Towards Peace in the Holy Land: Jewish, Muslim, Christian initiatives in conflict resolution

By Fr. Labib Kobti

Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Priest

At St. Thomas More, San Francisco

Website: Al-Bushra.org

 

In a Panel with Rabbi Ron Kronish and Dr. Muhammed Hourani at Claremont Graduate University, California

November 8th 2004

 We are given fifteen minutes to speak before we start our Panel. So I will start immediately by saying that my sources are the Latin Patriarchate Interfaith committee in Jerusalem, as I am one of them sent to serve the Arab-American Catholics in North California. My sources are as well from my personnel experience of interfaith work with Jewish and Muslim friends in the US since 1993.

Initiatives of dialogue are important between the three Abrahamic religions .Many initiatives had taken place in the Holy Land and Europe. We remember the last one in Grotta Ferrata, October 2004. It is not a new thing. It may seem as a new three parts dialogue and initiative as we have it in the Holy Land. Today we see it at your University because in fact in Europe and the Americas it is between Jews and Christians, or between Muslims and Christians. I had organized and participated in many inter-religious payer ceremonies that had no dialogue.

It seems to me that these dialogue and initiatives between the three Abrahamic religions that should lead to more justice in the Holy Land are still to begin. In fact, the different declarations remained just papers to look at and did not become acts that can join the three religions in an effort to do a conjoint thing for justice and truth in the Holy Land.

 All know today that the politicians who have dealt for over 60 years with the issue of Israel-Palestine cannot bring peace to the region. Today after the American elections we wonder what will be happening next. For the last four years we saw more violence than ever. Will we see more or less violence in the upcoming years? Will the political leaders find a way to bring about justice, peace and truth?

I have been one of these who in my website (Al-Bsurha.org) and my articles have always called on the religious leaders to take over the lead to guide the politicians who had lost moral values to bring about justice and peace. In fact after a long period of failings from the part of political leaders on the issues of justice and peace, it is time that the three Abrahamic religions say their word. I wonder what they are waiting for to work in common efforts and speak out with one voice for human rights, justice and peace.

 From the declarations of the different inter-religious meetings in the Holy Land or in the world we can read about the same thing that:

1)      Religion do not call for violence

2)      Religion should not be a mean for conflict

3)      Religion seeks to live together as neighbors, respecting the integrity of each other’s historic and religious inheritance

4)      Religion declare its commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right to life and dignity

5)      Religion oppose all kinds of incitement, hatred and the misinterpretation of the other.

On the ground, we see the opposite. All of us know about the different fanatics in the Jewish, Christian and Muslims communities. All of us know about the Christian-Fundamentalists with their International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem that do not represent the local Christians of the Holy land, the different Jewish fanatics like the Yeshiva and the different Muslim ones who declare that  “Islam is the solution”.

Here comes the importance of our dialogue today in the States and more important in the Holy Land. If we the moderate do not take the lead to bring about justice, peace and speak the truth, the others will take over, (I am afraid that they have already taken over.)

 1)      What we should know and recognize as moderate people of three religions for justice, peace and truth in the Holy Land?

 I know for sure that the committee meeting in the Holy Land is aware of the importance of the dialogue and its goal to bring the people of faith to live in peace together. Dialogue is important and should continue and never stop.

But let us look on some important issues that should help us in our dialogue. I need first to address issues that our brothers and sisters the Jewish and Muslim communities should take in consideration when they dialogue with the Christians. I bring them today in front of you, because I want that the audience here in the States to know about these important issues. So again from the Christian perspective: What we should know and recognize as moderate people of three religions for justice, peace and truth in the Holy Land?

a) The Local Christians of the Holy Land are Christians from the first century of Christianity, they did not come from outside, they have always been in the Holy Land.

 b) They are a small minority where Jews and Muslims are the majority.

  c) They have nothing to do with the Western Christianity that in a way or another have been responsible for anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. We cannot then consider the local Christians (who are themselves with their brothers and sisters the Muslims also Semites like the Jews) as part of the Jewish suffering in Europe. On the contrary when Jews were suffering in the West they have been welcomed by both the Local Christians and Muslims in Palestine as Fr. Elias Chacour tells in his book “Blood Bothers”. They have been received as well in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and lived in peace…

 d) The importance of the Local Christian communities in dialogue with Jews and Muslims does come from their number, they are a tiny minority today in Palestine and Israel, their importance comes from the European and American Christians with whom both Jews and Muslims dialogue. Jews and Muslims are minorities in the West. But again we should not confuse the local Christians in the Holy land with the Christians of the West.

 e) The local Christians consider themselves as Arab Palestinians (as well in different countries, as Arab Egyptians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians…) they have worked with their Arab Muslims brothers and sisters to form the actual national entities: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and working the same for a future Palestine.

  f) They have stood with their brothers and sisters the Muslims on national level and fought with them against people of their own religion, the Christians of the West, at the time of the Byzantines, the Crusaders and any European colonialism. They stand today with their own people, says Patriarch Michel Sabbah, “in the resistance as well in the reconstruction of their National entity Palestine”.

g)      As local Christians, they find themselves many times faced with different challenge:

Many Jewish communities consider them as Christians coming from the West and who made them suffer in the past, so they disrespect them and mistreat them, last month (October 19) for example an article in Haaretz by Amiram Barkat was titled “Christians in Jerusalem want Jews to stop spitting on them”. Israeli Government do not provide them many times of the needed facilities to practice their faith: denial of permits, of visas for priests or sisters, seminarians … Many time some declarations and stands by the government or some Jewish religious leaders seem like at attempt to drive a dividing wedge between Arab indigenous Christians and Muslims. Many times the Israeli government consult with the fundamentalist Christians who came from the West and they take, like in the USA politicians seem to be influenced by these fundamentalist Christians who do not represent the Local Christians of Palestine or the Middle East. Politicians are then influenced in their decision making and long objectives and goals by these fundamentalists against the Local Christians.

 From the other side they find themselves mistreated by many Muslim Communities who, angry against the Christians of Europe or America, they find in them an easy target, because they are Christian. In fact the main Muslim population confuse the Local Christians with the fundamentals the same way the West, and ourselves very wrongly and many times we confuse Moderate Muslims with the fanatics, terrorism with Islam, because fundamentalism distorts what religion all about. So a denial of the needs of the Local Christians becomes a kind of daily bread in the mind of some Muslims. They mistreat them during the Khotba in the mosques on Friday, and call them infidels, they occupy their houses or lands. I have many cases in San Francisco of people from Bethlehem, or Ramallah who have their houses or lands taken by Muslims.

They find themselves also mistreated and targeted by these fundamental Christians who do not call themselves Christian-Zionists  who came from Europe or the USA and who try to, as Patriarch Sabbah had addresses it to President Arafat in Ramallah, last August (August 10, 2004) “to look for facts and incidents between individuals, facts which they are interpreting to mean that Muslims are persecuting Christians”. We know that in the past this created a great deal in the media in the US and Europe where in fact there was nothing of that. They wanted just to create divisions between local Christians and Muslims. We know that this had created divisions in the hearts of many Muslim and Christian persons who had lived for centuries as brothers and sisters.

 h) This brings many of the Local Christians to leave the country. A statistic speaks about a Holy Land as a museum of holy places without Christians in less than 20 years. Do we want this to happen? I have for example the largest Ramallah Christian community, not in Ramallah, but in San Francisco

2)      How a dialogue can help peace, justice and truth?

 a)      Without doubt, dialogue is very important and should continue. But it should bring  the Religious leaders of the Holy Land to take in hand the situation of Justice and peace and not leave it to the politicians. Especially today  if we speak about  after Arafat. If really the Jewish moderate religious leaders are serious, it is time to show their real support for a real diaologue and push for a real solution in justice and truth. Palestinians and Israelis are looking for justice, peace and TRUTH.

b)      They need to help each community to grow and prosper; accepting or not acting when a community is mistreated is another way to say we do not want you with us in the Holy Land. Then as Patriach Sabbah had put it: “Since two thousand years, the Holy Land was a source of continuous wars, because it was always governed by one political authority corresponding to one religion, Christian, Muslim and today Jewish. If we want to give to the Holy Land a permanent stability, so that it will remain no more source of war … we should work that all  the different components of the people of the Holy Land feel themselves equally at home, equally sharing the same rights and duties. Because if the Holy land continues to be governed by only one political authority, this means that the one who remains outside will nourish in his soul and heart the desire to come back by war and violence, as it happened until now through the long history of this land of the prophets.”

c)      It is important that the religious leaders take the lead to say all the truth to the political authorities and stand firm on their beliefs over the issue of human rights and equality between the different components of the Palestinian and Israeli societies, nobody is better than anybody, does not exist in religion, we are are created at the image of God.. They need to build a country where all different people feel equal and at home. They cannot keep silence. If they keep silent they become part of the problem and religion will be, as some people say it clearly today “source of wars, violence and conflicts”.

d)      Religious Leaders should make sincere efforts to look to each others with respect and change their way of educating their own people on the other’s religion. In fact changes in the society starts from home, schools and social relations with others. It starts when people are still young. The young generation is the future of the dialogue and peace in the Holy Land. An effort to create this dialogue and respect between the children of the different religions is a must that the religious leaders need to do before it is too late.

e)      Educate to love the other religion and not to hate. Preach and say: Christians love your Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, Jews love your Christians and Muslim brothers and sisters, Muslims love your Jewish and Christians brothers and sisters.

 3) What should religious leaders do?

 On the previous point (How a dialogue can help peace, justice and truth?) I trie to put what I think could help religious Leaders to dialogue and take some initiatives. I do not believe like some say: leave politics to politicians. I may work in the USA, or Europe, but not in the Middle East, where Islam and Jews do not separate religion and state.

  I think that if religious leaders want to be trusted they should speak directly to respective own people in the government:

 1) They need to honestly name the things as they are and not try to hide things out of fear of the State or their government.

2) They need to stand firm on what they believe and not change every time, because of this or that event or under this or that circumstance.

3) They need to speak out to their people about initiatives when they speak to the government and alert them to stand firm on the principles that their faith call them to stand with.

For example: It is important that the Christian and Muslim Religious Leaders:

a)      Denounce in a common statement that suicide bombing as against faith and killing of innocent is wrong.

b)      That resistance is something and terrorism is another thing

c)      That other religions are not our enemies but are our friends.

 And that the Jewish Religious Leaders declare that:

a)      Occupation of another people’s land is wrong and against the Jewish faith “A curse on him who displaces his neighbor’s boundary mark …A curse on him who tampers with the rights of the stranger, the orphan and the widow…”Dt. 27:19; Dt. 24:17; Ezk 22:7; Jr 22:3)

b)       Building of Settlements, house demolitions, building of the Wall. denying ID’s to the Palestinians is against Jewish faith. “there shall be one law for the native and the alien who resides among you” Exodus 12:49

c)      Denying the right of return to the Palestinians, occupying Palestinian homes and lands so as to bring Jews from all over and giving them a right of return after thousand of years is against the Jewish faith. “When all the prisoners in a country are crushed and trampled underfoot, when a man’s right are overridden in defiance of the Most High, when a man is deprived of justice, does not the Lord see it? Lam 3: 35  And also “There is no fidelity, no tenderness, no knowledge of God in the country, only perjury and lies, slaughter, theft, adultery and violence, murder after murder” Hos 4:1-2

All of them should denounce that power and violence cannot bring about peace and truth “for it is not by strength that man triumphs” 1 Sam 2:9, but “Your strength is in tranquility and in complete trust” Is 30:15


In this way we can speak about a real and effective dialogue and initiative that could lead to peace. In this way only people can trust the religious leaders and do not see in them people who create wars here and there.

 In fact we tried the other way; I mean to hate each other and to kill each other for a very long time now. It did not work. It is still killing us and our future generations, let us try the other way, if it will not bring peace immediately, it will at least make less of hate and violence