By Anthony Bartaway for The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development
On October 20th, 2013, a group of 44 Jordanian, Israeli, Palestinian, and American students from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies attended an interfaith panel discussion on faith, ecology, and the Holy Land. The event was part of the Arava Institute’s Peace-Building & Environmental Leadership Seminar, a program dedicated to building bridges between different groups by focusing on environmental issues. The three panelists were Yasmin Barhum, landscape architect and facilitator at ‘Living in the Levant’, which aims to present Islam and the Arab population of Israel to non-Muslims through tours in the village of Ein Rafa and visits at the local mosque; Dr. Håkan Bengtsson, director of the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem; and Rabbi Yonatan Neril, director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD). Liel Maghen of ICSD, and an alum of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, moderated the panel. The event took place on Mt. Zion at the Jerusalem Inter Cultural Center.
The panelists responded to questions about the role faith can play in environmental action and coexistence. Questions posed by the moderator included, “What do you see as the role of interfaith cooperation in promoting environmental solutions?” and “What do you see as the role of environmental issues in promoting interfaith cooperation?” The participants also asked a range of questions, including “What role does politics play in your work?” and “Do you encounter opposition to your work from members of your own faith community who do not share your views about the environment or interfaith outreach?”
According to its website, “The Peace-Building & Environmental Leadership Seminar builds on the conviction that the social and political relationships within and between groups in the region have a significant influence on environmental practices, public policies, and grassroots environmental activism.” Within the seminar, they aim to “create a microcosm of the region, building the tools and understanding necessary to foster justice, peace, and environmental sustainability in the broader society.” Including ICSD staff and guests, about 55 people attended the panel discussion: Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The event showed the promise and possibility of people of different nationalities, faiths, and ethnicities coming together to discuss and plan for a sustainable and shared future in the region.