Religious leaders back ‘peace caravan’ to Jerusalem

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive president of the New York Board of Rabbis, speaks during a conference in New York.
Updated 07 October 2018

Religious leaders back ‘peace caravan’ to Jerusalem

  • Rabbi Joseph Potasnik said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can’t be ignored or camouflaged
  • Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, said that minority rights in the Muslim world must be respected

NEW YORK: Catholic and Jewish religious leaders expressed support for a call by the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL) for religious leaders with no political affiliation to travel to Jerusalem in a “peace caravan.”

Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa’s call was made on Thursday at the opening of a conference in New York on cultural rapprochement between the US and the Muslim world.

“This convoy should represent the three religions to visit all the holy places in Jerusalem,” he told some 400 Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders and thinkers.

Marwan Faouri, secretary-general of the Global Forum for Moderation, said: “The peace caravan can help bridge the hate gap that exists on both sides.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can’t be ignored or camouflaged.

“Peace can’t be reached by more fighting. Palestinians are not going anywhere, and Israelis are not going anywhere, and therefore a way has to be found to allow these two peoples to live together.”

Michael Coppotelli, associate superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of New York, said: “We need to find a way to train children so that they can fill the caravan for peace. This can only be done through education.” 

Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, said that minority rights in the Muslim world must be respected and work is needed, especially with families to fight violent extremism. 

“To build bridges we can stop hatred and empower our nations and stop violence and extremism,” she said.

Ali Rashid Al-Nuaimi, chairman of the newly established Department of Education and Knowledge in the Government of Abu Dhabi, called on participants to look to the future and not to be enslaved to the past.

Al-Nuaimi said that it is unacceptable that we continue to focus on dialogue and instead we must roll up our sleeves and work on programs.

“What we expect from this meeting is to launch ideas and programs and not for us only, but for everyone. We have to have accomplishments on the ground that prove that we believe in accepting the other including his right for thought and religion.”

Al-Nuaimi put a lot of emphasis on the need to build up the role of women and youth. “If we are honest with ourselves we need to confess that for every step forward, for women we take many backwards.”

He also said he hoped future meetings would include youth from different backgrounds so that they can have a role in the future. 

“Next year we want youth to represent all religious backgrounds from the Islamic world and from the US to lead and for us to be listening to them and their ideas.”


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.