July 21, 2011 The Sadeen Hotel:
As usual as with all of my peacemaking efforts in the past, I have made an effort to venture out into the public before beginning my work. I do this in order to better understand the people of the land and to learn more deeply about their culture, politics, religion, and daily life.
It is my sincere belief that connecting with the spirit of their land and speaking with the animals and the trees and the other inhabitants of their home, and also taking the time to see and acknowledge the sacredness within each person who lives there, is always the first step necessary before starting a dialogue towards reaching world peace.
This simple act of walking on and appreciating their homeland, breathing their same air and looking into their eyes and hearts with love and compassion, I believe, allows one to be in a different relationship with them than just arriving and launching into discourse. And while the result of such a preamble may not be tangible in a physical sense, I believe that all of the people I dialogue within the discussions ahead will feel its presence and see me as a brother, and not as the “other.”
And so I look to the magic of this simple ritual to not only connect me with my brothers and sisters in dialogue, but to also connect me to a higher power, so that it’s influence and mine can work together in harmony to improve the course of history!
The conference actually began two days after I arrived and turned out to be quite different than was originally planned. My original work as a presenter has rapidly expanded into active participation in significant talks with factions of both sides of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. As you can imagine, tensions here are quite high over this unexpected turn of events, but both sides are struggling to be heard and the discussions are continuing with great passion.
This unique change in our scheduled talks started on our opening day, when one of the opening speakers mentioned that there were Israeli’s present in the audience. Almost instantaneously, a group of Arabs stood up and stormed out of the event, infuriated that they hadn’t been informed that there would be Jews in the same room. It turns out that many of the Arab participants had never see a Jew, and there were many deeply held beliefs against them.
One thing led to another, and after some internal discussions throughout the night, the offended Arabs returned accompanied by an additional group of Palestinians to join the discourse.
Heated conversations dominated the conference changing scheduled presentations into powerful debate sessions. Wonderful multi-lingual volunteers stepped forward, translating each participant’s comments into three basic languages, Arabic, English, and Hebrew. The discussions continued, not only within the scheduled sessions, but also late into the night in small intimate groups and many difficult subject were approached.
There were hateful things said and constructive things said on all sides. At one point, a young Arabic woman told me that all Americans were killers, fully aware that I was an American. Some Arabs stated that all Jews needed to be annihilated, and some Jews said that they were Zionists and were proud of it. I joined group after group, sometimes until 2:00 in the morning, listening deeply and making friends. Throughout the process I did my best to help them find common ground, pointing out both solutions and also suggesting alliances … and things gradually shifted.
Eventually tensions eased up a little and additional Palestinians joined in conversation with the Jews and deep issues began to be more directly addressed. Both Arabs and Jews who had been either shot, lost family members, been arrested, or were permanently displaced, shared their stories, and we all began to eat together.
On Friday night in fact, Jews observed Shabbat for the first time openly in public in the country, with the lighting of candles, the singing of traditional songs, and the drinking of sacramental wine. And while this act brought about intense responses from some, many other Arabs who had shifted their perspectives, joined in support. It was a powerful feeling to be standing there in the middle of a potential crisis, while at the same time realizing that history was taking place right before my eyes.
The Shabbat Passed without mishap, and I finally went to bed exhausted, wondering what new challenges the next day might bring.
Then the following morning, that higher power I spoke about earlier intervened. I received a call on my cell phone from His Excellency, Taher Al Masri,the President of the Jordanian Senate and previous Jordanian Prime Minister. His Excellency extended a personal invitation to me to meet with him in a couple of days, and I have accepted.
His Excellency has served in various positions within the Jordanian government over the years, and plays a leading role in Middle Eastern politics and in Jordanian – US relations. Needless to say, I am both honored to meet with him, and also look forward to sharing some of my thoughts on both the Palestinian situation, and other world issues.
It is now late at night, or more properly stated, very early in the morning here in Amman, and I’ve had very little sleep and it will be a very, very short night.
I will sign off for now with great hopes for a future peace in the Middle East, and perhaps even for the entire world. It’s not easy being a peace builder, but opportunity keeps presenting itself and I feel compelled to show up. I will resume writing as I find time, and hopefully there will be continuing good news to share.