JERUSALEM – Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid condemned Palestinian suicide bombings Sunday at an interfaith gathering in Jerusalem designed to push the people of the region toward peace.
Wahid joined Native Americans, Israeli lawmakers, imams, American Baptists and former world leaders Sunday to kick off a peace mission to the Holy Land of about 3,000 members of a U.S.-based peace group sponsored by the founder of the Unification Church.
Started in 1999 by Korean-American evangelist Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace has founded chapters in 154 countries, encouraging peace recognizing the common points shared by religions.
About 30 members of the IIFWP opened a news conference with a peace song to the tune of a popular Israeli melody. The group – many from the American Clergy Leadership Conference – swayed and clapped in a scene reminiscent of a religious revival.
Participants called for an end to three years of violence that has taken the lives of more than 2,500 people on the Palestinian side – most in Israeli military operations – and nearly 900 on the Israeli side – half in Palestinian suicide bomb attacks.
Wahid, a member of the federation’s advisory board and an imam himself, said Palestinians who have committed suicide bombings in the name of Islam during more than three years of fighting with Israel have misinterpreted the religion.
“All my life I have called on Muslims to … be on good terms with others,” said Wahid who ruled the most populous Muslim country for a year and a half, until July 2001. “It’s natural for us to condemn terrorism and … suicide bombings.” Wahid, a moderate, is a longtime supporter of peace with Israel.
Indonesia has been hard hit by extremist Islamic attackers. On October 12, 2002, bombers blew up a night club on the island of Bali, killing 202 people. On August 5, an Islamic suicide bomber killed 11 bystanders at a hotel in Jakarta.
The federation did not present any Mideast peace proposals or religious statements but said members had met with several Palestinian clerics and Israeli rabbis who agreed with their cause, including Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. They want to infuse current political efforts with a peaceful spirit, they said.
Most of the group at the news conference Sunday was American, including state legislators from Maine, New Hampshire, Arizona and Georgia. Organizers said they expect at least 3,000 members of the IIFWP, most of them Americans, to take part in a peace march at holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday.
“I’m here to tell people that there are people from all over the world who are pulling for them, praying for them,” said Lois Snowe-Mello, a Republican state representative from Maine.
Members visited sites of suicide bombings in Israel and met with children in Gaza as part of the four-day symposium of the IIFWP.
Native American Chief Gayokla-Nichi Ayala of the Californian Kahwega tribe called on human beings to learn from the “crawlers and creepers who taught us songs of unity and healing … never songs of destruction and killing each other.” He was dressed in traditional leather clothing and twirled two large feathers in his hand as he spoke.