• FEATURES \ Apr 09, 2002
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    Men play a part in restoring peace, history
Men play a part in restoring peace, history Bader Mansour is an Arab.

He's also an Israeli citizen.

And he's a Christian.

So many labels for a 33-year-old businessman in a land both defined and torn apart by history and religious differences.

A place where Jews and Arabs can be friends but can't dare talk about politics.

And a place where violence reigns even though a man who promoted peace walked there 2,000 years ago.

"I think we can get peace when history becomes a little less important," Mansour said last week while visiting Scottdale.

The resident of Nazareth, Israel, was in the area with friend D. Michael Hostetler, a former Scottdale resident whose parents still live in the town.

Hostetler has lived in Nazareth since 1996 and is the executive director of Nazareth Village, a project that has recreated, in historical accuracy and detail, what the town looked like when Jesus Christ lived there.

Hostetler is back in the United States to work on fund-raising efforts for the project, and Mansour, who is visiting clients of his computer business, is helping him.

They spoke of their perspectives on the conflict that Americans only read about in the papers and see on CNN.

Nazareth is not in the center of the conflict, Mansour said. It's one of the safest places because it's an Arab city within Israel and not within the occupied territories of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Still, the violence affects everyone.

"It's just depressing," Mansour said. "The news is depressing every day."

Hostetler is hopeful that Nazareth Village can lift the spirits of all the people ? whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish.

"What we are doing is building bridges and helping connect people in a way few places are doing in that part of the world," Hostetler said, pointing out that many of the schoolchildren visiting come from Islamic fundamentalist communities and that many Jewish groups visit as well.

"We're talking about a small Jewish community that is being presented essentially by a group of Christian Arabs in a city where there is a Muslim majority, in a society where Jews give a high value to their history and traditions," Hostetler said.

He said it's a challenge to maintain a balance among the three, and it is critical to be historically correct.

Researchers and archaeologists have worked for years developing the village, which consists of houses, a synagogue and an authentic farm that visitors can tour. People in period costume show visitors what life was like in the 1st century.

The village opened in the summer of 2000, but the 18-month-long conflict has kept international visitors away. The village is relying mostly on school trips and fund raising to keep afloat.

"It's in my mind absolutely essential that we find a way to keep it going because Jesus is a world figure," Hostetler said.

And he reiterated that Nazareth is quiet and the violence in other areas "is not directed at foreigners or tourists."

But violence is a part of life.

The latest round of violence erupted in the fall of 2000 after peace talks in the summer of that year broke down. But the last two months have been exceptionally violent, they said.

"It's almost like Vietnam," Hostetler said.

Mansour said he has many Jewish friends, but when it comes to the conflict, views are different.

"Each side feels they are the victim and they are right," he said.

And while Mansour does not condone the violence being used by both sides, he believes the Palestinian people are the victims "because they are under occupation."

They tell the stories beyond the Palestinian suicide bombings and the Israeli tank attacks.

Palestinians wait at checkpoints for hours within the West Bank and Gaza Strip to go between towns that are 10 minutes apart. Babies have died at checkpoints because they needed help at hospitals and couldn't get there in time, Hostetler said.

When the 500 or so Jews in Hebron want to celebrate, the more than 100,000 Arabs in the town are put on curfew, Mansour said.

But he agrees that both sides are suffering.

"I think at some point there will be peace. There must be peace," Mansour said. "We had some taste of it (in the summer of 2000). Both nations were not ready yet for what they had to give up, and that's why things exploded."

But maybe this violence will lead to an ultimate peace if both sides are willing to give up a little bit more.

"I think people now remember what war is and what it does," Mansour said. "When you don't see how bad war is, you don't understand peace really."

Hostetler believes peace can start in small places, such as Nazareth Village.

"We are making the best effort to be the best source of hope in that regard," he said. "If you can begin to find ways to help people connect, maybe people can see other ways."

Mansour believes the American government can have a positive effect on the peace process if it treats both sides equally.

"It's like two kids fighting," he said of the conflict. "They are so stubborn. Sometimes you need the teacher to say, 'Sit down. You do this. You do that,' and put some pressure."


For more information on Nazareth Village, visit its Web site at www.nazarethvillage.com. Donations can be mailed to Miracle of Nazareth International Foundation, 550 S. Union St., Mishawaka, IN, 46544.