Middle East Peace Initiative
The Middle East Peace Initiative [MEPI] is an ongoing effort by the Universal Peace Federation [UPF] to support the peace process in the Middle East. During 2003, MEPI sponsored more than 20 projects and programs in Israel, Palestine, and around the world.
A critical dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is each side’s dehumanization of the other. This has fostered an escalating cycle of violence and revenge. To stem this dehumanization, the MEPI brings together Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other faith leaders in person-to-person (“heart to heart”) encounters, where the humanity of “the other” can be recognized and experienced.
Any negotiated, political settlement between conflicting parties requires an atmosphere of good will and trust. The current culture of conflict must be supplanted by a culture of reconciliation and cooperation. The MEPI recognizes that fundamental to any peace accord is a change of heart, and that the most appropriate people to lead this transformation of heart are religious leaders.
The MEPI facilitates “heart to heart” encounters in three ways.
- High level, interfaith conferences are held for top leaders of society. In an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, these leaders engage in substantive dialogue. In 2003, major conferences were held in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank as well as Washington, DC, and Seoul, Korea. Conference participants included religious leaders, legislators, former heads of state, university professors and youth leaders. At the conclusion of each conference, participants pledged to reach beyond their race, their religious background, and their nationality in order to cooperate and establish a world of peace.
- The MEPI sponsors pilgrimages to the Holy Lands, as well as “Heart to Heart” peace rallies and peace processions in Jerusalem. These activities engage people of diverse backgrounds, allowing them to experience the liberating force of reconciliation. In May, September and October of 2003, nearly 400 American pastors, imams and rabbis participated in interfaith pilgrimages to Israel. On December 22, 2003, in the heart of Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Christians, Muslims and Jews were joined by nearly 3,000 pilgrims from around the world. They gathered for an historic “Heart to Heart” Rally for Peace, and expressed their commitment to reconciliation and peace.
- The MEPI promotes service projects that demonstrate active caring for others. Not only do these projects help people in need, but also, through serving others and working side by side with people from different backgrounds, those involved in the service activities develop their own character and broaden their capacity to love.
In December 2003 over 1,000 volunteers participated in more than a dozen service projects in Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities, illustrating the wisdom and efficacy of a strategy of faith-based service as the beginning point for reconciliation. These MEPI-sponsored projects employ a “service learning” approach so that service opportunities become the training experiences for peacemakers.
Continuing projects and activities on these three tracks are planned throughout 2004 to further advance the reconciliation process.
Principles of Peacemaking
The unique approach of the IIFWP ambassadors for peace who participate in the MEPI is based upon the IIFWP principles of peacemaking. These principles, as taught by the Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, address conflict at the fundamental level of human relationships. Even more importantly, they are rooted in spiritual laws that are woven into the very fabric of creation, and by extension reconciliation, and restoration.
- Peacemakers are parents. Just as the one God relates to all human beings
as a parent, investing sacrificially in each and every child for the sake
of their welfare and full realization, the role of an ambassador for peace
is likewise a parental role. As a mother naturally cherishes each of her
children, God cares for every single human being regardless of religion,
race, nationality or belief. In this model, a true peace worker takes the
parent perspective, and loves and cherishes in equal measure and without
partisanship people and families on both sides of any conflict, be they
Israeli, Palestinian, or any other clashing groups. Just as a parent rejoices
and feels at peace when the children live and play in harmony, it is the
will of God that enemies be reconciled and live in cooperation and mutual
Parents investing in their children’s well being show unconditional love and overlook faults. IIFWP peace workers live by this very ethic—investing and sacrificing for the sake of peace. They remain tolerant of the people’s ingrained prejudices and harsh feelings, and work patiently in spite of those difficulties to educate and elevate everyone towards the goal of reconciliation.
- Living for the sake of others is the fundamental ethic of a peaceful society, nation and world. Children are trained to obey their parents for the overall welfare of their family; citizens are expected to serve their country—these are instances of the universal principle of living for the sake of others. The messianic concept in Christianity, that Jesus died on the cross for all humankind, is another instance of this principle. Is this something we can rightly limit? If not, then Christians should live for the sake of Jews, Jews should live for the sake of Muslims and so on. Palestinians and Israelis should live for each other’s benefit and welfare. Peace lies in this wider circle of love.
- The path to peace requires loving one’s enemy. The scriptures of all the world’s religions teach that the highest ethic is to love one’s enemy, returning good for evil. Thus the Qur’an teaches, “Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!, he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.” (41.34) And the Torah, “If you meet your enemy's ox or his ass going astray, you shall bring it back to him.” (Ex. 23.4) Jacob, the ancestor of the chosen people, received God’s blessing in part because he won over his brother Esau and through giving his treasure cooled the hatred in his heart. There is nothing utopian about the practice of loving one’s enemy. It is a realistic and practical way to take the sting out of conflict and create a new atmosphere conducive to reconciliation and peace.
- Peace efforts begin with strengthening families, the cornerstone of society and the first school of peace. The love and affection a child receives in the family is the foundation for the ability to love others. Nearly everyone receives their first lessons in peaceful living from their mothers and learns how to resolve conflicts in the process of harmonizing with their siblings. As such, IIFWP regards strengthening and protecting the godly family as the first and most basic peace activity. Women in particular, as conservators of family values, have a special role in peacemaking. Every son who goes off to war has a loving mother who wants no harm to come to him. If mothers unite for peace, their power can be formidable.
- Lower religious boundaries. In this age of globalization and regional integration, persistent religious and cultural boundaries in the Middle East stand out as anachronistic. Yet no economic plan of integration can succeed until we remove the internal boundaries, those prejudices in the human mind and heart which are rooted and perpetrated through religious intolerance. For this reason a central activity of the MEPI is to lower boundaries between religions through interfaith dialogue, worship, and service activities. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are called upon to honor each other’s founders, traditions, and holy sites. Leaders of each faith should regard educating their people in the good teachings and traditions of other faiths as an act of the highest devotion to God. By affirming the parental heart of God for every person, people of faith can develop genuine respect for the faith traditions of others. Confidence in this position is strengthened by the spiritual reality that barriers between religions falling in America and Europe, and even in heaven where Jesus, Muhammad, Moses and Buddha (PBUT) are dwelling intimately as friends and fellow servants of God.