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In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program
Youth learn about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, discuss September 11, 2001, and consider the difficulty of peacemaking in complex situations.
Ask participants to sit in a circle on the floor. Invite a volunteer to point to where the Middle East is located on the world map. Ask: What do you know about conflict between the state of Israel and the Arabs of Palestine? Depending on responses, share this information as needed:
There is ongoing conflict in the Middle East. There are many reasons for ongoing tension in the region, some thousands of years old. One major aspect of the Middle East conflict is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which often is talked about in religious terms, for the logical reason that most of the Middle East is Arab and Muslim and Israel is a Jewish nation. As you probably know, Israel was created to be a Jewish homeland after World War II, in 1948. However, the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not a conflict over religious beliefs but over identity, political power, and economic and natural resources.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has been so tragic, so many people have died, and peaceful intervals have been so sadly short, that some people have the feeling it has gone on forever and healing cannot be achieved.
It has not gone on forever. Jews and Muslims coexisted relatively peacefully for over 1,300 years. Jews were subject to widespread abuse by Christians by the time Islam emerged in 622 BCE. So, when Muslim conquerors began spreading Islam across the Arabian world and North Africa, Jews logically expected more of the same. Jewish existence under Muslim rule, however, was generally better. Jews were a minority in Arab lands. They did not have full citizenship, but neither did any other non-Muslims. Jews could practice their faith and usually govern their own communities if they paid their taxes and complied with other regulations. There were horrible exceptions, times when Jewish communities were massacred or forced to convert to Islam or be expelled from their homes. Most commonly, however, Muslim rulers made an effort to deal fairly with Jewish communities.
However, ever since the diaspora (scattering) of Jewish people began in 587 BCE, Jews have dreamed and waited for the day when they could again have a land that was home.
In the massive upheaval and redrawing of international boundaries following World War II, Great Britain controlled the region of Palestine. The United Nations passed a resolution which divided Palestine into two states—one Jewish, one Arab. The UN plan further proposed that the holy city of Jerusalem, which both groups claimed as holy, belong to neither state but stay under international control by a UN administrator. The Jewish group agreed to the plan, but the Palestinian group rejected it.
Despite the lack of an agreed-on plan, Britain withdrew from Palestine. The day before Britain left, the Jewish community in Palestine published a Declaration of Independence claiming the land of Palestine as the State of Israel. That was on May 14, 1948. Five different Arab armies invaded and the Arab-Israeli conflict was underway.
Palestinians, the Arabs who lived in the area, have seen their homeland controlled by various nations. Many Palestinians have become refugees as politics and warfare shifted national borders in the region. Today, some Palestinian families have lived in refugee camps for as many as three generations. Like the Jews, the Palestinians dream of a secure homeland.
There has been violent conflict, on and off, since 1948. People on both sides have worked unsuccessfully for political compromise so there can be peace. Yet, both sides have broken ceasefires. Both sides have killed civilians. Neither trusts the other. And both think they are right and the other is wrong.
So, what is to be done?
Ask for initial reactions to this information. Then, discuss:
Invite two youth to volunteer. Each will represent one side of a conflict. Ask the volunteers to stand at one end of the 8-feet-wide corridor or other large space, then hand them the square and ask the two of them to hold it between them, horizontally, with the circles on top.
Say, "You have been in conflict for a long time. You have just decided on a course of action which you hope can lead to a lasting peace. This," (hold up the ball), "is your precarious peace. You must carry it between you, all the way over there." (Indicate the far end if the decided-on walkway. If using a smaller space, instruct them to walk in a circle all the way around the room or walk to the other end of the room, turn, and come all the way back.) Ask, "Are you ready?" When they indicate their readiness, place the ball carefully in the very center ring. Say, "Go."
Once the first pair of youth has completed their walk for peace, allow other pairs to try. Mix up pairings for different heights, different ordinary rates of movement, different temperaments.
Suggest the youth try it with more people, perhaps one at each corner, or even more than four. Ask:
Tell the youth, in these words or your own:
Israel/Palestine is not the only site of conflict involving Muslims. On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by Muslim extremists and about 3,000 people died. The terrorist group responsible was called Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda does not have a national home, yet it is a political organization as well as a religious one.
Ask if they have heard stories in Building Bridges about other times religion has led to violence. Is Islam the only faith where religious fundamentalists have turned to violence? Remind them about the Crusades in Christianity.
If participants do not say so, say that the terrorist acts committed today by Muslims are being committed by a small group. In these words or your own, explain:
Most Muslims condemn their actions as not being those of a true Muslim. Millions of Muslims live peaceful lives with their neighbors.
If your community has a local Muslim population, mention it as an example.
If any participants use wheelchairs, crutches, or other mobility aids, plan ahead to borrow one or more of those same aids to outfit the participant's partner with matching gear. A blind participant will benefit from constant verbal feedback from their partner.
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Last updated on Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
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