Ex-area peace activist spreads vision following Mideast stint

Eliyahu McLean is building bridges in Israel — between Jews and Muslims and Christians.

And the 30-year-old Mideast peace activist is more optimistic than ever before.

"I have seen a lot of transformation, hearts opening and hopes for the future with the recent change in Israeli government," said McLean, a former student of Mideast studies at U.C. Berkeley.

McLean will return to campus Tuesday for a presentation at U.C. Berkeley Hillel.

On Wednesday of last week, he met with members of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group in San Mateo, giving a presentation on projects he has undertaken in Israel.

McLean, whose father is Christian and mother Jewish, has spent the last two years in the Middle East. He began as a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic Intern for Peace and now has been working through the Israel Interfaith Association.

His first assignment took him to Tamra, a Palestinian village where he organized a project involving 10th-grade students from 10 villages. Attempting to learn about each other's cultures, they'd meet at various centers in the western Galilee.

"The students learned to trust each other and understand their differences," he said. After three months, 100 teenagers created a tiled "peace wall."

Next, McLean helped facilitate a dialogue group between Palestinians and Jews in Nablus. The group, known as The Transformation of Suffering, is now 3 years old. "Participants relate their inner pain and suffering," he said. "They break out into groups where they share stories about common strife."

Hearing about the success of this model, Ben Abu Said, chair of the Peace and Friendship group in Gaza City, wanted to set up a similar project, so McLean became the coordinator of that group.

Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers sat side by side at the dialogue workshops, McLean said. "There were many healing experiences connecting these different people."

McLean was also encouraged by a Gaza beach cleanup project last December, involving students from Jordan, Egypt and U.C. Santa Cruz. Young Palestinian police officers directed the work. At a two-hour dialogue following the cleanup, "I saw [them] feel intimate and transformed being with Jews," McLean said.

After returning to Jerusalem, McLean became director of Jewish-Muslim Beit Midrash.

"My job has been to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk about their common life experiences of birth, marriage and death." He also brought Jewish and Muslim religious high school teachers together to study text.

Last spring, McLean organized a cleanup of the Muslim cemetery on Mount Zion that involved Jews and Muslims.

The group labored to remove water heaters, refrigerators and large accumulations of trash dumped in the cemetery over many years. "Deep under the trash we found a sign with the word HaShem," McLean recalled, using a Hebrew name for God. "We feel the Divine was with us that day."

In addition, McLean has been working on the Jerusalem religious peace agreement draft with Saifi Sheik of the Dome of the Rock and Rabbi Menachem Fruman.

Currently, he serves as coordinator and facilitator of Abrahamic Forum, a dialogue between religious groups of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The forum meets at different sites in Gaza and Israel.

Upcoming projects include home visits, Jewish-Muslim women's study groups and spirituality study sessions.

McClean said he was first attracted to Judaism at age 12, after attending a friend's bar mitzvah. He went on to have his own bar mitzvah, when his maternal grandfather gave him the name Eliyahu.

Of his peace work, McLean said, "Through dialogue we have tried to influence the greater community. We want to build relationships over time and sustain contact based on trust. Then we can work and build together a common future."

Eliyahu McLean will speak 7 p.m. Tuesday at U.C. Berkeley Hillel, 2736 Bancroft Way. To confirm, call (510) 845-7793.

Information on the Israel Interfaith Association: Eliyahu McLean, P.O. Box 31894, Jerusalem, Israel 91316 or send e-mail to [email protected]