Teleconference will feature video with voices from Middle East
Feb. 13, 2002

by James Solheim

(ENS) A videotape prepared for a February 19 teleconference on "Waging
Reconciliation in the Holy Land: Salaam, Shalom, Peace" will feature a
variety of voices of people caught in the turmoil of the region.

The teleconference will be broadcast from All Saints Church in Pasadena,
California, and St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City, and is designed
to "explore the work of peacemaking and advocacy in the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict, framed in the church's call 'to strive for justice among all
people.'"

"The conflict makes it very difficult for people to travel so we decided to
take a film crew over there to interview those active in the search for
peace," said the Rev. Brian Grieves, director of the Episcopal Church's
Peace and Justice Ministries, who supervised the project.

"We were stunned by the passion and pain of everyone we
interviewed-Israelis, Muslim and Christian women and youth, as well as
church leaders-especially in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. They are
stubbornly clinging to hope but also frightened that there seems to be no
end to the violence, on either side," Grieves said.

Sense of gloom

A sense of gloom has settled over Israel and the West Bank, due largely to
the violence and the impasse in the peace process.

"We are in a particularly dark period," said Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, an
Israeli peace activist who heads Rabbis for Human Rights. He said that "fear
and anxieties and anger between the two communities have never been worse.
Just the idea of thinking and reflecting on reconciliation is welcome to get
us beyond this situation."

His colleague Yehezkel Landau, director of the Open House Center for
Jewish-Arab Reconciliation, agrees. "The barriers of fear and anger are
higher than they have ever been. So to talk about justice, peace and
reconciliation in such a climate is all the more difficult-but all the more
necessary to break through this conditioned inertia and a great deal of
hopelessness on both sides," he said.

"For some people the answer is we're going to separate," adds Milgrom. "We
just won't see each other and we'll have high walls. We have many Jews
thinking they are going to create a Jewish society in complete disregard for
the native population." Landau said that finding a standard of justice that
is crucial for any genuine peace or reconciliation means "we have to make
space in our hearts, first of all, and in our theological conceptions for
the other community and other religious tradition, as equal partners in the
Holy Land. Otherwise we will continue to desecrate it by our partisan,
self-serving agendas."

Occupation is a sin
 

Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal of the diocese said that "reconciliation is an act
that goes beyond even signing a peace agreement. It is not the task of the
politicians but to those of us entrusted with the ministry or mission of
reconciliation."

Yet the bishop does see "a way out of this mess-provided the international
community addresses the root cause of this hostility, this conflict. We all
know that this conflict is over a piece of land that some call Israel and
others call Palestine-and I wait for the day when both parties join hands
together and reconcile. The root cause of this conflict is the occupation
that is, in my opinion, a sin."

Riah stressed the importance of addressing the issue of justice.
"Reconciliation in no way sets aside the search for justice. And justice in
our understanding as Palestinians, is the right to self-determination, the
right to an independent state on Palestinian soil, side by side with Israel,
in accordance with the United Nations resolutions." He called on
international help in convincing the Israelis that "their security is found
in reconciled neighbors. Then there is hope for peace and reconciliation."

Riah's colleague in Jerusalem, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church serving Jordan and Palestine, agreed that "occupation is a
sin against God and humanity. It is destructive-first to the occupier and
then to the occupied. We want security for the Israelis but we want also
freedom for Palestinians. This symbiotic relationship is the only way for
justice, peace and reconciliation."

Both bishops condemned the violence. "We are afraid and scared to death that
violence and terrorism will have the last word," said Munib.

Looking ahead

The Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology
Center in Jerusalem, said that the occupation must be lifted before
reconciliation is possible, warning that the process will be a long one. "In
spite of the pain of the past, reconciliation opens the door for us to
accept the present and look for the future, as we relate to the other
person, as we regain or bring back our lost humanity as a result of the
oppression, as a result of the injustice," he said.

Ateek welcomed the church's emphasis on waging reconciliation "because it's
really a way of looking forward, rather than only looking at the gloomy,
despairing present." Yet he is deeply concerned that the Israeli Army is
tightening its grip and "its humiliation, its dehumanization of the people
using the powers of the state."

Claudette Habesch, who works with Palestinian refugees, stressed the
importance of "seeing the human face in this conflict, the continued human
suffering, not just the political issues. We need to see this ungodly
suffering," she said, "and we need to appeal to the world to help us, to
accompany us in order to reach peace."

"We're not in a stage right now where reconciliation can take place," said
Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
"We're still in the middle of a political struggle and I don't think the
Palestinians can think about reconciliation until the occupation is
finished."

Before reconciliation will be possible, he added, "both sides have to
understand the need for it, what it means. Even if there's a peace
agreement, the Israeli society isn't there, doesn't really understand the
reconciliation process."

Options for resistance
 

Palestinians have a human right, based on international law, to resist the
occupation, he argued, but what kind of resistance is appropriate? "Some
would say it's not armed resistance but a non-violent campaign in the Gandhi
sense. Others say no, you have the right to resist in an armed way but it
shouldn't become attacks against civilians. Others would say the right to
resist sometimes with terrorism can be a very effective weapon," Halper
said, pointing out that Israelis used it very effectively in their struggle
for freedom in 1948.

Israel is not accused of terrorism because it is a state with an army. "It's
simply defending itself, defending its citizens and the whole thing is
somehow okay and legitimate." Yet he pointed out that "one side is the
occupier, the other side is occupied. So just to talk about violence and to
ignore all those power differentials is simply misleading. It's not helpful
and it's distorting."

He added that "the only force that's keeping the Palestinians from absolute
defeat is the Palestinian street, the fact that people themselves are still
resisting. How long they can continue is an open question because Israel is
beating them economically, militarily, politically and I don't know how long
they can hold one." Yet Halper said there is one other possible
countervailing force, "the international civil and faith-based communities,
the churches, the non-governmental organizations. They are the only allies
the Palestinians have today, as opposed to governments."

Defining violence

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian attorney in Jerusalem who has been involved
in the peace negotiations, agrees that "the biggest problem has been the
huge gap in power between the two parties." Yet he believes that "the
situation is very ripe for reconciliation because there are a lot of good,
decent people on both sides who have legitimate concerns and desire and
goals and hopes that somehow need to be reconciled with one another.

Violence is a deep threat but he quickly adds that "for us violence is not
just the gun. The worst violence is the bulldozer that uproots our trees,
destroys our homes, blocks our roads, and prevents us from living a normal
life. Somehow people don't see the violence of the occupation, they see only
the violence of those who resist. And our violence when it comes is always
portrayed as terrorism, not resistance, as vengeance, while Israeli actions
are portrayed as somehow self-defense or retaliation to something that
Palestinians did. We feel that this portrayals itself is unfair. The truth
is that we are refusing to be reconciled with oppression and with
occupation."

He hoped that the churches would play a role in attacking stereotypes. "We
need to see Palestinians-Arabs and Muslims, as human beings, as children of
God, as people for whom Jesus died and shed his blood, who are worthy of
human dignity and who are not necessarily demons or terrorists," he said.

Huwaida Arraf of the International Solidarity Movement said that the
violence was "atrocious-and it breeds still more violence. It's a cycle
that's becoming very hard to break because of the anger building up in
people." She is especially worried on the effect of violence on children who
see it on a daily basis. But when she argues for a non-violent approach,
other Palestinians tell her that they have tried that way and it doesn't
work. "It will take a long time to heal and build what is being destroyed,"
she said.

Kuttab said that "ultimately the Israeli population needs to make a
strategic decision in favor of peace. Just as it took the Palestinians quite
some time to come to the realization that Israel is here to stay and we must
recognize it and seek a two-state solution, which was a huge step for us. I
think a similar step is required by the Israelis. They must come to the
realization that the Palestinians are here to stay, not as slaves, not as
occupied people, not as a puppet regime that does what we want, not to
tolerate our continued domination but really to be here as genuinely free
people living side by side with us, rather than under their control."
 

--For more information on the teleconference, call 800-334-7626, ext. 6050
or go to the web site at www.episcopalchurch.org/peace-justice/.

Satellite coordinates for the teleconference:

Telstar 6 (Ku-Band)/Transponder K16

Orbital location: 93 degrees

Downlink frequency: 11997.5 MHz

Downlink polarity: Horizontal

Audio channels: 6.2 and 6.8

Among the locations that will view the teleconference are:

Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Gadsden, Alabama (205-547-5361)

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California (415-749-6300)

St. Mark's Cathedral in Minneapolis, Minnesota (612-870-7800)

St. George's Church in Clarksdale, Mississippi (601-627-7875)

St. Thomas Church in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania (215-233-3970)

St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, Washington (206-323-0300)