Israel Reflections 2015–Day 5: Haifa University and Sulha

Our Wednesday morning in the north of Israel started with a visit to Yardenit, a site at the base of the Sea of Galilee where it meets the Jordan River near the biblical baptism site. Then we all headed to Haifa University to meet with Professors Orna Einy, Moti Mironi, and Tali Gal–each of whom work in an area of ADR–to learn about their research. After a quick lunch with them, we then turned our attention to a wonderful guest speaker they arranged for us. In a combination of theoretical, spiritual, and academic learning, the students had the great pleasure of hearing Elias Jabbour speak about “Sulha”, or the traditional peacemaking techniques used in Arab villages throughout the Middle East.

Student Molly Madonia retells two of Mr. Jabbour’s stories and recounts his methods to making Sulha:

Mr. Jabbour began with a story about two men: “Two men came to a sheik and said they both owned a piece of land. The two men told the sheik why they each thought they owned the land and the sheik listened patiently. In the end, the sheik kneeled down and murmured to the land. When the men asked what the sheik was doing, the sheik replied that he was asking the land to whom it belonged. When the men asked what the land had said, the sheik replied, ‘She says you both belong to her.’”

Sulha is the traditional peacemaking process based on forgiveness. To make Sulha, the two parties must embrace three main principles. First, the parties must forgive each other. This is the most difficult principle. The parties must speak from their own hearts and speak to the heart of the other party. They must be open and be honest about their pain. Second, the parties must learn about peace as a way of life and prosperity. It is also important to teach children that the only peace options are “coexistence or nonexistence.” Finally, the parties must accept and respect each other.

When explaining why some people are opposed to Sulha during a time rife with violence and physical conflict, Mr. Jabbour told a second story: “Some people are confused why parents who have lost children would forgive the people who killed them. But the answer is this: They have already lost one child to the cycle of violence, they do not want to lose another.” The emphasis of Sulha is on interconnectivity of the people of Israel, not the differences.

Student Elisabeth Gard also shares her thoughts on Sulha:

While visiting Haifa University in Israel, we had the distinct honor to meet with Elias J. Jabbour who spoke with our group about Sulha, a traditional Palestinian peacemaking process. The roots of Sulha can be traced back to early Semitic writings, Christian Scriptures, and Islamic literature. This ancient peacemaking process is passed through generations and led by elders, individuals who are the leaders in the community who help broker peace. This ceremonial process is designed to address personal conflicts, such as conflicts within small communities, although its lessons could serve as guidance to create peace in any conflict.

The Sulha reconciliation tradition consists of three stages: forgiveness, shaking of hands and sharing a meal together. The first step, forgiveness, includes both admitting wrong and repenting for the wrong. During this process, the individuals are asked to talk with their hearts and make hudna, or “ceasing all ways and manners of hostilities.” The last two steps, shaking of hands and sharing a meal together, are the physical representations of the reconciliation and peace.

Mr. Jabbour was full of beautiful sayings that echoed his role as an elder and peacemaker. For instance, Mr. Jabbour stated “see the beauty of life, rather than let differences destroy us.” His wise and impactful statements, of which there were many, resonated with me for the remainder of the trip. As I continue to strive to ‘make Sulha,’ I will carry his parting words with me: “it is not the lack of solution, but the lack of will.”

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