I live in Bethlehem. I have been attending the encounter for 4 years. I wanted to know the other side, I wanted to know what they think about me. And I wanted to build a bridge between us. During our meetings, we talk, and we listen to each other. Some of them have become my friends, they even come at my place to visit. I think the conflict is mainly political. We believe in the same God, and we live under the same sky. We share one land and our group is a great way to connect.
I come from Sawahre in Palestine. I play the lute and the oud. I believe that Jews and Muslims can both live on the same land. Through my music, I encourage people to understand and to accept the other. We send out an image of hope – that everyone should get the chance to live in peace. I do not remember a single concert where the audience was not happy. We sing about what we believe in and people sense it.
“We have a very positive energy and a good family spirit”
I am a retired Professor from Haifa University. Haifa has a mixed population of Jews, Muslims and Christians and Druze. I used to have many students from different backgrounds studying well together. Living here in Jerusalem, it is at times upsetting to see the walls of separation. However, there is hope knowing about so many interfaith groups that are dialoguing together and sharing their faiths and cultural differences. Our encounters help us to accept the other. The more we meet, the more we want to know more about each other. I like sharing moments of reflections with my group, we have a very positive energy and a good family spirit.
I am from Holland and I live in Bethlehem. I joined this IEA group 14 years ago. I enjoy these meetings because they make bridges between people from different horizons. I wish we could have more participants attending and who could commit long term.
Meet Bente Jonas. She shares: “I come from Denmark and I have been living in Jerusalem for 48 years. I joined a group through IEA 10 years ago. In this region, there is an invisible barrier between people from different religious backgrounds. The language could also be a problem. We are too shy or too afraid to make the first step towards the other.
In the early 70’s, I was already involved in language classes where people would learn Arabic or Hebrew. We would all gather together during the coffee breaks. So I am used to this kind of initiatives.
These encounters are about talking about small and big things and creating a good atmosphere. We have a good time together.”
“We break ice, we make friends, we pray for one another”
My name is Majdi Abed.
I have been a coordinator for IEA for 7 years in Jenin. It is a nice and intensive role. My group is about 8 people talking together about topics as diverse as weddings, business, holidays… We break ice, we make friends, we pray for one another. How I would define these encounters? Respecting, discovering and welcoming.
My name is Elgad Nachal Shoham.
I joined IEA a year and a half ago. I thrive for peace between Jews, Muslims and Christians: with my group, I learn a lot about people and their traditions, it feels easy to connect. I believe that God wants us to bring peace and to do charity. This group is a good start.
“We are not so different”
My name is Mofeda Qabaja.
I joined IEA 5 years ago. I am part of a group in Hebron made of 20 people, we talk about different topics, such as holidays or children. People can be afraid of the other if they don’t know him or her. In this group, we can change our mind by learning about each other. And in the end, we are not so different.
My name is Ibrahim Mustafa.
I have been with IEA for 8 years. I was first a participant when I joined. I am now a coordinator for 2 groups: one group with 10 students and one group of exchange of Hebrew and Arabic.
These groups are about meeting with people from a different culture. At the beginning, this is hard but then you get to know new people, you learn how to talk with them, you are more open to new experience. You then have new friends with whom you share your experience with.
I am convinced that peace comes by meeting, not by fighting.
My name is Netta Hazan.
I was a coordinator for IEA for 5 years. I led a group of people coming from different regions of Palestine and Israel. My role was to bring people together and to initiate and facilitate topics of discussions. Despite the gaps, they got closer to each other. IEA brings people from different points of view together, which is quite unusual in this region. The more we talk to each other, the more we understand.
“People are just people”
My name is Vered Kater.
I am originally from the Netherlands and I have lived in Jerusalem for 51 years. I was first based in a kibbutz, I am used to live in a mixed and tolerant environment.
I joined IEA since its beginning. I am interested in learning about other traditions. For me, I see first people, not their religions. People are just people, with their beliefs. It is nice during these meetings to talk to each other and to accept one another. If you don’t listen to each other, you are not human. It’s fascinating to share our various points of views and to recognize our similarities. This is the beginning of peace.
My name is Taleb Al-Harithi.
I am a retired professor. I used to teach Geology and Environment Sciences at the university. I joined IEA in 2003. In the group I coordinate, we organise various activities such as field trips or religious meetings. This group is a safe place, it is important to maintain a peaceful atmosphere. We can discuss various topics, including difficult ones: we already spoke about human rights, child abuse, drugs, peace, sacrifices, tolerance, environment, women empowering, education, bigotry combating… The diversity of religions and opinions reinforces the respect we have towards each other, not the conflict. In the end, we are all sons of the same father.
My name is Nurit Shoshani-Hechel.
Two years ago I joined encounters between Jews and Muslims through the Interfaith Encounter Association.
I am currently a part of a group of Jews from Jerusalem and Muslim-Arabs from the Hebron area and we get together once every three or four weeks.
During the encounters wonderful friendships were formed between the participants.
I discovered over time that even though we had and still have disagreements about politics, we have plenty of similarities as well.
Close ties and fondness were forged between the participants from both sides and I have to admit that on a personal level I became more tolerant and understanding towards the Palestinians and the difficulties they were facing and I think the same process took place on the other side as well.
Nowadays we are all looking forward to the encounters and upon one of the participants’ suggestion we started teaching each other Hebrew and Arabic.
I find myself trying hard to learn new words in Arabic and the motivation to get to know each other grew tremendously.
We sometimes had difficult conversations that challenged us to think deeply but then more peaceful conversations followed that allowed us to feel connected and develop our friendship.
I would like to express my deep respect and appreciation towards the Interfaith Encounter Association, in which no matter who you are, whether you are religious or secular, left-wing or right-wing, a settler or a staunch opposer of settlements, a supporter of normalizating relations with Israel or opposes normalization – the door is open to all.
I believe that the Interfaith Encounter Association is truly unique in its openness and tolerance. It does not require any prerequisites from any of its participants but rather provides a platform for people who are willing to listen and express their views and find the similarities.
I hope that the association’s activities will continue and the organization itself will grow and expand because I have no doubt it is of high value and importance.
“I discovered wonderful people”
My name is Abdallah Abu Ghanem.
I grew up in a single-parent family after my dad had left us and my mother, who is illiterate, raised us by herself.
I was born in 1967 in Jerusalem, which means that I grew up after the Six-Day-War and I was taught to hate the Jews (due to the consequences of that war).
In elementary school I started learning Hebrew and our Jewish teachers were very kind to us. This caused an internal conflict in me because on one hand I was taught to hate the Jews but here I witnessed how nice and kind the Jewish teachers were behaving towards us.
After I graduated from High school I applied to the university but the first Intifada broke out in 1987 and the universities were shut down.
As a result I started working and developed relationships with Israeli Jews. I discovered wonderful people (just like those Jewish teachers) – unlike what I had been taught about the Jews till then.
This revelation motivated me to start reading about “the other” and engage in conversations with “the other” in order to get to know Jews by talking TO them and not ABOUT them.
Then I discovered the Interfaith Encounter Association, started attending encounters and found the place I had been looking for.
I believe that G’d created nations and tribes so that we would strive to reach out and get to know each other, as it is mentioned in the Quran. Otherwise, He would have made us all one nation.