Interfaith Peace Initiative

 

 

 

 

 

Interfaith Peace Initiative:

History, Accomplishments and Goals

History

The Interfaith Peace Initiative (IPI) was established in Providence, RI in August, 2002, by citizens concerned about the escalating violence in the Middle East.  Its goal was to bring together people of different faiths and backgrounds in learning about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Initial members included Jewish rabbis, Christian ministers, a Hindu Swami, and a Palestinian Muslim refugee, in addition to a number of laypeople who shared concern for all the region’s people. 

Discussions have been candid and have provided an opportunity for exchange of ideas and perceptions in a safe, supportive environment.  The group heard presentations from a rabbi in defense of Zionism, and a Jewish speaker who said Zionism was incompatible with Judaism.  We were addressed by a Palestinian Christian who lives in Jerusalem, and by Palestinians who had been evicted from their homes in 1948 and 1967 and could not return.  One of our Jewish participants left during the year to exercise her “aliya” or “right of return” and move to Israel.  Many of our other members have visited the region to see the situation first-hand.

As members returned from spending time with families affected by the conflict, the group’s focus expanded from dialog to include education of Americans about what is happening in the region, and humanitarian efforts to provide hope to people living in desperate circumstances under occupation.  Many educational events were sponsored.  The group also focused on America’s role in the conflict.

While there were differing views within the group about solutions to the conflict, a unanimous decision was taken in 2003 to join the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.  The US Campaign supports a resolution based on international law and human rights for all the region’s people, and these are two precepts the Interfaith Peace Initiative felt it could easily embrace.

Friendships formed in our diverse group have resulted in opportunities to visit each other’s places of worship.  Jewish and Christian members of the group travelled to Washington to attend a conference of Tikkun and to visit members of Congress.  We were invited to take part in the 75th Anniversary of the Vedanta Society in Providence and the Eid Ceremony ending Ramadan.

The Interfaith Peace Initiative is unique in that it affirms the humanity of all the parties involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the equality of all the faith communities represented in the region and in our membership.  It provides respectful opportunities for dialog and exchange of ideas.  It offers a well informed core group representing different religions and committed to human rights and international law. 

 Accomplishments

During its first four years, IPI members sponsored or helped to sponsor fifteen educational events for the larger community:

  • a presentation by a Methodist missionary from Bethlehem
     

  • a talk by a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem
     

  • a talk by a rabbi who heads Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel
     

  • a talk by a Palestinian Christian from Ramallah
     

  • a presentation by the head of the United Church of Christ Mideast office
     

  • a presentation by a rabbi who heads the Shalom Center in Philadelphia
     

  • an educational event about Israel’s separation wall, featuring Jewish and non-Jewish eyewitnesses to its impact on the Palestinian people
     

  • Construction of a life-sized model of the Israeli wall on the State House lawn
     

  • two appearances by a hydrologist on the environmental impact of occupation
     

  • a talk by a member of Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron
     

  • a talk by a Jewish Israeli who heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
     

  • a talk by a Jewish American lawyer who traveled to the West Bank and Gaza
     

  • a talk by a Jewish American Fulbright Scholar and Columbia University graduate who spent 5 months in the West Bank and wrote a book about her experience called “Witness in Palestine”
     

  • a film called “The Killing Zone” about life in Gaza under occupation
     

  • a vigil to mark the death of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American college student killed by an Israeli bulldozer
     

  • a presentation by an Israeli woman who lost her daughter and a Palestinian woman who lost her brother on the impact of violence on daily life in Israel and the occupied territories
     
  • program sponsored by "Partners for Peace" featuring a Jewish woman from Israel, a Christian woman from Bethlehem and a Muslim woman from Gaza who are working for peace.

These educational efforts extended to members of Congress and newspaper editors.  IPI members called on these opinion leaders as individuals and in groups.

 A series of ten educational fold-out display boards were prepared on topics ranging from the impact of the separation wall and the destruction of homes to the activities of Palestinian Boy Scouts.  Binders with information and color photographs about the wall were presented to the Rhode Island Congressional delegation and other decision-makers.  Videos of life in the region were prepared by members who have spent time in the West Bank, and more are under way.  These members have made dozens of presentations to religious and community groups. A bibliography of reading materials was prepared, and the group would like to get this to book stores and public libraries, encouraging them to present more comprehensive information for readers on this topic.  

 Goals

 Educational goals can be summarized as follows:

  1. promoting awareness about what is happening in Israel/Palestine
     

  2. creating public awareness about media omissions, and persuading media outlets to present accurate news
     

  3. informing Americans about Israelis and Palestinians…including Jews, Christians, and Muslims…who are working for a just peace.
     

  4. providing opportunities for dialog about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
     

  5. debunking myths about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
     

  6. educating Members of Congress about the impact of their actions on the prospects for peace.

  7. We hope to accomplish these goals through:

  1. meetings with community groups and religious organizations

  2. public presentations by eyewitnesses who have visited the region         

  3. meetings with decision makers and editors

  4. articles and letters to the editor

  5. inviting outside speakers and co-sponsoring programs with other groups

  6. sponsoring exhibits of Palestinian handicrafts

  7. working with bookstores/ libraries to encourage a good selection of books on    the topic.

  8. establishing a website that will include current articles and reports about the region.       

 Among the humanitarian projects engaged in by individual members of the group are:   

  1. purchasing reference books for the Girls' School in Jayyous, West Bank,
      

  2. collecting textbooks for Al Quds Open University English Literature classes,
     

  3. supporting the efforts of the Rhode Island/Qalqilya Alliance to raise money for school fees        for students in the Qalqilya District,
     

  4. supporting the sale of Palestinian handicrafts by churches and YMCAs to raise money for villagers in the West Bank who have no other source of income,
     

  5. supporting the sale of olive oil from the Palestinian village of Jayyous, where closures and the wall have severely limited traditional outlets for this product,
     

  6. raising money for lights for Bethlehem to provide hope and jobs during the holiday season,
     

  7. raising money for a child with diabetes in Bethlehem,
     

  8. supporting the efforts of a Rhode Island private school to bring a Palestinian child to Rhode   Island,
     

  9. supporting efforts by local Boy Scout leaders to bring young people from Bethlehem to      Rhode Island for summer jobs at the Yawgoog Scout Reservation,
     

  10. hosting visiitors from the West Bank village of Qalqilya.

  We would like to extend and expand these humanitarian initiatives in the coming year.