Why We Visited Israel
By Dr Omar T. Atiq

“Oh, God! No!!” may well describe the sentiment of our group at the news and video images coming out of Gaza and Lebanon, soon after our recent visit to the Holy Land. The vicious cycle of death and destruction playing out today is heartbreaking, to say the least.
The humanitarian disaster engendered by Israel is so atrocious, the indiscriminate killing and wanton destruction so reprehensible, that the American Muslim Peace Initiative (AMPI) joins the rest of the world in unequivocally condemning the brutal Israeli aggression against innocent Palestinians and the Lebanese people.
And yet, a month ago, we were there. As American Muslims and as Pakistani Americans we were there to learn by talking to all parties in the conflict. And we were also looking for ways where our Palestinian brethren could reclaim their dignity, have semblance of normal life and freedom. That was and still remains our ultimate goal.
The humanitarian crisis spanning over generations, fueled by violence between Israel and the Arabs, continues unabated. The policies and practices of the previous half a century have not resulted in peace; rather, they seem to have deepened and accentuated the misery of the already fragile population. The chaos and mayhem in the region has led to unprecedented polarization in the rest of the world, too, to the detriment of the Muslims, in particular.
Our mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories was simple. We wanted to have first-hand information about the region, its people and the conflict. We went as fellow human beings looking with anguish at the carnage that we see on the television, wondering why Palestinian and Israeli children cannot have a normal childhood like others. We went with the belief that, at the core, all human beings wish to lead normal healthy lives in the comfort of their own homes, with their families, in peace and tranquility. We wanted to find out why that does not appear to be the case in the Middle East, and to see if there was anything that could be done to help.
The American Muslim Peace Initiative (AMPI), a not-for-profit, non-governmental, US-based endeavor, sent its delegation to the Middle East, funded by its own resources, with its own agenda and its own goals. It asked the American Jewish Congress to facilitate the meetings, especially with the Israelis. We visited Israel and Palestine, and had discussions with leadership on both sides. In order to get an in-depth perspective, members of our group met people on the street, including the Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel, and the Muslims and Christians in Palestine. We did not see all the people we wanted to see, nor could we meet everyone we wished to meet. However we did see and hear plenty.
What we saw was not much different from what we had thought. The Palestinians were living under miserable conditions, and the Israelis felt insecure. They had markedly different perspectives; a wide gulf of distrust and suspicion separated them. And still people on both sides yearned for peace.
In our meetings, we implored both sides to immediately and completely renounce violence. We stressed that killing of innocent people and mass punishments, regardless of the ostensible provocations, were not only unacceptable, but also counterproductive to their professed desire for peace and security. We underscored the need for understanding and respect for each other and we also emphasized that a mutual dialogue was the only rational way to achieve their mutual goals of peaceful freedom.
Qur’anic injunctions and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Sunnah mandate third party intervention and encouragement of frank discourse between adversaries in order to resolve their conflict amicably. We at AMPI believe that efforts like ours could help create a non-confrontational atmosphere where the parties involved could negotiate in earnest to achieve their achievable goals. On the one hand, it would encourage the Palestinian leadership to make the necessary tough decisions to obtain freedom, and on the other, it would provide a certain measure of confidence to the Israeli leadership to make the desirable concessions to achieve peace.
We have no illusions that our efforts alone would bear the results that we all desire. But we have no doubt that this small step had to be taken to break yet another futile taboo which has prevented peace in the region. The recurrent cycle of violence and destruction has made the dialogue between the parties difficult and peace rather illusive. The recent events give further credence to that premise. And yet people of conscience have to come forward and do whatever it takes to help the peace process move again.
We mourn the loss of sacred life, and denounce all acts of terrorism and indiscriminate use of force. There is no purpose or provocation that justifies the killing of innocent people. We urge Israel, Hizbollah, and Hamas to immediately cease the hostilities, and return to the negotiating table for a lasting peaceful settlement of the conflict.
The AMPI requests the United States Government, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and the United Nations to use all their resources to help achieve an immediate ceasefire, release of political prisoners, repatriation of displaced persons, reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure, and a permanent negotiated solution to this ongoing humanitarian disaster. We support the creation of an independent Palestine, alongside Israel, as envisioned by the majority of people of Palestine and Israel. (Courtesy Dawn)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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