DC Residents Join US Muslim Leaders on Solidarity Mission to Israel

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A meeting during the solidarity mission. Photo courtesy of the Combat Antisemitism Movement

Several Washington, D.C., residents, including Anila Ali, president of the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, participated in a delegation of U.S. Muslim leaders on a trip to Israel where they met with survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks and government leaders and heard their stories while seeing the reality of life in Israel during the conflict.

The group went to Israel with the mission of pursuing a lasting peace in the region and to show that interfaith initiatives are possible – that Jews and Muslims can stand together and that it’s not wrong for a Muslim to stand with Israel in its time of trouble, according to Ali, who was one of the speakers at the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14.
“I see that Muslims and Jews belong together, that we are Abrahamic siblings and cousins, that we should have peace,” Ali said.

Ali explained that AMMWEC is a group that wants to empower Muslim women to be a part of the discussion and action surrounding religious freedom and preventing extremism and violence, which they began to do several years ago by visiting Muslim countries and working on interfaith initiatives to promote positive change.

In the past, the group has been involved with groundbreaking interfaith efforts, such as taking a trip with the first Pakistani Jew able travel to Israel with his religion listed on his passport, which Ali said really opened up the eyes of many people to the beneficial relationships that could be had between Arab countries and Israel.

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“About three, four months [after that trip], people started actually having a dialogue and a conversation about Pakistan, recognizing that Israel is here to stay and they have much to offer,” Ali said.

These efforts continued and expanded, allowing for what appeared to be a more open mindset toward having interfaith relations across those countries. The group then faced its biggest challenge in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, when its work was crucially important, but the conflict led to increased tensions and polarization.

“I looked at what is happening and how, even within my organization or my own work, people who always have stood by the Jewish people … a lot of them did not condemn Hamas. I made sure that we did as an organization,” Ali said.

Ali added that in several area of the country there was growing discontent with Israel very quickly after the military response began. She said that based on her experience traveling to Israel and Gaza in the past, there has been a failure of leadership that has caused a continuation of this brutal cycle of violence.

“There was a very toxic narrative coming out. It was almost as if they were saying ‘get rid of these people [Israelis], they’re not human beings. They should not be living and they’re killing Palestinian children.’ We all know that the way to help Palestinians and stop [the cycle of violence] is to build peace. There is no other way,” Ali said.

And so that was a major driving force for Ali and others to go on this trip, during which they gathered information and spoke with government officials and survivors to hear their stories and bring those messages home so they could better inform people and hopefully show the way forward to peace.

Ali said that due to her participation in the March for Israel rally in D.C. and her call for peace and other similar efforts, she has received many threats and endured nasty rhetoric directed at her, but that isn’t stopping her from wanting to accomplish her goal of working toward unity.

While on the trip, the delegation was taken to a variety of areas impacted by the attacks, including the desert in southern Israel where they met a Bedouin man whose wife was killed in front of him, which Ali said showcased the brutality of Hamas. They also met a number of Muslims and Arabs who were attacked and had family members taken hostages alongside the Israeli Jews.

“We tried to provide during the visit a novel, as deep as possible view of the situation of Israeli society, where we are right now, following Oct. 7, as a society, as an army, as a recovering situation, because Israel is recovering from the attack,” said Sacha Roytman Dratwa, CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, who was involved in planning the delegation’s trip.

“It was very important to see the day after. We met with displaced people from different communities that are today central to see how a life of a displaced family in the center of Israel looks,” he said.

Ali added that beyond meeting with these people and talking to women in leadership roles in Israel, she felt a sense of the diverse groups of people suffering from the attacks, which is something she wants to share with people.

One takeaway for Ali was that Hamas doesn’t care about other individuals, as evidenced by the group’s experience speaking with the Arab and Muslim victims, as well as their own experiences having to hide from Hamas rockets during the trip.

“That was what triggered my response, that I said people don’t know that our own citizens and innocent people of all religious backgrounds have been taken by Hamas and should be returned home,” Ali said. “Here in America, we’re hearing, ‘Jews are evil, Jews are taking over the world, they should all die.’ That’s what really is motivating us to put ourselves in the line of fire and speak up.”

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