Four Jewish Rabbis are taking part in a three-day conference titled The Palestinian People's Right of Return to their Homeland.
The conference is organized by The International Union of Parliamentarians for the Defense of the Palestinian Cause that includes members of parliament from around the world.
Four Jewish rabbis are making a unique appearance in Beirut to attend a 3-day pro-Palestinian conference surrounded by some of Israel's fiercest Arab foes.
Rather than being shouted down, Orthodox Rabbi Ahron Cohen was greeted warmly by officials from the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon's Hizbullah as he took the floor to address the opening session of conference on Wednesday.
Cohen, from Manchester, England, and three U.S. rabbis are members of the tiny Neturei Karta group, which opposes Israel's right to exist and Zionism.
"It's better to come here peacefully as a Jewish person and to show that we can live in peace together with our Arab neighbors and to demonstrate the basic wrong of the Zionist idea and I feel humbled and privileged by the opportunity of being able to come here," said Cohen at a conference entitled The Palestinian People's Right of Return to their Homeland.
The message of rabbi was not new, but the scene was unfamiliar, rabbis and Israel's sworn enemies discussing the Palestinian issue in Lebanon, an Arab country still at war with the Jewish state.
Dozens of activists from around the world are attending parley, which has been organized by the International Union of Parliamentarians for the Defense of the Palestinian Cause. The union is headed by Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Iran's former interior minister and reputed founder of Hizbullah.
Lebanon once had a thriving Jewish community, but most of its members fled during the country's 1975-90 civil war and less than 100 are still around without a Rabbi.
The doctrine of Cohen's group says Jews cannot use human force to establish a Jewish state before the coming of the universally accepted Messiah.
Cohen added his group supports close ties with Arabs, particularly Palestinians, and rejects Zionism, the movement to establish the state of Israel.
"Zionists can in no way represent Jewry," said Cohen, who wore a badge pinned to his chest showing a Palestinian flag written on it "A Jew Not a Zionist" in Arabic, English and Hebrew.
Neturei Karta's leader, Rabbi Moshe Hirsh, considers himself a Palestinian Jew. The group has frequently participated in pro-Palestinian activities, including a visit to the grave of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank, in November.
Hamas' Lebanon representative, Osama Hamdan, said his group respects Jews.
"Our real problem is with (Israeli) occupation and if this occupation tries to say it belongs to a certain religion than that is its own problem," Hamdan said.
Abdullah Kassir, a Hizbullah member of the Lebanese Parliament, said Jews are people "who we respect and coexist with like other societies. We are against Zionism that represents a racist ideology that usurped the land of Palestine."
But despite the apparent warmth the rabbis were shown, bodyguards who were apparently Hizbullah members were at their sides and conference organizers warned them not to walk around in Beirut on their own since people here are not used to their sight.
The rabbis said they didn't know if they will meet Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. "We hope to meet whoever is willing to meet with us," said one of the American rabbis, Dovid Weiss, of Monsey, New York.
"Jews, Arabs and Muslims can live together, (and) have been living together. We will live together in peace," he said. (AP/ Bassem Mroue)
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and killed between 2000 and 3500 innocent civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The striking thing is that the west almost ignores it. Try a web search for "Sabra and Shatila" and look for western sources. For example, the Time Magazine web site just headlines the invasion as "Israel Strikes at The PLO" and barely mentions the massacre. Yet everyone agrees that it took place.
On December 16, 1982 the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide. Sharon resigned as defense minister, but later became Israeli Prime Minister.
The massacre was recently investigated by the BBC and the conclusions were damning. The BBC team reported on their investigation, and included this interesting comment:
Rabbis from left, David Shlomo Feldman, Moshe Dov Beck and Yisroel Dovid Wiess, light candles at the Martyrs square of Sabra and Shatila Massacres in the Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday February 24, 2005.
"In Beirut we confronted the man accused of leading the slaughter. There was in Lebanon a sense of surprise that we would wish to revisit such an event. As one former militia leader said, 'For God's sake if you prosecuted for war crimes here we'd all be in jail."
A British parliamentary motion requested:
"That this House congratulates the BBC for Panorama's recent in-depth analysis of the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla during the war in Lebanon in 1982; notes that following the massacres an internal Israeli commission of inquiry forced the resignation of the then Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon; believes there is sufficient prima facie evidence to indicate that Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli Prime Minister, should be tried for war crimes; and calls upon the international community to ensure that he is duly charged at the earliest possible opportunity.'
The motion added "that 400,000 people in Israel demonstrated their horror and disgust at such a crime against humanity"