Though far from acting as a panacea, the dialogues have served a vital purpose, Andoni says. We have managed to build a reservoir of activists from both sides who have a certain level of trust in each other and share some common ground. These people work together, sometimes in projects, sometimes in peaceful resistance against injustice.
Gorni, an Israeli engineer who has taken a leadership role in Rapprochement almost from its inception, says the meetings have prompted debate not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but within the respective groups.
In the beginning, if I asked a question of a group of Palestinians they would all give the same answer. Now youll hear 10 answers and the Palestinians fight among themselves.
Msgr. Denis J. Madden, who became interested in the groups mission almost 10 years ago, credits the participants tenacity for getting them through the tough times.
When I first went to Jerusalem, the intifada had just begun and Israelis and Palestinians were doing everything but talking to each other, he recalls. The Palestinians were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israelis while the Israelis were firing live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas at the Palestinians. Through it all, CNEWAs Associate Secretary General says, the organization met and continued to meet in honest but not always tranquil dialogue. While the peace process continues to falter, the Beit Sahour Rapprochement Group continues to struggle for the rights of both Jews and Palestinians.
As part of that struggle, Rapprochement has over the years hosted thousands of participants, including native Israelis and Palestinians, university and seminary students, interested tourists, visiting peace organizations and religious groups.
Today the organization has three branches (Beit Sahour, West Jerusalem and Nablus), each with its own advisory committee.
Although they meet both jointly and separately, the branches each have a representative to the organizations umbrella committee.
Funded in large part by European Christian organizations, and affiliated with the Mennonite Central Committee, Rapprochement has strong ties to the world Christian community. This seems particularly fitting since, in the Gospel according to Luke, it was in Beit Sahours Shepherds Field that an angel surrounded by a supernatural light appeared to the bewildered shepherds: Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and singing, Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
In this spirit of goodwill and prompted by the realization that mutual distrust has brought them no closer to peace Rapprochements Palestinian and Israeli members organize both intimate parlor-like meetings and formal panel discussions in which human rights activists, academics, prominent religious figures and politicians often participate. In one recent meeting between Israeli and Palestinian women, the groups addressed problems such as incest in the Palestinian community and honor killings, when a male family member murders a sister, cousin or daughter for disgracing the family name.
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