It was a great privilege for Elijah’s Director of Educational Activities, Peta Jones Pellach, to be invited to help organise and accompany a group of Indonesian academics and leaders who visited Israel in January. The concept was to honour Gus Dur, former Indonesian President Aburrahman Wahid, who was a great believer in dialogue and promoted relations with Israel, having visited several times himself. He was a founding member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders and so it was a natural partnership for our organisation to step in and prepare some of the meetings with religious personalities here.
Almost as soon as the 5 men and 2 women from Indonesia landed, they were taken to the Tayelet in Talpiot to get one of the best views of the Old City. There, Peta gave them a brief orientation to the history and politics of Jerusalem. All the members of the group were leaders. The women are not only political and academic leaders but also media personalities. Indonesia has 240 million inhabitants. Each of our visitors influences millions through their political activism. The impressions they gained here have the potential to alter Israel-Indonesian relations.
Their tour of Jerusalem included visiting Jewish sites, Muslim sites and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in an effort to share multiple narratives.
Their first day included a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Rami Hatan, the Director for Religious Affairs, followed by a dinner where the delegation met other players in interreligious life and relations with Indonesia, including Elijah’s founder and director, Alon Goshen-Gottstein.
The following morning, continuing our determination to share multiple narratives, we went to Bethlehem to hear from Palestinians their perspective on the prospects for peace. We began at the Aida Refugee Camp, where there was a newly installed memorial for victims of the summer’s war with Gaza. The entrance to the camp is adorned with this huge key, symbolising the homes Palestinian Arabs left in 1947-9. This is one of the most problematic symbols of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. The visitors were astute enough to recognise the challenge. After hearing from Monjed Jadou, an activist and journalist, and the mayor of Bethlehem, the group agreed to be photographed under the photos of Arafat and Abu Mazen and Palestinian flags.
The afternoon was a great contrast. The group went to Yad Vashem to learn about the Shoah (Holocaust) and how it is commemorated and taught in Israel. Before beginning the tour, the Indonesians needed to find time and a place for afternoon prayers. What could be more moving than in the garden which honours ‘righteous Gentiles’, overlooking the Jerusalem forest? Seeing the Museum was emotionally exhausting and it was a visible relief to emerge at the other side. But our visitors did not leave before seeing the railway car – one of three originals that is preserved – with its multiple messages of commemoration for those lost and hope for the future.
That was far from the end of the day. The group heard from Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab journalist, who was most pessimistic about peace prospects. He is a loyal Israeli citizen, who has no desire to be part of an Arab-Palestinian state, so his perspective is very interesting. Then it was off to Abu Gosh for a visit to the magnificent mosque and dinner with interfaith activist, Issa Jaber.
Keeping up the pace, the next morning the group went south to Sderot, the town which has sustained thousands of rockets from Gaza over the past decade. Noam Bedein described the situation and how the civilian population has been affected. The amazing thing about Sderot is that life carries on as normal. There is even a spate of construction of new housing. This playground is famous as every piece of play equipment also functions as a bomb shelter.