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Panel explores interfaith peace building efforts

| Thursday, September 10, 2015

A group of international peacemakers convened in McKenna Hall Wednesday night to share their experiences and reflect on the reality of peace building during a panel discussion sponsored by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

The panel, titled “Peace is Always Possible: Reflections from Proven Peacemakers,” brought together four panelists to discuss their experiences and insights in peacemaking as part of the fifth annual American Meeting of Sant’Egidio Prayer for Peace.

A recurring theme throughout the panel was the importance of peacemaking and peace building as a goal religious leaders and communities should strive to achieve. Archbishop John Baptist Odama, one of the four panelists, said the pursuit of peace requires passion, love and commitment to the communities most affected by violence and conflict.

“Peace is a mission given to us by God,” Odama said. “We must be loyal to the people because it is they who want peace.”

Odama reflected on his time as a religious leader during the Northern Ugandan war of 1996, highlighting his efforts to unite communities and communicate with rebel groups, all while working toward a common goal.

Panelists Miko Peled and Bassem al-Tamimi, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists respectively, discussed activism in the Palestinian conflict, providing insight into how their distinct positions of power and disadvantage within the conflict affected their efforts. Peled said after he became aware of the deeper complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as people close to him disputed traditional Israeli ways, he found he could utilize his privilege as an Israeli Jew to promote his peace efforts.

“In the reality that exists in Palestine and Israel, I’m privileged,” Peled said. “Even if I’m arrested, I know I’m going home at the end of the day.”

Al-Tamimi, an activist and organizer in the West Bank, said his experience with grassroots resistance helped him understand the values necessary to bring about peace.

“For me peace is the final state. … Without justice, freedom and equal rights, there is no peace. I hope that you can do something to protect the meaning of peace,”  he said.

Panelist Laurie Johnson said her peacemaking experience with the small community of Sant’Egidio, an international Christian humanitarian group, was marked by a missionary ethos that influenced her ideas on peacemaking later on.

“The community’s willingness to respond to help was the beginning of a four-year peace process,” Johnson said. “That theme of responding in friendship to the needs of the other is one that has played a role in virtually all of the community’s peace work.”

Johnson also said peace building is an exercise that requires leaving one’s comfort zone and understanding the inherent responsibility of advocating in and believing in the possibility of peace.

“I think that for all of us in this room today, really to say peace is possible is to take a kind of risk, because it requires us to move out of our ordinary resignation,” Johnson said. “Once you say peace is possible, you can’t say, ‘Oh well, nothing can be done about that situation’ or ‘Those people can’t change’ or ‘That situation is never going to get any better.’

“Once you begin to say ‘peace is possible,’ … once you begin to dare to say that, then you have a responsibility,” Johnson said.

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