Sunday’s Silent Peace Walk in Central Park plans to bring together Israelis, Palestinians and people of all different ethnic and religious backgrounds in a show of peace and solidarity.
A similar Silent Peace walk was scheduled to take place today in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, but youth activists there strongly opposed it. The activists reportedly opposed the seemingly peaceful demonstration in protest of any attempts to “normalize” relations with Israelis, whom they feel have imposed undue harm and terror on their people.
“The Youth in Bethlehem said ‘look, we don’t want Israelis walking in our city. We’ve been too hurt by Israel for too long. We just don’t want Israelis,” Stephen Fulder, organizer of the Silent Peace Walks and long-time peace activist in Middle East, tells the Voice. “So, just two days before we had to cancel it. It really wasn’t ready. The situation wasn’t right, and things have gotten a lot worse.”
Fudler, a native of Britain, has lived in the Middle East for nearly 30 years, and over the past decade he’s led over 20 peace walks in both Palestinian and Israeli territories. He and fellow New York Silent Peace Walk organizer, Jack Kornfield, a renowned Buddhist elder, understand the frustration among Palestinian youth.
“The outrage is based on their pain, which really needs to be respected,” Kornfield tells the Voice.
Despite the tensions surrounding the march in Bethlehem, Kornfield says he’s aware of many attempts on the part of Palestinians and Israelis to come together in solidarity.
“One of the things that most moved me and surprised me, in the time that I was in Palestine and Israel a few years ago, was how many groups there are that are working to bridge the two societies and cultures, and to build peace — hundreds of them,” he says.”These don’t get in the news. What gets in the news is violence. If there’s a shooting, or a bombing, or stoning, that makes the news.”
Fulder acknowledges there are some Israelis and Palestinians who oppose their solidarity efforts. He remembers an instance where a *70-year-old Bedouin Sheikh, who’s participated in a number of Silent Peace Walks, was asked by an Israeli rabbi how he’s able to deal with verbal taunts and threats from right-wing Israeli agitators.
“[He replied] ‘what I do is absorb the shout like a sponge, and I do nothing. I just smile, and I don’t do anything. That way, I just absorb the violence,'” according to Fulder. “‘I don’t carry on with the chain of violence. I cut the chain of violence right there.'”
The Silent Peace Walks are rooted in Gandhian and Buddhist principles. Fulder and Kornfield think that Sunday’s demonstration, and New York in general, can serve as a model for peace relations in the Middle East.
“New York has over 2 million Jews and Muslims in it, and they all ride the subway together fine. It shows what’s possible, and people are standing up saying there is a way for us to live together,” Kornfield says. “We want to do this without political slogans for or against anything.”
“Instead of shouting for peace and being violent in the name of peace, we model it, we how Israelis and Palestinians walking together quietly, circled talking, being together, being friendly together,” Fulder says.
As ideal as this sounds on a comfortable Sunday afternoon in Central Park. Both organizers are aware of the magnitude of the situation, but still believe that peaceful solidarity is the ultimate key.
“People might say ‘oh, certain groups of people, the Palestinians or the Israelis can’t live together, but in fact it is possible, and the solutions are not going to be based on military solutions. They really have to come from the hearts of human beings,” Kornfield says.
Fulder says the two groups can begin to repair the shattered relationship once both are able to recognize the humanity of the other.
“What we try and show is firstly that you don’t need to hold on so tightly to historical views of the other, to label the other as they enemy, to demonize the other, to be afraid of the other. The other is a human being like yourself,” Fulder says. “All you need to do to end this conflict is to look the other in the eyes and too see that he’s the same as you.”
*Previously read “17-year-old Bedouin Sikh.”