Why We Visited
By Dr Omar T. Atiq
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
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)