December 16, 1998
As I write this, Jews around the world are celebrating Hanukkah, Christians
are preparing to celebrate Christmas, and Muslims are approaching the
month-long fast of Ramadan. My husband just made his fourth trip as
President to Israel and his first to Gaza, delivering this message to
Palestinians and Israelis alike: America will stand by you as you take the
difficult steps along the road to peace.
In Gaza, members of the Palestine National Council cast a historic vote to
revoke the parts of their charter that called for the destruction of Israel.
How proud I was to witness the moment when the Council members raised their
hands in favor of the changes and to see my husband deliver an eloquent and
persuasive speech about the promise and rewards of peace.
In large measure, it has been this President's fierce determination, his
devotion to the peace process and his willingness to persevere through dark
and often sleepless nights that have helped bridge the divide between the
Palestinians and the Israelis.
In Jerusalem, I watched as he laid a stone on the grave of Yitzhak Rabin --
a stone he'd carried from Wye River. Quietly, he bowed his head and asked
God for the strength and wisdom to carry on the work for peace he had
started with his friend.
While my husband was participating in meetings with Israeli and Palestinian
leaders, I was reminded that the hard work of peace doesn't begin or end at
the negotiating table. The hard work of peace begins in our hearts, in our
homes and in our communities. The hard work of peace begins when everyday
people -- out of the glare of headlines -- teach their children the values
we all share as human beings -- faith and family, trust and respect, hope
Everywhere I went this week, I met people doing the everyday work of peace.
I spent Sunday morning with Sara Netanyahu in a small village nestled among
the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, overlooking the Ayalon Valley, the
site of thousands of years of bloodshed. Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, or
"Oasis of Peace," is a unique community where 30 Jewish and Palestinian
families have chosen to live together side by side, raising their children
in an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence.
There, on the first day of Hanukkah, I watched as three kindergartners lit
a Menorah, a Christmas tree and a Ramadan lantern. As Muslim, Christian and
Jewish children joined together to sing each other's holiday songs, I
was looking into the faces of the children who will light the way toward a
lasting peace in the Middle East.
In Jerusalem, I toured the Mother and Child Pavilion of the Hadassah
University Medical Center, a cutting-edge medical facility begun by an
American woman whose commitment to improving public health prompted her to
send two nurses to the area. Here, religious differences have no place.
Muslim, Jewish and Christian children share the same wards. And no one asks,
"Are you Jewish or Christian? Do you celebrate Hanukkah or Ramadan?" The
only important question is "What is wrong, and can we help?"
Later that day, I visited HIPPY, the Home Instruction Program for Preschool
Youngsters. There, I saw Israeli and Arab children and their mothers playing
and learning together to be better prepared for schooling and citizenship.
More than 10 years ago, HIPPY's founder and the President of the National
Council of Jewish Women helped me plant the seeds of this successful Israeli
program in Arkansas and around America.
In Gaza City, Suha Arafat proudly showed me the work she started and
oversees at the Avenir Foundation, which provides much-needed special
education and therapy to children with disabilities.
At the Women's Program Center at Beach Camp, a settlement for nearly 65,000
poor Palestinians run by the United Nations, I visited a class where women
were learning about their legal rights. And I met several women who used
small microcredit loans to turn their dreams into thriving businesses. One
woman's successful dressmaking business enabled her to enlarge her house and
send her daughters to school. One day, she hopes to turn her small operation
into a factory her daughters will run.
While at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, I heard the story of one young girl
who picked up a newspaper and saw a picture of a Jewish child and an Arab
child holding hands. Confused, she asked her father why something so
ordinary would be considered newsworthy.
As my husband lit the Menorah in Jerusalem and the Christmas tree in
Bethlehem, we prayed for the day when Arab and Jewish children holding hands
together will no longer be news. Then, we will know that the promise of
peace will be real.
COPYRIGHT 1998 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED