as a model permanent status agreement between the nation of Israel and Palestine. It also enjoyed, as well, the strong support of many non-government and interfaith organizations.

The accord was deemed a “comprehensive and unequivocal solution to all issues vital to ensuring the end of the conflict.” It was hoped that by adopting the agreement and implementing it there would be a resolution to the decades-old strife.

Among the principles included in the accord were:

  • End of conflict. End of all claims.
  • Mutual recognition of Israeli and Palestinian right to two separate states.
  • A final, agreed upon border.
  • A comprehensive solution to the refugee problem.
  • Large settlement blocks and most of the settlers are annexed to Israel, as part of a 1:1 land swap.
  • Recognition of the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and recognition of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
  • A demilitarized Palestinian state.
  • A comprehensive and complete Palestinian commitment to fighting terrorism and incitement.
  • An international verification group to oversee implementation.

Several US presidents, most notably Jimmy Carter (1978 Camp David Accord) and Bill Clinton (2000 Middle East Peace Summit), have sought to bolster the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While progress has been made, none, however, have been ultimately successful.

Abass and Olmert shake hands as Bush

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (right) greets Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abass at the 2007 Annapolis Peace Conference.

Annapolis Peace Conference of 2007

In the final year of his eight years in office, then President George W. Bush sought to leave his mark on the Middle East peace process. On November 20, 2007, plans for the Annapolis Peace Conference were announced, and nations were invited to meet in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the peace process. The conference marked the first time both sides came to negotiations to agree upon a two-state solution. It was also the first time that a number of Arab states were invited to attend such a meeting.

The Annapolis Peace Conference was held on November 27, 2007, hosted by the United States Naval Academy. The goal of this peace conference was to produce a substantive document on resolving the ongoing Israeli – Palestinian conflict along the lines of the Bush administration’s Roadmap For Peace, eventually leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. A joint statement agreed upon by all parties was issued at the conclusion of the conference.

Within the next year, though, both Israel and Palestine would end the peace process as fighting ensued between Gaza and Israel.

A grassroots citizens’ initiative

During the Annapolis peace talks, as a member of the Annapolis City Council, I gave my support to an independent meeting of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists enjoined by Peace Action, the Annapolis Friends Peace & Justice Center and Annapolis mayor Ellen Moyer. We invited citizen representatives of Ramallah, Palestine, and Israeli citizens from Tel Aviv to help us develop a means of continuing a people-to-people dialogue for peace, using the principles of the Geneva Initiative as a framework and guide.

More and more Jews around the world are speaking up for the Palestinian people. Jews, too, are demanding freedom and democracy for the men, women and children of the Palestinian state.

More and more Jews around the world are speaking up for the Palestinian people. Jews, too, are demanding freedom and democracy for the men, women and children of the Palestinian state.

While these independent efforts have also not been successful, they have led to a revived effort by the Annapolis Friends Peace & Justice Center to establish a “tri-sister-city” relationship between Annapolis, Ramallah and a yet-to-be-decided Israeli city. This relationship, as envisioned, would lead to cultural interactions and student educational exchanges between the three cities in hopes of fostering greater understanding and discussions outside the entrapments of a political process.

The history of Israeli – Palestinian aggression

During the 1947 creation of the state of Israel, the homeland of the Palestinian people for more than a thousand years was taken from them by force. All subsequent crimes–on both sides–inevitably follow from this original injustice. Yet a peace process in the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued over the years despite the ongoing violence which has prevailed since the very beginning.

A new history entitled Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, contains twenty-four chapters, offering an unprecedented set of biographies of members of the two communities. It tells the stories of construction workers, journalists, Holocaust survivors and others who have called the land home during the late Ottoman Empire, post-1948 and contemporary periods. The everyday lives and struggles, not merely of elites, but even more so of the “ordinary” people whose lives are rarely captured by scholars, opens new understandings of the history that has brought us to this point in the history of the agression on both sides.

By studying the past we better understand what might lead to co-existence with equal freedom, dignity and political, economic and social possibilities for both peoples.

Please take just a few minutes to watch the following short video recently produced by my friends at Jewish Voice for Peace. This documentary shows how the Israeli – Palestinian struggle has evolved over a period of 65 years.

If you have any concern about what’s happening in the Middle East, you owe it to yourself to watch and learn from this excellent production. Please share this blog post with your friends.

Sources: Jewish Voice for Peace, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, wikipedia.com, the United Nations

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Our Muslim brothers!

This editorial by Jewish political leader, writer and peace activist Uri Avnery appeared in today’s Saudi national publication ArabNews. I was so impressed that I’m copying it here on my blog. My heart rejoices! Now is the time for Middle East peace! ~ Sam

“Our Muslim Brothers” by Jewish peace activist Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery, three-term member of the Israeli Knesset, writer and founding member of the independent peace movement Gush Shalom. He is also a founding member of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Everybody knows by now why we are stuck in Palestine. When God instructed Moses to plead with Pharaoh to let his people go, Moses told him that he was unfit for the job because “I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

Actually, in the Hebrew original, Moses told God that he was “heavy of the mouth and heavy of the tongue.” He should have told Him that he was also heavy of the ears. So when God told him to take his people to Canada, he took his people to Canaan, spending the prescribed 40 years — just long enough to reach Vancouver — wandering hither and thither in the Sinai desert.

So here we are, in Canaan, surrounded by Muslims.

For decades, my friends and I have warned that if we dither in making peace, the nature of the conflict will change. I myself have written dozens of times that if our conflict is transformed from a national to a religious struggle, everything will change for the worse.

The Zionist-Arab struggle started as a clash between two great national movements, which were born more or less at the same time as offshoots of the new European nationalism.

Almost all the early Zionists were convinced atheists, inspired (and pushed out) by the European nationalist movements. They used religious symbols quite cynically — to mobilize the Jews and as a propaganda tool for the others.

The Arab resistance to the Zionist settlement was basically secular and nationalist, too. It was a part of the rising wave of nationalism throughout the Arab world. True, the leader of the Palestinian resistance was Hadj Amin Al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, but he was both a national and a religious leader, using religious motives to reinforce the national ones.

National leaders are supposed to be rational. They make war and they make peace. When it suits them, they compromise. They talk to each other.

Religious conflicts are quite different. When God is inserted into the matter, everything becomes more extreme. God may be compassionate and loving, but His adherents are generally not. God and compromise don’t go well together. Especially not in the holy land of Canaan.

Years ago, the historian Karen Armstrong, a former nun, wrote a thought-provoking book (“The Battle for God”) about religious fundamentalism. She put her finger on an astonishing fact: Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalist movements were very much alike.

Delving into the history of fundamentalist movements in the US, Israel, Egypt and Iran, she discovered that they were born at the same time and underwent the same stages. Since there is very little similarity between the four countries and the four societies, not to mention the three religions, this is a remarkable fact.

The inevitable conclusion is that there is something in the Zeitgeist of our time, which encourages such ideas, something not anchored in the remote past, which is glorified by the fundamentalists, but in the present.

In Israel, it started on the morrow of the 1967 war, when the Army Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, went to the newly “liberated” Western Wall and blew his Shofar (religious ram’s horn). Yeshayahu Leibowitz called him “the Clown with the shofar,” but throughout the country it evoked a resounding echo.

Before the Six Days, the religious wing of Zionism was the stepchild of the movement. For many of us, religion was a tolerated superstition, looked down upon, used by politicians for reasons of expediency.

The overwhelming victory of the Israeli army in that war looked like divine intervention, and the religious youth sprang into life. It was like the fulfillment of Psalm 118 (22): “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” The pent-up energies of the religious sector, nursed for years in their separate ultra-nationalist schools, burst out.

The result was the settlers’ movement. They raced to occupy every hilltop in the occupied territories. True, many settlers went there to build their dream villas on stolen Arab land and enjoy the ultimate “quality of life.” But at the core of the enterprise are the fundamentalist fanatics, who are ready to live harsh and dangerous lives, because (as the Crusaders used to shout) “God Wills It!”

The whole raison d’être of the settlements is to drive the Arabs out of the country and turn the whole land of Canaan into a Jewish state. In the meantime their shock troops carry out pogroms against their Arab “neighbors” and burn their mosques.

These fundamentalists now have a huge influence on our government’s policy, and their impact is growing. For example: for months now, the country has been ablaze after the Supreme Court decreed that five houses in Bet El settlement must be demolished, because they were built on private Arab land. In a desperate effort to prevent riots, Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to build in their stead 850 new houses in the occupied territories. Such things happen all the time.

But let there be no mistake: After the cleansing of the country of non-Jews, the next step would be to turn Israel into a “halakha state” — a country governed by religious law, with the abolition of all democratically enacted secular laws that do not conform to the word of God and His rabbis.

Since the start of the Arab Spring, the fledgling Arab democracy has brought Muslim fundamentalists to the fore. Actually, that started even before, when Hamas (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) won the democratic, internationally monitored elections in Palestine. However, the resulting Palestinian government was destroyed by the Israeli leadership and its subservient US and European subcontractors.

The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian presidential elections was a landmark. After similar victories in Tunisia and the events in Libya, Yemen and Syria, it is clear that Arab citizens everywhere favor the Muslim Brotherhood and similar parties.

The Brotherhood has always been a moderate party, though they almost always had a more extreme wing. Whenever possible, they tried to accommodate the successive Egyptian leaders — Abdul Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak – though they tried to eradicate them.

During their 84 years, they have seen many ups and downs. But mostly, their outstanding quality has been pragmatism, coupled with adherence to the principles of their religion.

This also determines their attitude toward Israel. Palestine is constantly on their mind — but that is true of all Egyptians. Their conscience is troubled by the feeling that at Camp David, Anwar Sadat betrayed the Palestinians. Or, worse, that the devious Jew, Menachem Begin, tricked Sadat into signing a document that did not say what Sadat thought it said. It is not the Brothers that caused the Egyptians who greeted us enthusiastically, the first Israelis to visit their country, to turn against us.

Throughout the heated election campaigns — four in a year — the Brotherhood has not demanded the abrogation of the peace agreement with Israel. Their attitude seems to be as pragmatic as ever.

All our neighbors are turning, slowly but surely, Islamic.

That is not the end of the world. But it surely compels us, for the first time, to try to understand Islam and the Muslims.

For centuries, Islam and Judaism had a close and mutually beneficial relationship. The Jewish sages in Muslim Spain, the great Maimonides and many other prominent Jews were close to Islamic culture and wrote some of their works in Arabic.

If we want Israel to exist and flourish in a region that will for a long time be governed by democratically elected Islamist parties, we would do well to welcome them now as brothers, congratulate them on their victories and work for peace and conciliation with elected Islamists in Egypt and the other Arab states, including Palestine. We must certainly resist the temptation to push the Americans into supporting another military dictatorship in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Let’s chose the future, not the past.

Unless we prefer to pack up and head for Canada, after all.

 

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments