DALIAT AL-CARMEL, Israel, June 3 (JTA) — Away from the big city tumult, residents in this quiet Druse village on Mt. Carmel in the Galilee are enjoying a dose of stardust. Richard Gere, a movie star and a gentleman — not to mention a political activist — dropped in for a visit and told a select group of Jews, Arabs and Druse that perhaps religious leaders should take the reins of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Gere came to Israel at the invitation of his friend Bernie Glassman, an aeronautical engineer and mathematician who has become a Zen Buddhist. Glassman is founder of the Peacemaker Circle, a global, multifaith network combining spiritual practice and social action. Gere’s “emotional explorations” have taken him from Zen to Tibetan Buddhism, which brought him close to the Dalai Lama and have made him a prominent voice in the United States for the Tibetan freedom movement. Perhaps, Glassman and Gere thought, they might harness their spiritual resources to resolve the seemingly endless conflict between the Holy Land’s warring parties. On Monday, the two came to the residence of veteran Druse peace activist Sheik Ali Birani to talk peace — or rather, to listen to a seemingly endless barrage of peaceful messages. Gere spent most of the meeting listening politely, then admitted that it was still not quite clear to him how he could contribute to “positive solutions.” However, the hosts treated Gere as if it were only a matter of convincing him for peace to break out. Birani invited a number of influential friends, including Israel’s former absorption minister, Yuli Tamir; Dan Pattir, executive vice president of the Abraham Foundation; Rabbi Yitzhak Bar-Deah, chief rabbi of Ramat-Gan; and Sheik Abdul Salam Manasra, head of a Sufi Muslim sect that believes in separating religion and politics. All agreed that it’s crucial to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The problem is that none of them has the answer for how to do it. Bar-Deah suggested that the problem of Jerusalem should be resolved by religious leaders who could work out a formula satisfying the aspirations of all religions, and Gere quickly praised the idea. He, too, shares the feeling that the most effective way to achieve peace is “through meetings like this one” and political dialogues among religious leaders, “in the spirit of the Dalai Lama.” Everyone nodded in agreement — then rushed to stand in line for a group photo with Gere, who had to inform his fans that there would be only “one more, absolutely final photo until the end of the day”— which, alas, was followed by another photo, and yet another and another. Gere was the second mega-star to visit Israel in a week. Singer Whitney Houston came last week “on a spiritual visit” as a guest of the Black Hebrews in Dimona and resolved to come back in the fall to film a Christmas special. The visits coincided with dramatic developments in the peace process — Israel’s acceptance of the “road map” peace plan and the preparations for Wednesday’s summit meeting in Aqaba, Jordan. Though few Israelis took the visits as the light at the end of the intifada tunnel, certainly it was a refreshing change from the time when celebrities struck Israel off their itineraries, either for security reasons or to make a political point. Indeed, Prince Assiel, a representative of the Black Hebrews in the United States, said Houston came to “promote tourism to Israel.” But both stars were careful not to make any binding political statements. Of course, the problem with such visits is the partial image the visitor gets. One could get the impression from the visit in Daliat al-Carmel that all Jews and Arabs are devoted to peace, and only a handful of political leaders are blocking their way. “All the people here are involved in action for peace between Jews and Arabs in Israel,” Tamir told Gere, “but we are also working hard on dialogues with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” For a moment, Gere threw Tamir off balance when he asked whether she trusted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s commitment to peace. Tamir, one of the founders of Peace Now and a strong critic of Sharon, did not want to belittle the Israeli leader before an international celebrity. She merely warned that the peace process still faces plenty of obstacles and urged Gere to help build stronger support for the Israeli left within the American political community. “American support for the Israeli left has eroded in recent years,” she complained.” Gere made no promises. In contrast, Hassan Amer, from the Arab village of Kafr Kassem, told Gere he was concerned about the poor image of Arabs in American films. “Don’t always portray the Muslims as the evil guys. You should stress our role as human beings,” he said. Reluctant to speak on behalf of the entire movie industry, Gere assured Amer that he had neither starred in such movies nor even watched them. Gere insisted on refraining from political statements, but ended the meeting with an optimistic tone: “I know from physics that out of a total mess of conflicting powers, something positive can come out. I believe this could be the case here.” During his two day-visit, Gere met twice with a selected group of Israeli businessmen and was scheduled to meet Tuesday in Ramallah with representatives of the Palestinian film and theater industry. He expressed interest in meeting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but Abbas had more pressing business — preparing for summit meetings with Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, and then with Sharon and President Bush in Aqaba.
Israelis get pinch of stardust