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Sept. 11 Commemoration in Israel Unites a Few Arab and Jewish Youth

For a few people in Israel on at least one night, terrorist violence brought Arabs and Jews together.

Just two days after a deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem, a group of Jews and Arabs gathered at the city’s Bible Lands Museum on the two-year anniversary of Sept. 11.

“We are gathered in memory of the victims of Sept. 11 and violence everywhere,” said Abdel Rahman and Lisi Rosenberg, the final speakers at the Interreligious Convocation of Remembrance and Hope.

Yet even this gathering was marred by recent violence.

Rahman and Rosenberg were supposed to be accompanied by Gassan Kattoua for the program’s concluding remarks, but Kattoua was attending the funeral of a friend’s son, who was killed in the Caf Hillel bombing on Tuesday.

Kattoua had prepared the Arabic translation of the evening’s Hebrew and English presentations, which Rahman and Rosenberg presented to the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, who attended the ceremony.

“We are gathered here to remember individuals lost, to celebrate their lives and the impact they had on loved ones and friends, and to mourn their untimely deaths,” Kurtzer said.

Slightly more than 100 people turned out for the event.

Rev. Aris Shirvanian, director of ecumenical and foreign relations at the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, was one of those who turned out for the ceremony. He said he believes it is important for Israel to hold a ceremony to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Yesterday the tragedy happened in America, today in Israel and tomorrow it can be anywhere,” he said. Arabs and Jews should join in promoting messages of peace and unity, he said.

The evening included the lighting of a memorial candle, the singing of the Israeli peace song “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” speeches and musical performances.

Among the performers were graduates of the Face to Face/Faith to Faith project, which brings together youth from around the world who live in conflict zones.

“The Face to Face/Faith to Faith program was my first opportunity to meet with Israeli Jews,” said Zuhanna Khatab, a Palestinian teenager from the Beit Safafa School in Jerusalem. “I learned to trust myself,” she said of the experience, “and I learned to trust others.” Without either, conflict resolution is impossible, she said.

The fact that the program takes place in New York, several program graduates said, made them feel much more connected to the fate of Americans on Sept. 11.

Far fewer Israelis turned out for this year’s Sept. 11 ceremony compared with last year’s, which attracted several hundred people.

Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, said few had turned out at this year’s commemoration “because of the atmosphere right now, because it’s right after two suicide attacks.”

Coincidentally, Kronish helped host one of Israel’s first Sept. 11 memorials the day the twin towers in New York fell. Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon hours before Kurtzer was schedule to speak at one of the Interreligious Council’s evenings of reflection. That event turned into an impromptu evening of mourning.

Melodye Feldman, co-director of Face to Face/Faith to Faith, said programs like the one in Israel this Sept. 11 are important because they provide an opportunity for potential antagonists to meet.

“People wouldn’t fly planes into a building if they felt a connection with the people in that building,” she said.

Ten years ago this month, Israelis and Jews around the world watched the famous handshake on the White House lawn with a sense of history in the making. A decade later, Israel is convulsed by violence and terrorism — but some believe the “road map” peace plan may present a way out. The following Op-Eds were commissioned in an effort to educate our readers about the wide range of views about Oslo and its aftermath. The opinions in this package do not necessarily represent the views of JTA.

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