Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Interfaith Vigil to End Occupation Calls on U.S. to Impose Cease-Fire

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Interfaith Vigil to End Occupation Calls on U.S. to Impose Cease-Fire

Article excerpt

On July 16, five days into Israel's blitz on Lebanon, the Interfaith Community United for Justice and Peace convened a meeting of Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Islamic Center of Southern California. Speakers were Rev. Dr. George Regas, Rabbi Leonard Beerman and Dr. Maher Hathout.

"We must speak out against violence," Rev. Regas, retired rector of All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena, told the audience of 250 concerned citizens. While denouncing the capture of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah, the cleric called on Israel to cease its greatly overproportional actions in Lebanon and Gaza.

"Israel has the right to exist," Regas acknowledged, "but we're missing the core of the fundamental problem: 39 years of occupation. No violence is worse than the violence of occupation. Until Gaza and the West Bank are free, there never will be peace.

"This spiraling crisis brings us to the horror of a Middle East war involving Syria and Iran," he warned, calling on President George W. Bush "to be a negotiator and reconciliator. Give peace a chance."

Rabbi Beerman, founder of Leo Baeck Temple, lamented that all of Lebanon lay under Israeli bombs. On this very day, however, he stressed, peace activists had marched in Tel Aviv behind a banner that read "Silence the Cannons-No More Military Madness."

"What makes the situation more tragic," Rabbi Beerman continued, "is the kind of leadership we have today. Rather than use our power and insist on negotiations, we've withdrawn as if it serves our purpose."

Dr. Hathout emphasized that the event was not designed to be a political forum, but a spiritual forum. "Being spiritual doesn't mean we won't take a stand against injustice," he explained.

The chair of the Islamic Center decried the attitude of Washington, which dictates to the Palestinians: "Don't elect who you like, but who I like."

"When the Palestinians voted for Hamas, the U.S./Israel reaction was to bomb them, withhold their money, and make them drink dirty water until they recant," he charged. "They use brute force to solve a problem. The more force is exerted, the bigger the problem."

Salam al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, delivered the final words: "I'm here to say occupation and terror are wrong. Occupation only brings on terrorism. Demand U.S. intervention on this issue."

This event did not go unnoticed by hardline Israel supporters, including Joel Bellman, communications deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Taking exception to the announcement that the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California would present its "Religious Freedom" award to Marayati, Reverend Regas, Rabbi Beerman, Rev. J. Edwin Bacon and Rev. Altagracia Perez, Bellman posted an open letter to the local ACLU's executive director, Ramona Ripston.

Bellman stated he would boycott the annual ACLU Garden Party where the clerics will be honored and he said he will urge all his friends to do likewise.

"I'm not sure when he [al-Marayati] and MCPAC would legitimately deserve such recognition," Bellman wrote, "but it most certainly is not a time when MPAC is falsely blaming Israel for defending herself in a two-front war launched without provocation by Islamic terror organizations with the support and sponsorship of two rejectionist Islamic nations."

Bellman went on: "It is particularly repellent to me that not only Salam, but Rabbi Beerman and Rev. Regas are similarly to be honored with this award when all three recently participated together in the farce of MPAC's 'Interfaith Vigil to End the Occupation' following the initial attacks on Israel."

"We have chosen to honor five important Southern California religious leaders at our 43rd annual Garden Party," Ripston told the Washington Report. "In these times, the 1st Amendment and the protections it affords to religious liberty and religious freedom are particularly poignant. …

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