By Brian Freedman, ICCI intern
On Sunday, June 12th, a delegation of college students from the United States, participants of the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project in the Middle East, visited ICCI in Jerusalem to explore the aspect of peace-building in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ICCI Director Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish kicked off the meeting at the ICCI office with the six students by summarizing the major political events in the last 20 years of the peace process. Rabbi Kronish highlighted the shifting moods in the public sector from the optimism following the Oslo Accords in 1994 to the despair after the Second Intifida. He then outlined the ICCI approach to peace-building, which focuses on depoliticizing the Israeli-Palestinian relationship with personal stories and face-to-face interaction.
The students, who had visited Saudi Arabia and Dubai before arriving to Israel, were then introduced to five ICCI young adult alumni of dialogue programs—three Israeli Jews and two Palestinians—who shared their experiences as participants in ICCI-sponsored programs. Zaki, a Jewish ICCI alumnus from Jerusalem, described a transformative experience at an interreligious camp in New York, hosted by Auburn Theological Seminary, called “Face to Face–Faith to Faith“. He told the visiting students that there he realized the importance of giving space to the Palestinian voice instead of doggedly working to prove the validity of his own, Zionist-centric narrative.
The students, all but one of whom study at Johns Hopkins University, then hopped back on their bus and joined Rabbi Kronish and the ICCI alumni for dinner at his home in Jerusalem. In between bites of baked chicken and brown rice, the visiting students discussed with the alumni a panoply of topics, ranging from interreligious marriage to issues of identity among Palestinian Israelis. Over dessert and coffee, a Palestinian Israeli from East Jerusalem expressed to the group the current, moral dilemma he faces in being a patriotic citizen of a country that he says routinely oppresses and discriminates against his people. A Jewish ICCI alumnus who attends weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah assured him that he would continue to fight for the rights of Palestinians as long the fight remains non-violent and peaceful.
The students, whose 2-week trip was funded by the Ibrahim Family Foundation and was administered by the Institute of International Education, walked away with varied impressions from their encounter with ICCI and their overall Israel experience. One Jewish girl said that the reality of life in Israel contradicts the pristine image of Israel to which she was accustomed in her Zionist home. Another participant, a Muslim woman who spent the first eight years of her life in Saudi Arabia, said that her arrival in Israel was punctuated by conflicting emotions. On one hand, her visit was legitimizing a country that in Saudi Arabia she was told should be wiped off the map. On the other hand, she understands and appreciates the fact that generations of Israeli Jews have grown up in Israel and have a right to stay here. She also mentioned that, as a Muslim, she feels solidarity and sympathy for the struggle of the Palestinians.Brian Freedman is a master’s candidate at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he is pursuing a degree in Islam and the Middle East. A resident of New Jersey, he graduated from the University of Maryland in 2008 with a B.A. in Journalism. In conjunction with his studies, he volunteers at the Interreligious Coordinating Council (ICCI), assisting with writing reports and conducting interviews for various ICCI projects.
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