Tapping into Religion as a Fuel for Mideast Peace

Dialogue Network Brings Together Jews, Muslims and Christians

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ROME, FEB. 6, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A network designed to promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians sees religion as a solution, rather than as a problem, in the Mideast peace process.

The program called Seeds of Peace is a permanent dialogue network among Israeli and Palestinian civilians committed to peace, justice, security and the environment. It brings Muslims, Jews and Christians together each for a week in Italy.

«We are ‘pessioptimists,'» Palestinian psychologist Mustafa Qossoqsi explained, fusing the concepts of pessimism and optimism.

Speaking here Wednesday, Qossoqsi said that engaging in dialogue «is not an intellectual luxury but a necessity.»

Muslim writer Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, who lives in Israel, lamented the manipulation of Islam by extremists, and said he was prepared to work to eradicate this fundamentalism and show the «real face of Islam, a religion of love, forgiveness and constant appeal to dialogue with the other.»

«Religion is used for political ends,» said Manasra, a journalist and father of four. He attributed the manipulation to minority groups’ interpretation of the Koran.

Another participant was Rabbi Rav Yehuda Stolov, director of the Interfaith Encounter Association which promotes the Seeds for Peace program.

He said the Mideast peace process cannot be undertaken without the contribution of religions, which implies that believers have a grave responsibility.

«In the Middle East peace process, the farther away religion is, the better,» the rabbi said, summing up an attitude that he senses in the troubled region.

And that is the heart of the quandary, he says: The attempt to achieve peace ignores the religious problem, secularizing the conflict in the extreme.

Rabbi Stolov insists, on the contrary, that it is precisely by going deeper into religion and making it known to others, that all sides will be able to begin to coexist peacefully.

Of his group he says: «Our model is not consensus, as in politics, but to learn to know the differences, to respect them, and to live with them.»

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