Israelis and Palestinians gathered in Clayton this week for a three-day exercise in which they worked to develop a peace agreement.
It is the 12th time such a discussion known as the Minds of Peace Experiment has been held. While this week's gathering happened at Fontbonne University, others have been held at Saint Louis University, Canada, Israel and Palestine, among other places.
The event happened against a backdrop of violence in places such as Libya, where hundreds of people have been killed amid unrest over the longtime rule of President Moammar Kadafi.
The moderators of the Fontbonne talks—Mazen Badra, a Palestinian, and Sapir Handelman, an Israeli—acknowledged the violence and uncertainty in that country and elsewhere. But they stressed that the Israeli-Palestinian divide is a much older conflict that can be used to model the effectiveness of peaceful negotiation in the structured environment of a mini-congress.
In opening remarks on Tuesday, Mary Beth Gallagher, assistant to the president for mission integration at Fontbonne, said she and others had gathered to "divest ourselves of stereotypes" and discuss ways to achieve peace.
Afterward the participants, including five Israelis and five Palestinians of varying ages and backgrounds, addressed a variety of issues. Among their initial agreements:
- A two-state solution is needed.
- Incitement must be stopped in favor of promoting the language of peace.
- A compromise on the freedom of movement is needed.
- Security is needed.
- Both sides should engage in joint projects to promote a culture of peace.
Badra is in charge of bachelor's programming at Sanford-Brown College in Fenton and is an adjunct professor in business at Webster University. In 2002, he and his family moved to the U.S. from the West Bank, where he had been active in trying to bring the two sides together to learn more about each other.
"Open your minds and open your hearts, and for one second envision yourself in the shoes of the other person," he told the panelists.
In an interview before the meeting began, Badra said a formative experience in his life came when his son received a beating from a Jewish settler. His son's response? I'm going to buy a gun and kill that person.
But Badra said he knew there were alternatives to living with hatred. Eventually, Badra said, he was able to persuade his family that violence would not solve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Handelman is a visiting professor at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He describes himself as an academic who had been searching for a Palestinian colleague with whom to dialogue about conflict resolution, and he he helped develop the public assembly model used in Minds of Peace.
"Activism is my moral obligation," Handelman said.
The major takeaway for Handelman from holding these events? People want peace, which can be achieved through negotiations, learning about the other side and good intentions.
Badra said he was hopeful that Minds of Peace will show people that there is no alternative to peace. Those who attended the discussion should help bring initiative to every home in Israel and Palestine, and help develop public support at a local level.
"Carry on the message," Badra said.
The two plan to hold a larger discussion featuring 20 Israelis and 20 Palestinians this summer, Handelman said.