| |

SIDIC Periodical XXXVI - 2003/1-3
Seeking A Culture Of Dialogue (Pages 23-26)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Seeking of Culture of Dialogue in the Middle East: Remembrance for Peace
Shoufani, Emile


On December 18, 2002, the following appeal was launched by Father Emile Shoufani during a press conference he gave while visiting Paris. Fr. Shoufani is an Arab Christian, an Israeli citizen and a priest of the Melkite rite in Nazareth:

I call on the men and women of good will, of whatever origin and faith, to do all they can so that dialogue and mutual understanding become the determining words in relations between peoples and cultures.

I call on my brothers and sisters with a Jewish heart and on my brothers and sisters with Arab blood to put their disputes aside for a while in order to try together to reestablish a truly human relationship. The idea is not to betray each one’s own cause in any way, nor is it to pretend that we are forgetting everything that separates us. Rather, the idea is to distance ourselves from our points of contention, no matter how serious they might be, to prevent the urgent matters of the present moment from blinding us, to stop the vicious cycle of revenge, so as finally to clarify the horizon. Only such an experience can give trust a chance to be born again.

I call on my Arab brothers and sisters to become fully aware of a new and essential phenomenon: in particular over the past two years, their interlocutors’ ability to dialogue has become completely paralyzed through an immense wave of historical terror which is rising up from the deepest place in Jewish memory. The people which today seems to be the strongest, is paradoxically more and more convinced, because of its centuries-long experience, that it must fear for its very existence. And whatever we might think of this conviction, it is an inescapable reality.
It is certainly obvious to everyone that the Arabs have no part in the responsibility for the Shoah. We know that the very idea of such a genocide is foreign to the Arab and Muslim world, whose traditions of hospitality and generosity have greatly contributed to the emergence of contemporary humanism. But we also know that the Shoah challenges and concerns all the peoples of our planet, including those who were not involved in it in any way. Every human being can only feel profoundly overwhelmed by this major crime against the whole of humanity, against the very idea of humanity.

I call on my Arab brothers and sisters to join me, so that together we might make a strong gesture, freely and with resolute audacity. In the place which incarnates the atrocity of the genocide, in Auschwitz-Birkenau, we will do an act of fraternity towards the millions of victims; we will proclaim our solidarity with their Jewish sons and daughters, we will witness to our empathy with this indescribable suffering. This act of remembrance will signify our radical refusal of such inhumanity, it will witness to our ability to understand the other’s wound.
I call on my Jewish brothers and sisters to join us in this walk, which will be preceded by a process of encounter and dialogue. I invite them to share their personal experience and their knowledge of the Shoah with their Arab brothers and sisters. It is high time that we begin together this work of sharing our memory, without which no sharing of the future, no mutual understanding can ever exist.

I call on my Jewish brothers and sisters to understand that, for the vast majority of the Arab and Muslim world, the conflict which tears us apart is absolutely not of a religious nature, and it is even less of a racial one. The Arabs are not the successors to those who, in the past, wanted to make the Jews as Jews disappear. Like the Jews, the Arabs are heirs of the faith of Abraham, like them, they are bearers of shining values.

I call on my Jewish brothers and sisters and on my Arab brothers and sisters to do everything before, during and after this common process so as to give it its full meaning: being a first step in view of building mutual trust so that an authentic dialogue might come forth which is free of all the suspicions that have accumulated over the last generations. As regards this gesture, no one among us will make tendentious remarks which would alter its meaning or its significance. This detour through the darkest abyss of humanity’s memory can in no way relativize the sufferings of other peoples in other places and other times. On the contrary, it can only send each one of us back to our responsibilities in the present and to our vocation to be human beings on the way towards “living together”.

I call on all men and women of good will, whether they be Jewish, Christian or Muslim, whether they belong to other religions or to none – since we are not talking about an interfaith gathering, but about a process with human persons as such – to support this project with all their strength. May it contribute towards our healing of so many traumata, may it create an opening towards another future and prepare the dawn of peace.

May 26-29, 2003, this appeal became reality in a pilgrimage to Auschwitz with 500 Jews, Muslims and Christians from Israel, France and Belgium.
The following is the final Declaration that was read in Birkenau on May 28, 2003 :

Men, women, babies, children, adolescents, adults or elderly persons who were assassinated by Nazi barbarism for no other reason than that you were Jewish,

We are now going to say your names, many of which will speak to the persons who are present here, because you belong to their families.

But these names, which speak of the scandal of your heinous death, call us all to remembrance, they challenge us all, Jews and non-Jews, whoever we might be and from wherever we might come, in our fundamental reality as human beings. That is why your names will be said here by a Jewish voice and by an Arab voice alternately, for the voice of every citizen of the world must rise up against the lot that was yours. Through you, the very idea of humanity was to be annihilated.

[Reading of a list of names]

We know that we should cite you one by one with your family name and first name which your executors wanted to obliterate from memory for ever, with your family name and first name which, for many of you, was in fact lost in the Night and the Fog. We know that we would then have to recite and continue to recite these endless lists for 40 days and 40 nights without interruption, only in order to say all of the 1 200 000 Jewish victims of Auschwitz; for 200 days and 200 nights in order to say all of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah.

And even though it is already impossible to imagine such a recitation because of its sheer scale, we know that the essential would not yet be said.
Such a recitation would not say the children’s failure to understand when, from one day to the next, they were stigmatized by having to wear a star of infamy;

it would not speak of the men’s speechlessness when, all of a sudden, they were rejected, insulted, despised by the country which they loved, in which they thought they were definitively integrated, and which they had at times defended with the price of their blood;

it would not speak of the women’s despair when they no longer had anything to feed their children because their husbands were excluded from every profession, because all of the Jewish stores were ransacked, because they no longer had the right to use public transport, because they had two hours a day in which to do their shopping without any resources;

it would not speak of the suffering of families who were pursued for capture even to the last corners of the cities and the countryside, who were penned like animals in the camps and the ghettos, who were sent towards an unknown destination, transported in appalling conditions towards places that were cut off from the world, forgotten by the world, abandoned by the world, that multiplied in a Europe that submitted to the idolatry of blood;

it would not speak of the dogs’ terrifying barking nor of that of the Nazis, the selection for immediate death or for a slower death, a selection that was made by men who, at first sight, seemed ordinary, who had claimed for themselves the absolute right to decide to kill whomever they thought they should, at the time they wanted and in the way they wished;

it would not say the shame of being stripped of one’s clothing, the ignominy of the tattooing, the branding of bodies and souls condemned to beatings, to exhaustion, to the most abject filth, to slavery;

it would not say what will remain forever unspeakable: the monstrous silence onto which the armoured door of the gas chamber opened, the monstrous silence of the stinking smoke coming out of the crematorium’s chimney.

This deafening silence will forever resound in the world, but the world has not yet heard it. The world has refused to really hear it, humanity has refused to admit the extent to which it was capable of being inhuman.

That is why we are here in this place where humanity was declared to be useless, in the place where human beings were reduced to being a “Stück”, a “piece”, things that were more insignificant than animals.

Sons and daughters of the Jewish people, the Nazis’ hate-filled rage pursued them to the furthest ends of Europe; it would have pursued them to the ends of the earth if it had had the means to do so. Because of this rage, this people as such had to be blotted out from humanity, down to the smallest child, so that Jewish existence might disappear from human genealogy, so that its very memory might be abolished forever.

We, Jews and non-Jews who are present here, beyond our various origins, beyond the beliefs or non-beliefs or philosophical options of each person, we affirm that the memory of this crime must enter into the thinking and culture that we will be able to create together, so that the ghost of inhumanity might be rejected.

Together, we affirm that every man and every woman, for as long as he and she lives on this earth, from childhood to old age, bears in himself and herself a sacred spark which is worthy of the highest respect.

Together, we affirm that this spark remains as a treasure in each human being, even when others do not acknowledge it, even if it seems obscured by illness, by physical or mental handicaps, by suffering, even if it seems altered through ignorance, lack of culture, distress, and even if the one bearing it has himself or herself forgotten it. Every human being must be respected because of this sacred spark of which he or she is one of the faces, unique and irreplaceable.

Together, we affirm that this sacred respect must be the founding principle of all justice, of all politics, of all religious morality, and that everyone who tries to apply this principle on a daily basis takes part in humanity.

Together, we affirm that fraternity cannot be divided: it is universal or it is not; it does not deserve the name fraternity if it is limited to one clan, to one nation, to one category of men and women; it is not given its true scope unless it is extended to the foreigner, to the human being who is different, to the man or woman whose approach seems more difficult to us.
Together, we affirm that the opposite of fraternity is not only hatred, but also indifference; that the crime against fraternity does not only consist in killing the other, but also in letting him or her be killed in silence.

Together, we commit ourselves to be bearers of the memory of the Shoah and to do the task we have in common which, based on the teachings of that memory, will allow us to explore together the horizon of peace.


* Translated from the French by K. E. Wolff


Home | Who we are | What we do | Resources | Join us | News | Contact us | Site map

Copyright Sisters of Our Lady of Sion - General House, Rome - 2011