Jews and Muslims conducted a joint prayer session for the safe return of three Israeli teenagers abducted five days ago near the site of their kidnapping south of Jerusalem Tuesday.
About two dozen Jewish residents of the Etzion bloc and rabbis arrived at the junction where officials believe the kidnappers drove after abducting the three yeshiva students.
The prayer session was organized by the Tag Meir forum, a grassroots organization created to fight Jewish nationalist vandalism targeting Palestinians. Prominent rabbis and public figures, including former Meimad minister Rabbi Michael Melchior; educator Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun from nearby Alon Shvut; and Hadassah Froman, the widow of rabbi and peace activist Menachem Froman from the settlement of Tekoa, recited psalms or spoke at the event, alongside a handful of Muslims.
“Our hearts are torn at this moment, and my heart goes out the mothers of these children,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Hawa from the Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur on the Mount of Olives, before reciting the first chapter of the Quran, the Fatiha.
“There is a wall between our two nations, and we hope to remove the wall separating the hearts of humans … we pray that God return these youngsters to their mothers as soon as possible, God willing,” he added, speaking in Arabic.
Melchior told the audience that he had spoken to Islamic clerics who expressed their concern over the fate of the youths, demanding their immediate release “without any debate or negotiation.”
“Not only are the people of Israel in distress, but they [the Palestinians] are in great distress as well. They feel that a crime has been perpetrated. All that is left to do is to pray for God’s mercy,” Melchior said.
That sentiment was expressed by Ziad Sabatin, 42, a Palestinian peace activist from the village of Husan, west of Bethlehem.
“Any person of faith should be here today,” Sabatin told The Times of Israel. “Man is holier than land.”
The Palestinians told their settler friends that they did not sleep a wink following the kidnapping ‘as though it was our own children’
For a while the only Palestinian at the gathering, Sabatin was disappointed with what he sensed as lack of Israeli empathy for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike lasting 55 days. “These people need to be taken into account too,” he said.
While Tag Meir habitually conducts demonstrations at sites of hate attacks by Jewish extremists, the group’s founder Gadi Gevaryahu said he could not stand idly by “while an entire nation is crying out.”
“For nearly three years we’ve been going from place to place where ‘price tag’ attacks were carried out, condemning hate crimes and racism,” Gevaryahu told The Times of Israel. “This is no less of a hate crime and we cannot remain silent. It’s our obligation to be here.”
Eliaz Cohen, an Israeli poet and peace activist from nearby Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, said he hoped the joint prayer session would begin a healing process for both peoples.
“I came here to surprise God, to make him happy,” Cohen said. “We [Jews and Muslims] pray to the same God, but it’s been a long time since he heard us praying together.”
On Sunday, Cohen said, Jewish and Palestinian residents of the area met at a local field which they work together as part of a cooperative project called “Shorashim/Judhur,” the Hebrew and Arabic words for roots, discussing the situation for seven hours straight.
The Palestinians told their settler friends that they did not sleep a wink following the kidnapping, “as though it was our own children.”
“For us [Jews], it’s important to get out of the trenches and look into the eyes of the other,” he said. “Departing from our own intimacy is the beginning of healing for us.”
Cohen cited the Torah portion recited in synagogues this past Saturday, where the twelve spies return to Moses after surveying the land of Israel.
“The argument isn’t whether the land is good or not, for the land is both ‘very good’ and one that devours its inhabitants,” he said. “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land,” Cohen continued, quoting from the Book of Numbers. “I say this in the name of both peoples. Something which emanates from here will sow the seeds of a new language.”