With a banner hanging on the Maryhouse stage behind them reading “Pope Francis Proclaims: The very Possession of Nuclear Weapons is to be Firmly Condemned”, Emad Kiyaei rises, “First of all, thank you so much. Stepping into this space has been truly profound, knowing that so many here have fought for a such variety of injustices in this country and abroad and how this has contributed to us all.

A quick note, this is quite rare, and not a joke, when we have an Israeli (Sharon Dolev), a Palestinian from Jordan (moderator Dina Saadallah), and an Iranian (himself) sitting together to speak about the issues of war and weapons of mass destruction.” Indeed, it’s extremely rare, a personal risk for each. They came directly from their presentation at the United Nations, the culmination of years of effort, during the conference for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East, with diplomats from many countries intrigued as to how this could happen. With animosities, walls, rhetoric so high, and wars murdering all involved, where to start? Indeed the subtitle for their presentation of METO (The Middle East Treaty Organization) is “Achieving the Possible”. Several countries (Sweden, Ireland, etc) had already given their support for this brave, clearly needed effort.

METO most likely would never have stood a chance if these co-founders, an Israeli or Iranian publicly introduced the concept themselves. Immediately it would have been untrusted as another ploy in power’s game. There are few words upon mention that immediately conjure as much prejudice and hate mongering as Israel and Iran. Emad and Sharon both face this fact, oft with humor and smiles, not knee jerk defensiveness, underscored with a deep knowing of the connectivity of being human. Rare in leaders, they both are capable of admitting their respective nations own wrongs, and embrace the wisdom of moving toward an ever slightly improved future together.

In 2017 they had a respected colleague, an Englishman introduce the draft text to the world, without mention of either of them. He requested feedback and almost immediately, serious dialogue, meetings, discussions arose laying a framework for upcoming negotiations on what would be needed for such a WMD Free Zone. If it were to ever happen, Insha’Allah, Shalom, the region would have a ready tool, a basic map from which to start, a hands on honed guide to hold in their hand and grapple with. The draft is committed to an transparent, inclusive process, facilitating further regional and international meetings, advancing solutions to an area that knows the constant horrors of terror, war, the use of chemical and biological weapons, and the unspoken threat of nuclear weapons.

Both Sharon and Emad shared their dynamic personal histories and refreshingly un-western, updated us on the complex struggles within their nations. Sharon spoke of the almost complete Israeli silence of press, politicians and citizens about their nuclear weapon policy. For her it’s been a long, dangerous, lonely struggle as the Greenpeace representative in Israel, and more recently the International Campaign for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons rep.
Over a decade ago she organized a surprise action in the Knesset, where anyone would be shot if quickly approaching the podium, but the women suddenly undressed, and with hands up, called out for disarmament of the weapons of mass destruction. The shocking naked truth disarmed the male dominated power structure and became the first real press on this subject.

When questioned about why they weren’t talking about ending general small arms and war in the region instead of WMD, she answered “Of course, we would like that, but powers do not come to the table for that. For some reason they will talk about WMD. We start with where we are. In the Middle East we are torn by neighbors, perceived enemies who feel they need guns for protection, but here in the US, without this immediate threat, you can’t even stifle your NRA. You expect us to solve this? Show us the bright example forward.” Emad continued, “Of course we would like all weapons eradicated and move toward a world where our differences aren’t settled by the barrel of a small or large gun. The US is the largest exporter of weapons of death. The Middle East is by far the most militarized region in the world and the largest consumer of US weapons. 53 % of the US weapons manufactured are exported to the Middle East. Russia is second. Our defense budgets and where we get these means of war come from the preachers of global peace, the world powers. Sweden, Switzerland, France, and Italy that makes pasta, China, forget about it, they sell arms like peanuts. These are in the top ten sellers and promoters of our wars.

Eight of these countries are supposedly democracies. I don’t see why civil society cannot go outside the headquarters of the 5 top companies here, the Boeings, Lockheed Martins, etc, the industries that are profiting as we bleed. If you wish to eradicate wars in our region, then take out this fuel behind them. We need to have civil society kick some ass in their countries. All power to you! We need to make war unprofitable. We have to make peace, by far, more profitable.” They chimed in that the press and politicians were too busy with stereotypes of the other, than on exploring the wise solutions before us.

Seeing these three together was a strong affirmation and a great breath of fresh air. So, please let’s keep them in our prayers, but also hear this call, recognize our full responsibility for the horrors, and summon encouragement for this noble, brave leadership for us all.