3. Peace in Middle East

In Riverdale, Palestinians and Jews gather to banish hatred

Posted on March 1, 2009. Filed under: 0. Peace, 1, 1. World Peace, 3. Peace in Middle East |

Despite the overwhelming barrage of negative news, of more conflicts and cycle of hatred and violence in the world, there are ever present efforts to build bridges and close chasms between different groups in conflict, that tend to be under-reported.

The actions and efforts to build peace and re-conciliation, though under-reported in the traditional media,  are found in different places and carried out in creative ways. Such is the story of the Palestinians and Jews in Riverdale, who gather and break bread together to help banish hatred, and build understanding, tolerance and Peace. They are a part of a Peace movement called –  “World Peace, One Falafel at a Time.” that aims to break down walls and build peace in the World.

Peace with a side of Tahini By Kate Pastor

February 19, 2009 Edition

Palestinian-born Abed Isa Ibraham picked up a piece of pita bread in his hands, dipped it in hummus and brought it to his mouth. “We use our own fork. Personal fork. Nobody use it except me,” he quipped. Sitting across from him at the table, an American of Greek-Israeli descent gave him a knowing look. “My uncle does it the same way,” said George Nachum.

The exchange may sound like little more than breakfast banter. But subtle moments like these are powerful, and exactly why Khalid Isa, coowner with his wife of Sqweez Juice Bar & Grill on West 238th Street between Waldo and Greystone avenues, pushed the small tables in their storefront restaurant together on Sunday morning, to host members of “World Peace, One Falafel at a Time.”

Mr. Isa’s father, Mr. Ibraham, was born in Palestine and forced to leave what is now Israel, in 1948. “People left shoeless,” he said, “they left their homes still thinking they were going back.” When Mr. Isa started serving falafels in Riverdale two years ago, he didn’t even realize he was opening up shop in what he now calls “Little Israel.” But as he got to know his Jewish customers and became close with some of them, he was struck by how much (including falafel) they had in common.

A social movement The observation turned into a social movement in December, as the group’s founding members began holding monthly breakfasts in an effort to bring Jews and Arabs together over food. As they congregated around plates piled high with Middle Eastern breakfast — eggs with tomato, falafel balls, humus with tahini, pita covered with oregano, olive oil and sesame seeds, as well as strained yogurt called “lebneh” — each of the eight founding members got up to explain what had brought them together.

“When Khali approached me about this we kept taking about, we’re Semites,” said Steven Balicer, a Jewish Riverdalian, adding, “the border was only a border of geographical demarcation.” As the son of Holocaust survivors, he said his parents always encouraged him to speak out against injustice, and so he became active in the civil rights movement and other social and political causes throughout his life. For him, the peace-loving group probably wasn’t much of a leap. For others, sitting around the table was a step toward unlearning hatred they had been taught throughout their lives.

Growing up with hate (name taken out at request of person) was born in Pakistan. “I grew up with that typical understanding of this is us, and this is them. Kind of that dual mindset,” she told the group. “I had a lot of anger inside me and it really bothered me.” She said she knew people in Pakistan who hated both Jews and Hindus, but had never met a person from either background. And it was only when she started dating an Israeli man during her senior year at college that her mind began to change. “Getting to know them as people, slowly, slowly and slowly it started to melt away,” she said, making it impossible to “hate collectively.” When she first heard of the group, she said, “I literally started to cry…” She traveled from Queens to Riverdale for the meeting on Sunday.

David Osterczy, one of the founding members, told a similar tale. “I was raised a Jew and like S…,  I was raised that Arabs were a different kind of people,” he said. But focusing on commonalities helped cure Northern Ireland of its sectarian violence, he said, and the same idea could be applied to the Middle East. Though Riverdale is far away from the rockets and bombs that rattle what some participants apolitically called “the holy land,” family ties and spiritual connections seem to dwarf the distance.

Sahar Ferber grew up in Israel and only moved here about two years ago. He recounted a saying he used to hear when he was young. “By the time you get older the army will not be necessary,” he said. Still, he grew up to serve in an elite unit of the Israeli Army and it was only after he moved to the United States to go to college that, “All of a sudden I realized that not all Muslims are the same. I acquired three best friends that are Muslim,” he said.

Tearful discoveries

As participants spoke, some of them newcomers, Mr. Isa and Mr. Balister stood with their arms around each other, each story resonating deeply, and tears after appearing in Mr. Isa’s eyes. The nearly 20 attendees included founding member Leo Alkhatib, who considers himself a Palestinian-American, but was born in Jordan and has lived in this country for 28 years; Tony Schultz, a Riverdalian and a secular Jew who wanted to challenge notions in the media about Jews being a “monolithic entity”; and Joe Cutugno, a founding member and supersenior at Manhattan College, who, believes that his Italian-American ethnicity makes him an objective asset to the group.

Talking over food in Riverdale is at the group’s heart, but is not its ultimate goal. Founders hope to bring local imams and rabbis and eventually, Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, together over little fried balls of chickpeas at other tables.

For now, they have a growing contingent of participants at their monthly meetings, and a Facebook group boasting 116 members at press time, with a discussion question “What do you want for your grandkids?” No matter where people are from, “the answers,” said Mr. Osterczy, “are always the same.”

This is part of the February 19, 2009 online edition of The Riverdale Press.

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The Jewish-Arab Peace Song (w/ English subtitles)

Posted on November 3, 2008. Filed under: 0. Peace, 1. World Peace, 3. Peace in Middle East | Tags: , , , |

The Jewish-Arab Peace Song (w/ English subtitles)

Great song and video of people from two warring camps reaching out for Peace from a point of Love for all human beings.

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Promoting peace in the Middle East – Combatants for Peace seek to end conflict

Posted on August 28, 2007. Filed under: 0. Peace, 1. World Peace, 3. Peace in Middle East, PEACE Success Stories |

Here is another inspiring story of combatants who had been on opposite sides of a war now work to build understanding and promote Peace in the Middle East. Let’s see this an another example of what is possible for PEACE.


Combatants for Peace seek to end conflict



By Melody Hanatani – Santa Monica Daily Press Staff Writer – Published on 08/27/2007

MID-CITY Ra’ed Haddar was only 17 years old when he believed the end of life was near.

Growing up in the West Bank village of Yattah, Haddar was only a teenager when he was imprisoned, punished for actions against the Israeli occupation.

He spent the first 41 days in interrogation, allegedly tortured and beaten.

“I waited for death every minute and I never thought I could go out alive,” Haddar said on Friday.

Haddar spoke of his childhood and later imprisonment, growing up in the midst of conflict between the Palestinian people and the Israeli forces, during a presentation at Temple Beth Shir Shalom on Friday. The Palestinian shared his stories along with former Israeli officer Shimon Katz, the two former adversaries now combining their efforts to promote non-violent means to secure peace in the Middle East.

The two men, Haddar, 35, and Katz, 29, are members of Combatants for Peace, a non-profit organization aiming to spread the message of non-violent peace efforts to end the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. They have been traveling in Southern California for the past week, visiting local churches, temples and community houses to speak of their experiences.

Katz, the son of an American mother and Israeli father, spent four years as an officer in the Israel Defense Force unit until 1999.

When he joined the military at the age of 18, Katz said he had little knowledge of the politics involved in the conflict. He was led to believe that Israel was trying to defend itself from terrorist attacks from the Palestinians, he said during an interview on Wednesday.

The region has been plagued by car bombs and other retaliatory acts by extremists over the years.

Katz said it wasn’t until he was sent to South Lebanon to defend against Hezbollah that he began to realize that his actions were counter productive.

“We’re actually creating more and more problems and more and more reasons for us to be attacked as Israelis,” he said.

For Haddar, the conflict was the world he knew, even as a child when his mother would use threats that the Israeli soldiers were coming to get him as a way to get her son to behave.

It wasn’t until a friend was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier that Haddar grew increasingly hostile and bitter.

“The violence starts building at a young age,” Haddar said. “When you see Israeli soldiers come into territories of town, demolishing … that does build something inside of us to resist the attacks; the daily attacks on our daily lives.”

He was arrested and tortured and released three years later.

It was his cousin’s murder that prompted Haddar to reconsider his stance toward the situation plaguing both sides.

“It was the murder of one of my cousins that gave me encouragement to go ahead for non violent resistance,” he said during an interview on Wednesday. “The daily violence and the people getting killed daily from both sides also gave me encouragement to go ahead and start thinking of ways to change the situation.”

Haddar went on to become one of the first members of Combatants for Peace, which formed in 2005.

He recalls the first meeting between the two groups, sensing a mutual feeling of distrust, the Palestinian and Israeli men staring strangely at one another.

Distrust slowly turned to understanding.

The organization is now growing with about 300 total members — roughly 150 Palestinians and 150 Israelis.

The stories of how Haddar and Katz came together left the audience of mainly Beth Shir Shalom members shocked, some shaking their heads as they heard of heartbreak and loss.

“Seeing each other as human beings is the first step toward communication,” said one member, who asked to remain anonymous. “What they do is a microcosm, a template for world peace.”

Tova Baba came to the presentation with her friend, who is a temple member.

“It takes all the good will of people like that (to make change),” she said.

Spreading a message of peace

Part of the reason why Combatants for Peace is campaigning in the United States is because its members believe that Americans will have a major role in salvaging the situation as an outsider, Katz said.

“We like Americans to be unbiased, to be neutral in this situation and be involved,” he said. “Americans need to know it’s their tax money paying for the separation wall and ammunition and security budget.”

Palestinians see Americans as never helping to build peace, stirring violence more than anything else, Haddar said.

They’re looking at the conflict from one perspective, he said.

“It doesn’t balance,” he said. “We hope that … something will happen from America.”

The organization believes in dialogue and reconciliation as a means to establish a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

“We want Israelis who never met Palestinians to speak to other Palestinians and ask each other hard questions,” Katz said. “We want Palestinians to meet Israelis in regular clothes, in face to face talks. I think that will make a big difference.”






By Melody Hanatani – Santa Monica Daily Press -Published on 08/27/2007

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Peace in the Middle-East

Posted on February 25, 2007. Filed under: 0. Peace, 3. Peace in Middle East |

Peace in the Middle-East is a possibility that millions from the different religions and countries, from all parts of the world fervently wish and pray for.

When Peace in the Middle-East becomes a reality, millions of children who are born and grow up in an atmosphere of fear, hatred, anger, bigotry, and heart breaking sorrow will be free of all these crippling and devastating conditions.

These children and the many millions of people in the Middle-East and beyond will then be able to look at the world that they live in, and at their neighbors and fellow human beings, not as out to destroy and kill them, but as fellow travelers with whom they share this small world, and with whom they share the short time where their lives’ time spans overlap.

When there is peace in the Middle-East, the rapid growth of fanaticism, extremism and the resulting violence will be stopped, and in its place will flourish love, understanding, co-operation and connectedness.

Topic Questions:

    What will it mean for children in the Middle-East when there is peace? What will it mean for the parents of those children and for adults in general?What will it mean to the stopping and reversing of the growth of hatred, fanaticism, extremism in the Middle-East and beyond?What resources will it free up to fight the many diseases and health conditions that bring undue suffering and misery to the peoples of the Middle-East and beyond?What types of lives of love, peace, and prosperity will it make possible?

    How will it make it possible for the children of the Middle-East to play together, laugh together and grow up together rather than to throw rocks, bombs and shoot guns at each other?

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What is the Break Down the Walls project about?

Posted on February 21, 2007. Filed under: 0. Peace, 2. No Walls - Blue vs Red States (USA), 3. Peace in Middle East, PEACE Success Stories, Poems & Prose |

“Break Down the Walls” is a project that is committed to building understanding and tolerance in the world. It intends to do this by calling on people who want to make a difference, to join us in inspiring discussions and sharing, so that we can all be inspired to embrace understanding and tolerance, and so that we can then inspire others – one person at a time, and initiate a chain reaction of people inspiring more people.

Our first thrust towards achieving this goal is to use the power of the internet to generate discussions that will inspire people to pick up the call for tearing down walls that exist in their lives, and that will inspire them to use creative ways to inspire others.

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