Jerusalem - 25 May, 2006 - Sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation, a further ‘Middle East Peace Initiative’ fact-finding tour this week visited Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Such trips which have been organised over the past four years in support of efforts for peace in the region, have won the support of many prominent local leaders.
With Jerusalem’s Olive Tree Hotel acting as the central meeting point, the well-attended international gathering of some three hundred participants from professional fields such as politics, academia, business, civil society and the media as well as representatives from a variety of different faith groups, came from every corner of the world to look at ways in which barriers and divisions could be overcome through developing better understanding and mutual respect.
Throughout the week they met with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders and were briefed by government, media and independent experts. They also conversed with religious leaders and visited historical sites in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. The event also provided participants with an opportunity to gauge the opinion of ordinary people on both sides of the conflict.
At one of its daily conference sessions, Janet Aviad, the president of Peace Now, the largest extra-parliamentary movement in Israel, spoke of rapid and deep change in Israeli public opinion in the past five years in which most Israelis now believe that the only solution is two states. For twenty-five years her group had opposed new Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and wanted to return to the 1967 borders but were forever being branded as “people who like the Palestinians”. However, she believed the idea of a single state solution to be a non-starter because by simple demographics that would soon mean an Arab majority and Israel would no longer be the Jewish state it was set up to be. On addressing the situation as it stands today, she said, “Both sides feel the same now. Enough violence, let’s make a deal. We’re all caught up in a bad enterprise. Get us out! God is great! We’ll see you later!” She went on to say that although it was ridiculous to think that the Israeli could build a wall and that then there would be peace, it might well have been a necessary first step.
During the course of a visit to Bethlehem the group was able to hear views of representatives from the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Conflict Resolution Centre and the Bethlehem Peace Centre and a briefing at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, provided the Israeli political viewpoint. There was also visit to the Holocaust museum and attended a ceremony of reconciliation. On the Saturday that followed participants were given an explanation of the opening of the Sabbath ceremony by local Rabbi Ringler.
Travelling into neighbouring Jordan, a conference session held in Amman included speakers from Jordanian political, religious and academic life. The group then visited to the Jordanian Al-Safsaf Rehabilitation Society for a charitable fundraising lunch and were addressed by its Executive Director, Mrs Haifa Al-Bashir who told the delegates that it was ironic that a region that has sent its messages of love and peace throughout the earth to the followers of three world religions is now very much in need of the same. His Excellency Sabri Rbeahat, Minister for Political Development, said that when Jordan was founded ninety years ago it determined to build a reputation for peace. “In every conflict or disaster in the world, you will find Jordanian peacekeepers,” he said.
On returning to Jerusalem, a final evening of poetry and music included a performance by Yair Dalal, a famous Israeli singer who had toured the world campaigning for peace.