- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

THURMONT, Md. About two dozen members of the Washington-based Religious Action Center traveled by bus yesterday to lend vocal support to the Mideast peace talks at Camp David.
"The goal is to demonstrate that the vast majority of the American Jewish community strongly supports the peace process and the efforts of [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat," said Jeff Mandell, a spokesman for the Religious Action Center (RAC), which claims to represent more than 1 million Reform Jews and handles legislative and social issues.
Members of RAC, which organized the demonstration, were joined by Israeli activists and Jewish teen-agers from a Pennsylvania summer camp at a Thurmont elementary school, where they sang Hebrew peace songs, carried signs and chanted peace slogans.
Too often, the critics of the peace process are the ones who have their voices heard the most, Mr. Mandell said.
"Those who support the efforts of peace haven't been as vocal. This is an effort to change that," he said.
Rabbi Donald R. Berlin, the local director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, was one of the demonstrators.
"It's important that the peace process continue," said Rabbi Berlin, who carried a sign reading "Seek peace and pursue it."
He pointed out that polls in Israel show roughly two-thirds of the Israeli people support the peace process. "It has reached a very critical turning point," he said.
"Most American Jews are also in support of peace," he said.
"When people are sincere, then they realize the things that were impossible yesterday are possible tomorrow. That's what happened in 1978 at Camp David and no one thought then that peace would come about," Rabbi Berlin said.
Yesterday afternoon, protesters opposing concessions to the Palestinians also turned out, chanting "Jerusalem is Jewish" and displaying signs reading "Barak is a traitor." A few got in shouting matches with demonstrators from the peace camp.
"We can't abide this so-called 'peace process,' " said Levi Huebner of New York, who holds Israeli citizenship.
"We can't stand by and watch him [Barak] endanger our brothers."
Esther Lederman, a peace demonstrator from the Israel Policy Forum in Washington, said living in Israel for two years gave her a better understanding of the need for peace.
"I was living in Tel Aviv when all of the terrorism was going on. A lot of Israelis were killed," Mrs. Lederman said. "It gives you a different view of the process.
"I really feel that Israel will only be safe at peace," she said.
The teen-agers traveled four hours by bus from Camp Harlam, a Jewish summer camp in Kunkletown, Pa., to support the talks.
Most of the teen-agers have been to Israel, which gave them a good grasp of the issues being discussed at Camp David, said Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, who works with teen-agers at Camp Harlam.
"They have a clear sense of what it is about," said Rabbi Elwell. "They understand there is no hope without peace."
Jill Wimmer, 17, of Lancaster, Pa., said she has always been aware of violence in the Middle East, but that going to Israel made the issue more real for her.
"Last summer, we went to Israel and everyone fell in love with the land," Miss Wimmer said. "We realized how important it is to have peace there."
Naftali Raz, a former sergeant in the Israeli army, was one of roughly 35 persons who came from more than 20 different peace movements in Israel to demonstrate.
"We're Israeli peace fighters. It's much nicer to fight for peace than to fight for real," said Mr. Raz, who lives in a small village outside of Jerusalem.
Mr. Raz said he fought in three wars for Israel, in 1967, 1973 and 1982. His son is now in the Israeli army and Mr. Raz said he does not want him to have to go to war.
The Israeli group will demonstrate every other day until the talks are over, he said.
Quoting an Israeli proverb, Mr. Raz said, "The worst peace is better than the best war."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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