Storrs Congregational hosts Tree of Life conference

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Tue., Nov. 5, 2013
Jane Hilal, head of the Water and Environment Research Department at the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ), was one of the speakers at the Tree of Life conference hosted by Storrs Congregational Church on Oct. 29. Contributed photos. - Contributed Photo

The evening of Oct. 29 brought a diverse group of people to Storrs Congregational Church for the local edition of the “To Exist is to Resist: Voices of Resistance from Israel and Palestine” conference. The conference series was produced in partnership with the Tree of Life Educational Fund, and the Friends of Sabeel, and sponsored locally by the Israel/Palestine Peace, Education and Action Group of Eastern Connecticut.

“To Exist is to Resist” can be found within a mural on the 28-foot concrete wall that imprisons Palestinians. “Nevertheless, the people who live with the Wall have distinguished themselves by their resilience, their determination to provide for their families, their persistence in keeping hope alive from one generation to another,” reads a Tree of Life conference pamphlet. “While the barrier has been built by Israel to keep Palestinians apart from Israelis, there are those on both sides of it - Israelis and Palestinians - who refuse to engage in enmity, and by their very existence oppose the forces that would keep them apart,” reads the pamphlet.

The Storrs conference was part of a series traveling from Vermont to New York, Massachusetts and other New England locations, to as far away as Georgia and Oregon. The purpose, according to the pamphlet, was to highlight some of the people who have come to understand how the Wall and the occupation are impediments to peace. “Perhaps in hearing them, we will emerge as voices of resistance ourselves, intent on speaking up and out to promote peace in the very troubled Holy Land,” reads the pamphlet.

Among the presenters at the Storrs conference were three young Palestinian musicians from Beit Sahour, neighboring Bethlehem. Speakers included Jane Hilal, head of the Water and Environment Research Department at the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development in the occupied Palestinian territory. Speaker Miko Peled was born into a well-known Zionist family. The tragic death of his young niece prompted Peled to re-examine beliefs he’d grown up with, and he became a human rights activist in the struggle for peace between Israel and Palestine. Peled’s book, “The General’s Son,” takes the reader into the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Introducing the speakers, the Rev. David W. Good, chairperson of the Tree of Life Education Fund, addressed the crowded sanctuary of Storrs Congregational Church, an audience encompassing young and old, UConn professors and students, parishioners from many different local congregations and others. “Thank you for being the voices of conscience that you are,” said Good. “It shows that you care, and for that I’m deeply grateful.” Whether a person’s views agreed with his regarding the issues or were diametrically opposed, said Good, “We will be better off the sooner we realize that all people, all religions draw sustenance from the same earth.”

Good referred to the 28-foot wall separating Palestinians from their families, olive trees, businesses, universities, and places of worship. While no imposing, physical wall exists here at home, even within our own communities we are separated by invisible walls of prejudice, fear and apathy, he said. For addressing the divisions within our human family, said Good, there must be a better way than the continual building of our walls. The aim of the Tree of Life conferences, said Good, was to hear from heroes who are already embroiled within the battle. The hope was to inspire listeners. The hope was that the conferences would result in “A little more leverage. A few more voices of conscience,” said Good.

For more information about the Tree of Life Education Fund, go to

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