HEALING THE HOLY LAND
Christians living in the Holy Land have long faced a combination of antithetical forces that have driven many of them from their homes and forced them to become refugees, living in foreign lands. The creation of an environment that would permit them to return to or remain in the Holy Land is one of the prime goals of our Grand Priory. The following Report by Mr. Landau attempts to analyze that potential through faith-based understanding. He points out that, although there are a number of religious forces that come into play, both destructive and positive, faith can become an important vehicle for good. Although it is too lengthy to reprint in full, the summary, introduction and conclusions follow. A full copy of the report can be obtained upon request.
Healing the Holy Land
Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine
Even though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is primarily a political dispute between two nations over a common homeland, it has religious aspects that need to be addressed in any effective peacemaking strategy. The peace agenda cannot be the monopoly of secular nationalist leaders, for such an approach guarantees that fervent religious believers on all sides will feel excluded and threatened by the diplomatic process. Religious militants need to be addressed in their own symbolic language; otherwise, they will continue to sabotage any peacebuilding efforts.Holy sites, including the city of Jerusalem, are claimed by both peoples, and deeper issues that fuel the conflict, including the elements of national identity and purpose, are matters of transcendent value that cannot be ignored by politicians or diplomats.
This report argues for the inclusion of religious leaders and educators in the long-term peacebuilding that is required to heal the bitter conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It documents the efforts of Jews,Christians, and Muslims whose commitments toward a just peace are rooted in their religious convictions.Much of the information presented here is based on interviews conducted with clerics, educators, and peace activists from September 2002 to June 2003. The interviewees include high-level religious leaders who participated in the historic Alexandria Summit in January 2002, as well as facilitators of grassroots interfaith dialogue, religious educators from the different communities, and activists trying to forge bridges of compassion and cooperation across the political divide. Politicians and diplomats need to tap the insights and experience of these religious professionals. The efforts described here deserve greater media coverage and philanthropic support.As the fate of the Oslo process shows, peacemaking that prescribes only political, military, and economic arrangements is doomed to fail; leaders on both sides must take into account the feelings, attitudes, yearnings, and symbolic images that Israelis and Palestinians harbor.
Drawing on personal testimonies, the report describes a broad range of initiatives in the area of religious peacebuilding, some of which seek to influence government policy and official negotiations, others that work at the grassroots level, and still others that focus on the international arena. The report examines, for instance, the Alexandria Summit and efforts to sustain its momentum; local interfaith dialogues; programs aimed specifically at schoolteachers; personal initiatives by Palestinian Muslims; projects that employ the power of traditional symbols and rituals; the work of groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Parents’Circle—Bereaved Parents for Tolerance, Democracy, Peace, and Judaism; and some of the very different journeys undertaken by individuals toward the common goal of peacebuilding.
The report concludes with a series of practical recommendations drawn from the narrative. An appendix offers the full text of the Alexandria Declaration.
The interrelationship between religion and peace is complex and multidimensional. Religious differences have contributed to conflict—often violent conflict—in many parts of the world, and yet many religious leaders and organizations have been powerful forces for peace, even in places where religion has fed the conflict. In Northern Ireland, for example, although religion has been a highly divisive force, a number of ecumenical organizations have helped to contain the conflict and may in the long run contribute to its resolution. Similarly in Israel/Palestine, religion fuels both conflict and the struggle for peace.
The United States Institute of Peace has long recognized the complexity of the interrelationship between religion and peace. During the 1990s the Institute sponsored a program on religion, ethics, and human rights that focused on the ways in which religious beliefs can contribute to conflict. This program organized a series of study groups on such conflict-ridden countries as Sudan,Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Lebanon in an attempt to understand the sources of local conflict and the prospects and techniques for ameliorating it. Since 2000 the Institute has taken a somewhat different approach through its Religion and Peacemaking Initiative, which works to strengthen the capacity of religious communities to help resolve conflicts.
The Religion and Peacemaking Initiative emphasizes interfaith peacemaking in places plagued by serious religious conflict. The Initiative has cosponsored extended dialogue between religious leaders in Macedonia (Muslim and Christian),Nigeria (Muslim and Christian), and Israel/Palestine (Jewish,Muslim, and Christian), and between Jews and Christians from the United States and Muslims from both the United States and other countries. Other projects promote the teaching of Islam in Christian theological seminaries and the preparation of a handbook on interfaith dialogue for the Middle East. The Institute has also published Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, a book that explores the concept and practice of initiatives that cross religious boundaries, as well as two shorter Special Reports, Building Interreligious Trust in a Climate of Fear and Can Faith-Based NGOs Advance Interfaith Reconciliation? The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This Peaceworks report, authored by Yehezkel Landau, is a fascinating exploration of religious peacemaking in Israel/Palestine. Landau focuses on efforts to build bridges between religious communities, especially Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as interfaith efforts to promote peace. A number of other religious organizations that also view themselves as religious peacemakers in Israel/Palestine are not featured here, either because they focus on political advocacy or because they side very explicitly with Israelis or Palestinians. The programs included in this publication are indigenous to Israel and Palestine and emphasize dialogue and mutual accommodation while also attempting to address the justice issues that underlie the conflict.
The Initiative contracted with Yehezkel Landau to research and write this report because of his unique qualifications. In addition to being a person of deep religious commitment, he has spent the last twenty-five years living in Jerusalem to promote religious peacemaking. From 1991 until 2003 he was co-director of the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle, Israel.He is now faculty associate in interfaith relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford,Connecticut.
In this publication, Landau tells the remarkable but neglected stories of religious peacemakers in Israel/Palestine.As Rabbi Dr.Marc Gopin of George Mason University has noted, in this report “Landau has managed to bring alive, through extensive quotations, the lives and hearts of courageous actors who are almost never known within policymaking circles.Many do have followings in the West who sustain them with modest support, but they plainly would be far more effective if policymaking circles and political leaders had seen them from the beginning as assets to the peace process. In fact, they have sustained vital relations at times when everyone else has given up. Furthermore, their visibility from time to time on the streets of Israel, in the public square, has been among the few signs of hope that many Jews and Arabs ever see. I have personally witnessed how meaningful that has been for otherwise hopeless citizens on both sides of the conflict.” The United States Institute of Peace has published this work to give greater visibility to the work of these dedicated religious peacemakers and to inspire religious peacemakers in other regions of conflict.
DIRECTOR, RELIGION AND PEACEMAKING INITIATIVE
UNITED STATES INSTITUTE OF PEACE
During the fall of 2002, I conducted a series of interviews with some thirty Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel/Palestine, all of whom have long-standing commitments to peacebuilding that stem from their religious orientations. In most cases, these are colleagues I have known for twenty-five years, since I moved to Jerusalem from the United States. During that time, I have been working to improve relations between Jews and Palestinians out of a deep conviction that the Holy Land is God’s laboratory on earth for practicing justice and compassion. These are the two cardinal virtues identified with our common spiritual ancestor, Abraham/Ibrahim (see Gen. 18:19).
Since the Al-Aqsa intifada erupted in September 2000 and Israeli-Palestinian relations degenerated into a horrifying cycle of violence and retaliation, the commitment of those working for reconciliation has been sorely tested. It has been a demoralizing time, all the more discouraging because of the hopes raised after the Oslo Accords were signed. People’s core beliefs about themselves and their neighbors, the society they share, and what the future holds for their children have been shaken by the suicide bombings, the massive military reprisals, and the bellicose rhetoric from both sides.Another generation of children has been traumatized, and it will take years to restore psychic equilibrium for many people in both societies, including Israeli soldiers compelled to treat Palestinians in dehumanizing ways in the name of security. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have had their livelihoods disrupted, and many families in Gaza and the West Bank endure appalling conditions, their children suffering from malnutrition.
Recent developments in the region—including the war in Iraq, the involvement of the so-called Quartet (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia) in designing a road map for a two-state resolution of the conflict, a new Palestinian prime minister and cabinet, a three-month cease-fire declared by militant factions, plus renewed engagement by the U.S. administration in advancing peace negotiations—hold out some promise for political movement that could reduce the violence and suffering. But it remains to be seen whether these efforts will achieve tangible results. Meanwhile, religiously motivated peacebuilders continue their work. This report is based primarily on interviews I conducted in fall 2002,with some additional information from subsequent conversations. Because current circumstances make it impossible for me, an Israeli Jew, to enter Palestinian territory, and because most Palestinians are prohibited from entering Israel,my contacts with Palestinians beyond the Green Line were restricted to telephone conversations.My efforts to phone one key Palestinian were unsuccessful, and only in the week before completing this report was I fortunate to meet him at an international conference in Switzerland. Despite these limitations, and the skewed picture favoring grassroots initiatives on the Israeli side, I believe this report achieves its prin- cipal objective, which is to demonstrate the need to include religious leaders and educators in the long-term peacebuilding required to end the bitter conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
At the end of this report, I offer recommendations on how to advance this objective. Despite the discouraging events of the past three years, I have not lost my hope for the future. That hope is grounded in my religious faith, and I believe more than ever that people of faith need to keep the torch of hope burning when the winds of war threaten to extinguish it.
In this report, there then follow a series of interviews which expand an understanding of the search for peace among Jews, Muslims and Christians. At the conclusion, Landau has included the Alexandria Declaration with its parallel goals. -editor
In conclusion, I offer some recommendations drawn from the verbal testimonies and the model programs presented in this report:
◗ For effective peacebuilding in the Middle East, an interreligious “track” paralleling political diplomacy is essential. Building relationships of trust and cooperation among religious figures at all levels requires discreet activity, far from the television cameras, as well as publicized meetings and statements to sustain the hope of others.
◗ Interreligious solidarity among distinguished leaders and grassroots activists is mutually supportive. To succeed, each group needs the other, and from time to time they should come together to discuss how their efforts can reinforce one another. Since clerics in the Middle East are almost always men, bringing them in contact with both women and men from local NGOs will help diversify the pool of insights for religious peacebuilding.
◗ Discussions, conferences, and declarations need to be supplemented by symbolic or ritualized gestures of rectification and reconciliation, grounded in the wisdom of the different religious traditions.
◗ Religious leaders from throughout the region, backed by their counterparts in other parts of the world, need to meet more frequently to develop common agendas for peacemaking and to demonstrate that making sacrifices for peace is a religious obligation.
◗ Interreligious NGOs that operate across boundaries (for example, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, the International Association for Religion and Freedom, Initiatives of Change, and the Community of Sant’Egidio) need to be more involved in promoting religious peacebuilding in the Middle East.
◗ Media professionals should be challenged to give more coverage to peacebuilding efforts, including interreligious initiatives for peace and inspirational stories of personal transformation.
◗ Philanthropic agencies and individuals need to invest far more resources in interreligious peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine. The peace pioneers on the ground struggle against high odds, and their frustrations are multiplied by limited funding. Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide have a stake in the success of these efforts, and they should be more active in soliciting funds for these projects from their coreligionists.
* Finally, politicians and diplomats need to understand that religion can be a force for peacebuilding rather than conflict. Institutions such as the United States Institute of Peace should organize seminars for these public servants, with theorists and practitioners in the field of religious peacemaking offering their insights. Such seminars would help ensure that the religious dimension is not neglected in diplomacy and that future peace agreements are accepted by fervent religious adherents on all sides of the conflict.
The First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land
Alexandria, January 21, 2002
The first Middle East Interfaith Summit with the participation of the leaders of the three monotheistic faiths, held in Alexandria, Egypt, issued the following statement: In the name of God who is Almighty, Merciful and Compassionate, we, who have gathered as religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, pray for true peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and declare our commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right of life and dignity. According to our faith traditions, killing innocents in the name of God is a desecration of His Holy Name, and defames religion in the world. The violence in the Holy Land is an evil which must be opposed by all people of good faith. We seek to live together as neighbors respecting the integrity of each other’s historical and religious inheritance. We call upon all to oppose incitement, hatred and misrepresentation of the other.
1. The Holy Land is holy to all three of our faiths. Therefore, followers of the divine religions must respect its sanctity, and bloodshed must not be allowed to pollute it. The sanctity and integrity of the holy places must be preserved, and freedom of religious worship must be ensured for all.
2. Palestinians and Israelis must respect the divinely ordained purposes of the Creator by whose grace they live in the same land that is called holy.
3. We call on the political leaders of both peoples to work for a just, secure and durable solution in the spirit of the words of the Almighty and the Prophets.
4. As a first step now, we call for a religiously sanctioned cease-fire, respected and observed on all sides, and for the implementation of the Mitchell and Tenet recommendations, including the lifting of restrictions and return to negotiations.
5. We seek to help create an atmosphere where present and future generations will co-exist with mutual respect and trust in the other. We call on all to refrain from incitement and demonization, and to educate our future generations accordingly.
6. As religious leaders, we pledge ourselves to continue a joint quest for a just peace that leads to reconciliation in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, for the common good of all our peoples.
7. We announce the establishment of a permanent joint committee to carry out the recommendations of this declaration, and to engage with our respective political leadership accordingly.
His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury,Dr. George Carey
His Eminence Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, head of Al-Azhar Islamic University, Cairo
Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron
Rabbi Michael Melchior, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel
Rabbi Menachem Froman, Rabbi of Tekoa
Rabbi David Rosen, President ofWCRP
Jeffrey Peter Agnes
LTC Thomas P. Curtis II
Rev. Michael P. Forbes
David D. Fautua
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