Ziad Asali
2325 Rayburn Building
The Middle East Coexistence Conference
February 12, 2004 - 1:00am

The Holy Land, a tiny sliver of the landmass of this earth, has generated emotions of unbridled intensity. It offered sublime guidance to mankind and made unparalleled contributions to the best in civilizations and cultures while at the same time releasing wayward passions that bred violence, death and destruction. It appealed to the most noble of instincts as it did to the most base and banal corners of people's souls.

It has been an open wound whose healing has defied the wisdom of the best minds for a century or more.

The conflict has shifted over the past few years, from one between Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, or Muslims and Christians to that between people of all of these backgrounds who seek peace and dignity and those of the same backgrounds who think that compromise is betrayal; between those who focus on the future of their children and those who dwell on the memories of their forefathers; and between those who are driven by a sense of a monopoly on victimization and those who seek solutions in this life on this earth. It is this conflict that must be won so that present and future generations may live in peace and with equity.

Politicians are trapped in representing the conflicting parties as they appeal to their fears. However statesmen soar above the fears to chart out courses for a bright future that heals wounds. It is a sad fact of the Middle East of today that its extremists have killed, literally killed, its statesmen. Those of us who are genuinely interested in peace wait not for Godot, but for real men and women who will pick up the mantle.

And as we wait, we look around and see human beings, real men and women in the highest sense of the word, toiling across religious, ethnic, tribal primordial divides not to seek the limelight or power but to build the bricks and mortars of peace. These brave people have refused to be identified solely by their birth as bearers of an absolute conflict that can be resolved absolutely by total victory or total defeat. They are human beings who believe that equality of humankind transcends their allegiance to their own kind. They express these beliefs not in words but in deeds. And at a time of a raging conflict, with raw emotions, sanctioned violence and tribal ascendancy, these brave people are not just risking the ridicule and censure of their communities; they are indeed risking their lives. Those who blur the margins of the conflict in this struggle stand in sharp contrast to, indeed they stand in the way of, those who want to sharpen it and escalate it. They put themselves at risk of being removed.

You have among you today representatives of groups and organizations that have worked without seeking the limelight in these most contentious of times, to build bridges, to plant seeds of peace, and to establish institutions that will outlast the lives of their founders. They have worked in the fields of education, culture, sports, entertainment, religion, health, the environment, community life, and shared grief to establish human links amongst born adversaries. They touched the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people and they deserve something more than praise. They proved Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis could work productively together with mutual respect.

At a time when our country is seeking to lay down the grounds for democracy in the Middle East, it is imperative to understand the need for peace and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of people of the Middle East. The Palestine/Israel issue is crying out for a solution by politicians worthy of the title of statesmen. The lives of ordinary human beings touched by a kind and helpful hand, soothed by a genuine offer of reconciliation from a supposed adversary, are the most solid foundation for a genuine peace.

Peace is the best investment. Its dividends are not earned just in dollars, although that is substantial, but also in lives of human beings. Indeed in life itself.

At a time of great concern about public spending and a rising national debt, it is understandable that the Congress is diligent in watching the budget. As it casts away pork barrels it should embrace a lean, healthy and cholesterol-free programs that contribute to life, health and true peace. It is with this understanding that I recommend support for these organizations.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017