Middle East Mission #5 Trip Report
Brian Cox, Tim Pownall and Michael Zacharia conducted a mission to the Middle East September 22 – October 5, 2010 to further the development of the Middle East Faith-Based Reconciliation Project.
The PACIS Project in Faith-Based Diplomacy of the International Center For Religion and Diplomacy of Washington DC and the Straus Institute of Pepperdine University Law School of Malibu, California has undertaken a track two faith-based diplomatic initiative to harness the transcendent power of religion to contribute to the peace process in the Middle East specifically as it relates to Israel/Palestine. In essence, we are bringing an innovative model of faith-based reconciliation as a religious framework for peacemaking that has borne tangible fruit in other intractable identity-based conflicts.
Trip Objectives and Results
Track #1: Musalaha Initiative
In 2005 ICRD entered into a partner relationship with Musalaha, a Jerusalem-based NGO with an established track record of working for reconciliation in Israel/Palestine. The focus of the project was to combine the methodologies developed by Salim Munayer (Desert Encounter) and Brian Cox (Faith-Based Reconciliation) to create a three stage process as a religious framework for peacemaking and conflict resolution that focused on changing hearts as a prelude to joint problem solving. The first stage of the project would focus on Palestinian Christians and Muslims. The second stage would include Israelis. The purpose of the project was to create genuine grass roots people movements in both Israel and Palestine among young emerging leaders as a means of socializing the Abrahamic values of Faith-Based Reconciliation in both societies as a new but ancient paradigm for the Middle East.
Brian Cox, Tim Pownall and Salim Munayer conducted a faith-based reconciliation seminar for 25 Palestinian Christians and Muslims from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala September 24 – 27, 2010 in Limassol, Cyprus. This is the third group to participate in this process. Group One is now being deployed in schools in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour to teach the core values of Abrahamic Reconciliation as a form of intervention to enhance relationships between Christian and Muslim pupils. Group Two spent sixteen weeks reviewing and discussing the eight core values of faith-based reconciliation. One of the challenges identified by Sami Awad is the need for greater spiritual formation in the young Palestinian leaders so as to enable the core values to move deeply into their hearts.
Track #2: Muslim Brotherhood Initiative
For the past six years we have conducted meetings in Amman, Jordan with the top leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan Al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most important and influential Islamist networks throughout the Middle East and Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood is not typically associated with the idea of reconciliation. The members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan have strong views and are stakeholders in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their relationship with Israel would be considered by both sides to be extremely hostile. In addition, they would view the secular West and, particularly the United States with suspicion and hostility. Nevertheless, there has been a reaching out on both sides to agree to engage in a faith-based reconciliation process of ten Muslim Brotherhood leaders and ten American Christian leaders to be convened by the PACIS Project and the Al Umma Group in Amman, January 19 – 21, 2011. This is a major breakthrough in creating a religious framework for peace in the Middle East.
Track #3: Blue White Future Initiative
Over the past five years we have had extensive discussions with senior level track one Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from Madrid (1991), Oslo (1993), Camp David (2000) and Wye River (2002). There is general agreement on all sides that a negotiated settlement has little hope of success without a paradigm change in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories on the grassroots level that prepares people’s hearts for reconciliation. This involves more than “hummus and hugs”, but rather, creating a public conversation on both sides to prepare “hearts and minds” to grapple with the emotional realities of justice, forgiveness and apology. Polls taken on both sides show that, in theory, 70% of Israelis and Palestinians want peace. Nevertheless, on the heart level, the idea of apologizing or forgiving past or present injustices or acts of violence presents enormous obstacles on both sides. Our experience with both Israelis and Palestinians on the ground level have taught us this sobering reality.
We have met numerous times with the chief Israeli negotiator at Camp David in 2000 and have explored cooperation between the PACIS Project and the Blue White Future Project to develop a strategy for paradigm change in Israel. During this visit we met with the CEO of the Blue White Future Project and discussed both the potential for cooperation as well as a specific project related to future reabsorption of settlers within Israel as part of an eventual peace settlement.