Forgiveness: a necessary dialogue in the Middle East

"Forgiveness goes beyond the laws of justice, and can help to regain inner peace." The initiative Holy Land Dialogues, of the Holy Land, has made possible what sometimes seems impossible: a friendly dialogue between people of different religions and countries about forgiveness.

Luis Martín Lozano-June 3, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes

Holy Land Dialogues (HLD) is a journey to the Holy Land in which, in addition to the daily visits to the Holy Places - the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Tabor, the Sea of Galilee, the road to Emmaus, the Basilica of the Nativity, the Jordan River and the Cenacle, among others - a Day dedicated to deepening aspects related to the culture of dialogue is included. In addition, on different days, the HLD TalksThe program includes sessions with guests who live in the Holy Land and share their experiences and analysis of the situation in the Middle East. 

From February 23rd to March 1st, 2020, the third edition of the Holy Land Dialoguesproject, a project of the Saxum Foundation to promote knowledge of the Holy Land and dialogue and understanding between cultures. Some 200 participants from some twenty countries, including Belgium, the United States, Brazil, Ireland, Costa Rica, Mexico, Italy and Spain, joined the initiative. There was also a group of young professionals mainly from the United States and other countries in the Americas. The groups from Singapore and New Zealand were unable to travel due to the international alarm over Covid-19. The arrival of the attendees in Nazareth on the first day showed the global character and the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world in the context of the Middle East in a multicultural environment, with the presence, also, of people of different religious confessions.

Dialogue on forgiveness

The title of the conference was Forgiveness. It was held on February 26th at the Pontifical Institute of the Pontifical Notre Dame of Jerusalem. In the morning, keynote speakers were Professor Ruth Fine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Professor Mariano Crespo of the University of Navarra. The debate was moderated by Daniel Johnson, editor of TheArticle.

Linda Corbi, Secretary General of the Foundation SaxumThe President of the Foundation, Mr. Carlos Cavallé, introduced the conference, welcomed the participants and reported on the Foundation's activities. He was followed by Carlos Cavallé, president of the Social Trends InstituteThe co-sponsor of the event, pointed out that "the only objective in the Social Trends Institute is to foster understanding; if we engage in a dialogue of cultures it is because we want to achieve synergies that affect us all.".

Professor Mariano Crespo developed the logic of forgiveness: "Forgiveness goes beyond the laws of justice. It can help to regain inner peace. Forgiveness is much more than a therapeutic experience. Forgiveness contains a gift addressed to the person who is forgiven.". He went on to say that "Forgiveness implies that the being of the other is more important than the offense. The offender has a higher value that transcends the inflicted act. We acknowledge the immoral act. But in rejecting the act, we do not reject the person.".

Professor Ruth Fine spoke about how literature and storytelling can help us remember and recover from trauma. She used examples taken mainly from Don Quixote of Cervantes. He argued that, to truly learn from the past, one must forgive and at the same time preserve the memory.

"In Judaism." -said Fine. "forgiveness is a mitzvaha divine commandment. The Torah commands us: 'Do not hate your brother in your heart'. True strength is expressed by overcoming the instinct of revenge and being able to forgive.". He added that "As Jews, we are commanded to remember. Memory has a place in forgiveness. For only if we remember do we have the capacity to learn, to forgive, and to rebuild the common ground of our past.".

During the colloquium following the presentations, some of the most relevant issues associated with forgiveness emerged, such as offense, reparation, the emotional sphere, remembrance and storytelling.

After the lectures and the discussion, the participants moved to the Saxum Visitor Center where during lunch they continued to share reflections on forgiveness. Afterwards they enjoyed a tour Those who wanted to, celebrated the Ash Wednesday liturgy in the chapel. They also walked for a while at the beginning of the Emmaus Road, which starts very close to the center. SaxumIn the following days, the participants, assisted by expert guides, continued their week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Places.

Expected HLD Talks

Each night, the HLD TalksThe program is divided into two parts: short dialogue meetings, given by Jews and Arabs from different walks of life: businessmen, journalists, activists, academics, etc.

The first was given by Imad Younis, an Arab-Israeli, Christian, and president of Alpha Omegaa high-tech neurosurgery company in Nazareth. Imad cleared up the misperception, but common, that Arabs in the Holy Land are all Muslims, and spoke of how having workers from all backgrounds and religions has contributed to his company's success. "Christian Arabs have been here since the beginning, since St. Peter's first speech. Because of the media coverage, many people think 'Arab' is synonymous with 'Muslim,' but it's not." The following day, HLD participants heard from Israeli Gadi Gvaryahu, founder of the NGO Tag Meirwhose mission is to fight racism in the country. "Any political solution in the future must help us to respect one another and to know at least something of each other's history and culture."said Gvaryahu. "In other words, we have to learn to live together."

The third of the "HLD Talks" featured José Levy, CNN's Spanish-language correspondent in the Middle East. He spoke about the need for objectivity in journalism, some keys to understanding the Arab world and the historic meeting between Pope John Paul II and Fidel Castro. "I am one of those who think that religion will either build or destroy the world, a lot depends on us."said Levy. 

For his part, Henri Gourinard, of the Polis Institute of Jerusalem, spoke about the history of the Emmaus Road, which passes through Jerusalem. Saxum and ends in Emmaus-Nicopolis, which he has investigated. "My dream"said Gourinard, "is that, at the end of their journey through the Holy Land, pilgrims can walk along the route to Emmaus, take a shower and go to the airport.". Emmaus is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv airport. Hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts were very interested in this and other routes as a way of exploring the Holy Land. At the session led by Father Joaquin Paniello, chaplain of the Polis Instituteexplained some connections between the Old and New Testaments. 

The last session of the HLD Talks was led by Yisca Harani, an Israeli academic and expert on Christianity. She is currently a full professor at the Avshalom Institute for Land of Israel Studiesof the Ministry of Tourism. He recalled the different view of history held by Jews and Christians. Jews are recognized as the people of memory, and Harani pointed out that this memory is often associated with a trauma suffered over time. For this reason, the same period or historical event can produce different connotations in the collective memory of Jews and other nations.

At the end of the HLD, the participants returned to their home countries enriched by the pilgrimage to the Holy Places, the cultural encounters and having met people from all over the world.

The authorLuis Martín Lozano

Saxum Foundation.

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