In interviews with the Tribune, the three men from Israel say they get along well. The Muslim, Jew and Christian traveled recently to the U.S. for a series of "trialogues" about establishing permanent peace in Israel.
"It’s the notion that only by knowing the other and speaking to one another, listening to one another, we can promote peace and reconciliation," said Ronen Lubitch, an Israeli rabbi who calls face-to-face talk a "very powerful" force. "We have to relate to one another peacefully."
Lubitch said there is value in demonstrating to an audience how there can be such cross-religious interaction for understanding and coexistence.
Emphasizing that their monotheistic religions originate in the same historic root — Abraham — the trio brought their conversation Dec. 7 to Scottsdale for a spirited event called "Abrahamic Voices of Peace."
Lubitch was joined by the Rev. Samuel Fanous, a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and rector of an Anglican church in Ramle, Israel; and Mithkal Natour, a lecturer in Islamic law and affairs.
Fanous spoke of his experience. "I grew up a minority — a Christian among Arabs, Muslims and Jews, and I studied in Jewish schools where kids referred to you differently, which sometimes hurt. I want to change that," he said.
The three men developed their friendship through participation in interfaith forums. Many groups intentionally work for peace, he said, with many of them focusing on young people to break down prejudice and distrust.
"We need to know each other," Natour said. "If I know you, I will respect you."
Despite widespread accusations that their religions are the underlying cause of violence and unrest, the trio said faith can be a strong force for reconciliation. Natour told of how a Russian woman once berated him, "Why do we need religion? I don’t need religion. My children are OK. They don’t want religion, and I don’t need religion."
He told her that the three major religions draw commonality from their origins in Abraham and can find common ground through that.
"The opportunity to peace — to see it — is better," he said, adding that adherents of faith should not misuse their holy books. Each, he said, has "positive and negative aspects."
Natour said it behooves those who call themselves believers to find the words from texts to nurture understanding. "I am ordered by God to be a human being and to look at him as a human being with rights like him," Natour said.
Fanous said it is valuable to take their three-way discussions to U.S. audiences to help Americans influence their policymakers to be positive forces for Middle East peace efforts. Strong leaders, he said, are able to dramatically foster peace, citing how former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who was once fiercely hostile to Arabs, was able to relent and sign a peace agreement in 1979 with Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat through the efforts of then-President Jimmy Carter.
Fanous said factions in Israel should press forward for permanent peace even in the face of extremists who try to subvert change.
"When the state of Israel was created (in 1948), you also had the extremists," he said. "We don’t have to wait for the extremists to disappear. You have to do it — you have to do it together."