Political ploy wont solve Mideast crisis, panelists say

What happens when you put a Palestinian, an Israeli and a rabbi on a panel to discuss human rights in the Middle East?

Fireworks? Accusations? Finger pointing and name-calling?

Maybe in some places, but not in Berkeley.

In Berkeley, the lion and the lamb lie together and talk about reconciliation, love and opening their hearts.

In Berkeley, audience members do the berating, finger-pointing and accusing.

As they say at the city's annual parade, "How Berkeley can you be?"

That proposition was tested at a panel discussion Sunday, titled "Israel/Palestine: Human Rights and Reconciliation."

The presentation, which drew about 100 people to U.C. Berkeley Boalt Hall College of Law, was the opener for a two-day symposium, "Theologies of Forgiveness and the Politics of Reconciliation: An International Colloquium on Human Rights."

"The language of forgiveness and reconciliation is a religious language," said panel moderator David Biale, director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union. "What is the balance between justice and reconciliation? What is the contribution human rights can make to the process?"

Remorse, mutual respect of human rights and reconciliation are integral to peace in the Middle East, said panelists Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and a Renewal rabbi; Menachem Hofnung of B'Tzelem of Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; and Bassem Eid of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Organization.

The three agreed that a solely political approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict would not succeed. It was essential that the underlying emotions be addressed.

Lerner, a veteran of the anti-war movement, wore a yarmulke under his cowboy hat. He talked about transforming the heart and viewing one another as created in the image of God.

In between he promoted Tikkun, referring to past and upcoming articles, distributing free copies of the magazine and handing out subscription forms.

"A political solution can unravel very quickly if not approached from reconciliation," said Lerner, pointing to the troubled aftermath of the Oslo agreement. "It did not address reconciliation. It did not change [anyone's] way of thinking. Rabin realized too late that [it was necessary to] create a new consciousness."

Hofnung, a former combat officer in Israel and in the territories, admitted he did things he is not proud of and that he considered not serving in the military.

"If human rights are respected on both sides, then the road for reconciliation is much easier to achieve," said Hofnung adding the Israeli perspective to the equation. "The population sees danger to the state and to the state's existence."

Hofnung suggested ways to educate and raise the consciousness of Israelis such as documenting human rights violations, spreading information, bringing cases to litigation and working through the system to advocate legal and policy changes.

Opening on a humorous note, Eid said, "I owe my career to the great number of Israeli human rights violations."

But he switched gears as he described atrocities committed by Israelis against Palestinians.

"You would think somewhere along the way someone would break down and express remorse, but they don't," Eid said, describing the shooting of children, burying people alive up to their necks and destroying homes.

"Rabin never expressed remorse for anything he had done. Strategic peace is not a moral peace. Peace and reconciliation have to be built from the ground up."

And then the program was opened to the audience. A predominately Jewish audience in Berkeley could not resist the call of an open mike to forge ahead with its own agenda.

The first person to take the floor went on at length, ending by criticizing the speakers for not doing what they condemn others for: taking responsibility for their own remorse, guilt, responsibility.

Then came an accusation of sexism. There were no women on the panel and the women's perspective was not presented. This comment was greeted with applause.

Next came ageism. No youth movements were mentioned and no youths were in attendance. This drew more applause.

Last but not least, the media was attacked for only reporting the bombings and not the positive things that happen.

But at 3 p.m., politics gave way to the Super Bowl. The room emptied quickly. Kick-off was only 24 minutes away.

The program was sponsored by the Graduate Theological Union, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Center for Human Rights and Institute for International Studies at U.C. Berkeley, and Lehrhaus Judaica, with a grant from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.