by AMIR PAISS
Sulha is the traditional Middle Eastern resolution process. The root of the name comes from ‘Sulh’ – which means peacemaking in Arabic and sounds very similar to ‘Sliha’ – the Hebrew word for forgiveness. The Sulha process predates Islam by about 400 years and is practiced in various ways today across the Middle East; in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, the Arabian Peninsula and in many other Muslim countries.
Sulha is unique in that it provides an accepted and practiced platform for transitioning from revenge to forgiveness. This practice recognizes and utilizes local cultural elements and is a relevant form of peacemaking and conflict management at the family, clan, tribal and village level. Sulha may also have relevance to broader conflict resolution/management efforts, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, the conflict in Iraq and other disputes in the Middle East.
When the second Intifada erupted in the year 2000 in Israel and Palestine, Gabriel Meyer Halevy couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. The son of socially-aware parents and leaders in their own community, he was moved to act. His father Rabbi T. Marshal Meyer was a community builder and an human rights activist in Argentina during the Dirty War in the 1970s, and Gabriel grew up absorbing the importance of shared responsibility for humanity demonstrated by his parents.
Involvement in cross-cultural projects and a deep interfaith understanding inspired Gabriel’s journey as a world traveller, poet, musician and peacemaker. In the late 1990s he participated in an interfaith Palestinian/Israeli tour in the USA, culminating in the UN Millennium Spiritual Summit, The Peace Vigil in the old city of Jerusalem and at the interfaith International Peacemaker Community encounter in Tantur Monastery (Jerusalem, 2000) where the first seed vision of On the Way to Sulha was born.
Violence was erupting all over the Middle East and because Gabriel lived in the Galilee region, it was only natural that the journey would start close to home. He reached out to peacemaking elder Elias Jabbour, founder of The House of Hope in Shefar’am and author of the book Sulha – Towards a Palestinian Way of Peacemaking. Elias is the son of Jabbour Jabbour, well respected Sulha mediator, Galilean elder and mayor of Shefaram for many years.
Gabriel visited Elias at his home in Shefar’am; they connected right away, sharing stories, prayers and songs. This meeting gave birth to the first Sulha Day gathering in 2001. Gabriel recalls, “We celebrated Chanukkah, Christmas, and Ramadan… it was a deep and heartfelt encounter. We Jews cooked the ‘iftar’ breakfast meal of Ramadan and Christian and Muslim Arabs lit our ‘Chanukkah’ candles after a moving listening circle that lasted the whole day.”
On the Way to Sulha continued to grow from the ground up and inspired many others to form further peacemaking initiatives, fueled by faith and a passion for overcoming the challenges and bridging the abyss of animosity. It provided a meeting place for many thousands of people from all walks of life. Religious and community leaders, artists and activists could all meet, share and learn from one another in an environment where people of different beliefs, cultures and traditions listen to each other, address destructive stereotypes and defenses and establish constructive dialogues.
On the Way to Sulha is an example of how real people can make a difference and be agents of change. In Gabriel’s words, “surprise reality until it changes”. Ideas and visions do manifest through people’s work and their devotion and passion.
I was part of many of the On the Way to Sulha gatherings and toured with Gabriel for several years, sharing and spreading the message of On the Way to Sulha through our Amen concerts and workshops. I believe we can all take part in changing reality and the world we live in when we let go of fear and follow our calling. I remember Gabriel telling me that his vision included speaking with the Dalai Lama. It seemed only natural, years later, when On the Way to Sulha received a private audience with His Holiness.
Inspiration never stops and since 2007 Gabriel has continued on his unique path and working with Iranians-Israelis and internationals in the mountains of Turkey, up until 2011. He is a living bridge between Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians, Lebanese, and Sudanese in Sinai, especially since the Arab spring. Through his music he expresses the renewal of the pluralistic Hebrew spirituality in Israel, and has been facilitating teaching presentations for over 20 years. In the last year Gabriel’s Peace work has mainly been through The Human Project in South Africa, U.S.A, South America and Israel, as a musician and cross – cultural bridge builder, and in the vision camp “We refuse to be Enemies” birthing new initiatives, in the midst of the bombs and Gaza war. Here is one man that inspires a change for many, not letting the fear of the other to rule the world.
This excerpt from the writings of Elias Jabour articulates the peacemakers’ challenge and how to overcome it:
“It is by way of truth that we have any hope of life free from the fears born of our inhumanity to each other. The way by which I hold my enemy down, keeps me down as well. Peace cannot, however, be made apart from the human willingness to let it happen – a willingness, I might add, that will not take place until we learn to forgive the hurt we have suffered or been a part of and accept losses however horrendous. That can never happen apart from a change of heart prompted by our awareness that where there is no justice, peace is far from our grasp. And where there is no forgiveness, justice too is beyond reach. The lesson of our day is undeniably costly. The question of our day is why should we keep paying and never learn?”
Be a peacemaker and join the growing community of peacemakers in the Middle East and all over the world.