Inter-Religious Peace Building Process Strained By Israeli-Palestinian Violence

For years, religious believers on all sides have been taking rigorous steps to peacebuilding, but now they feel dejected.

The Israeli-Palestinian violence, a result of decade-long political conflict, is straining the inter-religious efforts to solve the world’s most enduring dispute. For years, religious believers on all sides have been taking rigorous steps to peacebuilding, but now they feel dejected.

After Israel pounded the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and artillery in May, American Muslims and Jews struggle to contain the fear and anger in their fraternity.

“We’re heartbroken,” said Atiya Aftab, New Jersey-based co-founder of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

The group is trying to build trust between Muslim and Jewish women, but the current situation threatens to derail their work. In a statement, they condemned both Hamas and Israeli security forces:

“We condemn the brutality against Palestinian and Israeli protestors, which left more than 600 civilians injured, and the resulting increase in violence targeting innocent civilians. The Israeli government has a responsibility to stop settlers and extremists from taking over the land and allow those who live in East Jerusalem to rightfully live there in peace.”

Religious leaders, activists, and educators must be part of the peace process to heal the people of Israel and Palestinian. But today, several religious peace-building initiatives started by activists trying to forge bridges of compassion across the political divide and in churches, synagogues, and mosques are standing at the crossroads.

Aziza Hasan, executive director of Los Angeles-based NewGround, said they conduct regular discussions to defuse tensions within the community, including Palestinian Americans, Muslims, and Jews. She told Associated Press in an email: NewGround has been working hard to listen deeply to the enormous anger and fear. There is fear that the violence is becoming increasingly personal in shared neighborhoods. We do not know the immediate path through this, but we are certain that until we humanize one another, there won’t be a path at all. We encourage our community members to reach out to someone else who holds a different view and listen to their story with compassion.”

Many peace activists’ families and friends live in areas wrecked by continuous violence. NewGround’s associate director, Andrea Hodos’ close family, is in Israel. One of her Palestinian American friends stays in Gaza. They witness the ferocity every day. Yet, despite the reality, Hodos is optimistic:

“We need to keep all these people in mind. It doesn’t work all the time, but our goal is to get as many people to stay at the table as possible, hearing one another’s stories. That’s what softens our hearts — to be able to be with one another through these times.”

When certain faith groups remain silent as the conflict results in attacks on places of worship (such as Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan), peacekeepers tend to question the nature of the interfaith relationships among American Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Ingrid Mattson, a Muslim scholar and former president of the Islamic Society of North America, said:

“There have been some important statements by allies, such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace that have strongly condemned Israeli policies and actions as cruel and unjust. But Western Christian denominations have been largely silent beyond calls for both sides to be peaceful. I feel like people should have learned something from the last year of public education about anti-Black racism and police violence against Black people in America — that you have to say what’s wrong.”

The grassroots peacemakers are critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. However, they feel by interfaith outreach, holding the Israeli government accountable, and sensitizing doctors, interfaith differences can be sorted, and violence can be halted.

Jerusalem-based Kids4Peace works to bring young Israelis and Palestinians together. Ittay Flescher, director of Kids4Peac’s youth encounter program, told AP: “Since the most recent escalation between Gaza and Israel and the attempted lynching at night by Arabs and Jews in some mixed cities, the hatred and violence in the streets around us is even more palpable. Many youths feel it’s important to come together and share their frustrations, anger, and beliefs with one another at this time. If Jerusalem won’t be a city that is a true home for all of us, it will not ultimately be a safe home for any of us.”

The present Israeli-Palestinian violence threatens to destabilize the region, fuel extremism, and prolong Palestinian disunity. Religious peacebuilders and interfaith groups play a pivotal role in contributing to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and peace. They must continue to explore their similarities, work on their differences, and promote peace in the region in the harsh reality of violence – before it’s too late.

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