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Activist preaches to faithful in seeking Middle East peace

By Rebecca Rosen Lum, CONTRA COSTA TIMES. 28.10.06  

After a devastating summer that saw rockets fly between Hezbollah guerillas and Israel and saw Beirut turned to rubble, cynicism about Middle Eastern peace has overcome many of its advocates, said a nationally known mediator who visited Contra Costa County this week.
Ron Young, founder and director of the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, is barnstorming to galvanize interfaith support for renewed peacemaking efforts.
"My primary purpose is to unite our voices to have an effect on U.S. policy," he told about a dozen religious leaders gathered at a Lafayette church Wednesday.
After Hamas won the Palestinian election, the United States severed talks, even with moderates, he said.
A group of some 35 national religious leaders, including Christians, Muslims and Jews -- Young among them -- is prodding Congress to reopen communication.
"Right now it's not clear that the U.S. is showing much leadership," he said. "The chances of having any political effect are improved if we can approach political leaders together."
A September poll by the People's Voice Initiative revealed that 65 percent of Israelis and Palestinians polled would accept a Geneva Accord-style peace that would establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza and determine that Israel enjoys the right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people.
In the same poll, each side predicted that only 30 percent of the other would be so inclined.
Young spent three years in the Middle East in the 1980s working for the American Friends Service Committee. He developed the interreligious committee upon his return to the United States.
"There have been some real tough times," he said in a telephone interview. "One of the things I say is, what is impressive, what keeps me going, is that religious leaders I work with are committed to working together, even when they can't stand being in the same room with each other."
His group has met with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and other high-ranking U.S. officials.
Young's comments sparked the interest of Wednesday's attendees.
"After 9/11, I became very reclusive," said Muhammed Jawaid. "My name is Muhammed. I don't want to be investigated. With your help, I can come out of my cocoon."