Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Dance, Sing and Eat for Peace

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Dance, Sing and Eat for Peace

Article excerpt

Forgiveness is not, you might imagine, a word that falls readily from the lips of anyone living in Israel or Palestine. But this potent word forms the basis of an emerging, people-powered peace movement in the region: the Sulha Peace Project. Sulha means forgiveness in Arabic and is also the root of the word sliha, meaning sorry, in Hebrew--high-lighting one of the many commonalities of these two cultures. "We are so similar, but we see only the differences," says Elias Jabbour, an Arab Israeli and one of the founders of the Sulha project.

An indigenous Middle Eastern method of reconciliation, sulha is around 2,000 years old and was originally used to alleviate conflict between warring desert tribes. The two sides, assisted by a trusted mediator, would come together in the understanding that talking would bring about resolution. The sulha was brought into a modern context two years ago, when an Arab and a Jew had the idea of gathering together 150 people in Galilee, to break the fast of Ramadan and mark the Jewish festival of Chanukkah.

The following year, by word of mouth alone, this gathering grew to an all-day event attended by 700 people. Among the participants was an Israeli father whose child had been killed in a suicide bomb blast two weeks earlier. This year's Sulha saw 1,000 people assemble for a two-day event. It comprised workshops, talking circles, music, dance, shared prayer and shared food. This time, the word had spread abroad and people came from Europe, Jordan and the US; there were speakers from the exiled Tibetan government and the South African freedom movement. The goal for 2004 is to take a Sulha caravan, gathering people on the way, from Galilee down to Jerusalem.

The project seems driven more by psychotherapy than by ideology. As people from both sides share personal experiences around a talking circle, anger is dissipated and each side emerges with a better understanding of the other. …

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