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.
The encounter began at 5:30pm on Thursday. We both, Jews from Jerusalem and the Muslims from Hebron, met at Al-Quds Hotel in Jerusalem.
We set together and dedicated some time to get to know everyone. First we introduced Moatasem the Muslim coordinator to the group and then he introduced to them Itamar, who is the new Jewish coordinator instead of Netta. Then each of the participants told the group a bit about him or her self.
Itamar told us about the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot, why it is celebrated, what the common customs are and what people's duties are in the Holiday of Sukkot – what do they have to do and where they should sit. After he finished Netta added a few points and then the group asked questions and for specific explanations.
Then Moatasem presented the Muslim Holiday of the Sacrifice (Eid el-Adha) – why we celebrate it, why is it called this way and what are the ceremonies performed during and around the Holiday, why do we slaughter sheep in the Holiday, how long does it last and what are its prayers. Then the members asked their questions and got answers.
We exchanged information, corrected mistakes we had about each other and learned each other's thoughts. Then we went together for a short tour and ended the encounter at 10pm.
First encounter of the Interfaith Encounter Israeli-Palestinian Teens group, Beit Jalla
The encounter was held on November 13th 2011, at 4pm in Beit Jalla. We were three Jewish Israelis and seven Muslim and Christian Palestinians and we met in the Barbara Restaurant in Beit Jalla.
Since this was our first encounter, at first it was embarrassing and also the two coordinators did not prepare the encounter so we needed to improvise. Finally we found themes for conversation, like Gilad Shalit or the daily resting day in each of the religions: Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
We began with a round of mentioning our names so we can remember them and we also asked the Palestinians what were the responses of their families and friends to the encounter and they also asked us. The dialogue was managed with Netta, who mentors the group, translating for both sides, as in this way it was easier to express ourselves. Although this took longer – it was better as in this way every one could express themselves in the language in which they feel most comfortable.
Yehuda, the director of our organization, the Interfaith Encounter Association, joined us. He told us about the organization and directed our conversation and made sure we prepare the next encounter next month. Following the conversation we had we enjoyed and laughed and the ice broke. Finally we fare welled with the desire to meet again soon.
On the weekend of October 14-15 we went to harvest olives in the village of Jayus, near Tsofim and Matan, fine minutes east of Kfar Saba.
The village itself is east of the security fence, but many of its land are west of it. Consequently, most of the village's farmers do not have access to their lands, since they do not have entry permits, and their ability to harvest their olives depends on volunteers.
After leaving the road we took a dirt-road between different fields and stopped near the plantation of Nafouk family, where we joined them for the work. Ali, sports' teacher, his wife and their two children explained to us what to do and offered steaming Sage tea.
Work was pleasant. We used Plastic rakes to bring down the dark olives to the Canvas sheets, and from there into the sacks. The sun warmed us gently and the afternoon breeze from the west kept our weather and spirit in excellent conditions.
During the field lunch we had a spontaneous interfaith encounter. Ali told us about a fable related to Moses, who according to Islam was the only prophet who could speak directly with God. The moral of the story was that the one who keeps well what he has – gains richness.
Launch encounter of Interfaith Visits Encounter group – 28 October 2011
We met on Friday, October 28th, at 10am, ten Israelis in the Rahel Crossing. After a forty-minute delay we entered by foot into the city of Bethlehem. After the crossing we took taxis and went to the Nativity Church Plaza. There we met our Palestinian friends – most of them new to IEA activity.
We visited the city center, the Nativity Church and the market area. We experienced the atmosphere of Friday during the Jumaa prayer. Then we set in a nice café and talked about the sanctity of Shabbat in Judaism and of Friday in Islam. We shared knowledge about customs and traditions related to these special days and how they are implemented in our daily lives.
We celebrated the birthday of one of the new Israeli participants – Shoshana. We also celebrated the birth of the daughter of one of the new Palestinian participants – Abd-el-Majid.
The encounter was experiential and enriching both from the perspective of getting to know the city and from the perspective of our interfaith conversation.
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