As I reflect on the June 1967 War and forty years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, I cannot help but cry with the psalmist â€œPray for the peace of Jerusalem,â€ pray for the peace of the Holy Land.
As I reflect on the June 1967 War and forty years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, I cannot help but cry with the psalmist “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” pray for the peace of the Holy Land.
Through words and deeds, Palestinian Christians have always witnessed for peace. With most of them living in harm’s way or under extremely tough conditions, they have used both faith and reason to go beyond despair and hopelessness. Their religious leaders—clergy and laity—have consistently shown courage, patience, and wisdom as they advocate for integrity, justice, nonviolence, and peace.
For Roman Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah, “Military victories by themselves do not bring about security. Only peace, built on justice and the respect of human rights, could bring about security.” Reverend Naim S. Ateek, President-Founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, encourages people to speak out and resist occupation and oppression, but only through nonviolent resistance. “The full armor of God that the writer of Ephesians talks about,” Ateek explains, “begins with truth, then includes justice, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer. These are our nonviolent means of resisting and struggling against the domination system of the State of Israel and the powers behind it.”
Although taught as a child that resistance would neither be Christian nor in the way of peace, Quaker and peace activist Jean Zarou has decided to overcome passivity or disengagement in the face of injustice by practicing nonviolence, which includes “the offering of respect and concern on the one hand, while meeting injustice with non-cooperation and with defiance on the other.” Pained by the senseless violence and killings, Claudette Habash, Secretary General of Caritas Jerusalem, urges all to become involved in peace building and living up to the aspiration of the Gospel. In her words, “we need to find the appropriate mechanism to link our programming efforts to policy action that addresses the structures that cause injustice.
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Theodosios “Atallah” Hanna agrees with his colleagues. For Hanna, being Christian “requires that we stand with justice and we speak the truth.” Christian responsibility to advocate for justice applies to both Palestinians and Israelis. Justice here means not settling accounts but learning, as Melkite Bishop Elias Chacour argues, “how to forgive, to make concessions, to reconcile.”
Along with the search for justice and truth is reconciliation that must not be the mission of the politician alone. For Anglican Bishop Riah Abu El-Asal, reconciliation is our mission, “the mission of those who have been counted worthy to be God’s Children.”
As a bridge builder, Bernard Sabella—Head of the Department of Service to Palestinian refugees, part of the Middle East Council of Churches, and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council—promotes that Palestinians, Israelis, Christians, Muslims, and Jews develop a joint vision for a better and more peaceful future. As he states, “with peace all will come out winners; with war the gains and joys of the victor will only fuel the hurt and vicious cycles of violence of the loser.”
Most Palestinian Christians advocate for justice for two sovereign states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace and security. Like freedom and human rights seekers elsewhere, they have a dream. As Lutheran Reverend Mitri Raheb has put it, “I have a dream that I will one day wake up and see two equal peoples living next to each other, coexisting in the land of Palestine, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.”
Witnessing for and actualizing peace requires all concerned—religious leaders, civil authorities, the media, all of us—to play positive roles. According to Bishop Munib A. Yonan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, “There is no peace in the world unless religions properly assume their prophetic role and strive for social justice in the world.” Politically, much influence is found in Washington D.C. where, in the view of Reverend Ateek, “peace will only be made.”
Time is of the essence. The longer the wait, the harder the resolution of conflict. Peace in Jerusalem and the entire Holy Land is long overdue. If not there, where? If not now, when? As Bishop Chacour warns, “Either we live together sharing the land, acting as shelter for each other, or God forbid, we would hang beside each other, if not buried on top of each other.”