Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Israel's Parliament--the Knesset

Religion is growing, demographics are changing, and women are taking increased roles in the Arab Israeli peace process. This sea change was reflected in the Caucus for the Resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict, which convened at the Israeli Parliament on May 15th 2018.

The 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel was an opportune time for international dignitaries to visit Israel and pay respect to anniversary of its founding.  It was also a chance for Shoshana Bekerman of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics (IPCGE) to rally a meeting in the Israeli Parliament on the UN Resolutions on a Culture of Peace as part of the Caucus for the Resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict.  Shoshana is a Haredi woman who has been advocating for these resolutions to be made into law world wide.

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These UN resolutions include : Promotion of Religious and Cultural Understanding, Harmony and Cooperation (58/128)

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 2007

Yehiel “Hilik” Bar, Secretary General of the Labor Party, and the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, hosted the caucus.  He stated, “

We believe in peace, we are a peaceful people, and a peaceful nation. We want to make peace here, with those who wish to live with us here and not of instead of us here.”

 This sentiment was echoing the tensions from all sides that Israel is experiencing now.  There was agreement in the room that international borders cannot be breached, this is a basis of stability. A march cannot be called a peaceful one if it is crossing an international border. Both Turkish representative Oktar Babuna and former IDF spokesman Nachman Shai made that point clear.

Shai’s message was firm, “you cannot breach our borders, we also care for the lost lives of the people, it is just a waste. Our enemies are sacrificing their loved ones for the sake of nothing, they are getting nothing out of this. Educating ourselves and our enemies to choose the way of peace is the best an most exciting notion I can think of.”

Still, despite the security threats to Israel from Gaza, it was emphasized that the humanitarian crisis there must indeed hold our fervent attention.

One speaker stated that there are four bases of peace: first – borders and security, second – a strong economy, third – ethics, this includes democracy, rights, free speech, and fourth – respect for religion.  Post World War II, the United States helped rehabilitate Europe, unlike the aftermath of WWI, in which only the first stage of peace was reached – borders and security. Economy, ethics and religion were ignored – and this was a factor that led to the atrocities of World War II.  “The humanitarian breakdown in Gaza may not be our doing, but it is affecting us. We need to separate the fight against terror from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, it is not easy to do this, but it is our task. Poverty makes a hothouse for terror to breed.”

Religion and Peacemanking

If the religious have felt marginalized, our voice is starting to be heard, and we need to be prepared. There we were, Ben and I representing our organization, AlSadiqin.

Ben emphasized the close parallels between our faiths – we are coming to the end of the counting of the Omer, Jews today observe this period by not listening to music, among other things. In pre-Islamic Arabia, this was observed as a time of fasting. The Byzantine Romans forbid fasting during this period, so the Christians moved this time of partial mourning to before Passover, becoming the season of Lent. So you see the intrinsic connection between our three faiths, a connection that can be used in education towards a Culture of Peace.”

Ben handed the floor to me.

“Demographics are changing, religion is growing, scriptural values must be on the table in any peace process. That does not mean that everyone must be religious or devout, indeed when scripture is part of a peace process, this will dampen extremism as we reconnect with the tolerant and accepting aspects of Islam and Judaism. Both religions have ample room for the other – in Islam, there is the concept of the People of the Book and the Mumin –  trustworthy citizen. In Judaism, we have the Ger Toshav, Tzadikei Umot HaOlam and Chochmei Umot HaOlam – this refers to the righteous atheist who contributes to society.

“We must eschew the inflammatory media against religion and religious that religion is only extreme and intolerant. This can lead to religious people internalizing this identity. The more of a voice we have the more moderate we will be. The fear of foreign influence exists in both the Jewish and Islamic communities. We need to expand the narrative also by recognizing the scriptural roots of Western political science as brought down by Christian Hebraists in the 16th – 18th centuries.  By having scripture and history involved in peace making, we will have the expanded narrative necessary for all to feel included in any peace process.”

So while the liberal and left representatives present were discussing religious values, I ended up stressing the tolerance and acceptance of the Other – even the atheist.

 Women Wage Peace – and they mean ALL women

A representative from Women Wage Peace stated, “we have one goal, to reach an honorable agreement with the Palestinians and include women in the process. We are in dialogue with the Right wing also. It is not easy to break the dichotomy in Israel that peace belongs to the left, we want peace to belong to everybody.”

It will. Especially as the narratives in this varied land seem to be expanding, becoming more inclusive, with the help of the Creator of course, and nudged along by outspoken members of the varied communities represented at this meeting, who are really representing many silent majorities.

“Youth should be engaged in the peace process as main actors” 

Professor Lahoucine Khabid, director of the Atlas Center for Diplomatic Studies, Marakesh Morocco, emphasized the importance of welcoming young people in any peace process.

“The last century was the century of war,  genocides, massacres, terrorist attacks, and concentration camps. Youth was often the prime life-blood feeding this war machinery. More than half the world’s population in under the age of thirty, and the majority of those youths live in countries affected by fragility and everlasting conflicts. This makes a lost generation of youth, and a lost generation is a furious generation… militant groups are good at targeting angry youths. Anger if not properly contained will lead to atrocity and violence.”

He lauded UN Resolution 2250 as a breakthrough. It states:

“…Member States (are urged) consider ways to increase inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels in local, national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflict…”

Professor Lahoucine concluded:

“Youth have energy, exuberance, ability to face challenges. Youth is the capital of any nation.”

What are we teaching our children?

Eldad J Pardo introduced the organization “Impact SE”. Established in the in the late 1990’s, this group researches textbooks to understand if an education is leading towards peace. He noted that any decent curriculum must develop respect for the other, must have examples of peacemaking, economic empowerment, a broad range of knowledge, attention to gender and treatment of lgbtq, and, most important, love, and he added, “this is my chance to say Ramadan Kareem to all our Muslim friends.”

I spoke to Mr Pardo privately after the caucus, in which he shared with me his strong value on the need for variety in society, and in his book, this includes the devout. “I say to my colleagues,  where did all the Nobel Prize scientists hail from? From families who appreciated Torah learning day and night! We need different kinds of people in every society, that is what helps us survive.”

Mentiong G-d again

Hilik Bar expressed his excitement sitting with representatives from Turkey, Morocco, Benin, and with other activists  to discuss peace during these harsh days. He called it a victory of the spirit over the material. “We will show that peace will happen not just because of miracles, we need G-d of course, but it will happen because of the efforts of good people. .. G-d is giving us the opportunities to make it happen, and if we will not make the efforts, it will not happen.

Women Wage Peace – a peace group – is welcoming dialogue with all members of Israeli society; Knesset members are listening carefully to religious voices. We are at the beginning of a sea change. It is my hope that members of all communities will be brave enough to jettison any suspicion they bear for each other, and be prepared to offer their unique voices when their time comes.

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Rebecca Abrahamson is active in cultural diplomacy, has traveled in this capacity to Istanbul and Cairo, co-hosted a conference on making the UN Resolutions for a Culture of Peace into law at the Knesset, and is editor of "Divine Diversity: an Orthodox Rabbi Engages with Muslims." She is married to Ben Abrahamson, who is also active in Muslim-Jewish dialogue and cultural diplomacy, and busy with her children and grandchildren.