By MaryAnn Kromer, firstname.lastname@example.org
The conflict between Israel and Palestine frequently appears in the news headlines, yet many Americans do not know about the chaotic conditions in that country. Most citizens are aware that Israel receives aid from the United States, and they know the Holy Land lies within its borders. Beyond that are complex injustices that have resulted in violence.
Without understanding both sides of the conflict, the path to peace never can be freed of its obstacles, according to a press release from Tiffin Area Pax Christi, an ecumenical peace and justice organization. The group is hosting a one-day conference called Israel/Palestine: Pathways to Peace" Oct. 23 at Elizabeth Schaefer Auditorium, 190 St. Francis Ave., Tiffin.
A variety of workshops are to help those seeking a greater understanding of the issues, as well as the longtime advocates who wish to network and find better ways to work for lasting peace. Jo Hollingsworth of Fostoria lined up the speakers for the conference. A member of Hope Lutheran Church, she said she took an interest in peace and justice issues when U.S. forces invaded Iraq after the terrorist attacks, and she joined the newly formed chapter of Pax Christi at that time.
"I've been a peace person for a long time, and I was particularly concerned because, from what I got out of the news, it didn't sound like we (the U.S.) knew what we were doing," Hollingsworth said.
Although Hollingsworth has not visited the Holy Land, she is planning to go next fall with a group. She said she will use her aptitude for languages to learn enough vocabulary to speak with some of the people while she is there. She has attended multiple talks by Jim Bailey and Sr. Paulette Schroeder. The conference in Tiffin also is to give her additional background on the history of the turmoil in Israel/Palestine. Hollingsworth explained how the conference was conceived.
"Tiffin Area Pax Christi received a donation of $500 from Trinity United Church of Christ in Tiffin. We decided we needed to do something with that. Sr. Paulette (Schroeder) has been a Christian peacemaker over there, and Jim Bailey, one of our members, took a trip over there. ... We thought, two of our members have been over there and found this to be a really important topic," Hollingsworth said. "That's how we as a group decided on that."
She agreed to chair the conference with limited knowledge of the speakers who might be available. Hollingsworth said she wanted the conference to have a regional appeal to attract people from major cities. In "stumbling around" to find presenters, she landed on some experts.
"I would come up with an idea, and things would take off," Hollingsworth said. "I wanted this to work at several levels. I want people who don't really know much about what's going on and would like to learn more about it. So there are going to be people to talk about what's happening over there, which Paulette has done. If there are people who are interested from a different standpoint, I got John Quigley, who, it turns out, is a real name in the international law world."
Quigley is to talk about the role of international law in the peace process. Hollingsworth said she had "vaguely heard of" Friends of Sabeel so she researched the organization and discovered it gives conferences that draw people from a wide area. Jeff Abood, who ran a Sabeel conference in Cleveland, agreed to speak in Tiffin. In addition, he referred Hollingsworth to other groups that might make presentations.
Bailey was able to engage the keynote speaker, Mark Braverman, Barbara Harvey from Detroit and moderator Douglas Kerr. Hollingsworth said she discovered Linda Mansour at one of Schroeder's presentations. When the anti-Islamic issues, such as the burning of the Koran, started heating up, Hollingsworth decided to find a speaker that could stem the growth of what she calls "Islamaphobia."
As Braverman said, only a small percentage of Christians are affected by the conditions in Israel/Palestine. Most have left the area. The Palestinians, who are not allowed to travel freely, are predominantly Muslim. The conference is to educate Christian Americans, who know little about the Jewish and Muslim religions.
"We're not doing this because our Christian brethren are suffering. ... We're more familiar with Jews, but we don't know much about Muslims, except for 9/11, and what we know is not positive," Hollingsworth said. "I didn't know anybody except for Dr. Hussain, who has a column in the (Toledo) Blade. So I invited him."
Hollingsworth emphasized the conference is not just for educators and scholars. It is for anyone who wants to learn more about the conditions in Israel/Palestine. Hearing information from different perspectives can be useful in forming one's own opinion about the issues.
"We want the everyday person to come. ... We're offering this as an opportunity to learn," she said.
As a break-out, participants can view the DVD "Life in Occupied Palestine," which follows the activities of activist Anna Baltzer. Hollingsworth said the film is an objective look at the events in the Middle East. She also recommends the nonfiction book by Sandy Tolan, "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East." She calls these two sources "easy access" to the topic.
Skip Schiel's collection of photographs of the Gaza Strip, now on exhibit at the Fostoria Community Arts Council gallery in Fostoria, is being brought to Tiffin for viewing by conference participants.