East participants from Egypt, Jordan and Israel, representing the three
Abrahamic traditions reached Berlin to attend a conference co-organised
by the Interfaith Encounter Association, which is a MCC (Multiple Co-operation
Circle) of the United Religions Initiative (URI) (6 - 10 April 2002). The
crisis in Israel/Palestine prevented the Palestinian delegation from joining
them up. The same crisis had naturally shadowed the Middle East participation.
Had it been an exclusively Middle Eastern conference many of Arab participants
would have not come. All participants from all sides, however, came to
Berlin not only to speak up their hearts, but to listen to, and understand
the Other as well. For some Arab participants it was the first time in
their life to see a Jew, leave alone an Israeli.
different sessions and activities of URI Conference, the ME participants
found no problem to make new friendships with each other dissolving all
the barriers, whither mental or psychological. ME participants, who rejected
an idea of separate ME sessions posed by their organisers, soon changed
their mind. We are Middle Eastern after all, the participants emphasised.
The European help, thus, was offered in two different ways, providing the
good environment and facilitation for meeting, and then shaping out, by
contrast, a solid ME identity!
first separate session the participants decided to face their fears directly
and courageously. The roots of hatred are fears, they said. What is the
point of meeting up without speaking up our hearts and challenging our
fears? They asked. Soon there were two subgroups, one for Arabs and one
for Jews, writing down all their takes on the other side. When the two
long lists were finished up each group chose its spokesman from the other
side. In other words, an Arab participant had to spoke for the Jews, while
a Jewish participant had to argue for Arabs. By doing this, the painful
subject was put into a humorous, yet challenging, framework. Before starting
this debate the two representatives exchanged their hats, a movement that
made everyone to laugh and relax. At the end of this heated session each
group enthusiastically cheered its representative and emphasized its satisfaction
of his performance. Naturally, the debate did not end by the winning or
losing of someone. Nor did any group abandon completely its narrative.
Nevertheless, everyone knew that there is another narrative that does exist
and which s/he must know.
decided to have another session to plan together for their future cooperation.
Shortly before this session the sad news of Jenin refugees' camp was spreading.
Participants, nonetheless, decided to go ahead in their way. One Arab participant
said it does not mean our work is meaningless. On the contrary, it says
we have to do more. All participants agreed that being working for the
sake of God, despair and disappointment should not stop them.
planning meeting the participants emphasised the importance of being in
touch. Accordingly they decided to launch out a web-community, an e-mail
list and a monthly newsletter. They also decided to network their activities
with other relevant regional and international, governmental and non-governmental
organisations. They stressed the importance of furthering the work of URI
local CCs and the need to found a MMCC. Besides, they decided to plan for
future meetings and conferences. They agreed to hold a conference in the
Middle East in next October. Some participants promised to write articles
reflecting the group's vision to be published in local, regional and international
spent all the last night together in a friendly environment, taking photos,
talking and wandering around the hotel. In their way back to the hotel
it looked as if Berlin was witnessing the removal of another wall!