For my latest with Jewcy, I interviewed Gabriel Meyer – the co-founder of the Sulha Peace Project. While covering a few different topics, the interview was at its best when we discussed the difficulties inherent in the making peace, and the role of religion in peacemaking.
Here is an excerpt:
Q: Many people see religion as an inflexible force that perpetuates the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews, yet at the Sulha Peace Project religion is harnessed as a force for peace and unity. Can you speak to the use of religion as an instrument for peace?
A: There a saying in Hebrew: hadinim nimtakim beshorsham, which means “stern judgment is sweetened from the root.” I believe that religion is at the root of both the conflict and the solution. At our gatherings, we have all kinds of people – religious & secular – but we do use the gems of religion as possibilities for healing. I think that one of the problems with the Oslo peace process for example was that the religious were kept out of the discussion. There was zero mention of the root of peace in the Koran and Torah, for example. Something was missing. For most of the people who are involved in this conflict, religion matters. If you touch the positive part of religion, it has highly medicinal power.
Q: On your website, you say that the goal of the Sulha Peace project is to heal and reconcile the children of Abraham. Why the emphasis on Abraham?
A: Abraham is our common father. Likewise, Sarah and Hagar are our mothers. We all come from the same family, the same tribe.
Q: I am sure that such recognition goes a long way — but isn’t Abraham also the father who is willing to sacrifice his children in the name of God? Isn’t Abraham’s relationship with his children also an apt metaphor for the willingness of authority figures in this conflict to blindly sacrifice their children on the altar of some religious or secular ideology?
A: I personally think Abraham is an archetype. I realize that he is a very complex figure. We can go into a discussion about the binding of Isaac/Ishmael, or how he let Hagar and Ishmael go out into the desert (though he made a point to visit them there), but I see him as a figure of compassion and humanity. He opened his tent to the four directions, and provided hospitality to strangers. Legend goes he would wash the feet of pilgrims and feed them. He defended the innocent at Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Kabbalah he’s related to unconditional loving-kindness, as the creator of the morning prayers, as flowing water.
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