Change is in the air as churches in many parts of the world hold a “World Week for Peace in Palestine-Israel” which began on 4 June 2009, say organisers and participants. New voices are advocating steps toward peace which churches have been promoting for years.
“It’s time for us to act on what everyone knows is true,” US President Barack Obama said in his address to the Muslim world from Cairo, 4 June 2009, in the section specifically dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“It’s time for Israelis and Palestinians to share a just peace,” says the message that churches have been using for the World Council of Churches-led action week, 4-10 June 2009.
To begin the week in Bethlehem, local participants projected prayers for peace onto the ‘separation wall’ at night. As the week goes on, prayers are being read aloud at checkpoints, in schools and in refugee camps.
“There is really no situation that is intractable – none,” said Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate and retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown in a speech at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey near Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday 7 June.
Meanwhile, in at least seven of the participating countries, church delegations have arranged to meet government officials to urge concrete steps toward peace now.
“It’s time for people who have been refugees for 60 years to regain their rights and a permanent home,” the churches’ action week message says. For 60 years “the Palestinian people, Christian and Muslim…have endured the pain of dislocation”, the US president said in Cairo.
In Manila, the Philippines, Christian and Muslim groups came together on 5 June to pray, to demonstrate peacefully at the Israeli embassy and to hold a candle-light vigil for peace.
“It’s time to assist settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to make their home in Israel,” say WCC member churches and others who join the week. “It is time for these settlements to stop,” said President Obama.
People and parishes in the European Union can get help in engaging local retailers about settlement products and lobbying their governments by using an advocacy paper on settlement products that was issued especially for this “World Week for Peace”.
“All of us have a responsibility to work for the day…when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims,” said the US president in Cairo. “It’s time to share Jerusalem as the capital of two nations and a city holy to three religions,” say the churches.
A public seminar in Norway tackled the topic of “Promised Land” as part of the action week. The 5 June event featured a pastor and author whose understanding had changed after a visit to the conflict zone.
“It’s time to learn from past wrongs,” says the World Week message. “It’s time for equal rights. It’s time to stop discrimination, segregation and restrictions on movement,” it adds.
In Scotland, parliamentarians reported to church and civil society leaders on solidarity visits to people in Gaza – one of several events in the week of action which took place there.
Two church groups in the UK visited a local Israeli-owned company which makes engines for drones used against Gaza. Then they prayed at a local church.
“Violence is a dead end,” said the US president.
“It’s time to be revolted by violence,” say the churches, “and for civilians on both sides to be safe.”
Sunday, 7 June, is the focal point of “World Week for Peace in Palestine-Israel” for many participants. An ecumenical service in East Jerusalem and services in dozens of countries used a prayer from Jerusalem’s church leaders. Many parishes worshipped with a special liturgy from Ireland which included testimonies from young Israelis and Palestinians.
Participants with access to the internet are invited to send prayers to Bethlehem for “World Week” and to use the prayers collected there in Spanish, German and Italian – now and in the future.
Now in its fourth year, the action week is organized by and offered to Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and related ministries. Pax Christi International is the bridge to people working for peace in the Catholic Church.
The goal is to pray, educate or advocate for a just peace in Israel-Palestine during one week in June. From Kenya to Canada, the UK, the US, Australia and Austria, individuals, congregations and organizations in some 40 countries are taking part in one or more of the suggested activities, judging from information received by WCC.