Jews Arabs 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A group of Arabs and Jews sat in a circle near the Trappist Monastery in Latrun on Thursday evening to discuss the upcoming Sulha Peace Project, an annual gathering on the grounds of the monastery to promote peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Translating from Arabic to Hebrew and Hebrew to Arabic, project co-director Ihab Balha stressed the importance of understanding and learning about the other side to attain peace.
"It is important for us to come together," he said. "It's important for us to meet one another, and speak to one another. This is the way stereotypes are broken. I need to know, what is an Israeli? What is an Arab?"
Organizers played with each other's children and shared sweets, as they discussed how to make this year's sulha (reconciliation) the most successful yet.
Since its inception in 2001, the event has grown from a small, local event of 150 people to thousands of participants from all over Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
This year, organizers say they expect 700 Palestinians, the largest group yet, to arrive from cities such as Ramallah, Hebron, Jenin and Gaza, along with 30 Jordanians.
Planned events include coexistence workshops, listening circles, a multi-faith prayer tent, and musical and dance acts.
The goal of the project is to break down barriers and fears between the two sides by meeting, becoming familiar with each other's cultures, fostering cooperation and friendship and creating an ever-widening circle of personal connections across borders.
"I grew up in a home in Jaffa where Jews were hated," said Balha. "That's how my parents felt, and many in the neighborhood felt the same. But slowly I began to understand that you can only relate to a person as a human, not based on their religion or ethnicity."
This realization drove Balha to work with his Israeli counterparts to try and defuse the conflict through a humanistic approach.
"Sulha is a traditional idea in the region," explained Balha. "It is Koranic in origin, and is rooted in ancient tribal disputes, where respected members of feuding groups would come together and work out their differences."
The project follows this model, bringing together different voices from each side to spark dialogue and promote understanding, one person at a time.
"This [peace] can't be done with politicians," said Balha. "It has to begin with trust. How do I trust you? I get to know you? How do I get to know you? Well, we have to meet and realize our similarities and differences. Only this way can we build a true and valid peace."
The Sulha Peace Project will take place at the Latrun monastery from August 26-28. For more information visit www.sulha.com