Middle East Peace Initiative | May 21, 2004
The Middle East Peace Initiative [MEPI] is an ongoing effort by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace [IIFWP] to support the peace process in the Middle East. During 2003, MEPI sponsored more than 20 projects and programs in Israel, Palestine, and around the world.around the world.
A critical dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is each side’s dehumanization of the other. This has fostered an escalating cycle of violence and revenge. To stem this dehumanization, the MEPI brings together Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other faith leaders in person-to-person (“heart to heart”) encounters, where the humanity of “the other” can be recognized and experienced.
Any negotiated, political settlement between conflicting parties requires an atmosphere of good will and trust. The current culture of conflict must be supplanted by a culture of reconciliation and cooperation. The MEPI recognizes that fundamental to any peace accord is a change of heart, and that the most appropriate people to lead this transformation of heart are religious leaders.
The MEPI facilitates “heart to heart” encounters in three ways.
1. High level, interfaith conferences are held for top leaders of society. In an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, these leaders engage in substantive dialogue. In 2003, major conferences were held in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank as well as Washington, DC, and Seoul, Korea. Conference participants included religious leaders, legislators, former heads of state, university professors and youth leaders. At the conclusion of each conference, participants pledged to reach beyond their race, their religious background, and their nationality in order to cooperate and establish a world of peace.
2. The MEPI sponsors pilgrimages to the Holy Lands, as well as “Heart to Heart” peace rallies and peace processions in Jerusalem. These activities engage people of diverse backgrounds, allowing them to experience the liberating force of reconciliation. In May, September and October of 2003, nearly 400 American pastors, imams and rabbis participated in interfaith pilgrimages to Israel. On December 22, 2003, in the heart of Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Christians, Muslims and Jews were joined by nearly 3,000 pilgrims from around the world. They gathered for an historic “Heart to Heart” Rally for Peace, and expressed their commitment to reconciliation and peace.
3. The MEPI promotes service projects that demonstrate active caring for others. Not only do these projects help people in need, but also, through serving others and working side by side with people from different backgrounds, those involved in the service activities develop their own character and broaden their capacity to love.
In December 2003 over 1,000 volunteers participated in more than a dozen service projects in Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities, illustrating the wisdom and efficacy of a strategy of faith-based service as the beginning point for reconciliation. These MEPI-sponsored projects employ a “service learning” approach so that service opportunities become the training experiences for peacemakers.
Continuing projects and activities on these three tracks are planned throughout 2004 to further advance the reconciliation process.
Principles of Peacemaking
The unique approach of the IIFWP ambassadors for peace who participate in the MEPI is based upon the IIFWP principles of peacemaking. These principles, as taught by the Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, address conflict at the fundamental level of human relationships. Even more importantly, they are rooted in spiritual laws that are woven into the very fabric of creation, and by extension reconciliation, and restoration.
1. Peacemakers are parents. Just as the one God relates to all human beings as a parent, investing sacrificially in each and every child for the sake of their welfare and full realization, the role of an ambassador for peace is likewise a parental role. As a mother naturally cherishes each of her children, God cares for every single human being regardless of religion, race, nationality or belief. In this model, a true peace worker takes the parent perspective, and loves and cherishes in equal measure and without partisanship people and families on both sides of any conflict, be they Israeli, Palestinian, or any other clashing groups. Just as a parent rejoices and feels at peace when the children live and play in harmony, it is the will of God that enemies be reconciled and live in cooperation and mutual prosperity.
Parents investing in their children’s well being show unconditional love and overlook faults. IIFWP peace workers live by this very ethic—investing and sacrificing for the sake of peace. They remain tolerant of the people’s ingrained prejudices and harsh feelings, and work patiently in spite of those difficulties to educate and elevate everyone towards the goal of reconciliation.
2. Living for the sake of others is the fundamental ethic of a peaceful society, nation and world. Children are trained to obey their parents for the overall welfare of their family; citizens are expected to serve their country—these are instances of the universal principle of living for the sake of others. The messianic concept in Christianity, that Jesus died on the cross for all humankind, is another instance of this principle. Is this something we can rightly limit? If not, then Christians should live for the sake of Jews, Jews should live for the sake of Muslims and so on. Palestinians and Israelis should live for each other’s benefit and welfare. Peace lies in this wider circle of love.
3. The path to peace requires loving one’s enemy. The scriptures of all the world’s religions teach that the highest ethic is to love one’s enemy, returning good for evil. Thus the Qur’an teaches, “Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!, he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.” (41.34) And the Torah, “If you meet your enemy's ox or his ass going astray, you shall bring it back to him.” (Ex. 23.4) Jacob, the ancestor of the chosen people, received God’s blessing in part because he won over his brother Esau and through giving his treasure cooled the hatred in his heart. There is nothing utopian about the practice of loving one’s enemy. It is a realistic and practical way to take the sting out of conflict and create a new atmosphere conducive to reconciliation and peace.
4. Peace efforts begin with strengthening families, the cornerstone of society and the first school of peace. The love and affection a child receives in the family is the foundation for the ability to love others. Nearly everyone receives their first lessons in peaceful living from their mothers and learns how to resolve conflicts in the process of harmonizing with their siblings. As such, IIFWP regards strengthening and protecting the godly family as the first and most basic peace activity. Women in particular, as conservators of family values, have a special role in peacemaking. Every son who goes off to war has a loving mother who wants no harm to come to him. If mothers unite for peace, their power can be formidable.
5. Lower religious boundaries. In this age of globalization and regional integration, persistent religious and cultural boundaries in the Middle East stand out as anachronistic. Yet no economic plan of integration can succeed until we remove the internal boundaries, those prejudices in the human mind and heart which are rooted and perpetrated through religious intolerance. For this reason a central activity of the MEPI is to lower boundaries between religions through interfaith dialogue, worship, and service activities. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are called upon to honor each other’s founders, traditions, and holy sites. Leaders of each faith should regard educating their people in the good teachings and traditions of other faiths as an act of the highest devotion to God. By affirming the parental heart of God for every person, people of faith can develop genuine respect for the faith traditions of others. Confidence in this position is strengthened by the spiritual reality that barriers between religions falling in America and Europe, and even in heaven where Jesus, Muhammad, Moses and Buddha (PBUT) are dwelling intimately as friends and fellow servants of God.
6. Promote a new vision of the People of God and the Holy Land. The MEPI promotes the divine wisdom that the Jewish ideal of the Chosen People and the Muslim ideal of darr al-Islam be understood to include tolerance and inclusion of the other. When God blessed Abraham, he said, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you… and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed by you.” (Gen. 12:1-3) These words describe a blessing that is two-fold: to become a holy nation, and to promote justice for other nations. If the three faith lines from Abraham were to live by that creed, they would regard the commandment to show justice for neighbors of other faiths as being of equal importance to those commandments pertaining to holiness in one’s own faith. We have historical examples of tolerance in Muslim Spain (Andalusia) and in Isaiah’s inclusive vision of Zion (Isa. 56.6-7). As neighbors in the same Holy Land, Jews, Christians and Muslims together can learn to administer the land cooperatively for the benefit of all its residents, and as a mecca for pilgrims of all faiths.
7. Recognize the roots of the conflict in history as spiritual, and commit to restore peace accordingly. People typically analyze the Middle East conflict in terms of history, and further primarily in terms of political history. Israelis cite the Balfour Declaration and the UN’s role in establishing a Jewish homeland, while Palestinians decry their expulsion in the Nakba of 1948 and demand the return of their ancestral homes. IIFWP, however, recognizes deeper historical roots, which are spiritual. These roots date back to events around the crucifixion of Jesus and even further back to the split between Abraham’s children Ishmael and Isaac. Mistakes were made, but instead of accusation the role proper to a peace worker is restoration. Restoration is not about demanding something from the other side; rather it is what “I” can do to correct my part in the conflict. Hence, to address the root conflict between Isaac and Ishmael, the work of restoring it requires the Jew to welcome the Muslim back into his home, and for the Muslim to lay down his gun and seek peace with the Jew.
8. Instill ownership in the peace process by promoting local peace initiatives. Peace does not begin in the halls of government. Peace begins in the hearts and actions of individuals. Peaceful individuals can create peaceful families and communities; peaceful communities can extend their peace to the nation. No politician could resist peace for long if the people were to desire peace and truly live in peace. Based on this principle, the MEPI encourages local initiatives and individual efforts to break down the walls of hatred, fear, prejudice and resentment that divide Israelis from Palestinians. These include local interfaith activities, youth service projects, cross-cultural education in schools, and good neighbor initiatives between Israeli and Arab towns. Jewish and Arab families can make sisterhood relationships and even experience the ultimate unity should their children marry.
9. Religious leaders who embody and demonstrate the ideals of interreligious peace should guide secular leaders. IIFWP’s model of good governance envisions cooperation between political leaders and religious leaders, such that a body of spiritual elders advises and guides a nation’s legislative body. Enlightened religious leaders can speak as a national conscience, promoting compassion and inclusiveness as counterweights to the partisanship that characterizes most democracies today. In ancient times, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah cautioned Israel’s kings against the errors of nationalism and warmongering because they understood God’s more comprehensive will. Today’s religious leaders who devote themselves to the universal God likewise can rise above a narrow-minded advocacy for their particular religion and become voices for the higher vision of peace and reconciliation. These leaders have the spiritual resources of Scriptures which teach repentance, forgiveness, and living for the sake of others—key virtues for the pursuit of lasting peace. Their wise advice can help the politicians on both sides—Israeli and Palestinian—rise above the self-serving pursuit of national self-interest and break the political logjam.
10. Peace education is an urgent task. These IIFWP principles of peacemaking are not foreign to the peoples of Abraham; they are rooted in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an. Yet today people on all sides have lost their way. Instead of reflecting on their own responsibility, they engage in finger-pointing and placing blame on the other party. Instead of standing against hatred and fear, they retreat inside the narrow bastions of tribe and ancestral faith. Instead of taking ownership of the peace process, they leave it to the politicians and then despair when nothing is done. In the midst of this darkness and escalating violence, IIFWP ambassadors for peace have the urgent task of educating the people in these principles. When the people are enlightened, they will have the confidence and the will to take action. When the people rise up for peace, there will be peace.
Posted by geros at May 21, 2004 04:08 PM