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Building Bridges for Peace with Syria, with Marc Gopin

Written By David D'Angelo on Saturday, March 1, 2008 | 3/01/2008

Jerusalem Peacemakers recently hosted an event about work being done to help build bridges between Syria and the West.

At the same moment that the Prime Minister of Israel was hosting a dinner for President George Bush and Israel's top politicians just a few blocks away, we hosted over 40 Israelis and Palestinians for a peace gathering and discussion with Rabbi Prof. Marc Gopin. Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of World's Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. Marc Gopin shared about his mission of reconciliation and recent journeys to Syria.

Invited by the Syrian government, Marc Gopin has been the only American rabbi to address the Syrian nation. Marc Gopin reported: "we have in the last three years set up over five conferences and press conferences in Damascus, as well as at some universities on the issues of interfaith tolerance and interfaith cooperation in building civil society. All were broadcast on Syrian television and sometimes Al Jazeerah."

On a journey to Aleppo in 2006, Marc Gopin was invited to be a guest of honor in the central mosque in Aleppo by his friend the mufti of Syria. After the mufti gave the Friday speech at the mosque he pointed out one man in the audience, an Iraqi refugee who had been tortured by American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In front of 2000 people, Marc Gopin made a gesture of apology as a religious leader from America, to this man. The mufti asked his followers to record this moment. It was recorded on people's cell phones and broadcast all over Syria. The leader of Syria responded that was more important as a gesture of reconciliation than any speech by the US president.

After Marc Gopin's talk, Ahmahlya from the African Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona spoke about the connection between health, diet and peacemaking.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari shared a Sufi approach peacemaking in the Mid-East and Michael sang a song about 'shalom'. Jeff Goldstein closed the evening with an energy circle, directing us to focus our prayer to the well being of the people of Syria. Marc Gopin traveled the next day to Damascus, sharing with Syrians he met about this prayer.

After this recent journey to Syria, Marc reported: "the conference on combatting violence that we set up in the days after I left Jerusalem this winter was broadcast over and over by satellite stations in the Middle East and was seen by a million people, according to my Syrian partners. I also met again with the Mufti in his offices. We discussed paths forward to peace, and especially the importance of religion being a help to peace not a hindrance. The mufti feels strongly and has said so to the European Parliament after we met, that religion should not abuse power or be in control of countries."

See pictures from this gathering at this website:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jerusalem_peacemakers/sets

See also this video clip of a gathering of Jews and Muslims praying together for 'sulha' at the entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 2004:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tf61OV2joDY

Jerusalem Peacemakers (JP) supports and connects a network of religious and grassroots Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders. Some of their current projects:

- monthly peace gatherings bringing together Israelis, Palestinians and internationals in the both the West Jerusalem center and the East Jerusalem center, the home of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, the Naqshabandi Sufi Center in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City

-the Abrahamic Reunion: a group of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze religious and women leaders working together to re-claim religion as a force for peace

- humanitarian projects- helping the moderate religious leaders to implement humanitarian/social welfare projects that benefit their home community

JP is currently providing organizational support for these projects:

- Heartbeat Jerusalem- a project bringing together Arab and Jewish youth musicians from East and West Jerusalem for shared musical collaboration

- Arab Women's Empowerment- a project by Ibtisam Mahamid in the Arab town of Faradis to train Arab Muslim women in job training, skills building and empowerment


Source : Eliyahu McLean, Jerusalem Peacemakers, co-director
www.jerusalempeacemakers.org

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