Asia News published an interview with Father Piotr Zelasko, parish priest of Beersheba on Friday, May 26, 2017.

Read the interview on Asia news here

"Religion is not the cause of the conflict here. Religion, real religion, is a solution. It pushes towards others, never towards hate,” said Fr Piotr Zelazko, parish priest in Beersheba, southern Israel, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the message the ‘Interreligious Initiative of the Negev’ wants to spread.

Fr Zelazko, together with Rabbi Mauricio Balter and Sheikh Jamal Alumbra of the Rahat Mosque, is one of the founders of the initiative.

“People have become used to seeing a rabbi attend Christmas Mass, and a priest at the synagogue during high holidays,” he said. “It is a commonplace for them to meet in a mosque with a group of young people."

The initiative is a response to growing tensions caused by a shooting at Beersheba Station on 18 October 2015. "As tensions grew in the country, people began to wonder what they could do. Regular people, not politicians. "

Two women, Amirit Rosen and Roxana Omer, chose dialogue as a tool for peace. "They took the initiative not only to think, but also to act. They invited rabbis, sheikhs and myself, a Catholic priest, to meet. They wanted us to share, to know each other. It was a great idea.”

“We began meeting once a month at Beersheba University, and then organised meetings in our communities, in mosques, synagogues, and churches. We have become friends and together we have started several projects, groups, meetings."

One of the main activities is religious education for 12th grade students in cooperation with the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Religious Services. Representatives of religions come to schools, both Jewish and Islamic, to talk about possible solutions to the conflict, spreading the message that faith is tolerance, peace and coexistence.

Ben Gurion University in Beersheba offers a semester course to Muslims and Jews to study together the Bible and the Qur'an.

Public libraries and other cultural, educational, and artistic institutions hold seminars with Jewish, Christian and Muslim representatives to discuss the opportunities and challenges of Israel’s diverse society. This is very important, says Fr Zelazko, because “such meetings provide an opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues.”

The last meeting Fr Zelazko attended was on 18 May with about 40 future school principals at the al-Nur mosque in Rahat. Muslim, Jewish, and Christian representatives discussed the challenges of a multi-religious society, focusing on education that fostered tolerance and peace.