Thursday, February 18, 2016

A PA 'No' to Civil Society Meetings with Israelis

There are a good number of outsiders who truly seek to assist interfaith efforts for dialogue, peace, coexistence and a lessening of tensions here.

One of them recently sent out this message and a summary of events:

After having not met in several months, we had finally scheduled an encounter for Sunday, Jan ____, at one of our usual locations. Unfortunately though it was not to be. When those of us from Jerusalem (we were nine people in 4 cars) arrived at the spot, we were met by our Muslim members from the Hebron area, who were waiting for us in the parking lot. Apparently just a few minutes before, the owner, who has always been very welcoming and supportive of our group as well as many other interfaith and peace-related events, had approached the Muslims and informed them that he had been spoken to by people affiliated with the PA security forces who had asked him to strongly warn Palestinians against meeting with Israelis in the building. This was the reason why everyone was waiting for us on a cold night in the parking lot.  I suggested that the group from Jerusalem go inside for a few minutes to avoid the cold and also not be too obviously standing around in public and speaking to the Palestinians, and spent a few minutes myself with the Muslim members of the group exploring other possibilities. They were not comfortable going to the cafĂ© at Gush Etzion (and in fact I am not sure that they would have been allowed to drive there) and none of the Jews and Christians who had come from Jerusalem felt comfortable trying another location in Beit Jala. So after a few minutes of deliberation we jointly decided to not meet at all that evening, since the most important consideration was everyone’s safety, followed by the need to make sure that everyone is comfortable with continuing their participation in the group. We agreed to re-schedule an encounter in a few weeks’ time in Jerusalem, and to obtain entry permits for anyone who needs them. 
This was obviously a very disappointing experience to put it mildly, yet what came out of it is that absolutely everyone in the group is committed to not allowing these things to stop us, and we are going to do what it takes to keep meeting in an environment which is safe and available to everyone.  On a personal note, I really want to thank everyone who took the time to attend, and especially express my deep respect and appreciation for our Muslim members whose commitment to our group remains stronger than ever despite these extremely difficult circumstances.

I am sure that a few phone calls to the right people would have facilitated a Gush Etzion location.

In any case, the warning of PA officials should be noted.

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