Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, who grew up throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and fighting against the occupation. His brother was tortured and died from trauma sustained in Israeli prison when Aziz was just ten years old. Yet he now fights for peace.
I first met Aziz in 2009 at a J Street conference in Washington, D.C., and was captivated by his story. A couple friends from the Center for Ecological Living and Learning and I later had the privilege of touring Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with him as we scoped out a trip to the region.
Changing the narrative
Aziz demonstrated a passion for, and deep knowledge of the history of the area. And as a Jerusalemite, he had an intimate understanding and grasp of the narratives of both sides, Israeli and Palestinian. Aziz showed a deep love for the Holy Land and all its people, and a special compassion for those mired in prejudices, hatred, and violence. It’s just as he describes in this video: he was there once and knows what that feels like. But he’s discovered a better way.
I wish every Israeli and Palestinian could watch this video and imbibe its message. I wish each one of us who has ever wished for “justice” in the name of revenge could hear the wisdom from someone who has pursued that path and realized its ultimate futility. If we each meted out justice as we see fit, it would never end. Nor does it make you feel better to take revenge, says Aziz, only “more bitter and more empty.” I so admire Aziz’s transformation and the courageous path he has chosen to spread the lessons he’s learned as far and wide as possible.
Faiths working together for peace
Recent clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank reveal escalating tit-for-tat violence and a heightened state of unrest, whether it’s the shooting of Palestinian protesters, multiple stabbings of Israelis, growing protests on both sides, and heated tension over the sensitive, Muslim-controlled Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The latter, especially, is seen as evidence that the conflict is taking on increasingly religious tones, which, according to Danny Seiderman, head of Terrestrial Jerusalem, “is planting the seeds of the transformation of a political conflict, which can be solved, into a religious conflict which cannot be solved. We are seeing the ascendancy of those faith communities that weaponize faith. We are seeing the marginalization of traditional religious bodies who understand that Jerusalem is best served by the faiths working together.”
The shift from violence to unity
All the more reason to wake up to the truth Aziz is espousing–that it doesn’t help to respond with violence. The familiar Gandhi quote, “An eye for an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” is particularly relevant here. Moreover, religious communities, especially, could be building on common ground and working together to solve problems through faith in God which can unite them. United Religions Initiative‘s many cooperation circles in the Middle East are doing just that.
Aziz Abu Sarah is Executive Director at the George Mason Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution and co-founder of MEJDI Tours, which leads trips to the Middle East with a dual narrative focus. He has a fabulous TED talk and a blog to follow. Most of all, he’s kind, funny, and a wonderful human being.