Conference discusses coexistence at holy sites
A two-day international conference is bringing more than two dozen Israeli, Palestinian and international experts together to highlight examples of coexistence and confrontation in holy places related to the Israeli-Palestinian reality.
The "International Conference on Confrontation and Coexistence in Holy Places: Religious and Legal Aspects in the Israeli-Palestinian Context" begins today at Haifa University and continues Wednesday at the Al-Qasemi Academy in the Arab village of Baka al-Gharbiya. The conference, which is free and open to the public, will discuss a number of holy places in the Israeli-Palestinian context from various perspectives where instances of confrontation or coexistence have manifested themselves.
"It's an academic gathering, and we do not try to put forward a political saying," said Yitzhak Reiter, one of the conference organizers, who teaches at the Ashkelon Academic College and this year at Haifa University. "We just want everyone to come and express his perspective and to learn from it. ...It is my impression that listening to the different lectures will not only enrich our knowledge about these places, but will reveal a reality of coexisting within a debated situation." Academic sponsors include Haifa University, Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, Al-Qasemi Academy and the Washington D.C.-based Catholic University of America. The Jewish Arab Center of Haifa University is helping coordinate the event.
"It is very special that we succeeded to make a joint venture between four universities, one Palestinian, one Israeli, one Israeli Arab and one American on such a delicate topic," Reiter said.
Topics include what makes a place sacred, legal aspects of holy places, the debate over the Cave of Nachmanides and convergence of Israelis and Palestinians at holy places. The case of Samuel's Tomb in the northern outskirts of Jerusalem will also be discussed. The site has become a place where a mosque and a place of benediction for Jews, which is located directly underneath the mosque, coexist. While Muslims come to pray at their prophet's site on Friday, you can also see Jews coming in from a different entrance to pray at the tomb beneath them, Reiter said.
"That's one expression in which Jews and Muslims worship God, side by side, in a very unique situation of coexistance without any problems," he said.
Another case study has to do with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where numerous tensions and clashes have been reported since 1967. Reiter said he maintains that while there have some violent outbreaks, most of the time Muslims and Jews there do coexist under an arrangement of divide and share.
Palestinian Law Professor Anwar Abu Eisheh of Al-Quds University said according to International Conventions La Haye and Geneva, occupiers must respect the holiness of places that he occupies.
He will argue in the conference that "it doesn't happen in the case of the Caves of the Patriarchs."
Abu Eisheh, who was shot by Abu Nidal in Portugal in 1983 for engaging in talks with Israelis, said he looks forward to getting to know his audience and the other professors at the conference, as well as better understand conceptions about holy places. "Until now, the notion of holy places is not very clear," he said. "I mean, what is holy for you is not holy for the people of Honolulu. It's not the same holiness. So you have the notion of holiness. You have other notions. You have situations of wars, of occupations. All of that we will speak about."
Other conference sponsors include The Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The American Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Peace Department of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Inter-Religious Coordinating Council in Israel, the Israel Inter-Faith Association, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The conference starts today at Hecht Auditorium at Haifa University at 8:45 a.m. and ends at 6:30 p.m. The conference continues Wednesday in Baka al-Gharbiya at the same time. For more information call the Jewish Arab Center of Haifa University at 04-8240156.
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