HCEF's 14th International Conference, titled "Continuing Our Commitment to Peace, Prosperity, and Dialogue," was convened on Friday and Saturday, November 9 and 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. In introducing the conference, Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President/CEO explained that "continuing our commitment to peace, prosperity, and dialogue is what HCEF has been doing for years. It is what HCEF is all about. Peace, prosperity, and dialogue are what we all want to take place in Palestine and the Holy Land."
Friday's panels of the 3rd Business, Investments & ICT Conference focused on how "Doing Business in Palestine is Investing in Peace." It addressed the current state of the Palestinian economy and workforce as well as a multitude of business and investment opportunities in Palestine. Among the issues discussed were banking services (e.g., financing and loans) and Palestine stock market, ICT and Call Centers, and hospitality and tourism.
The introduction was given by Dr. Jad Daniels, Partner & Vice President of the IBM Global Business Service, and Christine Hill, HCEF Board of Directors and Business Coordinator and Vice President of Service Elements. Speakers also included Hashim Shawa, Board Chair and General Manager, Bank of Palestine; Hassan Qasem, Chair, Palestinian IT Association; Ghassan Anabtawi, CEO/General Manager, REACH/Paltel Group; Eng. Amal Masri-AlMoghrabi, Chair, Business Women Forum in Palestine; and Sami Abu-Dayyeh, Chair, The Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association and President/CEO of Netours Co.
The 3rd Business, Investment & ICT Conference was followed by the HCEF Annual Awards Banquet. Dr. Asad Abdul Rahman, Member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and Executive Chairman and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Palestine International Institute, gave the keynote address. While he expressed his admiration for the United States and their principles, he questioned the American policies as they relate to the Middle East and Palestine. He asked for better understanding of the plight of the Palestinians and balance in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The awards and their recipients were:
Path of Peace Award
given to Rev. Canon & Dr. Trond Bakkevig, Convener, Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land and Dean of Vestre Aker Oslo-Church of Norway. (Top Left)
- HCEF President's Award
given to Jim Ransom, Former NPC Middle East Committee, National Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC. (Top Right)
- Living Stones Solidarity Award
given to Tom and Mary Jane Fox, Founders and Co-Directors of the Pilgrim Center of Hope in San Antonio, TX. (Bottom Left)
- HCEF Award
given to Mario Nazal Momares, Director of the Palestinian Bethlehem 2000 Foundation-Chile. Mr. Naim Nawas accepted the HCEF Award on behalf of Mr. Mario Nazal Momares. (Bottom Right)
- HCEF Palestinian Diaspora Award given to Jose' Said Saffie, President of the Palestinian Bethlehem 2000 Foundation-Chile. Mr. Hashim Shawa accepted the award on behalf of Mr. Jose' Said Saffie. (not shown)
The General Session of the 14th International Conference, held Saturday, November 10, 2012 was moderated by Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Secretary of the HCEF Board of Directors and Associate Vice President for Global Initiatives and Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University, and Dr. Hugh M. Dempsey, K.M. Ob., KHS. It addressed issues surrounding the Holy Land Christians, their role in peace, and examined the Palestinian geopolitical status under the Israeli occupation and implications and prospects for peace under President Barack Obama's 2nd term.
A panel, moderated by Rev. Dr. William Turner, KCHS, Pastor, St. Mary Parish, Chelsea, MI, and a member of the HCEF Board of Directors, discussed how religious leaders and institutions can be engaged in peace building. The panelists Rev. Dr. Canon Trond Bakkevig, Convener, Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land and Dean of Vestre Aker, Oslo-Church of Norway, Bishop Richard Graham, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Washington Metro DC Synod, and Mark Mohseni, radio show host of "Building Bridges" San Francisco, CA emphasized the essence of religion: to worship God and to respect life and the dignity of all human beings, regardless of religion, nationality, and gender. The role of religious institutions is to put those values into practice.
Rev. Trond Bakkevig, spoke of his mediating role and extensive contacts with religious leaders, including the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Bishops and Bishoprics of Jerusalem, and Muslims appointed by the President of the Palestinian Authority. His goal is to enable religious leaders to work together in order to develop trust and move them from simple dialogue to cooperative action.
Bishop Graham argued that while political leaders deal with the issues of power, politics, and territory, religious leaders can show the way by practicing interfaith dialogue and ecumenism in daily life. "By building bridges and by being more engaged with the people around them," he stated, "religious leaders and others can strengthen their faith and achieve a moral standing." Mr. Mohseni viewed himself as a peacemaker. In this current turbulent social and political environment, he said, "it is very important to educate people about the dangers of condoning extremist ideologies, hateful propaganda, and divisive policies." He stressed what is common between us, rather than what divides us. For Mohseni, Building Bridges is "a solution provider to the problems we are challenged with today around the globe."
Jeff Abood, KHS, Education Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Cleveland Section, followed with a PowerPoint presentation on who are the Christians of the Holy Land. With much empathy, he reported on their dwindling numbers, major challenges, and general aspirations. He urged those present to remain updated on and stand in solidarity with the "Living Stones."
Moderator Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Associate Vice President for Global Initiatives and Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University and Secretary, HCEF Board of Directors with panelists Ambassador (ret) Warren Clark, Executive Director of the Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), and Dr. Jad Isaac, General Director of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ) focused on the "Palestinian Geopolitical Status under the Israeli Occupation." Amb. Clark explained that it is very difficult to arrive at an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but there is hope that there can and will be progress. "No American administration, no American president, can ignore this conflict because of its enormous political ramification and enormous human suffering that it is causing. We live in 'the golden age of advocacy' and, at CMEP, we try to exploit it as best we can." The goal is "to actively promote a just, lasting, and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ensure security, human rights, and religious freedom for all peoples of the region."
Dr. Isaac gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Geopolitical Status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt). He held that "Palestinians stopped believing in what politicians are saying." He then gave a detailed analysis of the Israeli segregation plan in the oPt, and how its implementation will cause severe adversities to the lives of thousands of Palestinians who will be subjugated to the policies and control of the Israeli Army and evidently cutoff from their natural environment. In his opinion, "if Israel wants to be an apartheid state, then Palestinians must seek their civil and political rights."
Noa Baum, a Jewish storyteller, followed with her presentation on how to promote peace through the art and practice of storytelling. For Baum, storytelling is "at the heart of the human experience. It is humanity's oldest tool for influence, communication, and education." Born and raised in Jerusalem, she started a heartfelt dialogue with a Palestinian woman while living in the United States. In her performance, Baum "weaved together their memories, and their mothers' stories, to create a moving testimony that illuminates the complex and contradictory history and emotions surrounding Jerusalem, for Israelis and Palestinians alike."
HCEF President/CEO Rateb Rabie, KCHS chaired a panel on Religious Tourism, Investments, and Business Opportunities in Palestine. Panelist Sami Khoury, Tourism Consultant, "Visit Palestine," stated that Palestine is a tourism destination. It cannot be separated from Israel when it comes to tourism. The tourism industry has always been a barometer of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, major challenges are caused by the Israeli occupation. Many of the historic and religious sites are in Area C, for example, are under Israeli control. Even though a substantial number of sites are on the West Bank, the Palestinian tourism industry is marginalized and cannot compete with the Israeli tourism industry that is "highly resourced, highly funded, and highly organized."
Panelist Mary Jane Fox, Founder and Co-Director of the Pilgrim Center of Hope, San Antonio, TX, spoke passionately about these pilgrimages, calling them "journeys of faith, prayer, and acts of solidarity." Each pilgrimage is designed to put faith into action and promote social justice for the Palestinians and the other peoples of the Holy Land. Mary Jane and her husband Deacon Tom Fox, Founder and Co-Director of the Pilgrim Center of Hope have led 42 pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Panelist Sami Abu Dayyeh, Chair, The Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association and President/CEO of Netours Co, stated that "tourism contributes 15% of Palestine's GDP. The potential is great to raise it to 30% by investing heavily in infrastructure, including the building of hotels." In 1967, there were 2000 rooms; today, there are hardly 800 rooms. No hotels have been added in East Jerusalem. While not everything can be blamed on the occupation, we witness a constant flight of capital out of Jerusalem. Everyone will benefit from an enlivened tourism industry. The return on investment will be positive, and that will also help the local people.
In responding to the panel, Hashim Shawa, Bank of Palestine Board Chair and General Manager made clear that tourism is a game changer for Palestine. "It is Palestine's oil." For him, investing in the banking sector is a good entry into any market, and investing in Palestine is safe. Rabie urged conference participants to invest in Palestine. "Doing so will contribute to both prosperity and peace."
The conference culminated with a panel on the "U.S. Presidential Election Results: Implications and Prospects for Peace in the Middle East." Moderated by Saba L. Shami, Principal, Washington Works, LLC, the panel included Dr. Asad Abdul Rahman and Dr. James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute. Two main questions were asked: Would President Obama do anything different during his second term? Just because he is on his second term, does that make him less vulnerable?
Dr. Abdul Rahman argued that it is "a mistake to treat the US as a minor power." It is a superpower. Israel is regional power because of its military prowess, world Jewry, and influence in the US. He held that "President Obama has helped Israel strategically more so than anyone else." President Obama, like any American president, should have "a margin, which should not be exaggerated." If he decides to follow his own original positions or what he almost started during his first term, Abdul Rahman said, "he could make a difference but it is not going to be a major difference. There will be limitations on the US role."
For Dr. Zogby, the most pressing issue in the Middle East, historically, has been the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, it is not the case right now. Israel is emboldened, and its politics have moved to the right. Moreover, "the Obama-Netanyahu tension is real but Obama is bigger than having a feud with Netanyahu. It does not play well in Congress." The Palestinian side is dysfunctional and split into two, with each dependent on outside patrons. The Palestinian question is not on the U.S. President's agenda. Perhaps it is "on his mind, morally and intellectually, but he is reluctant to do anything about it." The Palestinian application and UN vote, if it materializes, will be vetoed by the US. It is not looking good. "The Palestinians ought not to put the U.S. in a position where they know they are going to say no." However, the U.S. has to give the Palestinians something. Meantime, the U.S. needs to restructure its aid program and focus it on "economic development projects that support private sector growth." Congress needs to be challenged. The aid has to be demand driven: "redirect the aid programs where it matters." This is a must as a complement to peace. Priorities are jobs, investments, and giving people a better future.
The topics and events of the 14th International Conference continue to educate, inspire and promote peace through faith and dialogue. Peace is born by preparing for it. The responsibility and credit for peace rest with all of us. Education for peace and dialogue are essential for disabling stereotypes, dispelling fear, and creating trust and compassion. A shared vision of peace, if supported by a strong political will and dedicated engagement by all parties concerned, can relieve society of the unknown and set the foundations for a sustainable culture of peace and for prosperity