June 8, 2003

Actor Richard Gere plays a drum during a meeting of Jewish and Arab actors in Jaffa last week. (Israel Hadari/Reuters)Movie idol Richard Gere visited Israel last week, meeting with Israeli leaders and both Israeli and Palestinian officials and peace activists.

Gere, the 54-year-old star of hit films including An Officer and a Gentlemen, Pretty Woman and Chicago, was the guest of Spirit of Peace, the Israeli chapter of the International Peacemaking Community – a global, multi-faith peace organization. Gere asked to “hear the voices of the people” and to get to know the special places in the region,” according to those who organized his visit.

Gere connected to the organization through his friend Bernie Glassman, an aeronautical engineer and mathematician who has become a Zen Buddhist. Glassman is founder of the Peacemaker Circle, a global, multifaith network combining spiritual practice and social action.

Gere is a devotee of Tibetan Buddhism, which brought him close to the Dalai Lama and have made him a prominent voice in the United States for the Tibetan freedom movement.

“I’m a rich man, I’ve managed to travel the world, I’m lucky, and I don’t want for anything, But if there’s something that brings meaning to my life, it is the subject of peace – these kinds of meetings, these kinds of places. It is a great honor for me to be here,” said Gere, on his first appearance in Israel on Monday.

At that event, Gere met with an auditorium full of Arab Israeli women in the village of Faradis. The actor was offered some falafel balls, stuffed grape leaves and other vegetables, which he sampled – he particularly liked the falafel. After the luncheon that involved singing and praying, Gere stood up to say a few words to the 120 women in the group.

When Gere asked those present “to be my teachers,” a circle of ten girls formed around him and talked with him about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gere listened with a focused gaze.

“He said he was very happy to meet this number of women,” Randa Zriek, who helped to organize the event, told The Jerusalem Post. “He wanted to hear from us about our suffering, our happiness, and our hopes for the future.”

“I think this meeting is very important,” she said. “Women can make a big change in the community and in the country, but we have to be together. We bring children and life to the land, so we can make and give the peace as well. We just have to recognize this and work together for the same hope.'”

From Faradis, Gere continued to the Druze village of Dalia-al-Carmel to visit the home of Ali Birani, a peace activist. Gere stayed at the family’s house for three and a half hours and over the course of his stay, spoke with a Druze sheik, a Jewish rabbi, a Moslem imam, and a Christian priest.

Finally, Gere arrived in the Israeli suburb of Savyon, at the home of public relations executive Rani Rahav, where members of the Israeli business and political elite came to rub shoulders with the Hollywood star. Knesset member Shimon Peres and his son Chemi, and Dalia Rabin-Pellosof made it to the cocktail party, as well Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, his wife Judy, and the US ambassador Dan Kurtzer.

Peres had compliments for Gere. “It turns out that Gere doesn’t just capture the hearts of woman, but also the hearts of men, because he is very down-to-earth.,” Peres told the Yediot Aharonot. “He isn’t just a big star but a major artist and it is very impressive that he is willing to dedicated some of his time and energy to promote peace in Israel.”

Gere returned the compliment. “I don?t know how you do it,” he said to Peres. “You are more than 20 years older than me, but you look 20 years younger than me.”

The next day Gere visited Ramallah, meeting with Palestinian culture minister Zyad Abu Amr. The actor also met with several prominent members of the Palestinian arts scene, including film-maker George Khalife, whose movie theatre, the largest in Ramallah, is currently screening Gere’s award-winning musical Chicago’.

Gere finished up his trip with a visit to a theater in Old Jaffa where he met with Jewish and Arab actors, and ended up playing bongo drums in an impromptu jam session.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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