Seminars in Gaza and Israel
01 August 1999
An international group, with experience of facilitating change in their societies, spent a week in April in Israel and Palestine, at the invitation of people who had participated in MRA conferences in Caux, Switzerland.
An international group, with experience of facilitating change in their societies, spent a week in April in Israel and Palestine, at the invitation of people who had participated in MRA conferences in Caux, Switzerland. The visit included seminars in Gaza and Jerusalem, and informal meetings in the West Bank and Israel.
The seminar in Gaza focussed on individual responsibility in rebuilding society, at the request of the invitation committee, which comprised five Palestinians from different sides of Gazan society. 'The empowerment of the Palestinian individual's character is one of the most essential positive steps towards materializing the dream of statehood,' stated the invitation. 'The aim of this seminar is to explore ways of generating a moral rejuvenation and strengthen the momentum for moral and social change in Gaza.'
The seminar consisted of three panel discussions. The first, led by two South Africans, gave insights into South Africa's transition from apartheid to full democracy. The challenge now, said Prof Cornelius Marivate MP, was for citizens not to become dependent on the government but take their own initiative. Prof Piet Meiring described the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on which he had served, to exorcize the wrongs committed under apartheid.
In the second panel, former Somali ambassador Dr Yusuf Al-Azhari and Indian community worker Sushobha Barve addressed 'moral regeneration at the grassroots level--building trust and community'. The final panel looked at moral regeneration in business, public service and the family. It was addressed by the recently retired President of Siemens Automotive, Jean Fayet from France, and Cyprus's former Deputy Director of Customs, Spyros Stephou, and his wife, Maroulla.
After each discussion there were lively contributions from the audience, who sought to relate what they had heard to their own situation. The main organizer of the seminar, post-graduate student Samer Abu Ghazaleh said that it had realized his hope of 'replacing the continuous story of clash between East and West with a civilized exchange of thoughts'.
Meiring told the audience that he would take home with him 'the picture of the ancient church leaning against a mosque, embracing each other, as an example to the world'. Fayet added, 'I saw a side of Islam I did not know. I was encouraged to build a relationship with Islam in France.'
The seminar in Israel took place at the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur, Jerusalem, and was hosted by Yehezkhel Landau, Co-Director of the Open House Centre for Jewish-Arab reconciliation in Ramleh, and Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom of Rabbis for Human Rights. The visitors' presentations sparked a profound debate on forgiveness. One Israeli asked how to move from a willingness to forgive to actually forgiving. Another was wrestling with what she saw as a Biblical command not to dishonour those who have suffered by forgetting the pains inflicted upon them. A Palestinian asked how, having forgiven once, he could maintain an open heart when he suffered further injustices.
One of the visitors, commenting on her encounters with Israelis who sincerely work for peace, wrote afterwards, 'This has revealed a different face of Israel to me.'