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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.


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Eliyahu McLean

Eliyahu McLean is engaged in interfaith work between Jewish, Christian and Muslim Israelis and Palestinians throughout Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. His work with many organizations and on an informal basis is focused on bringing together people of different backgrounds for the sake of fostering understanding. Eliyahu is one of the organizers of the Sulha Project, an anual three-day event attended by thousands of Israeli, Palestinian, and international participants who gather for the purpose of dialogue and reconciliation. Together with Aziz Bukhari, a Muslim Sufi Sheikh, and Abdul and Ibrahim Abuelhawa, Eliyahu founded The Jerusalem Peacemakers which brings together Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze religious leaders who seek to reclaim religion as a source for peace.

  • Please tell me a little about your personal history and how you came to be involved in peace work.

    My mother is a Jew from New York and my father is the son of a protestant minister. I come from a long line of protestant pastors and missionaries, going back hundreds of years. I grew up in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. My parents raised me with a very universal ideology, trying to find the commonality in all the world's religions. I could relate to those teachings, but I wanted a sense of my own identity. When I was 12, my friend invited me to his Bar Mitzvah. I said, "Hmm. I have exactly one year. I could have a Bar Mitzvah too." I studied for a whole year, and had my Bar Mitzvah. My Jewish grandfather, zichrono l'vracha,

  • Can you give an example of some of the assumptions you had before hearing the Palestinian narrative?

    The narrative that Israel was a land without people for people without a land; not knowing that there were indigenous people here before. The attitude that there was just a handful of Arabs and everyone else who's here now came from the outside. The 1948 War, and the aftermath of the war; the typical Israeli narrative is that all the Arabs just fled completely of their own will and volition. I started to learn about what Israel did systematically to forcibly expel people and adopted a critical look at the history of '48 and '67. I knew that a lot of what they were spouting was also propaganda, but at least I was able to hear the other side. I decided to go back to Israel for another year, and that was the year that I became sort of an activist. I became disillusioned with the Zionist narrative and fascinated with Arab culture and Arabic. I went to Hebrew University and studied Palestinian spoken Arabic. There was an attempt to make UC Berkeley a sister university with Bethlehem University. That measure passed. I visited Bethlehem University. I made friends with a student there and he brought me to his home in Dheisheh Refugee Camp. I went back to Hebrew University and started bringing Jewish students to the refugee camp and Bethlehem University. That began my work of crossing boundaries. I was fascinated. I wanted to learn everything. I was learning Arabic, traveling all over the West Bank, and getting way into it. The Gulf War hit, and I needed money because our program was cancelled. I got a job at Jerusalem City Hall as a construction worker and I lived with Palestinian Muslim construction workers from Hebron. I ended up at the same time studying in a yeshiva in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.1 I would work construction during the day, and at 5 pm I would take a shower and rush over and the whole evening would be studying Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, Torah, Chumash.2 I was in two worlds, even then. I was asking, what is the spiritual underpinning, what does Judaism have to say? I started opening up to ideas about Hashem3 and truth and God. When the Gulf War was over, I went to Egypt. I studied Islam, and spent a lot of time in a mosque. I was searching for truth. I was invited to a traditional Sufi4 gathering, with Egyptian Muslim Sufis dressing in white robes, chanting and swaying. It was a very, very profound experience for me. I spent a long time there and I was really drawn to Islam, it was a beautiful path. But there was a voice in my head calling me back to Israel. This time I ended up working as a goat herder in the Galilee for a religious Jewish mountain man. I spent a lot of time in meditation out in the fields of the lower Galilee, and felt like I could connect with the tradition. That's when I started wrapping t'fillin,5 and started growing my peyot,6 I always tuck them back. That was in 1994. I also spent a lot of time with Shlomo Carlebach,7 before he passed away. He was a big influence. I would watch how he interacted with people and helped them return to their roots, and how he respected anyone of any religion who came to him. He always said you have to have "holy chutzpah."8

    • 1. Covering the area of roughly 1 sq. kilometer, the Old City of Jerusalem is currently surrounded by walls about 12 meters in height built by the great Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. The Old City is divided into four quarters (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian) roughly corresponding to the religious or ethnic affiliations of each quarter's residents. The Old City contains some of Jerusalem's most treasured religious sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock Mosque, and The Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). See http://www.historychannel.com/classroom/unesco/jerusalem/main.html.
    • 2. Kabbalah, Hebrew for "reception," refers to Jewish mysticism, and to Jewish mystical texts from the Middle Ages. Torah specifically means the part of the Bible called the Five Books of Moses, and more generally can be used to refer to the whole tradition of Jewish religious teaching and law, both written and oral. Chumash is the Hebrew term used to refer to the Five Books of Moses of the Torah.
    • 3. Hebrew for "the name." One of the words religious Jews use to denote God.
    • 4. Islamic mysticism centered around the pursuit of spiritual truth.
    • 5. Hebrew for phylacteries. Two small leather boxes containing scriptural passages and traditionally worn on the left arm and head by religiously observant Jewish men during morning weekday prayers.
    • 6. Side locks or side curls worn by Jewish Hasidic men.
    • 7. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) was a rabbi and songwriter whose musical renditions of Jewish prayer and ceremony spread throughout the Jewish community from the 1960s until his death.
    • 8. Yiddish for "nerve" or "gall."

  • What does that mean to you - what did you learn from Shlomo Carlebach?

    Having the audacity to stand up and do the right thing in the world. I interpreted that to mean that you have to have holy chutzpah to work for peace. Sometimes it takes chutzpah to work for holiness, and holiness to me is peace and understanding.

  • Why don't you give me a brief overview of all the projects you're involved in?

    I got involved in a dialogue project in Nablus. We were doing a dialogue project called "transformation of suffering," bringing 30 Israelis each month into Nablus to workshops to go through the suffering we were both experiencing. There was a Palestinian participant from Gaza who was an activist in Fatah Youth during the first intifada. He had a Peace and Friendship Center in Gaza and wanted to start a parallel project in Gaza. We started an Israeli-Palestinian Gaza City dialogue project. I used to bring groups of Israelis into Gaza and on our first trip at each dialogue an Israeli would tell their story to a Palestinian and a Palestinian would tell their story to an Israeli. Then in the larger group the Palestinian would tell the Israeli's story, and vice versa. Who participated in that program? Mostly people who were interested in meeting Palestinians were inclined to go. But I'll never forget there was one young man who had been a soldier on the streets of Gaza just a few months before. Because the intifada had just ended and the PLO was starting to move in,1 there was a window of opportunity. So we brought this Israeli soldier into Gaza City, and he was hosted by a young man who used to organize stone throwing against the soldiers. He was being led through the streets that he used to patrol as a soldier. He recognized those streets and he was overcoming his post-traumatic-stress-disorder by trying to go back there. I'll never forget when a Palestinian policeman who was sent to protect us took his beret off and put it on the head of the Israeli soldier and took his PLO button off and put it on his jacket. This project was so successful that some of the young people said, "We don't want to just do dialogue, we want to do a project." Kibbutz Ketura2 has an environmental studies program [the Arava Institute], so we organized a big thing with PIES, the Palestinian-Israeli Environmental Secretariat,3 Kibbutz Ketura and our dialogue group. We had a Gaza Beach clean-up day, with 70 people, and we cleaned up a huge stretch of beach with Israeli and Palestinian and international youth. That was a huge success. At the same time, I was at Yakar, a modern orthodox Jewish liberal think tank, learning and seminar center in Katamon in Jerusalem. Yakar hired me to help start a new teacher training project called the Jewish-Muslim Bet Midrash.4 I organized a project to bring Jewish and Muslim high school teachers together to study Islamic and Jewish texts together. The teachers were from East and West Jerusalem, Abu Ghosh, around Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish teachers were teachers of Arabic, so a lot of the classes were in Arabic. They didn't do the dialogue; they actually wanted to go straight to the real work. They didn't have to do the introductory stuff that most people have to do. We could go very deep very fast. It was a highly successful project and even after I left Yakar it went on for 3 or 4 years. I also work closely with the Compassionate Listening Project and Leah Green.5 On a few of their tours I was their guide around the country. So I said, "You've been listening to too much suffering." You can imagine, there's so much suffering here on all sides, and you're just compassionately listening. So I brought them to the home of a Sufi sheik I knew in the West Bank, and he told them a story. "Ten years ago during the time of the first intifada, the only Jews I knew were soldiers at road blocks. I went to go pray at the tomb of Nebi Musa6near Jericho." He apparently had a vision of the prophet Moses, who spoke to him out of a body of light and said, "In the future many Jews and Christians are going to seek your wisdom and advice. Welcome them into your home as if they were members of your own family." But he thought it must be the deceiving voice of Allah, the Shatan,7 because he only knew soldiers. He thought, "How could this be, I must be going crazy or there's some devil." Fast-forward 10 years, as he's telling the story, now he has a group of Christians and Jews coming to seek his wisdom and advice. All of a sudden it dawned on him that the prophecy had come true, and he burst into tears. The whole Compassionate Listening tour group came up and gave him a big hug. From that moment I became the sheikh's booking agent. I started to take him to all these festivals, Shantipi and Boombamela,8 to speak about Islam as a vision of peace. Shortly after I met him, Yossi Klein HaLevi9 was writing a book about Christian, Muslim and Jewish mystics. He grew up the son of Holocaust survivors and in the Jewish Defense League,10 and wanted to overcome his own reservations with the non-Jews he was raised to fear and hate. The sheikh introduced Yossi and me to a whole network of indigenous Palestinian Sufi sheikhs from the West Bank and Gaza. Our adventures among the Sufis became the subject of Yossi's book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden.11 Because I had studied Sufism and Islam those years before, I felt that I could speak the language of religious Muslims, and because of the fact that I studied in an orthodox yeshiva, I could speak the language of the Hasidim12 and the religious Jews, and do bridge building work. Recently I have been working closely with Abdel Aziz Bukhari,13 who lives in the Old City and we have become very close friends. I bring people to visit him because he lived in America and he's very open. He is from a long line of Sufi sheikhs. One of the things we do together is organize prayer gatherings at shared holy places like Nebi Samuel,14 which is holy to Muslims and Jews. I often bring people to his home, which is like a second home to me. In the last few years, a lot of what I've done is helped organize gatherings. We started a new tarika,15 called Tarikat Ibrahimi, the Tarika of Abraham, Derech Avraham.16 Rabbi Alberto Arbiv,17 a Conservative rabbi in Tel Aviv, and Avi Elkayam,18 a Jewish professor from Tel Aviv University, approached me because I knew the Sufis. We did a big meeting at Neve Shalom19 where we had rabbis and sheikhs praying together. We did zikr20 with Rabbi Fruman and Dov Maimon.21 When the intifada started we started the Old City peace vigil above the Western Wall with people from different religions praying for peace. We met every single Friday consistently until about two or three months ago. We ran out of steam, it was hard to keep it going, so we're not still doing it. But for 3 1/2 years, every week was an interfaith gathering with Palestinian Muslims coming, soldiers coming by-sometimes soldiers would say, "It should only be that your prayers should succeed, I don't want to be here anymore." I was also director of an organization called Peacemaker Community.22 The idea was to form a network linking and connecting a lot of disparate, spiritually oriented peace and interfaith projects. Each year the Peacemaker Community Poland branch organizes a bearing witness retreat in Auschwitz23 in Poland. I brought a Bedouin Muslim Imam with me to Auschwitz. They base themselves in what are called the three tenets: 1) not knowing, 2) bearing witness, and 3) loving action. Part of the problem in the Middle East is that everybody "knows," to such an extent that no one will listen to anyone else who also knows. Everybody is so certain. Rabbi David Hartman called Israel a "tyranny of certitudes."24 I think it's true. When Peacemaker Community stopped I started working last year in a freelance capacity for different organizations. I help strengthen big gatherings. For example, with the organization Middleway, which does monthly peace walks. This week they did a huge peace walk in the West Bank with 100 Arabs and Jews. They walk in a spiritual way, silently in a single file line for two to seven days at a time, handing out little flyers that say what the message is. It's not a protest, not a march, but a silent walk in mindful meditation with Arabs and Jews. Two and a half years ago Gabi Meyer25 and I worked together to organize the first sulha. That was a Hanukah, Christmas, Ramadan celebration in the Galilee where we had a talking circle with an olive branch as a talking peace. Jews prepared the Ramadan meal for the Muslims, and Muslims and Christians lit Hanukah candles. That grew to 600 people the next summer, and last summer to 1500 people. We're hoping for over 2000 people this summer.26 So I'm involved in the sulha gatherings now. I work as a tour guide, Sufi, new-age groups come to meet religious peacemakers. I bring them all over the country, to the Galilee, the Negev, Jerusalem. Another project I organized that morphed out of the Peacemaker Community was the Jerusalem Circle. Every Friday, activists from many different projects and organizations in the Jerusalem area gathered just to be together, to network. I know many people in many projects who don't know what each other are doing, so the idea was just to gather and sit and share some music and food. Almost inevitably some new idea came out of every meeting. A lot of what I do is as a matchmaker, to say, "You should know that person, you should get together with that person." A lot of new projects that are happening now, I'm not directly involved with, but I know I helped seed them. I asked Reb Zalman Schachter-Shlomi27 if there was any initiation, any bracha, any smicha, any hasmacha,28 any recognition in the Jewish tradition for Jewish peacemaking, Jewish peace activism, Jewish-inspired peace work-work that is not just political in nature but that integrates the very principles we study in the tradition, in an activist way. There is so much going on in the States, Michael Lerner and the Tikkun community,29 Brit Tzedek V'Shalom,30 and a lot of rabbis are doing great work. There's Rabbis for Human Rights here, but that's more like human rights work. What about peace work, bridge building work? So Reb Zalman Schachter-Shlomi developed a new initiation called "Rodef Shalom," Pursuer of Peace. I spent a day with him and he gave a personal blessing and put his hands on me like in a rabbinic ordination. He wrote up some official-looking documents in English, Hebrew and Arabic. But The powerful thing about this Rodef Shalom initiation is that Reb Zalman Schachter encouraged and empowered me to train others, so I'm actually developing a training program for Jewish peacemakers. I'm working on how to structure it - what would be the credentials, what can someone in North America do, would it be activism related to Israel, or would it be a Jewish person doing any tikkun olam31 work anywhere in the world? When I talked to Reb Zalman, right away he said they should have to study Arabic and spend some time working in a conflict region. Those were the first things he said, automatically. So that is sort of a personal thing I do in addition to other ongoing projects.

    • 1. The end of the first intifada (1987-1993) with the signing of the Oslo Accords in September of 1993 paved the way for Yasser Arafat to return to the Gaza Strip in July of 1994 followed by many of the upper echelon members of the PLO after 27 years of operating in exile in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. See Derek Brown and Cherif Cordahi. "Arafat Returns to His Home," The Guardian (London), 2 July 1994, pg. 1.
    • 2. Located in Israel 50 kilometers north of the Red Sea Coast city of Eilat.
    • 3. The Palestinian-Israeli Environmental Secretariat is non-governmental, non-profit organization that promotes joint environmental projects. It was founded in 1997 as a project of the Palestine Council on Health and the Israel Economic Cooperation Forum. See Michael J. Zwirn. "Promise and Failure: Environmental NGOs and Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation," Middle East Review of International Affairs, Volume 5, no. 4, December 2001. http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2001/issue4/jv5n4a7.htm.
    • 4. The Jewish/Muslim Beit Midrash/Madrasa was initiated by the Yakar Center for Social Concern with the purpose of bringing together Jewish and Muslim scholars to discuss shared religious and spiritual practices among the two religions. For example, see the Yakar Center for Social Concern report of a 1999 Jewish/Muslim Beit Midrash/Madrasa on the practice and significance of religious fasting at http://www.yakar.org/center_for_social_concern/Re_Fasting.htm.
    • 5. According to its website, the Compassionate Listening Project is "a U.S. based non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals to heal polarization and build bridges between people, communities and nations in conflict." Leah Green is the founder and director the Compassionate Listening Project. See http://www.compassionatelistening.org/index.html.
    • 6. Nebi Musa is Arabic for the Prophet Moses. The site believed to be his tomb is located near the Jericho in the West Bank.
    • 7. Arabic for "the devil."
    • 8. Two different annual music and new-age festivals in Israel.
    • 9. An American born Israeli journalist and author, Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for the magazine The New Republic and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
    • 10. Founded by radical politician and anti-Arab militant Meir Kahane (1932-1990). It's stated goal is to protect Jewish communities from anti-semitism. Leaders in the JDL have been charged for plotting acts of terrorism, and it is widely viewed as an extremist organization. See http://www.jdl.org.
    • 11. Yossi Klein Halevi's book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, was published in 2001.
    • 12. Hebrew. Plural of hasid, meaning "pious," and follower of Hasidism, which upholds strict observation of Jewish ritual and law.
    • 13. Abdel Aziz Bukhari is a sheikh of the Nakhshbandi order of Sufis in Jerusalem.
    • 14. The traditional site of the tomb of Nebi Samuel (the Prophet Samuel) is located north of Jerusalem and is a holy place for both Jews and Muslims.
    • 15. Arabic, meaning "way," tarika refers to the "special way" or spiritual path of Sufis (Islamic mystics).
    • 16. A Jewish and Muslim Sufi group in which participants study Jewish and Islamic texts.
    • 17. Founder and director of Midreshet Iyun, a center for adult Jewish learning and spirituality, in Tel Aviv. Midreshet Iyun is affiliated with the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, which like Reform and Orthodox Judaism, is a denominational affiliation within Judaism.
    • 18. Avaraham Elqayam is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jewish and General Philosophy at Bar-Ilan University.
    • 19. Hebrew and Arabic for "Oasis of Peace." A "village in Israel established jointly by Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship and engaged in educational work for peace, equality and understanding between the two peoples." See http://www.nswas.com/.
    • 20. Arabic meaning "remembrance," the term refers to the Sufi practice of repeating the names of Allah or other religious sentences such as, "There is no god but God."
    • 21. A French born Israeli rabbi involved in various inter-faith projects working toward Middle East peace. He serves on the board of the Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA), an organization "dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study." See http://www.interfaith-encounter.org/.
    • 22. According to its website, Peacemaker Community is "a global civil society consisting of individuals and organizations from different cultures, religions, and societies acting in the areas of social and economic justice, conflict resolution, AIDS-related health care, education, and the environment." See http://www.peacemakercircle.org/. For a history of Peacemaker Community's activities in the Middle East see http://www.peacemakercircle.org/middle_east/me-history.htm.
    • 23. Established in Oswiecim, Poland, by the Nazis in 1940. Initially imprisoned Poles, Soviet POWs, Gypsies and prisoners from other countries, it later became "the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, which was committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler's plan for the complete destruction of that people." Most Jewish men, women and children sent to the camp were killed upon arrival in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers. See the Auschwitz Museum online http://www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl/html/eng/start/index.php
    • 24. Founder and director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. According to its website, the Shalom Hartman Institute "train[s] educators, scholars, rabbis and community leaders to re-examine the [Jewish] tradition in light of Jewish sovereign power in Israel and unprecedented Jewish achievement in the Diaspora, both of which put our values and assumptions to the test in a manner unforeseen by previous generations of Jewish thinkers." See http://www.hartmaninstitute.com/.
    • 25. One of the founding directors of the Sulha Peace Project, a peace project aimed at building trust between Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews. See http://sulha.com
    • 26. McLean is referring to the Sulha Way gathering August 17-19 2004 outside the Israeli city Binyamina, which an estimated 4000 people attended. See http://www.metasulha.org/sulha/Past_Sulha.htm.
    • 27. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shlomi is an author, rabbi, and one of the leaders of the Jewish Renewal movement.
    • 28. Hebrew words for "blessing." "rabbinic ordination." and "recognition."
    • 29. Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of Tikkun magazine. See http://www.tikkun.org
    • 30. Hebrew for the "Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace." A US-based organization, according to its website, of "American Jews deeply committed to Israel's well-being through the achievement of a negotiated settlement to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict." See http://www.btvshalom.org/.
    • 31. Hebrew for "repairing the world." It is a religious term associated with acts of justice and kindness to make the world a better place.

  • For someone who doesn't know anything at all about this conflict, why do you think what you're doing is important?

    I like the way Rabbi Menachem Fruman from Tekoa puts it. He often says, "I am a proud primitive." The problem is that the negotiations that happen in Washington or in Europe are between English-speaking academic Palestinians and English-speaking academic Israelis. They don't incorporate any of the people-to-people approach, the grassroots elements. They leave out the religious and spiritual dimension, which is often missing from statecraft. We're trying to reclaim the indigenous tools of Middle Eastern peace wisdom - the sulha, text study - tools found within Islam and Judaism in particular, but of course also in Christianity and in all the traditions here. Spirituality deals with the trans-rational level, the non-rational world, with spiritual ideals. Sometimes if you try to approach this conflict only from a rational point of view, you don't get anywhere; it's almost like deadlock. I'm trying to approach the chaos and the conflict that seem to be completely unsolvable by getting out of the box of the usual ways of trying to approach this conflict-both in peace activism and in the official governmental level peace talks. I'm trying to bring in this other dimension. This is the Holy Land, and it's not the Holy Land for nothing. If you try to approach people - the simple Palestinians on the street, the vendors, falafel stand owners, taxi drivers, bus drivers - many of them, on both sides, if you try to approach things purely from a political, rational level, you won't get anywhere. But if you bring in the spiritual dimension, I find that sometimes you can make bridges in amazing ways. You can have a settler rabbi and a Hamas sheikh working together for peace, because they're speaking a common spiritual language even though they're coming from diametrically opposed political points of view. I like to say that spirituality is trying to find the underlying place of unity between contradictory opposites, places where there might be a resonance and a commonality between two opposing sides, even settler and angry Palestinian, or Left wing and Right wing. It's almost like in this world, things are divided, but the place from which everyone originates, the ultimate place, is a place of unity. So the idea is to remind people that our source is the same source. I like to honor people's devotion. People who are passionate about the Land of Israel, passionate about the Land of Palestine, might say, "Our passions clash." I say, "What unites you is that you are both so passionate and devoted to this land." It might have different terms, but if we can redirect that energy from an exclusive worldview to an inclusive one, then we can direct people's passion and maybe find a place of meeting and coming together.

  • What are the obstacles to, in your words, "finding a place of meeting" between people?

    Both societies are committing violence-Israel sending in missiles to kill Hamas leaders and Hamas sending in bombers. Ibrahim Abu El Hawal1 from the Mount of Olives,2 with whom I also work, says, "God chose two of the most stubborn people in the world, the Arabs and the Jews, to live in this land." We both refuse to budge. We are two deeply wounded peoples sharing this land. We act out of wounded-ness and fear, not what's really in our best interest, and in fact we make the wounds deeper. We Israelis are traumatized by our history, the Shoah,3 the Holocaust. Palestinians have been displaced and traumatized. You can't talk rationality to someone who's traumatized. I think it's a huge obstacle, the collective national traumas that we are both oozing, and it's perpetuating the way we behave. The key is how to break that cycle. I think we're all looking for how to break that cycle. It's frustrating for all of us who are working for peace. Sometimes it feels like we are watching all of our efforts go for naught.

    • 1. A peace activist in Jerusalem. See http://www.jerusalempeacemakers.org/ibrahim/ibrahim.html.
    • 2. Located beside the Old City of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives contains several churches, a mosque, and a Jewish cemetery and is considered an important place in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. For Christians and Muslims, it is considered the place where Jesus ascended to heaven. For Jews, tradition holds that after Messiah arrives, those buried on the Mount of Olives will be awakened first.
    • 3. Hebrew for "catastrophe." It is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

  • What makes you feel doubtful?

    On the leadership level, things don't seem to be improving. A lot of times when I give talks I say there are so many great things happening on the ground. People ask, "But how are you changing the leadership?" Sometimes it feels like nothing is really getting through to them, they're only making things worse. And at the same time, we're the ones who elect them!

  • One thing I have learned in this work

    One thing I have learned in this work, and this is something that I call having a spiritual perspective, is to let go of attachment to results. Just to do the work because it's the right thing to do, even if things are a thousand times worse than they are today, and not to be attached to what happens. It's hard not to be attached, is it not? Just to let go of attachment, of the idea that my work is going to result in X.

  • You just said one of your goals is not to be attached to goals, but have you seen small successes along the way?

    Yeah, absolutely. It's those little successes that actually keep me going. Maybe I'm talking about letting go of attachment to the bigger change. Definitely as humans, we need something to give us hope. The peace vigil we held for 3 1/2 years every week was a success, holding a gathering in downtown Baghdad1 was a huge success, as was sitting with Rabbi Fruman and the Hamas sheikh in Hebron who is now working for peace. This Hamas sheikh had a huge opening of the heart through the love of this rabbi, and now he's working day and night for understanding.

    • 1. At the time of the interview, McLean had recently returned from an interfaith gathering in Baghdad.

  • Do you ever get discouraged?

    Absolutely. Who doesn't, doing this work? I think yesterday was actually one of the most discouraging days. I was so optimistic after this amazing Baghdad meeting. There's an Arab tribal leader whom I meet in Amman who told me about the assassination, and we had established such a rapport, and my heart just sank. Responding with love, harmony, bridge building, has to be the answer, just to keep plugging away. Sometimes I think maybe in our generation there won't be peace. But it may be that in two or three generations, when "the great peace" breaks out, they will look back at our work - the projects of people you are interviewing, the projects I'm doing, the radio station,1 Givat Haviva and all these other places - and say it's because even in the times of darkness and chaos they held the flame of light, that today we have peace.

    • 1. McLean is referring to All For Peace Radio, the first station broadcasting in Arabic and Hebrew with a joint Israeli and Palestinian staff. See http://www.allforpeace.org. See also Just Vision's interview with All For Peace Hebrew language host Orly Noy.

  • Have you faced criticism about your work?

    I was actually investigated by the Israeli undercover police when I was doing the Gaza project. As they were about to leave and they were assured that everything was okay, I said, "You're welcome to come to our workshops in Gaza. We need people like you in our workshops. They said, "If we go in we'll never make it out alive." They were standing up putting their jackets on, getting ready to leave, and I jumped out and shouted "Gaza!" at them, and they said, "Ahh!!" I got them. They were literally scared witless. I got them back. Sometimes right here in my neighborhood I get hassled by my own circle of friends. I have friends in different circles. I have a lot of religious, Zionist Ba'al Tshuva1 friends, I know a lot of West Bank settlers, Hebron hilltop youth2 types, students at Bat Ayin Yeshiva3 in the West Bank. When I go abroad I hear a lot of right-wing, cynical, antagonistic voices. It's hard for them to dismiss me because I'm religious, shomer Shabbat,4 and living in Jerusalem. What more credentials do you need than that? I also find that a lot of the radical West Bank young people, the hilltop youth, have an appreciation for the radicalism. What I'm doing is in a sense so radical, that they almost respect the fact that I'm doing this work, even if they disagree. I have one friend though who often says, "You're a tool of the Arabs, you're just naive, you're being used to promote their propaganda," that kind of thing. My work is not politically oriented, does not promote a specific political agenda, even though I have my own personal beliefs that would probably be considered more to the Left. People always ask me if I'm right-wing or left-wing and I always say, "It takes two wings to fly." I hang out with settlers and spend Shabbat in the settlements, and I hang out with Palestinians and work for peace and understanding with Palestinians. Across the spectrum there's no black and white; reality is much more complex, much more diverse, much more interesting. Tich Nhat Hanh5 says, "I am the pirate and I am the rapist and I am the raped. I am the criminal and I am the police..." I really try to hold the whole picture, and that includes the experience of the hilltop youth and the right-wing settlers, and the experience of the disenfranchised refugee and the Palestinian who supports Hamas. That seems like an almost impossible place to be politically - where does that leave you? But I think that's where my spiritual roots come in, to somehow be able to hold all of that and then to organize meetings, events, projects that somehow connect to that. The sulha has a flavor of that, bringing in people from different sides.

    • 1. The term Ba'al T'shuva refers to a Jew who takes on a lifestyle of observant Judaism after previously being non-observant.
    • 2. The term "hilltop youth" refers to the group of young Jewish militant settlers living in illegal settlement outposts who have been known to confront and battle Israeli police assigned to dismantle illegal outposts and at times Palestinians. See Michael Blum. "Widow of Hardline Jewish Settler in Standoff With Police over Body, Agence France Presse (English), 19 Jan 2003.
    • 3. Bat Ayin Yeshiva, a school for Jewish religious study, is located in the Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement south of Jerusalem and next to Bethlehem.
    • 4. Shomer Shabbat refers to a person who observes the Jewish Sabbath. Based on one's observance, abstention from work is a matter of interpretation but includes such practices as abstaining from driving, spending money, and writing.
    • 5. A Vietnamese born Buddhist monk and world-renown advocate for peace and human rights.

  • What are you trying to achieve through your relationships with people who hold extreme ideologies, such as settler hilltop youths?

    What can I gain with them? It's a good question, and I always ask myself that. I have a heart connection with some of these people. I guess I hope that by knowing me it's not so easy for them to dismiss the humanity in Palestinians. I guess I'm as radical as they are, from a certain perspective. They sometimes ask me questions that they wouldn't ask a left-wing protester. I don't know if knowing me and what I do softens their political views, but it does mean they can't just dismiss all Arabs. It opens up their worldview a little. Ultimately they say, "Well, we respect Eliyahu, and he respects the Arabs, so they can't be all bad." You know, I never asked them how knowing me affects their opinions about Arabs.

  • How far are you willing to push people, in the sense of trying to get them to hear each other's perspectives?

    Well, sometimes if dialogue can't work - sometimes I find that straight, face to face dialogue about politics can't work - we can sing together, pray together, dance together, or something like that. Sometimes doing something in a third way, bringing people together, like when Rabbi Menachem Fruman's son was married 6 months ago, a sheikh came to the wedding and the sheikh got up and gave a blessing in Arabic and danced with hundreds of West Bank yeshiva settler students of the rabbi. That, to me, should be front-page news. What do you think that accomplishes? I think it helps humanize the other, and it helps break down stereotypes. Here's a Muslim sheikh willing to come to our wedding, here are settlers willing to welcome me. It helps to break down stereotypes and boundaries and shows that in reality on the ground there's much more interaction. We think there's only conflict. Those are the explosive events that happen, but on the everyday level there is so much interaction even between, for example, the "militant right-wing" and "angry Palestinians." I think that if we could start to expose that more, that this is actually happening, that could help give people courage and hope to believe, well, this is how it should be. It already is on a small scale; let's make this happen on a wider scale.e. It already is on a small scale; let's make this happen on a wider scale.

  • Could you talk about some of the mistakes you have made - things you would have done differently?

    Not building in more retreats and time-outs into my work is a mistake. I'm so much needed on the ground to make sure things follow through, I should have found more ways to share the burden and share the wealth. I also wish there were a way I could encourage other activists to let go of their egos a little bit and cooperate more with other projects. There are turf issues - we're all competing for the same funders, so why not cooperate more? There's this idea people have that "my way of doing peace work is the best way to go." That really pushes my buttons and I find it really weakens the whole cause.

  • Please tell me more about the peacemakers program you are setting up.

    The idea is still being developed. We are exploring the idea of setting up a masters program with Mark Gopin at George Mason University, which would include a three month practicum here in Israel in which participants would work on setting up events such as the Sulha. Right now it's specifically designed for Jews. Maybe later it will have an interfaith component. It is designed for activists who want to ground their work in Judaism.

  • Is it designed specifically for people who want to work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    There are two components: intra-faith, tensions within the Jewish community, namely the Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and interfaith, Jewish and Muslim. It will have a component of working in Israel, but people from Australia, the US and England have approached me wanting to participate. There are Jews and Muslims in all those places. They won't necessarily be working directly in this conflict, but anywhere in the world the Israel issue enters into the relationship between different groups, be they Jews and Muslims, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, or radical Leftists and Rightists.