Build Middle East Peace on Lessons from Abraham

Article excerpt

(CNN) -- President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday as more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists gathered in Washington for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. But rather than focusing on the stalled Middle East peace process, their talks and subsequent media coverage have centered on the question of using military force to stop Iran's nuclear program.

The events in Washington took place just after 24 Christian, Jewish and Muslim prominent faith leaders from the United States and Indonesia returned from a mission to the Middle East. The joint delegation returned from the birthplace of the three great faiths of the Western world convinced that religion can be a force for unity and understanding instead of a source of division and conflict.

Unfortunately, however, concerns about security and safety have made the Holy Land a region of walls that have all but eliminated any contact between Israelis and Palestinians today.

In the six days the delegation visited the region, they got a sense of the fear that has led to the building of many kinds of walls. They saw much evidence of the distrust, intolerance and hatred that exists between the two sides of the conflict. But they also met faith leaders and civic activists of great vision and courage.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, the founder of Mosaica Center for Inter- Religious Cooperation and a former member of the Israeli Cabinet, is working with Dr. Abdul Rahman Abbad, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Religious Leaders in Palestine, to moderate the views of extremist religious leaders.

The delegation met with leaders of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which, for more than 40 years, has created a model community of Jewish-Palestinian coexistence, including a School for Peace that has trained thousands of youths and teachers to help create a humane, egalitarian and just society. And they met with leaders of Parents Circle/Bereaved Families Forum who have lost loved ones in the conflict but have turned their anger and loss into constructive work to advance peace.

Although many of the American faith leaders in the delegation had some exposure to the Middle East, this was a new experience for our colleagues from Indonesia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. …