Middle East peace seen as possible from Sharaka visitors

Posted on: Tuesday, 23 January 2024

It's called Sharaka. And the Middle Eastern peace partnership presented an inspirational, thought-provoking and highly topical discussion--spoken by a diverse range of five professionals from Israel and the Gulf--to Pearl Rotary on Jan. 23.

"We bring empathy to sustain peace between communities who have never met," summarized Youssef Elazhari, a Morrocan marketing entrepreneur.

The four speakers who shared the microphone gave personal narratives. The experience of Fatema Al Harbi, Bahrain, when she first visited Israel and met people, was personally shocking. "I never thought I'd be welcomed. Growing up, I was taught to hate each other."

Added the politics and government manager: "I never felt so much love."

Ahmed Khuzaie, also from Bahrain and a political consultant and author, asked: "Is it (Israel) an apartheid state, as we are told?" He expressed surprise on his first visit that he found signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English. His goal in both professional activities and as a member of Sharaka is to reverse what he learned ("Israel is an apartheid state and they want to kill us.") to "a new journey to change the narrative."

Ahmed, himself a Rotarian, struck a welcome chord: "I'm trying to make change just like your Rotarians."

Neveen Elias, deputy director of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association, is Christian in religion but spends much time building relationships with her Jewish neighbors in Israel. She seeks the stories of both Palestinians and Israelis, she related. Of Sharaka, she added: "I thank God we can make a change in this very unique project."

Last to speak was Dan Feferman, Sharaka's executive director, and Israeli-American author, speaker and researcher. He spoke positively about the Abraham Accords calling the 2020 agreement influenced by the USA "the single most positive action in the history of the Middle East." The American-mediated agreement normalized relations between United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with Israel.

In time, four other Arab countries joined, "opening a space of legitimacy for countries throughout the world to dare to speak to Israel."

He reminded the American audience at Ecotrust that, "We're people, just peopleā€¦the big challenge is public perception. The degree of misinformation about who we are (results in) a "gap between reality and perception. When you learn, the differences can be solved."

The Israeli Jew declared: "Nobody wants peace more than Israel."

Forty minutes into the forum, Rotarians asked two pertinent questions on 1) the calls for a cease-fire and 2) the urging of a two-state solution. The responses from the panel due to time limits had to be brief. Another forty minutes for just those two topics would have been appreciated.

The session--brought to the club for its regular breakfast meeting by Rotarian Alan Bacharach--ended with President Diane Brandsma giving PPRC banners to each Sharaka representative. And in typical Rotary protocol, the memorable session concluded with a statement from Rotary's Four-Way Test: "Will it build goodwill and better friendships?"

That theme was struck at the meeting's opening when Jerry Baysinger and his singers introduced "One Day" by Matisyahu. The final verse spoke to the lengthy wars in the Mideast:

"One day this will change,
treat people the same.
stop with the violence,
down with the hate
One day we'll all be free,
and proud to be
under the same sun,
singing songs of freedom like
Wye oh Wye oh oh oh
Wye oh Wye oh oh oh"

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Portland, OR 97209
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