By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
In an age when religion is used by unscrupulous people as a dividing force rather than a uniting one, the Interfaith Community United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) is a shining example of dedicated people of all faiths who strive for justice, understanding, and peace. Located in the Los Angeles area, ICUJP meets early Friday mornings in the Immanuel Presbyterian church on Wilshire Boulevard.. A variety of speakers are invited ranging in subject matter from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to labor organizing in Columbia.
This past Friday morning the ICUJP heard the testimony of Shakeel Syed, the Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and a member of the Board of Directors of the ICUJP, who recently returned from a trip of two and a half weeks to Israel/Palestine with a group of 28. He referenced the diversity of the group in age, gender, occupation, and religious affiliation. He saw Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron and Jerusalem, among other places. He told us of his prayers at dawn at Al Aqsa Mosque; of seeing the Wailing Wall, and the places where Jesus (as) walked.
On a lighter note, Mr. Syed mentioned his entrance into a Jewish place of worship and a subsequent query by a rabbi who asked him if he were Jewish. Mr. Syed replied: “I am your cousin.” When they embraced, they prayed for each other and for all people to live in peace.
Mr. Syed told of the stark contrast between the living conditions of Jewish settlements whose amenities included a seemingly endless supply of water and air conditioning, and the conditions of Arabs in the West Bank who must live with a precarious supply of potable water, checkpoints, road blocks and continual Israeli harassment and control.
In describing Israeli checkpoints, Mr. Syed gave an example closer to home. To construct an analogous situation, Mr. Syed asked his audience to imagine a trip from his home in Culver City to Los Angeles, one that would normally take in the neighborhood of half an hour. If he had to face the same situation as that in the West Bank, his trip would take him from Culver City to Long Beach to Pasadena and then, after four hours had elapsed, he would be told by an 18 year old Israeli soldier at the end of his trip, when his Los Angeles destination was in view, that he must turn back. Another 4 hours would elapse before he returned home. Palestinian homes and stores are confiscated if the Israelis assert that these buildings were unoccupied for what they consider a reasonable passage of time.
Mr. Syed spoke of the Wall and its effect on the city of Bil’in, which is to cut that city in half. Weekly demonstrations are held each Friday and are met with tear gas from Israeli soldiers. Mr. Syed went to one such demonstration and brought home an empty tear gas canister which he sent around the room.
On a more optimistic note, he spoke of a new group in Israel. The group is called New Profile and is composed largely of young mothers who oppose their children’s compulsory military service in the Israeli army. To the shock of his audience, he spoke of “Child Recruitment in Israel,” the subject of a booklet he obtained. This booklet reveals the common Israeli government practice of networking with schools in looking for young school children who might make suitable military personnel. The ideal recruit is the school bully who torments others.
Mr. Syed is no stranger to travel, and many of his travels have taken him places in which his life could be considered at risk. He told the audience that before this trip his 10 year old son seemed particularly worried when told of his destination.
“Don’t they kill people there?” asked the child.
Another delay of two and one half hours occurred at Ben Gurion airport for Mr. Sayed. His fellow travellers refused to depart without him. If solidarity was not in place before the trip began, it was evident at the end.
Mr. Syed’s trip was sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); the Third World Coalition (TWC) and the Interfaith Peace Builders (IFPC).
For more information on the ICUJP, please access their web site at: _www.icujp.org_ (http://www.icujp.org/) . For more information on the IFPC, including an interest in being a member of groups which travel to Israel/Palestine, please access their web site at: _www.ifpbdel.org_ (http://www.ifpbdel.org)