Putting UN resolutions to work

A report from the Knesset conference titled "Building a Culture of Peace in the Middle East and the Global Arena."

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Rebecca Abrahamson,

Rebecca Abramson
Rebecca Abramson
INN:RB

Opportunities present themselves, and it is up to us to rise to the occasion. The United Nations has passed several resolutions that call for a culture of peace. These include:

  • Promotion of Religious and Cultural Understanding, Harmony and Cooperation (58/128),
  • The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001 – 2010) (A/RES/53/25); 
  • Protection of Religious Sites (2001) (A/RES/55/254);
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 2007

As legendary negotiator and former UN member Ginadomenico Picco stated[1], we cannot take the workings of the UN for granted. We have to make these resolutions a reality. And it is orthodox Jewish woman Shoshana Bekerman who is taking the reins to implement these resolutions in Israel and throughout the Middle East. She brought me in and we organized the conference titled Building a Culture of Peace in the Middle East and the Global Arena, which took place at the Knesset on Tuesday January 12 2016.

Shoshana Bekerman is founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics.[2] Her position as parliamentary advisor to FMK Nissim Ze’ev afforded her experience in the political process, and she creatively used her position to advance central concerns to the people of Israel. These include demands to denounce calls to ethnically cleanse any area (such as Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem of its Jews) or any calls for incitement to violence, plus the preservation of Jewish historical and religious sites and their place in history in the Middle East in the face of revisionist attempts to erase such history.[3]

She has organized a series of conferences on the advancement of a culture of peace, the latest one in the United Nations headquarters, November 2015. There she stated, “the UN agenda 2030 development goals encompass ethics that are inherent in many cultures and religions concerning social and environmental justice. The IPCGE is launching a major initiative to develop a coalition of parliamentarians, religious and cultural leaders, to work with the UN to implement these development goals towards a culture of peace and prosperity.“

And any member of the Jewish community should take pride in our representation at that conference, take note of this historic opportunity, and duly take part.[4]

Renouncing incitement to violence – UN resolutions, FMK Nissim Ze’ev, and Sheikh Abu

The atmosphere at the Knesset on January 12 was that of a reunion, Muslims and Jews who had met previously were happy to see each other again, the current situation having thwarted much connection.

Rav Nissim Ze’ev was the second speaker. He denounced incitement to violence outright. Attesting that many Muslims do indeed wish to live in peace, it pains him that the few inciters make life so difficult for other Arabs. “I will share with you a story I know personally,” he began passionately,  “Arabs in Hevron protected five Jewish yeshiva students and helped them escape an attack, (September 2015) and now those Arabs are being threatened by their brethren, ‘why did you save Jews?’ they are taunted and harassed!”

And who should enter in the middle of the talk, but the very sheikh from Hevron who orders his people to protect the children of Israel! “Sheikh Abu!”[5] Rav Nissim Zeev exclaimed, clearly moved as he announced to those present, who stood to honor him as he made his way to his seat, “this is the very Sheikh who commands his followers to protect us! I say to you, honorable Sheikh! We thank you and your whole tribe, in the name of the Jewish people, that you protect Jews. We thank you and honor you!” And at the break they embraced heartily.[6]

Given the floor, the Sheikh sat modestly but spoke with the strength of a stalwart preacher, he hardly needed the microphone. He was rebuking those who shame the legacy of Abraham. “What would happen if our forefather Abraham encountered us today? How could we possibly explain that we fight among each other? And to this we are bound to answer in the heavenly court!” And he reiterated what other members of the Muslim community declare – Islam predicts that Jews will gather in the Holy Land, this is prophesied in the Qur’an itself.  “Much blood has been split in this land, of prophets, of the righteous and of lay people. We believe that G-d sent prophets to teach faith and peace, we want to unite and dwell together.” No “two state solution” here.

Now get ready, the Sheikh continued, “I declare that the state of Israel is the ruler of this land, we have no argument with that. We once lived together in peace. We all believe in the same G-d. We believe that the prophets were the messengers of G-d. If we really want peace then I hereby ask that this state gives equal rights to all its citizens. Then we will attain true peace. We do not want talk, we want action on the ground. Our peoples are weary with worry and fear. We call for coexistence.”

 A standing ovation followed. We cannot ignore these voices.

Preservation of religious and cultural sites  

Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova cited the UN resolution for the Protection of Religious Sites, speaking of the move by some Muslim extremists to destroy or tamper with cultural sites. Citing the tomb of Ezekiel in southern Iraq, attempts are being made to erase thousands of years of Jewish history - for example, there is a move to cover ancient Hebrew inscriptions with building materials. She warns, “if we destroy our past, we have no present and there is no future.”  

This echoed UNESCO representative Lily Valtchanova’s plea at the November 2015 meeting, ”we are often asked, why do we concern ourselves with the destruction of cultural sites by extremists when people are dying? Because shared history is a point of commonality and thus conciliation.”


Rabbi Gabriel Reiss: We want the Shalom that is rooted in our culture and traditions that hail from this land, and that means strong identities that work in harmony.
Prophets that Jews revered are supposed to be revered by Muslims as well. Member of Knesset Shuli Mualem expressed her pain that Muslim extremists continually desecrate the tomb of Joseph  - a place that their very religion enjoins them to revere! She stated that Jews who hail from Islamic countries do not erase their heritage, indeed, they preserve the traditions they inherited from these lands, so why should some Muslims attempt to erase their connection to Jewish holy sites, sites which they are supposed to respect. She added that the Temple Mount should similarly be open to all who wish to pray there. We should be concerned with the preservation of cultural and holy sites all over the Middle East, as these sites belong to all of us.

(The destruction of cultural and holy sites by members of ISIS is indeed strange when you consider that religious Egyptian Muslims have been living alongside ancient hieroglyphics for centuries and seemed to have coped just fine. The pyramids and adjoining Sphinx are certainly an affront to Abrahamic teachings in their representation of the occult and an overemphasis on the afterlife, but they stood their silent ground as Islam rose in Egypt, free of being targeted for demolition. Abrahamic teachings are stronger than stones.)

Not quite historical sites, but an example of creativity today - former Mayor of Julis, Nadeem Amar, founder, Israeli Druze Association for the Culture of Peace, spoke about the importance of the arts today.  He has groups of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze participate in team sports and arts and crafts. Every community finds its own way in building bridges.

Putting Qur’anic verses in context

Dr. Cihat Gündoğdu, goodwill ambassador from Turkey, brandished a new book called, “Bigotry, the Dark Danger” which goes right to the sources in rebutting those who manipulate the Qur’an and hadith, taking them out of context to malign Jews. “The Qur’an should be taken as a whole, as Muslims, we see this as our duty to clarify the message of Islam. Indeed there are Muslims speaking of hatred and endless death penalties, instead of the love and gratitude that Islam commands.”  Then he started listing, verse by verse, Qur’anic texts that can be easily twisted, and explaining them in context. You can download this book for free and check the sources yourself.[7]

What is Peace in the Middle East?

Rabbi Gabriel Reiss of the Lavi organization had the courage to break the mold and challenge basic assumptions that are disrupting Muslims and Jews from working together. He shook us up: “I am not interested in Peace, I want Shalom!” heads turned, eyebrows raised. “Our roots, culture, language and our future are here. The paradigm of so called peace in the west is not the same as true Shalom in the Middle East. The world Shalom has the same root as shalem – completion.  Western “peace” implies moderating, watering down, ignoring our differences and diluting our identity, aiming for tranquility and the easy life. We have to resist efforts to turn us into westerners! We want the Shalom that is rooted in our culture and traditions that hail from this land, and that means strong identities that work in harmony!”

Rabbi Reiss elaborated that he agrees with the Sheikh’s vision of Israeli sovereignty in the entire land of Israel, and as sovereign, must take responsibility for all its citizens.

“If I am not what I am supposed to be, faithful to my traditions as a Jew, then they cannot be what they are supposed to be, it works both ways. We are here to build together, to complement each other, to be true to our identity and in that way help others be true to theirs. We have values that we are willing to live and die for, even make a Kiddush HaShem – and that is not in line with watered down western so called “peace.” We have to get away from the importation of values that are an anathema to us. It is time we become faithful to our identity, expand our narratives to include Arab and Jew, and complete each other the way we are meant to.”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh[8] would concur.

“There are things we should be pursuing together. The west has to get off our back (applause broke out). We must become who we really are and build something unique together, Jews and Arabs.” Another standing ovation followed. Sheikh Abu and Rabbi Reiss embraced.

So let the peace business and all its funding scratch its collective head, Jews and Palestinians having worked it out for themselves.

And Rav Yoel Schwartz of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim summed it up, “I do not want to talk about religion. I want to talk about G-d. If we would all ask ourselves, what does G-d want from us, what would make Him pleased with us, then all would fall into place. It is the Seven Noahide Laws that are our guide, and we are obligated to teach these ethics to the nations of the world.” Not who is louder or whose narrative speaks to us, but what the commandments say, here and now. “Shalom is a name of G-d Himself! Without G-d in the picture, there is no real peace.”

Women in action

Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova exclaimed at the rarity of such a meeting. “Usually in the Knesset we are arguing, and here we are coming together to discuss ethics, a very rare situation and we thank you Shoshana Bekerman for arranging this!” Her enthusiasm and support were tangible, and it was heartwarming to see MK Ksenia refer to MK Shuli Mualem as her good friend. These women represent varying levels of religious observance, three different political parties, working together where we must.

Another perhaps related innovation was noted by Member of Knesset Shuli Mualem -  this meeting was organized by two women, and she was pleased to see so many women participants. Well of course, the traditions of Abraham have a long history of strong women, we need not look anywhere but our foremothers, prophetesses and lay leaders of faith for inspiration, up to this very day. Participants included Muslim attorney Nivin Agabaira, who is inspiring women empowerment via education and a strong work ethic. Rabanit Hadassa Froman, who hosts classes numbering up to fifty students twice a week on pursuing peace with Muslims as well as on Jewish family life. Building homes, building bridges.

I urge you to familiarize yourselves with UN resolutions that can be put into action to protect life and identity. This is grassroots, you can be a part of it.

Sources:

[1] You tube clip of November UN conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hevOpfJxPck

[2] Brief You tube clip on the IPCGE

[3]You tube clip of November UN conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hevOpfJxPck

[4] The moderators were Judy Schaffer of “Heroes to Heroes” and Rabbi Martin Oliner, Mayor of Lawrence NY. Other members of the orthodox community present include Rabbi Tanenbaum of the RCA, Rabbi Dr. Eli Abadie, Rabbi Yaakov David Cohen, Leonard Grunstein, scroll to the end of the clip and you will see more.

[5] Name changed to protect his identity. The forum has forbid any photographs of the Sheikh .

[6] (We forbid any photographing of sheikh Abu at the conference, and I say again, any photos circulated of him are in violation of our conference rules.)

[7] http://www.harunyahya.com/en/Books/191085/bigotry-the-dark-danger.

[8] Late nineteenth century, Italy








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