Kadi Iyad Zahalka, the judge of the Muslim Shariya court in Jerusalem of the state of Israel, and I were grateful for the opportunity to be able to present our ideas about “the other peace process” to a number of New York audiences in recent days.
We spoke not about the political peace process, long stalled, but the people-to-people peace-building process, the one that brings people from different religions and nationalities together to encounter each other substantively and sensitively in order to find ways to live in peaceful coexistence together. We believe strongly in the importance of this “other” peace process for sustainable living together, now and in the future.
Kadi Zahalka is a Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Israeli citizen and a respected judge in our country. I am a Reform rabbi who moved to Israel 33 years ago, to make aliyah to live in the land and state of Israel and have served in educational and communal positions in Jerusalem for over three decades. I suspect that this may have been the first time in the greater New York area that a kadi and a rabbi spoke on the same platform at synagogues, Jewish institutions and church-synagogue joint programs.
Our message was one that is not usually heard outside of Israel — a message of moderation, which emphasizes that peaceful living, is possible. And that our conflict can come to an end, as other seemingly hopeless conflicts have ended in what might have seemed as intractable situations in the world, such as in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Bosnia and other places.
Kadi Zahalka, who represents a new generation of serious and dynamic Muslim judges in Israel, presented a moderate, liberal interpretation of Islam, as he lives and practices it, that is largely unknown and unrecognized outside of Israel, even though his style of Islam is the dominant one in Israel. He talked about how Islam in Israel is different from Islam in Iran or Gaza or Lebanon or Saudi Arabia, where the extremists have captured the regimes and the headlines. In addition, he explained the true meaning of Shariya Law, as he understands it.
“It is not about extremism or violence”, he said many times. Rather, it is about humanistic values and how ordinary Muslims live their lives, much like Halacha (Jewish Law) is for the Jews.
And at each public dialogue, I shared with audiences in the New York area our new thinking about the method of dialogue, as well as the message and importance of peace. I explained why and how interreligious and intercultural dialogue is an essential ingredient for a lasting peace. Politics can only produce the framework for peace. We religious leaders and educators and psychologists and social workers can help people learn to live in peace together. Dialogue, education and action are the methods to achieve this.
We also both demonstrated how a kadi and a rabbi could be genuine colleagues and friends. We reject both Islamophobia — which is strengthened by hate ads in subways and videos on YouTube — and we reject anti-Semitism in any form, whether on the college campus or via the Internet. We respect each other’s religions and cultures — both our common values and our different paths — and we vow to increase mutual understanding through our actions as well as our words.
Finally, we presented for Jews, Christians and Muslims in the New York area the challenges as we look towards the future, and explained how dialogue and education will play a critical role in a viable peace process, based on genuine mutual understanding, in the years and decades ahead. Our role is not to solve the macro political problems of the region. That task is for the politicians and diplomats. Our task — as religious leaders, educators and activists in our communities — is to change the hearts and minds of the people on both sides of the conflict to be able to live in peaceful relations over the long haul.
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish serves as the director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel and the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Christian Relations.