The fifth annual interfaith “Tree of Life” conference on Israel and Palestine was held at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan on Thursday evening, October 23.
This year’s conference, jointly planned by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship chapter at St. Bart’s and the St. Michael’s Task Force on Israel and Palestine, addressed the ways children of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are adversely affected by war and other forms of violence. Both Palestinian and Israeli youngsters are growing up with the assumption that the world is not safe, that violence is a way of life, and that their neighbors are their enemies. Too many know the sadness of losing loved ones, homes, and villages in deadly conflicts that can cause life-long trauma.
The conference opened with welcoming remarks by the Reverend Matthew Moretz, Associate Rector at St. Bartholomew’s Church, followed by the Reverend David Good, founder and chair of the Tree of Life Educational Fund, a not-for-profit organization that provides cross-cultural and transnational travel experiences, interfaith conferences and educational opportunities, helping participants to become better informed and engaged in making this a more just and peaceful world.
Israeli, Palestinian, Armenian, and Jewish American speakers talked about the need for solidarity in the international community to champion a better and more peaceful world for all children, a subject that is often ignored by mainstream media. They stressed the importance of supporting those Israelis and Palestinians who are actively seeking ways to reduce violence and create the conditions for a just peace.
The speakers included Ivan Karakashian, Advocacy Unit Coordinator at Defense for Children International-Palestine, an independent organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living under Israeli military occupation; Barbara Lubin, founder and Executive Director of Middle East Children’s Alliance; Sahar Vardi, coordinator of the Israel program for the American Friends Service Committee, and Danielle Yaor, an active member of Shministim, an organization of young Israelis who refuse compulsory military service.
The event began with a performance by Travis Harden, a native American Indian singer and ended with a concert of Middle Eastern music by Bridges of Hope, featuring Tamer Al-Sahouri, Nadine Shomali, and Alber Basil.