Volume 16 Number 6
Pointing the Way to Peace
01 December 2003

To Mubarek Awad, the inside of an Israeli jail cell was nothing new. He’d been in many. What was new in 1988 was that outside that jail an Israeli man had joined him in his hunger strike.

He found it baffling. Awad, who was (and is) by no means thin, says he feared for the health of the ‘skinny’ Israeli. Though at first angry, he gave up his strike so this stranger could give up his.

Once free, Awad, a Greek Orthodox Christian from Jerusalem, met the Israeli, Edward (Edy) Kaufman. They’ve been warm friends ever since, working non-violently for peace. For many years Kaufman has been Executive Director of the Harry S Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Israel (although he took leave from 1991Ð96 to head the University of Maryland’s Center for Development and Conflict Management). Awad, now an American citizen, is national director of the Washington DC-based National Youth Advocate Program and teaches the theory and practice of non-violence at the American University. At a recent event organized by the Nonviolent Peaceforce in Washington, he described how his friendship with Kaufman began.

The event celebrated the departure of eight women and six men for Sri Lanka, where an uneasy ceasefire exists after many years of civil war between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority. This ‘peace force’ has undergone intensive training in Thailand and will be led by William Knox, a British national with eight years’ experience of peace work in Sri Lanka. Between them, the team members, who come from 11 countries, speak 21 languages. They are to be a model for similar groups Peaceforce will send to other parts of the world. They won’t take sides. They won’t try to negotiate or advise any side what to do. They will be there to aid and comfort civilians, often war’s greatest casualties, and model peace in any way they can. Peaceforce’s own model is Mahatma Gandhi.

‘The dream of a large-scale international force to enable peaceful solutions to conflict, held by so many people over so many years, is becoming reality,’ enthused Mel Duncan, Peaceforce’s Executive Director, in their newsletter. Sri Lanka was chosen over the Middle East for the first experiment because peace seemed nearer there. But barring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a team may one day be in the Middle East.

One of the best-kept secrets is the extent to which many strong friendships between Jew and Arab continue despite the area’s violence. I’ll never forget the young hitch-hiker our press bus picked up in 1980. A corporal in the Israeli Defense Force, she told me: ‘I grew up in Tel Aviv and never knew any Arabs until I joined the army. Now something has happened to me that I thought could never be possible: I’ve come to love the Arabs.’

Clearly attitudes can change when people get to know each other. They dump stereotypes and regard each other simply as members of the human family. For example, a Washington Post photographer recalls how she had a Muslim interpreter accompanying her in Afghanistan. At one point, she put her camera down and went to help several Afghans in need. The astonished interpreter confessed after-wards that he never knew an American could be humane.

Awad says most Palestinians and Israelis want peace. But he feels they need to become a lot more active. Many observers may say peace there is impossible. But if it can happen between individuals on opposite sides, why not between peoples? Awad cites his and Kaufman’s example, noting his Israeli friend ‘was even a Zionist!’ But that Zionist was willing to risk his health, maybe his life, to move peace forward.

This is the last in this series of columns by Robert Webb, a former columnist and editorial writer with the ‘Cincinnati Enquirer’. Look out for a new writer in our next issue!

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