A divided message of peace

Palestinian threats force Jews and Arabs to hold separate Christmas coexistence events.

Peace activists in heart-shaped drum circle 390 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Peace activists in heart-shaped drum circle 390
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Israeli activists formed a heart-shaped drumming circle in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon, after safety concerns forced them to pull out of a joint Christmas Eve peace event with Palestinians next to the Bethlehem security barrier.
With the help of American aerial artist John Quigley, Israelis and Palestinians had planned to form a large human sculpture of a peace sign, with the concrete barrier running through it.
But at the last moment, threats from Palestinian hard-liners to sabotage the project forced organizers to scrap the barrier event out of safety concerns.
Instead, Palestinians gathered solo in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Monday, where, under Quigley’s direction, they formed a peace sign with the words “Love All” by the large Christmas tree.
And on Tuesday afternoon, Israelis and some foreigners sat in the shape of a heart on the cold stones of downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square.
“Imagine all the people, living life in peace,” they sang in a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” – along with other classic peace songs – as they banged on small hand drums.
During the event, which lasted for over an hour, passersby stopped to stare and take photographs with their cellphones.
“We know that on both sides, there are a lot of people who want to have families and a job they love and who want to live in peace,” said Mayli M of Artists United for a Better World, which helped spearhead the project, as she stood in the middle of the circle and spoke to the group.
The idea for the original peace sign by the security barrier stemmed from an UNRWA project on which Quigley worked in Jericho last year. For that project, he organized 1,000 Palestinian schoolchildren to form Pablo Picasso’s famous peace dove.
This time around, he worked with Project Peace on Earth and Artists United for a Better World to bring together Israelis and Palestinians.
They chose to do it on Christmas Eve, he said, to harness the holiday’s universal message of peace and love.
“We knew it was an ambitious goal,” said Quigley, particularly in light of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the past few months.
Still, he said, “there are a lot of folks on both sides that would like to see closer relations.”
He continued, “Our hope and our dream is that the process of peace is something that we continue to nurture on all sides.”
It is important that Israeli and Palestinians step up their efforts to reach out to one another, “so that the voices of peace are strengthened,” he said.
He added that he was not naïve and that he understood the situation was very complex.
“I do not bear the wounds of this place, the way the people that live here bear them, but as a human being, I want to see healing here,” he said. “Those who want peace need to continually raise their voice to say that it is possible.”
He and Mayli M organized Monday’s project with Project Peace on Earth, the City of Bethlehem, the Bethlehem Convention Palace and Consolidated Construction Company.
But Quigley was unable to attend the Jerusalem event, which was put together in less than 24 hours.
One of those who came out to support the Jerusalem event was Israeli artist Yair Bartal, who runs his own organization,x Turning a New Page for Peace. He said he was disappointed that threats of violence had forced the cancellation of the original event, and that as a result it was important to push forward with the idea by a holding a linked Jerusalem event.
This was not the first time that people who wanted peace had been threatened, he said, adding that joint Israeli-Palestinian events harmed hard-liners who were against any kind of show of love and peace.
“There is no way we can give up,” Bartal said. “It just means that we have to work harder.”