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Friday, December 01, 2006

Walls must be torn down from within

Here's a letter from Hermann Sieben, one of the German participants in the conference:

Thank you for your reports of the conference in Berlin and Wittenberg. We enjoyed the conference and especially the week being together with Christians from Mexico, the USA, Palestine and Germany. We had good conversations and learned a lot, meeting interesting personalities.

If you allow me I would like to add something to the report of the conference. When during the conference comparisons of the Iron Wall between the two Germanys with the walls in Palestine and between Mexico and the USA were made I said that the only thing we can learn from the destruction of the German wall is that nowadays walls can only brought down from the side responsible for its construction, like the German wall was torn down from the East Germans. If West Germans had tried to do it, they would have provoked a new world-war. What West Germans could do in the time of the existing wall, was to build bridges between the two parts of Germany like writing letters, visiting friends in the East who were not allowed to come to the West, meeting them in Hungary or other countries of the Eastern bloc, praying together, etc. In Berlin we heard a lot about it. These actions and among others the West German TV and radio helped the Easterners to keep their desire to come to a Germany without a wall.

What I missed in our conversations [at the conference] was for instance a readiness to hear from efforts from the Israeli side -- Jews and Arabs -- to overcome the terrible wall the Israeli government has built and is continuing to construct in Palestine. I understood my invitation from Stephan Dorgerloh, the director of the Academy in Wittenberg, to share with you my experience in youth exchange with Israel and Palestine and of the conciliation work in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam ["Oasis of Peace"], where Jews and Palestinians live together as good neighbors. More than 25 years of my professional life in German Youth exchange with Israel gave me the chance to see the falling down of walls between Germans and Jews, not visible walls but nevertheless very big ones. Nobody could imagine that after the holocaust Germans today could be considered by Israelis as ones of their best friends. It is not enough to complain the existence of walls you have to try to overcome them. When I mentioned bridges between Jews and Palestinians in Israel like the Oasis of Peace, Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, and the educational work done there for peace and understanding between the two peoples I could understand that for some Palestinians that disturbed the ugly picture they wanted to draw. I agree the wall for instance in Bethlehem is ugly and terrible. We have seen it last May. It should be torn down as soon as possible. But as I said that can be done only from the side it has built it. But should one wait till that will be done or would it not be better to help finding holes in the wall or building even small passes and ways over or through it?

The "Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland" (EMW) has just published Nr. 63 Studienheft "Sehnsucht nach Frieden -- Initiativen für Verständigung und Zusammenarbeit in Israel und Palästina." In this paper you can find a lot of examples of such initiatives for understanding and cooperation. It could be worthwhile to have it translated into English.

You can find more about the Village of Peace on this Web site www.nswas.com.

Our best wishes,

Hermann Sieben
Sankt Augustin, Germany

2 Comments:

Blogger Clint said...

Were there Israelis present at the conference?

7:36 AM  
Blogger Ben McDonald Coltvet said...

Clint,

No, there were not any Israelis present, neither were Jewish or Muslim representatives present at the gathering. The conference organizers talked about having a future gathering that would be interfaith.

For a fuller account of the conversation about the lack of Israeli involvement in the conference, please see Sonia Solomonson's article
posted on The Lutheran magazine's web site:
http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=6303&r=5016

1:00 PM  

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