Greetings from the Mosaic of Peace Conference in Israel and Palestine. The brief blog entries you will see over the coming days provide brief reports and insights from our conference in Israel and Palestine. They are written by our participants and are neither comprehensive nor in depth reports, but the first opportunity we have to share some of our amazing experiences as they happen. The conference is full and our time is limited. We will do our best to post updates as we are able. The peace of Christ be with you!
Monday and Tuesday, April 4 and 5 – Orientation in Newark, NJ
We arrived in Newark on Monday evening, and despite a few travel glitches, we had the opportunity to meet one another after months of anticipation and to spend some time in worship together. The full itinerary was shared for the first time and there was a great amount of excitement.
Tuesday’s program featured five speakers, each offering us insights to help us prepare for our time in Israel and Palestine. In the afternoon group members began to depart for their international flights. Those remaining for later flights engaged in a simulation exercise to help us prepare for the conference. Here’s a quick synopsis of our presenters:
Amgad Beblawi, Area Coordinator for the Middle East and Europe, provided an overview of the history of Presbyterian mission in the Middle East. He stressed the importance of our work in partnership with the Christian community in Palestine, our church’s continued commitment to security, justice and lasting peace for both the Israeli and Palestinian people; our support of a two-state solution and the importance of safeguarding the human rights of all who live in the region.
Ryan Smith, the Presbyterian Representative to the United Nations, reviewed current PCUSA policy related to Israel and Palestine and the evolution of that policy. In summary, the General Assembly supports a two-state solution, a return to the 1967 borders, an end to settlement expansion in the West Bank and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.
Rachel Lerner, Vice President of Public Affairs for J Street, shared her personal story as an American Jew and gave us an overview of the goals of her organization. J Street is a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization whose members believe that Israel’s future, security and character depend on reaching a two-state solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Rachel shared how her deep faith in the virtues promoted by Judaism impacted her desire to seek peace in Palestine and Israel and to speak out in the face of injustice in the region.
Doris Salah, former Executive Director of the YWCA in Palestine, shared her personal story of being born and raised in a Christian Palestinian family in Jerusalem before the occupation. After attending college abroad, she returned to a vastly changed Jerusalem under Israeli occupation. Doris described the erosion of basic rights, the expulsion of her family from the home they had lived in for generations and the struggle to maintain hope and dignity in the face dehumanizing and demoralizing conditions. Doris regularly travels and speaks publicly in an effort to bring understanding and attention to the plight of all Palestinians.
Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of Stony Point Center and associate for Inter-Faith Relations, spent his time with us discussing cultural sensitivity, our hopes and fears for this trip and how to bring our story home. As we voiced these hopes and fears, Rick gave us examples and stories to help us stay realistic and be mindful of exceptions to already challenging cultural cues. About returning home, he advised us to share the meaningful “micro-stories” we hear – the accessible, human-interest stories – that can help point people to larger, “macro-truths” about the complexities of life in the region, the current conflict and the struggle of our Christian calling to work for peace with justice.