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Chuck CurryChuck Currie has wanted to highlight the issue of peace in the Middle East from the moment he was appointed director of Pacific University’s Center for Peace and Spirituality two years ago.

So it’s a complete coincidence that Pacific’s Thursday, Oct. 29, forum on Middle East Peace happens just as a new, headline-grabbing wave of violence sweeps the conflict-ravaged region.

The forum will provide “a great opening to begin this conversation at Pacific,” said Currie, who will be one of four panel members.

As a United Church of Christ minister, Currie has written publicly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and about how it has been influenced — both positively and negatively — by American churches. “Our denomination is very involved in these issues,” he said.

The forum will feature the co-executive directors of the Israel-based Abraham Fund Initiatives, Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu Rass.

Abraham Fund programs aim to create cross-cultural respect and equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel that will lead to a society of peaceful coexistence. One education program, for example, teaches Arabic language and culture in Jewish schools while exposing Arab children to Jewish Israeli culture and is being used in 200 elementary schools.

Abu Ras and Be-eri Sulitzeanu sent out a “Call for Calm” in Israel last week, imploring both Jews and Arabs to, among other things, “halt further degradation of the situation and prevent the damage that our society will suffer as a consequence.”

“I am thankful to be part of this organization that consistently calls for nonviolence and tolerance among those in the region,” said Rammy Haija, a former Pacific professor who taught sociology and Middle East studies during the 2013-2014 school year and also volunteered as an assistant defensive coach for the football team.

“Palestinians and Israelis eventually must live together, under any agreement, whether divided or side-by-side, and they all deserve dignity, human rights and full equality,” he said.

Haija, who will be the fourth panel member, joined the Abraham Fund’s international board of directors two years ago and raised the idea to Currie last December of bringing the co-executive directors to Pacific.

Haija was born and raised in Texas but spent many summers visiting extended family members back in Nazareth, Israel — a common practice for young Arab Americans, said

Haija, who now lives in Seattle.

His Pacific students were very open minded, he said. Some started out with misconceptions about borders but resolved their confusion just by looking at a map of the region. “They didn’t even know what the actual Palestinian territories were,” Haija said.

While he doesn’t know why Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are rising up right now, he assumes it’s at least partly due to “the longest occupation in modern history,” referring to Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories.

“It’s economically depressing. It’s mentally depressing ...There’s limited hope among people,” he said.

Currie, who doubles as an assistant professor of religious studies, said he’ll be traveling to Israel and Palestine this winter to research the conflict as well as peacemaking efforts so he can develop a course for Pacific.

“This won’t be the end of our conversation around this issue,” he said.

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