Conference discusses conflict, coexistence at holy sites [p. 5]

A two-day international conference is bringing more than two dozen Israeli, Palestinian and international experts together to highlight examples of coexistence and confrontation in holy places related to the Israeli-Palestinian reality. The "International Conference on Confrontation and Coexistence in Holy Places: Religious and Legal Aspects in the Israeli-Palestinian Context" began Tuesday at Haifa University and continues Wednesday at the Qasemi Academy in Baka al-Gharbiya. Participants in the conference, which is free and open to the public, are discussing holy places in the Israeli-Palestinian context from various perspectives where instances of confrontation or coexistence have manifested themselves. "It's an academic gathering, and we do not try to put forward a political saying," said Yitzhak Reiter, a conference organizer who teaches at the Ashkelon Academic College and Haifa University. "We just want everyone to come and express his perspective and to learn from it... It is my impression that listening to the different lectures will not only enrich our knowledge about these places, but will reveal a reality of coexisting within a debated situation," he said. Academic sponsors include Haifa University, Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, Al-Qasemi Academy and the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The Jewish Arab Center of Haifa University is helping coordinate the event. "It is very special that we succeeded to make a joint venture between four universities - one Palestinian, one Israeli, one Israeli Arab and one American - on such a delicate topic," Reiter said. Topics include what makes a place sacred, legal aspects of holy places and convergence of Israelis and Palestinians at holy places. At Samuel's Tomb in the northern outskirts of Jerusalem, Muslims come to pray at a mosque on Friday and Jews come in from a different entrance to pray, Reiter said. "That's one expression in which Jews and Muslims worship God, side by side, in a very unique situation of coexistence without any problems," he said. Another case study has to do with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where numerous tensions and clashes have been reported since 1967. Reiter said despite some violent outbreaks, most of the time Muslims and Jews there do coexist under an arrangement of divide and share. Palestinian law professor Anwar Abu Eisheh of Al-Quds University said according to international conventions, occupiers must respect the holiness of occupied places. "Until now, the notion of holy places is not very clear," he said. "I mean, what is holy for you is not holy for the people of Honolulu. It's not the same holiness. So you have the notion of holiness. You have other notions. You have situations of wars, of occupations." Other conference sponsors include the Foreign Ministry, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, the US Embassy, the Inter-Religious Coordinating Council in Israel, the Israel Inter-Faith Association, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the US Institute of Peace. For more information call the Jewish Arab Center of Haifa University at (04) 824-0156.