Eyewitness in Israel/Palestine

July 17, 2008 by  


By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

In an age when religion is used by unscrupulous people as a dividing force rather than a uniting one, the Interfaith Community  United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) is a shining example of dedicated people of  all faiths who strive for justice, understanding, and peace. Located in the Los  Angeles area, ICUJP meets early Friday mornings in the Immanuel Presbyterian  church on Wilshire Boulevard.. A variety of speakers are invited ranging in subject matter from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to labor organizing in Columbia.

This past Friday morning the ICUJP heard the  testimony of Shakeel Syed, the Executive Director of the Islamic Shura  Council of Southern California and a member of the Board of  Directors of the ICUJP, who recently returned from a trip of two and a half weeks to Israel/Palestine with a group of 28. He referenced the  diversity of the group in age, gender, occupation, and religious  affiliation. He saw Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron and Jerusalem, among other places. He told us of his prayers at dawn at Al Aqsa Mosque; of seeing the Wailing Wall, and the places where Jesus   (as) walked.

On a lighter note, Mr. Syed mentioned his entrance  into a Jewish place of worship and a subsequent query by a rabbi who asked  him if he were Jewish. Mr. Syed replied: “I am your cousin.” When they embraced, they prayed for each other and for all people to live in peace.

Mr. Syed told of the stark contrast between the  living conditions of Jewish settlements whose amenities included a  seemingly endless supply of water and air conditioning, and the conditions of  Arabs in the West Bank who must live with a precarious supply of potable water,  checkpoints, road blocks and continual Israeli harassment and control.

In describing Israeli checkpoints, Mr. Syed gave  an example closer to home. To construct an analogous situation, Mr. Syed asked  his audience to imagine a trip from his home in Culver City to Los Angeles, one  that would normally take in the neighborhood of half an hour. If he had to  face the same situation as that in the West Bank, his trip would take him from  Culver City to Long Beach to Pasadena and then, after four hours had elapsed, he  would be told by an 18 year old Israeli soldier at the end of his trip, when his  Los Angeles destination was in view, that he must turn back. Another 4 hours  would elapse before he returned home. Palestinian homes and stores are  confiscated if the Israelis assert that these buildings were unoccupied for what  they consider a reasonable passage of time.

Mr. Syed spoke of the Wall and its effect on the  city of Bil’in, which is to cut that city in half. Weekly demonstrations are  held each Friday and are met with tear gas from Israeli soldiers. Mr. Syed went  to one such demonstration and brought home an empty tear gas canister which he  sent around the room.

On a more optimistic note, he spoke of a new group in Israel. The group is called New Profile and is composed largely of young mothers who oppose their children’s compulsory  military service in the Israeli army. To the shock of his audience, he spoke of “Child Recruitment in Israel,”  the subject of a booklet he obtained. This booklet reveals the common Israeli government practice of networking with schools in looking for young school children who might make suitable military personnel. The ideal recruit is the school bully who torments others.

Mr. Syed is no stranger to travel, and many of his travels have taken him places in which his life could be considered at risk. He  told the audience that before this trip his 10 year old son seemed particularly  worried when told of his destination.

“Don’t they kill people there?” asked the child.

Another delay of two and one half hours occurred  at Ben Gurion airport for Mr. Sayed. His fellow travellers refused to depart  without him. If solidarity was not in place before the trip began, it was  evident at the end.

Mr. Syed’s trip was sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); the Third World Coalition (TWC) and the Interfaith Peace Builders (IFPC).

For more information on the ICUJP, please access  their web site at: _www.icujp.org_ (http://www.icujp.org/) . For more information on the  IFPC, including an interest in being a member of groups which travel to Israel/Palestine, please access their web site at: _www.ifpbdel.org_ (http://www.ifpbdel.org)

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