Israeli flag and Temple Mount .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Peace between Israel and the Arab world will come not through governments, but rather through people-to-people contact, Hamad al-Sharifi, a former Iraqi diplomat, said on Monday.
Sharifi, in Israel as a guest of the Foreign Ministry for five days, told The Jerusalem Post from the Knesset that Israel was making a mistake in allowing secret visits by Arab officials. Instead, he said, these visits should take place in broad daylight.
“I am saying this to everyone I meet, ‘Don’t accept secret visits, secret visits won’t achieve anything,’” he said. “In order for the barriers to be broken, the visits should be done in full public view.”
The Baghdad-born Sharifi has served in the Iraqi Embassy in Kuwait, as the deputy chief of mission at Iraq’s embassy in Jordan, and as an adviser after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s Defense Ministry. He currently lives in London, and heads an organization called the Liberal Muslims.
Sharifi arrived on Sunday, and went immediately to a meeting with Iraqi-born Jews in Or Yehuda. “I want to give an example that Iraq and Israel can achieve peace through people, and the bridge to that peace is the Iraqi Jewish community here,” he said.
The initiative for the visit came from Hasan Kaabiah, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman for the Arabic press. The idea, he said, is to bring influential voices from the Arab world to Israel to see the country firsthand, and “not through the lens of Al Jazeera.”
Last month Kaabiah brought a group of journalists from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and in the coming months he hopes to bring a delegation of Jordanian university students.
“Over the last two years there has been a great deal of openness for visits to Israel as the barrier of fear over the visits has started to fall,” he said.
In addition to his discussions with representatives of the Iraqi Jewish community, Sharifi is also meeting Knesset members and religious leaders, and touring the country’s sites.
He said he is not fearful of the reaction his visit may cause in Iraq, “I came here first, and will deal with the troubles that might arise later,” he said. “I am not afraid, and nobody can persuade me not to do what I think is right.”
Kaabiah said that Sharif’s visit is being covered extensively on Arabic social media sites.
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