On Wednesday, August 29th 2012, we had a great encounter at Ein Walaje, known also as Ein Hinia.
We met at 5pm, seven Palestinians and six Israelis. Everyone was asked to bring with them refreshments and we had a wonderful dinner, which included pizza, majadara, salads, cookies, fruit and more.
We talked about Ramadan and Eid el-Fitr and about the social significance of these Holidays. We also talked about the coming Jewish Holidays – Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth. The conversation was free and flew also to other directions.
Salma, a member of the group who is a tour guide, guided us through a short tour in the area where we saw the spring itself as well as abandoned houses from before 48/67 that used to belong to the Walaje village. The conversation went a bit to politics and history and it was very interesting. The next encounter will probably take place in Jerusalem.
On July 29th, we gathered to have together an Iftar dinner that ended one of the days of Ramadan, for the Muslims, and Tish'a be-Av fast of the Jews.
We met at the Barbara restaurant in Bet-Jala, 49 people from 6 different youth groups of IEA!
The dinner was a great opportunity for us to get to know other groups in IEA, to meet new people and to celebrate together, after a hard day of mourning and fasting. In every table there was a talk about Ramadan and the aims of fast in Islam, and about Tish'a be-Av fast and the reasons for it. The beginnings of discussions were led by Ofek Birnholz, a devoted member of IEA youth groups.
It was a great evening for us all, and a great opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences, to meet new people and to enjoy with our old friends.
This is not the first time that we are having a joint Iftar meal, and we are hoping to continue this tradition in the next years.
The Interfaith Encounter Visits group met on Friday April 27th. We were some nine Israelis and six Palestinians who met in Almog junction with the intention to go and visit Jericho.
When we arrived at the checkpoint of the Palestinian police in the entrance to the city, we realized that the Israeli army did not coordinate with them our entry. For about an hour we tried to convince them to let us into the city but nothing helped and they did not let us in. We will need to reschedule the visit to Jericho and this time check how to do the coordination with the Palestinian Authority ourselves.
So we went to "The Last Chance" restaurant and set there and talked on many, many issues. We started with the significance of Jericho in Islam and in Judaism – the people of Lot, Sodom and Gomorra etc. and the conversation streamed to a thousand other themes.
It was a wonderful encounter, even though we were disappointed that we could not enter the city. We do hope we will have better success next time.
This relatively intimate retreat took place in the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 22nd and 23rd 2012. It started with introduction of the Interfaith Encounter Association and Palestinian Peace Society, followed by self introduction of the participants.
After dinner we held the Jewish-focused session. Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Executive Director of IEA brought a few texts from the Bible, Midrash and Talmud indicating the vulnerability of the orphan and the widow and therefore the need to make special effort in order for them not to be hurt. This is not only in the case they are poor – even if they are reach financially, they are still with low spirit. Some of the scholars claim that this is extended to all vulnerable people in the society. Hurting an orphan or a widow is treated as the paradigm of ill behavior, such as the behavior that led to the flood or the destruction of Jerusalem, while treating them well is the paradigm of doing good, which is a characteristic of the greatness of God and will lead to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Adopting an orphan is the example for charity that is ongoing and the one who raises an orphan is like she gave birth to him. The Midrash also mentions that God allowed the wolf to feed the orphans Romus and Romilus even though they were evil to the Nation of Israel when they grew up.
After the reach conversation we went for a walk in the Old City and managed to enjoy a bit the music festival that was going on that evening.
In the morning, the Muslim perspective was presented by Ahmed Makhluf and Dr. Taleb Alharithi. Orphans are referred to in the Quran 23 times. Basically there are two ways to encourage people to treat them well: stressing how good it will be for anyone who takes care of the orphan and how harshly will be punished the one who takes away things from the orphan. Helping an orphan or a widow is like praying the whole night or fasting the whole day. The one who helps an orphan will be together with the Prophet in paradise. Taking care of an orphan is a good enough reason to enter paradise while hurting an orphan is a good enough reason to go to hell. Taking away from orphans is among the seven things most important to refrain from (like murder or idol worshiping) and is equaled to putting fire in one's own mouth, which will also be their punishment in hell. An orphan has to carry his father's name and the guardian of the orphan's property has to take care of it more than of his own property.
In the concluding circle participants shared how important it was for them to add another light in the darkness and make one more step towards peace. One participant quoted the newspaper from the day before which mentioned the crucial role religion played in the success of the civil rights movement in the United States 47 years before.
We ended with coffee and cake that were offered to us by the Austrian Hospice to who we are very deeply grateful for their wonderful hospitality.
On Thursday, December 29th, we held an encounter of the Interfaith Visits group in Ramallah. I must say that this was one of the most successful encounters the group had.
From the Israeli side we were four members (since Ahmed, who hosted us, preferred that we have a small group so that we can have a more intimate encounter). In this way we could fit into Ahmed's car and go all together.
On the Palestinian side we also had four members – two boys and two girls. The girls joined us for the visit but could not stay for the following conversation as it became late (one of them lives near Hebron and had to go back home). Being a small group of special people helped us hold a dialogue which was amazing in its sincerity and in the understanding of both sides of each other.
We reached the Qalandia check-point at 3:30pm and crossed easily, with no one asking. Ahmed picked us at the Palestinian side of the check-point and we rode to the city center. We walked in the area of Al-Manara Square, saw the chair that was put there after the declaration on the Palestinian state and took many pictures. After an hour of walking around the city we set down in an amazingly beautiful café – Akasha – for the conversation.
The Jews chose to speak about Hanukah and Eldad shared about the Holiday in the views of religious Jews and non-religious Jews and what each group prefers to stress in this Holiday. Eldad himself, as a non-religious guy, chose to emphasize the aspect of rebellion against a foreign conqueror who forced Jews to worship idols. The conversation then flowed to the issue of the Temple and its location. The Muslims in the meeting found it hard to accept the version that the Temple was on the Temple Mount and said that as they know it was in Silwan. This was very hard for the Jews to hear and after some discussion we reached the agreement that each side has its own understanding and narrative and that we agree to listen and respect but not necessarily to accept the narrative of the other side.
The Muslims chose to speak about the importance of the Dome of the Rock in Islam and from there the conversation went to the differences between Suna and Shia.
The dialogue was fruitful as well as challenging and I think this was the encounter with the deepest dialogue I ever had in the Interfaith Encounter Association.
At 7pm we left Ramallah for the Qalandia check-point, which we then crossed by foot. We expected to have difficulties with the soldiers and that they will be astonished (as usual) to see Israelis coming out of a Palestinian city with a strange permit. They were indeed shocked but did not hold us, just asked out of curiosity what we were doing there, on which we answered: visited…
We returned to Jerusalem happy and satisfied.
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