Despite an at times eerie trip, the Rev. Daehler Hayes views his recent 10-day sojourn to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank with excitement.
While staying overnight with a Christian Palestinian family in Bethlehem, he got an idea for what he calls his "grandparent thing."
Hayes, Conference Minister of the UCC's Rhode Island Conference, found empty streets in Bethlehem and only other clergy in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. But he and the 10-member delegation met with Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat and saw hope in young Jews and Arabs trying to overcome the violence in the land by reaching out to one another.
Sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the U.S. delegation included a mix of teachers, therapists, carpenters and peace activists whose backgrounds ranged from Buddhist to Hindu and Muslim to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish.
Overall, says Hayes, the trip left him encouraged and ready to lend a helping hand to understanding. That's where the "grandparent thing" comes in.
The 'grandparent thing'
Later this year—or early next year—he'd like to assemble a group of 40 to 45 grandparents, with equal numbers of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans, who can travel throughout Israel and the other occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank, challenging the two sides to think about peace for the sake of their grandchildren.
"Peace there has to find some accommodation or my grandchildren will never be safe," he says. "I don't like leaving a world where my grandchildren will have to look over their shoulders everywhere they go. I don't think anyone is going to shoot grandparents. We have to do something to break this open. I'm a grandfather myself, five times over, and when I think about the world they will be living in, I say to myself, 'Why not take that risk?'
"This would be for all of us, because the Middle East is such a strategic place in the world. Unless everyone there is secure, no one is secure."
Meeting with Arafat
One of the biggest highlights of the trip was meeting with Arafat in his state meeting room in Ramallah. After shaking hands with participants, Arafat presented a 15-minute statement, offering his view on all that had happened. Hayes says Arafat "was not bitter, he was not angry, he was not appreciably upset."
The delegation questioned Arafat about Israel's announcement that it had captured a ship laden with arms destined for Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Arafat called it "ridiculous," saying, "There's a complete embargo by the Israeli Navy along the Mediterranean coast. We're not even allowed to fish beyond one kilometer. There is no way at all we could receive any kind of a ship through that embargo."
"But," adds Hayes, "that flies in the face of what the captain of the ship said."