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Jackson Leading Delegation of Religious Leaders on Mideast Peace Mission - 2002-07-27

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson is leading a delegation of religious leaders to the Middle East in an effort to bring peace to the region. The delegation plans to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Mr. Jackson's delegation includes Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. The head of the Chicago-based Rainbow-PUSH Coalition said his group will arrive in Jerusalem on Saturday and has meetings set up with Israeli Foreign Minster Shimon Peres, as well as Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. "We shall appeal to Mr. Arafat to speak clearly to end the intifada and the suicide bombings. [And] To Israel to end the occupation and the settlements," he said.

The group will also meet with peace activists from both sides, and with Israeli and Palestinian victims of the region's violence.

Mr. Jackson's mission comes at the invitation of the Lebanon-based Middle Eastern Council of Churches. He sees religious leaders as a so-called, "third force" which might be able to help break what he calls the death grip Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in.

Among those in the delegation is Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Los Angeles, who said he disagrees with the Israeli government's policy of isolating Yasser Arafat. "This is a desperate hour. It is very dark there, and you meet with people with whom you do not share the same ideas in hopes that there is a humanity that comes forth."

In addition to Jerusalem, the group will visit Tel Aviv, Gaza, Ramallah and Bethlehem. Mr. Jackson is also calling on the United States government to do more to help bring peace to the region. He said Americans can no longer distance themselves from the region's conflict. "That is why we are on high alert, that is why our airports are rigged [under increased security] and our seaports. That is why we have a new homeland security administrator," he said. "It is all driven by our policies in that region which have us in a global war."

Mr. Jackson says he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about the Middle East trip, but says he does not need and did not ask for the secretary's permission to go.