When the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace for the first time tackled the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its president, Larry Snider of Morrisville, Pa., launched the discussion by asking, “What comes to mind first when you think of Israel or Palestine?” Some of the answers: “particularism,” “conflict,” and “sadness.”
More than 30 ICMEP members gathered at the Yardley United Methodist Church on Sept. 9 for the Interfaith Conversation on Israel, Palestine & Peace.
The Sept. 9 event was the eighth in its continuing series of interfaith conversations. The series “gives people an understanding of different faiths, of different positions, of different people of a broader community….,” said Snider. Through the programs, he said, “we can find ways to work together to promote Middle East peace.”
Followers of Judaism, Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, as well as members of the local Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) as well as non-believers have participated in ICMEP events, voicing their thoughts on the often controversial subject matter, said Snider, but in a positive, open, and candid way.
In March 2008, Snider, a member of Kehilat HaNahar-The Little Shul by the River in New Hope, Pa., organized a delegation of area Christian, Muslim, and Jewish clergy and lay leaders to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The goal was to meet and converse with politicians, peacemakers, religious leaders, and Israelis and Palestinians affected by the Middle East conflict. According to Snider, “Many members of the group who took the trip together in 2008 decided to create an interfaith organization that continued our journey of understanding.”
ICMEP was established to continue that journey by establishing a venue for the group members to share their experiences and impressions from the trip with others in the Delaware Valley. Since that time, the organization has grown and, according to its mission statement, has brought people together, providing forums for peace, to explore different faiths and traditions, to educate people about the Middle East, and to offer programs with Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations.
Rather than offer an individual speaker or panel presentation, the Sept. 9 program had attendees gather in smaller roundtable groups, each with a moderator. The questions focused on initial thoughts on Israel and Palestine, how faith influences understanding of the conflict, how faith promotes understanding between the different faith communities and peace in the Middle East, and how to help ICMEP promote dialogue, understanding, and coexistence.
The goal was “to build trust so we could have conversations on the issues that really tend to be more divisive,” Bob Coombe, pastor at Yardley Methodist and ICMEP secretary, told NJJN. The programs offer “an opportunity to bring that listening capacity instead of arguing.”
In one group, a participant showed maps of Israel and surrounding countries, and group members examined them together.
At a nearby table, participants discussed their religious backgrounds and what their faiths have taught them about the Middle East conflict.
Other conversations included personal experiences in Israel and the Palestinian territories, participants’ views on God’s role in the conflict, the influence of American politics on the situation, and possible media bias in reporting events in the Middle East.
“As we all started to talk about it, there was a lot of relevance in what each person had to say,” said Marion Snipes, a member of the Fallsington Friends Meeting and a first-time attendee at an ICMEP event. “Some people had gone to Israel and the Middle East and they had conversations with people, and that was so meaningful to hear about that, especially compared to what I read about in the newspaper.”
A common theme at each roundtable was the importance of communicating with and educating the younger generation, both in America and the Middle East, and the confidence that young people could provide the solution for this crisis. “Spreading the word of compassion and peace and justice among all the religions — it helps understanding for all of us,” said Virginia Lavanish, a congregant at Yardley United Methodist.
At the end of the hour, everyone regrouped and reported on what they had discussed at their respective tables. The final word came from ICMEP member Na-eem Sultan, who gave a “homework assignment” to all the attendees: to go back to their religious institutions and talk to the young people about the Middle East crisis and try to get them involved by coming to the next ICMEP meeting to share their viewpoints.
The next ICMEP meeting will take place Sunday, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m. at the Zubaida Foundation, 855 Big Oak Road in Yardley. For more information, contact Larry Snider at firstname.lastname@example.org.