Delegation to Jerusalem
The following excerpt is from an article
by James Solheim, director of the Office of News
and Information for the Episcopal Church (www.loga.org).
He served as press officer to the delegation of American church leaders
"who spent an intense week in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza
in mid-December, discovering that the area is in the grip of fear and anger.
The hastily planned visit was an attempt to explore the underlying causes
of the conflict, express solidarity with the dwindling Christian community,
and try to shape a response the 26 members of the delegation could take
home to their churches—and to the U.S. government."
During a visit to the Bethlehem area, members of the delegation talked
with Christian families whose homes had been destroyed by Israelis, in
response to sniper fire aimed at the neighboring settlement of Gilo. Tiptoeing
through the shattered glass of the homes and a nearby sports center in
Beit Jala terrified residents described the intense shelling that drove
them from their homes. Some members of the delegation picked up shell fragments
clearly identified as "made in USA."
Confronting the fears
In a very frank and emotional conversation, a group of rabbis and peace
activists who are working for human rights expressed their own fears. "We
are passionate Zionists but see the claims of justice," realizing that
it is necessary to "redeem Israel as well as protect Palestinians," said
Rabbi Levi Kellman.
With the new outbreaks of violence, "tribal fears have been unleashed
and many Israelis feel threatened." He described his own fears for the
safety of a daughter serving in the army in Gaza. Yet he is convinced that
"our existence is predicated on building a just society and a relationship
with our neighbors." Being a peace advocate during times like these can
be lonely, the rabbis agreed.
Yehezkel Landau (founder of the Open
House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramallah) deplored the
pervasive "mythology of military solutions," adding that Israelis are "stuck"
in a readiness to "do unto others before they can do it to you." He thinks
that the mythology that you can solve problems by military force is everywhere.
"My nightmare scenario is that we will make peace but only after many more
Yet Palestinians don’t help the situation because "they push our fear
buttons." And Landau said that "there is no gain if we get a freedom without
Political leaders clinging to power "miss the moral point and we swing
down into a vortex of violence…. We know Palestinians are leaving but now
we begin to see some Jews ready to leave, too, and that is unprecedented
in all the years I have been in Israel," he added.
"Fear for us is existential—anxiety about terror bombs," said Rabbi
Ron Kronish. Morning radio forecasts how dangerous specific areas of the
city are. "Of course Israel has the military power but that does not stem
the fears," he said.
Breaking the pattern
Landau said, "We must have both Palestinian freedom and independence—and
Israeli security. It is both or neither." It will also be necessary, he
added, to "address the grievous wound of 1948 for Palestinians," the formation
of the State of Israel, because "it won’t be safe for Israelis until we
heal this." He is convinced that it is "time to break the pattern, learning
from mass tragedy and genocide in the 20th century, time to
re-humanize each other, find space in our hearts for the other, stretching
our hearts to be more inclusive."
"We are near an abyss of further catastrophe," warned Kronish. "Israeli
gains are not necessarily Palestinian losses. We need a good settlement
for all," he said. "We must end occupation, not necessarily through force,
but we must get out of this together."
[See also Peace Means Equality
for Jews and Palestinians]
Religious leaders wait at Ramallah checkpoint
for Israeli clearance to attend inter-faith service
Yehezkel Landau, founder of the Open
for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in
Ramallah, helps relate
Jewish tradition and spirituality
to issues of peace,
justice and reconciliation.
Dalia Landau, cofounder with her husband Yehezkel of
the Open House
Center, chats (in photo above on far
right) with Christian friends. Her work for reconciliation
has received widespread attention in Israel and
world-wide. See her open Letter
to a Deportee.
Inter-faith prayer for peace and justice in Ramallah
(Sheik Husseini is on the far right of above photo)
"As Palestinians we deserve to live in peace
—just as other nations," said Sheikh Muhammed
Husseini (preacher of El Aqsa Mosque)
opening comments to the delegation, jammed
into his office near the Dome of the Rock.
"We have hopes that your churches will carry
the message to government officials."