israel and palestine religious conflict
America, it seems, is ever more frequently taking the back-seat in Middle-East peace negotiations. The Arab League are taking things in hand, and now the Patriarch of Moscow has entered the fray!
Certainly Russia has been playing a key role in the Syrian crisis – preventing the West from formally sending in troops to topple Assad. Perhaps the Russian church can play a role in helping to mitigate further human-rights abuses?
P.S. It is worth noting from the report below that it has been since the West ‘liberated’ Iraq that 300,000 Christians have had to flee persecution there.
Sectarian Violence and the Plight of Christians in Libya, Palestine, Egypt and Syria: Moscow Patriarch
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill said he was concerned by the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East during a meeting with the Lebanese President Michel Sulayman on Monday.
“We see Christians fleeing Middle Eastern countries, and we consider it a threat to peace and security, especially a threat to inter-religious peace in Lebanon and other states,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said.
Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians among all Middle Eastern nations, though no official figures have been available since the last census in 1926. Many Syrian Christians, who fled the ongoing civil conflict in the country, have settled in Lebanese border towns.
“I would like to assure you that the Russian Orthodox Church is ready to assist in solving the complicated issues that we have just discussed,” the patriarch said.
In the early 20th century, about 20 percent of the Middle East population were Christians, but the figure has now dwindled to around five percent.
According to Terry Waite, a Church of England envoy and a hostage negotiator in Lebanon, many Christians were forced to flee their homes after the Arab Spring, including in Syria, Egypt and Libya. The Christian population is also dwindling in the Palestinian Territories, while in Iraq over 300,000 Christians have fled persecution since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The letter re-published below has been drafted by a variety of prominent clergy in the US Episcopal church and has supporting signatures from prominent international Anglicans such as Desmond Tutu!
The letter has not been received well by the current Episcopal leadership (see this article). On the contrary, the authors have been heavily criticised for trying to circumvent due process!
It never ceases to appall me how quickly the church becomes just another bureaucracy, tied down in the red-tape of ‘due process’! Perhaps Jesus and the Apostles should have formed a committee to decide on the fate of that poor woman caught in adultery (John 8)?
Episcopal Voices of Conscience
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 21, 2013
A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”- Martin Luther King , Jr. August 28, 1963 Washington, D.C.
Today as we celebrate the life and witness of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., we affirm once more that we will continue to build on his dream of a fully inclusive America, “where we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Today we also want to invoke Dr. King’s call for justice on the land where Jesus lived his earthly ministry, the holy land that is precious to all Jews, Christians, and Muslims – the people of Abraham. We affirm that God intends for Israeli Jews and Palestinians to live together in a just peace. Dr. King reminds us that justice must be the arbiter of this conflict, and we add that truth must be its accompanist. This is the justice Jesus called for when he said, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of Apartheid, so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa. All peoples who have experienced oppression, including indigenous peoples who have known what it is to be dispossessed of their land, understand the Palestinian issue.
Israel must be held accountable for allowing an occupation for 45 years that suffocates the dreams of freedom that Palestinians hold every bit as much as African Americans sought on that day when Dr. King told the world that he had a dream. Occupation cannot be justified as a tool of security. Occupation is its own form of violence, a prescription for frustration and rage among those shackled under its harsh restraints.
We ask the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church to look carefully at the full body of our Church’s policy on Israel and Palestine, and to implement those policies whenever the opportunity arises. The Episcopal Church General Convention held in July, 2012, adopted resolution A015 which reads in part: “Resolved, That that the General Convention reaffirms Resolution 1991 – A149, “Urge a Full Accounting of the Use of Foreign Aid to the Middle East,” adopted by the 70th General Convention,” which reads in part: “require(s) the State of Israel to account to the Government of the United States for all aid to Israel…in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act.”
As elected leaders of The Episcopal Church, we ask Executive Council to:
- Immediately send a message to Congress that the Episcopal Church supports our 15 ecumenical colleagues, who include the church leadership of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ denominations, that wrote to Congress October 5, 2012, calling for accountability of Israel’s use of foreign aid from our government. The voice of The Episcopal Church is woefully missing in the request our colleagues made to Congress.
- Immediately move forward with our Church’s corporate engagement policy so that our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation.
- We respectfully ask for a public accounting of the Executive Council’s work on these matters no later than the meeting of Council June 8-10, 2013.
The truth that is so readily seen worldwide, except among our nation’s leaders, is that Israel imposes a matrix of control over the occupied Palestinian territories, locating Jewish settlements on prime Palestinian land, building segregated roads forbidden to Palestinians to connect the settlers to Israel proper, erecting a wall that causes havoc in the daily lives of Palestinians and serves as another pretext to occupy yet more land. We see check points that are used to control the movements of people on their own land where tactics of bullying, intimidation, and detention are practiced; and where the demolition of homes and the uprooting of olive tree orchards are commonplace causing further humiliation and insult, along with the destruction of livelihoods. We see what was once Palestinian East Jerusalem being subsumed through Israel’s settlement policy. We see the teeming population of Gaza held under confinement on land, in the air, and at sea.
We ask today why is it that Congress and the White House are unable to see the injustice of the occupation, where Israel is the oppressor, and the Palestinians the oppressed? Why is it that our government could not recognize the rights of Palestinians to status as a non-member observer state at the United Nations? Why do our country’s leaders embarrass us as a nation by being on the short end of the UN vote, 138-9, and expose our irrational bias? We are mystified that Washington lives in a bubble of unreality in its blind support of an immense injustice perpetrated every day on the Palestinian people, and foments anger across the Middle East and the world.
Just as Dr. King spoke to the throngs on the Mall of our nation’s Capitol so, too, do his words ring true for Palestinians: “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
We believe, as does our Church, in the right of the state of Israel to exist, and we are aware of the threats against it from multiple sources, which saddens and concerns us. We assure all Jews in Israel and everywhere that we too share a commitment to Israel’s security and peace even as we insist that the state of Israel end this miserable occupation, which diminishes both the oppressed and the oppressor. We affirm our commitment to non-violence and reject the use of violence from either side. We oppose the indiscriminate use of rockets fired into Israeli communities as we oppose bombs being dropped on Gaza by Israeli fighter jets. We affirm the right of Israel to be at peace with her neighbors, but insist it be through the prism of justice as we believe Dr. King would insist.
As our Church stated in 1991, we differentiate between anti-Semitism, which we abhor, and legitimate criticism of the state of Israel, especially as Israel imposes an unjust system of occupation upon another people. We affirm the right of Palestinians to non-violent resistance to the occupation just as African Americans resisted the inhumanity of Jim Crow and segregation.
And just as Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, we hear from Palestinians who have a dream. We hear from Israeli Jews of goodwill that share that dream. May both peoples dream as Martin Luther King, Jr. did: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
We turn to our elected Church leaders, the Executive Council, to take up the mantle of justice and truth and undertake the long standing witness The Episcopal Church has made over these last three decades. We ask you, our elected leaders, to give voice to our long held policies, remembering that the arc of history bends towards justice.
Signed- Titles are for identification purposes only and do not imply organizational endorsement
Canon Bonnie Anderson, D.D., President of the Episcopal Church House of Deputies, 2006-2012
Owanah Anderson, citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
The Right Reverend Edmond L. Browning, former Presiding Bishop, 1986-1997, Current President of Sabeel, North America
Patti Browning , wife of Edmond Browning and long time activist for Palestinian justice
The Right Reverend Steven Charleston, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, retired
The Right Reverend Leo Frade, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida
The Reverend Canon Brian J. Grieves, former Peace and Justice Officer, The Episcopal Church 1988-2009
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean, Washington National Cathedral
Diane B. Pollard, Senior Deputy to General Convention, Diocese of New York, 1979 – 2012
The Right Reverend Gene Robinson, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, retired, current Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC
The Reverend Canon Edward Rodman, John Seeley Stone Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry, Episcopal Divinity School
The Reverend Winnie Varghese, Rector, St. Mark’s in- the-Bowery, New York, Executive Council 2006-2012
Supported by Internationals endorsers:
Dr. Jenny Te Paa – Dean, Te Rau Kahikatea, St. Johns College, Auckland, New Zealand
The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu – Archbishop Emeritus, Cape Town, Patron of Sabeel, International
There I was saying yesterday that the US had run its course as a potential peace-broker in Israel/Palestine. It seems that some of our Christian brethren in the US are more optimistic!
Certainly President Obama has an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ to play a positive role in bringing lasting justice and peace to the region but there have been no indications thus far that he is remotely interested, unless we interpret the appointment of Chuck Hagel as signalling the winds of change?
Regardless of whether it makes any difference, all power to these church leaders for taking a stand for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine!
US called on to lead in Israel-Palestine peace efforts
By Michelle Bauman
Religious leaders from across the United States asked the Obama administration to make peace efforts between Israel and Palestine a priority over the next four years.
“American political leadership is needed now more than ever to support both Israelis and Palestinians in creating a resilient and just peace,” said representatives of 35 Christian denominations.
In a Jan. 7 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, they warned that allowing the status quo to continue could prolong the conflict and bring greater violence to the region.
“As you embark upon your second term, there is an unprecedented opportunity for your Administration to play a catalytic role in the resolution of this conflict,” they told the president.
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was one of the signatories of the letter. Other signers included representatives of Episcopalian, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran and other religious communities in the United States.
“As faith leaders deeply committed to peace and reconciliation in this land held sacred by so many, we write to ask that you now bring the full energies of your Administration to bear toward facilitating a just, durable, and final negotiated agreement to end the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” they said.
The signatories acknowledged the challenges and cost associated with peace efforts, as well as the opposition faced from those on both sides.
An environment of fear and lack of trust make negotiations difficult, they said, “but another generation cannot wait as prospects for peace grow dimmer.”
Offering prayers that the president may be guided with courage and wisdom, the religious leaders urged the U.S. to place “the full weight of its support behind the long-term well-being of Israelis and Palestinians.”
“Proposals put forward must be feasible and convincingly address their separate national aspirations for security and justice,” they stressed.
Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have also spoken out on the importance of American leadership in the region.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops’ conference, joined Bishop Pates in calling for “a high profile envoy” to work for peace and justice in the area.
In a Jan.. 9 letter to President Obama, the two bishops observed that “our nation has a special obligation to exercise vigorous leadership for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Echoing the Holy Father’s calls for peace in the region, they encouraged efforts towards a two-state solution, comprised of “a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state.”
The bishops acknowledged that actions by both Palestinians and Israelis “perpetuate an unsustainable status quo” that endangers the entire region.
Recent rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel are “morally unjustifiable uses of indiscriminate force against civilians” that undermine the trust needed for negotiations, they said, while Israeli occupation and expansion in the West Bank “compromise the territorial viability of a future Palestinian state.”
At the same time, they emphasized that the lack of peace is taking “a heavy toll on both Israelis and Palestinians, and especially on the indigenous ancient Christian community of the Holy Land that is emigrating at alarming rates.”
“What is urgently needed is indefatigable and insistent leadership,” the bishops said. “The United States, as a consequence of its relationships and potentially significant influence, is poised, in our estimation, to be the most effective arbiter in this tangled situation that portends enormous risk for the world.”
Pledging their support to the U.S. government’s efforts for peace, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates urged leadership that gives both Israelis and Palestinians “hope for a different future free of the shadows of violence and open to the light of peace.”
There’s a story I tell every chance I get. I would like everybody on the mailing list to know the origin of the thirty-five (35) words in the following paragraph. I discovered them myself … my claim to fame … back in the early 1980’s … buried (if I remember right) on page 16 of my Church’s monthly national magazine: Episcopal Life. The words were included in a letter written by the Rt. Rev. Edmond Browning to the Women of the Church in the Holy Land. I was the Vicar at St. Elizabeth’s Church, San Diego at the time. Bishop Browning was TEC’s Presiding Bishop with an office in New York City. His wife, Patti, read the letter at a meeting because the PB’s schedule had not permitted him to accompany her that trip. Usually they traveled together. Have you noticed? Sometimes it takes a prolonged incubation period before truly prophetic words can take traction.
“As we Christians make our rightful claim to Jerusalem, we acknowledge that Muslims and Jews also have rightful claims to Jerusalem from their perspectives. It is useless to argue about sovereignty in the Holy City.”
Peers, I bid your prayers for the Peace of Jerusalem. My personal prayer is that Muslims and Jews will be led to stretch and motivated to grow and eventually to make parallel claims and acknowledgements … parallel, i.e., to the Christian claim and acknowledgements … for God’s sake. From my perspective, these few words summarize the most reasonable systematic plan for justice and world peace. Does anybody have a better idea? If so, please share.
I guess it should not surprise us to see both the Israeli and the Palestinian governments vying for support from the Christian West by demonstrating their love for Christmas.
Both governments released official videos this Christmas (featured below), highlighting how Christmas-friendly (and Christian-friendly) their governments are.
Netanyahu’s video is very explicit about the way his country embraces religious minorities in contrast to so many of his intolerant neighbours. Frankly, I find his rhetoric as sickening as it is misleading.
Certainly I would prefer to be a Christian living in Israel than in some of the West’s other staunch Middle-Eastern allies, such as Saudi Arabia or Jordan, but the truth is that the current Israeli government has done little to stop the recent ‘price tag’ attacks by settlers against churches and monasteries. Netanyahu has voiced official disapproval but at the same time he has enlarged the settlements from which these attacks are carried out!
(click here if you can’t see the video)
The Palestinian video is wordless. I wish it said more. At least it does illustrate what the majority of Christians in the West seem to have forgotten – namely, that the Christian population of Israel/Palestine is almost entirely Palestinian.
(click here if you can’t see the video)