Rabbi Awraham Shalom Soetendorp
‘When I first met Tasoula about a year and a half ago, I felt an immediate kinship. I too, have always been an advocate of active dialogue between people of different spiritual traditions, both in my work and privately. In the past, I also played with the idea of bringing people from divergent religious backgrounds together in conversation by way of a pilgrimage to places of personal significance. In the 90’s, I discussed the idea with various other religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, but for practical reasons, we were unable to bring it into effect. The idea was simply too big and not feasible.
Walk of Truth is beginning on a much smaller scale, but the ideas are definitely on the same line of thought. A joint pilgrimage is a powerful tool and called, ‘Walk of Truth’ for a good reason. Truth is an integral part in the search for and the work towards peace. By sharing each other’s stories of suffering and injustice, understanding ensues: a point from which one can begin to remove the obstacles along the path to peace. The way is paved for the restoration of relationships. Equality plays an important role. On one location there will be the host, at the other, the guest. By literally and figuratively moving together and sharing stories, trust is built. It’s not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about rectifying the wrong at a fundamental level. Restoring the wrong in the one also aids the recovery of the other.
I am impressed by Walk of Truth’s vision. What I like about this initiative are two things. Firstly, Tasoula’s own authentic story. The story of someone who was born in an area conflict and therein has found her way. She has succeeded in transforming negativity into something positive and, by doing so, initiating a movement that confronts the problems in a constructive manner. The notion of universal themes uniting people from both sides of the dividing line is beautiful. Tasoula has managed to find a way whereby, instead of pointing the finger of blame, stories and experiences are shared.
Secondly, Walk of Truth’s approach is very powerful. In war-torn areas of conflict, you often see sacred spots of spiritual tradition threatened and damaged. Whereas, each one could be a refuge rather than a place where people release their frustration and indulge in conflict. That would be a turn for the better. The plan to return stolen artefacts to the rightful owners is of great value. Because art holds a special meaning for many people, returning it would certainly help to resolve conflict and restore broken relationships. The plan has intrinsic value. It can be instrumental in binding forces of peace. If you progress in this way, you’re busy, not only retrieving physical objects, but also restoring hope, solidarity and giving support.
Amidst the various organisations working towards peace, Walk of Truth holds a special place. Coming together under the motto of Culture is very basic. Culture may appear to be the soft option – the easier alternative – in a world torn apart by harsh political reality. Actually, it’s anything but. People often speak of culture as encouraging brotherhood, as uniting. The timing of this initiative is exactly right. As we speak, divergent religions are increasingly turning to each other. ‘Soft’ can imply that differences are swept under the carpet, but that’s not what’s happening here.
The strength and beauty of this approach is that those who are fully aware of the value of their own culture are beginning to recognise the cultural significance of the other. One of the greatest developments of our time is the increasing realisation that we need each other. Religions are no longer solely preoccupied with missions and conversions. This is the time of exhibiting profound respect when witnessing the deepest mystical experience of the other, and being fully aware of the privilege of standing together in that shared space. Ultimately, the element of reconciliation is present in all religions. It serves in enabling the connecting qualities of art and culture. There are significant, worldwide meetings organised between people from different religions. Moroccan imams sit at the same table with Jewish rabbis. Initiating conversation may be awkward at first, but when the music starts and the songs are sung, a connection is made. Culture is a powerful aid in bringing people closer.
I hope, too, that Walk of Truth plays a vital role in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This is not a conflict between justice and injustice, as it was in the Second World War, where the battle to the bitter end could only be settled by the victory of good over evil. In this conflict the word, ‘right’ applies to both sides. The Palestinians have every right to their own identity and state, and the Israelis have every right to live without the shadow of threat. This makes the conflict difficult. However, it also tells us that it will not end while the oppression of one by the other continues; that both states, at some point in time, will live as amicable neighbours because people desire and seek togetherness. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians are open to peace. Walk of Truth would be able to strengthen that feeling because people are approachable on that front. We live in difficult times. On one hand there is huge individualism. On the other hand there’s growing interest in reflective ‘inter-faith’ meetings, such as the annual Dutch ‘Budget Day Celebrations’ where people of different faiths come together. All in all, I notice an enormous willingness to be open to such initiatives. That willingness is greater than people think. I find that hopeful.’