Rabbi and Mayor Convinced Peace in Middle East Can Happen

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No spring chicken at 70, Rabbi Ron Kronish believes he’ll live long enough to see peace in the Middle East between Arabs and Jews.

So does Mayor Issa Jabber of Abu Ghosh, an Arab-Israeli village west of Jerusalem, which has traditionally been receptive to Jews and even helped the Haganah during the original Israeli War of Independence.

Since it’s worked for them in a relationship forged more than 25 years ago, why can’t the rest of the world follow suit?


That’s why they recently came over to the States to promote their unity — the third time they’ve done so over the years — baring their souls while discussing “The Search for Peace: Is Israeli-Arab Coexistence Still Possible?” at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church Oct. 27, among other venues.

“It’s difficult, but within the state of Israel there is a healthy desire to get on with life,” said Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he founded in 1992. “Arabs, who represent 20 percent of the population, for most part are not waging war.

“In general, they’re seeking to have equal rights to integrate into society as much as possible while maintaining their own cultures and traditions. I wouldn’t say it’s banging my head against the wall, but it’s difficult because of the unresolved conflict in the region.

“One of the reasons I’m traveling with my Arab colleague is for people in America to understand [that] not all Palestinians and Muslims are out to kill us. On the contrary, Mayor Jabber represents the majority of Palestinian Arabs who seek to live in peaceful coexistence.”

The 60-year-old Jabber, who has a long history of being involved in education and was a former ICCI chairperson before becoming mayor of Abu Ghosh three years ago, said there are some imposing obstacles to overcome.

“For us, inside Israel the biggest obstacle to the conflict is the budget,” he explained. “How much aid goes in the sector to cover the education system and the many other needs of Arab society?

“I am not Gandhi. But I try at least to spread peace within our own circles and sweeten our own cup of tea as much as I can. Whatever we do is a small but significant thing.

“The most important thing is growing children are learning to accept each other. They respect their needs and are working with us to break down a lot of the stereotypes and prejudice created many years before.”

During their weeklong stay, Kronish and Jabber visited New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston, trying to spread their gospel among not only Jews and Muslims but Christians, too. More than 100 people turned out on a rainy night for the Bryn Mawr event, which was co-sponsored by a number of organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

“My impression is they liked our message,” Kronish said. “We talked about our vision for the future, but didn’t ignore problems. There are problems. But we’re doing what we can to enlarge the circle of understanding.”

Regardless of what transpires in the upcoming election, Kronish doesn’t believe it will factor into an issue that has been going on for generations.

“There might be more sentiment preferring a Democratic administration, but most American have been supportive of Israel whether Republican or Democrat,” he replied. “So I don’t think it matters at all. But we don’t intervene in American politics.”

Besides, they have enough problems trying to iron out their differences back home. They contended that those differences are becoming fewer by the day as they attempt to accomplish what many believe is impossible.

“He’s here to share his story, and I’m here to share mine,” said Kronish, who participated in an interfaith council at Saint Joseph’s University on Oct. 26. “It’s very much the same message.

“Can Jews and Arabs coexist in Israel? Yes, they can. But they have to work to make it happen.”

Kronish and Jabber, at least, are doing their part.

“To be on the minority side is not bad,” the mayor said. “It depends on your feelings concerning the majority. We believe in peace, but in order to make a real change, we need more courageous leadership from both sides.”

Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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