Mazhar Khan and Na'eem Raza
As a long time supporter of Palestinian rights, we were initially somewhat unsure with what intention we were embarking on a “Peace Pilgrimage”. A few cynics had quietly tried to dissuade us from going on this journey, perceiving it as a publicity stunt, an attempt to prolong the status quo.
However the desire to explore the Muslim world, meet other Muslims, and attempt to understand their condition first hand, strengthened the resolve to go, together with a sincerity to realise the Jewish perspective of the conflict. For too long we had fed on only the Palestinian narrative, about the An-Naqba (the catastrophe of Israel’s creation).
There was also a personal desire to reassert the Quranic status of Jews being (along with Christians) the Ahl Al Kitab, (People of the book), recipients of Divine revelation, an honour Muslims sometimes appear to have forgotten in their fervour against Israeli injustices on Palestinians. Finally we also relished the chance to travel with such a diverse religious group, and the endless opportunities available to gain a better understanding of each of the faiths represented in the group.
The whirlwind itinerary, brilliantly pulled together by the affable Eliyahu Maclean, hardly gave anyone a chance to collect their thoughts and impressions while moving hectically from one meeting to the next. However it almost left no stone unturned in the attempt to present both an interfaith and a political dimension to the conflict from all perspectives, all while simultaneously attempting to gain a sense of spirituality from the pilgrimage sites visited. From Jerusalem to the Golan Heights, from Rabbis to Sheikhs, from the Dome of the Rock to the Sea of Galilee, and from Settlers to sufferers, pity the one who came without prior knowledge of the complexity of this land.
By the end of the week apart from an aching heart was a pair of aching feet.
Attempting to gain a coherent perspective to the conflict was no easy task. What we had experienced spoke volumes; while the kindly faces of Mufti Izhak Taha and Rabbi Melchior among many others, sincerely attempting to address the conflict from the perspective of their faiths gave hope. Yet the pain expressed by Ilana Rosenman and Arnold Roth, both affected by Jerusalem bombings, the Palestinian residents of Al Khalil (Hebron) constantly suffering at the hands of Jewish Settlers, and the devastation caused to Palestinian farmers by the looming wall, showed the extent of human suffering on both sides. Further polarisation was provided by David Wilder’s abhorrent attitude to Palestinians, and Mustapha Barghouti’s depressing and bleak historical analysis of the conflict.
Perhaps it was the stark reminder from Mustafa Abu-Sway of Al Quds University, which more than anything else in a few words and a short analogy brought home the reality of the issue of Israel and Palestine. Even if we were to drink all the tea in China during interfaith meetings, there’s no escaping from the fact that at the heart of the matter is injustice.
When a Palestinian Christian family in the West Bank can be deprived of water for up to 14 days, while a few miles away a Jerusalem Rabbi can sit at ease while sprinklers water his lawn, we need to realise something has seriously gone wrong. Yet surely our faith gives us the strength to rise to the challenge, to join together for the betterment of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians of this blessed land and not be blinded by “my community, whether right or wrong”; no longer is it only my community that’s suffering, all our communities are suffering.
That’s why for me the light at the end of the tunnel was provided by the likes of EAPPI, One Voice, Holy Land Trust, Tent of Sarah and Hagar, and the Jerusalem Peacemakers. Some of these organisations, by working at the grassroots level, and by transcending religious differences, have the potential to change the conflict for the better, and not because they remove religion from the narrative but by actually giving religion the central role it deserves when seeking a solution to this conflict.
Although as mentioned above, many of us had come along with little knowledge of other group members and their faiths, yet with a desire to learn. But what we experienced from one another surely exceeded all expectations; the ease with which the group came together was remarkable. Together with the level of genuine respect and attention paid to one another’s faith and practices was personally quite moving.
As we return to our individual lives, to hopefully cherish each of our memories and experiences, we hope this is not the end of this unique exercise. With the knowledge and experience we have gained through this trip it surely has the potential assist us all in fostering better relations between faith communities here in Scotland. It is not the culture of power that binds us together but the power of culture. The onus is on each of us as individuals as well as a group to sustain the momentum and work together locally for our communities to flourish, and be better enabled to engage in open discussion about other faiths and the ongoing situation in the Holy land; without dialogue, communication and action nothing is possible. Let us engage on all issues with the open hearts and minds this trip has afforded us, detached from the emotions which prevent us from viewing things from both sides; perhaps this is the future of interfaith work.
Mazhar Khan is a training consultant who has been active within the Muslim community in Edinburgh for most of his life.
Na'eem Raza is a Civil Servant, currently on a sabbatical running Scotland’s only Faith Consultancy training organisation. He is Muslim.