Salaam and greetings from the troubled land of our Lord Jesus Christ. * The need for Christian Unity Last week, Jerusalem celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The services that were held every evening in various churches including our own Church of the Redeemer, eflected the richness of Christian tradition we have here in Jerusalem. By Bishop Munib Younan Salaam and greetings from the troubled land of our Lord Jesus Christ.
* The need for Christian Unity Last week, Jerusalem celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The services that were held every evening in various churches including our own Church of the Redeemer, eflected the richness of Christian tradition we have here in Jerusalem. I attended as much as my schedule permitted, for I believe that prayer for Christian Unity is a much needed as prayer for the political situation. The pluralistic nature of Christianity in Jerusalem needs to develop a viable witness so that the continuity of the local Christian Church may be secured. We can no more witness individually. We need a common strategy.
The week of prayer left in many some serious questions: Is it possible to develop a common witness strategy among the local Churches? My second question arose when I noted that the various services mainly were attended by expatriates, clegy and nuns. Some of the locals said that the prevailing language is a language they do not understand. Whatever the reason for the weak attendance of the local grassroots who deeply believe in ecumenism, the question remains in Jerusalem, how mauch does the expatriate Church help the witness of the local church without replacing it? This is one of the issues that all of us need to transparently talk about and exchange our interest oriented mentality into a mentality of witness and not mere presence: God calls us in Palestine/Israel to have a strong witness to forward the Kingdom of God. Are we ready to take this challenge seriously. * The ELCJ Synod Due to the prevailing situation, we have been forced to postpone the meeting of the Synod of the ELCJ from 1 October, 2000 until 26 January, 2001. Because of the Israel imposed closures many from Ramallah and Jerusalem could only attend with difficulty. Some really had to challenge the road-blocks in order to make it to the meeting. We are tahnskful that we could hold this first church meeting since the beginning of the Intifada. The spirit of the meeting was good and we could elect the President of the Synod, Rev. Jadallah Shihadeh, as well as the members of the School Board, namely Mr. Suleiman Mansour, Rev. Ramez Ansara, Deacon Faraj Ellati and Dr. Nuha Khoury.
The Church council now consists of the following – in addition to the Bishop and the President of the Synod ex officio – Rev. Ibrahim Azar, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Mr Yousef Jaraiseh, Mr Saliba Zeidan and Rev Samer Azar. The Vice President of the Synod is Mr Jalal Odeh and Deacon Ibrahim Neiruz is the Secretary of the Synod. We ask you to carry this Synod, Church Council and the Bishop and Pastors as well as the Schools Director and the Haedmasters in your daily prayers, so that we may be a living witness in His land of the Ressurrection. * The present political situation Many ask me what I think about the present political situation. My answer is that every thing runs illogically without any kind of logics. Can you imagine that on February 6, 2001, an Israeli Prime Minister will be elected? This when negotiations were going on in Taba only a few days ago. And we still hear news that Prime Minister Barak might have a summit meeting with Mr. Arafat two days before the election! In all this the mass media tell the world that the Israelis and Palestinians are closer to a deal than ever before!
I wonder how can logics fit in all of this. If a new prime-minister other than Mr. Barak be elected, will he and his government implement pre-election negotiations? When watching TV and reading the newspapers one gets more frustrated in addition to one's own already existing frustration. Are the political and religious extremists taking over our country? It seems now that the right-wingers are having a greater influence in Israeli politics. Instead of hearing the voices of just peace who want to build peace with the Paletsinians, we are hearing voices of war. Voices of those who are thinking on how to fight with Palestinians and wage war with the Arab states. Where are the logics in this? We plead to the world not to allow the political and religious extremists to take over the Middle East or bring us back to the dark times of the past. The language of war must stop. The Middle East can no more afford war or violence. The politicians who feel at home with war talk are short-sighted people. As I have written to President Bush: "The mothers are tired of bloodshed, the children are filled with fear and trauma, the youth are feeling hatred and revenge, the grassroots are fed up with harassment and violence". I am really worried that the ongoing Israeli closures around our towns and villages, restricting the movement of people, are killing Palestinian economic life.. Neither Palestine, nor Israel will benefit from the choking of the Palestinain economy. As it is now hunger, poverty and extremism will grow. Our young workforce that are unemployed are finding it extremely difficult to earn their everyday living. For example, as my son Andrea, 17 is graduating this year, he wants to study computer science engineering which is not available in Palestine. His future is not certain. He and the other Palestinian youth who have view maybe led to a very difficult and frustrating situation. * Growth of extremism On of the most striking observations of the growth of extremism was made in an article in the Jerusalem Report of 12 February, 2001 with the heading: "There has already been eight or nine attempts to strike at the Dome of the Rock". I quote the beginning of the article: "Recent years have seen increasing activism by far-right Jews who seek to cahnge the status quo at the Temple Mount.
For many activists the eventual goal is rebuilding the Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands. A recent report by the watchdog group Keshev: The Centre for the Protection of Democracy warns of a growing risk that extremists could try to strike at the Muslims shrines on the Mount. Keshev's executive director Yizhar Be'er urges Israel to ask an international force to protect the mount." (The whole article is enclosed with this letter) We still warn that all these attempts only add to the fear of the Muslims. No religious war must ever be allowed. We plead to the world politicians, religious leaders and the people of living conscience to stop such dangerous attempts. All Jewish, Christian and Muslim Holy Places are to be respected in line with the old status quo agreements. * What is needed now I think three things are especially important just now: 1. International legitimacy The Clinton initiative was built on the idea that peace will be attined by a strategy of exchanging an inch for an inch in negotiations. As this has proven to be a difficult way forward, we would now rather call for an implementation of of the international legitimacy as expressed in UN resolutions 242, 338 and 194. Only international legitimacy will secure a just solution in a proper way. The international community must not allow their own legitimacy to be liquidated. This is the basis to attain a comprehensive, lasting just peace in the area. 2. Education for peace and reconciliation In the challenges we are facing we realise that our educational work is becoming more and more important. In our schools both Christian and Moslem children learn together and get to know each other.
In a land where the soil is very fertile for religious and national extremism, the importance of the innoculation of moderation and mutual respect in the younger generation, cannot be underestimated. Young people need to learn to see God in the face of each other and thereby mutually recognize each other's human, civil, religious and political rights. We are very pleased that we have been able to keep all our schools and educational institutions open during these difficult times. However, the economical difficulties people are experiencing are also affecting the schools. People have difficulties paying the school fees, which is seriously affecting the possiblity to continue keeping the schools open. We have taken a policy not to dismiss any child due to his/her inability to pay tuition fees. We are very grateful for the extra financial support we have received from some of our partners. As the present crisis continues there is definitely a need for further extra assistance in order for us to continue our educational efforts. For us Palestinians education is very essential for the building of an educated country and for helping the traumatized children to be healed. 3. Interreligious dialogue Religion has a big rôle to play in the Middle East. The three monotheistic religions are not only religions for the next world, but are religions called to transform our world in the way of justice, morals, peace and reconciliation. If religion will not assume this God given rôle, other ideologies may fill the gap. If religion will only promote extremism, then what will God tell us when we meet Him on the Day of Judgement? The three monotheistic religions must therefore be true to their calling to build a different world than what we are witnessing. They must not only contribute to just peace, but must also seek to implant it, even impose in their adherents.
Their task is to be channels for just peace-building and for love between neigbors, and even love for the enemy. For religion the most important task now is to teach symbiosis between their followers and between Israelis and Palestinians. From Jerusalem I call on the religious leaders in Palestine and Israel and in the whole world to assume their prophetic call of building just peace, equitable coexistance and reconciliation in our beloved country. The leaders in the Synagogue, the Church and the Mosque are called to raise their voices: – for sanity and peace against extremism and conflict and speak courageously to their people against the practice of provocative rethoric, vengeance and violence, by individuals and groups, both against human beings and the holy sites of all religions. – to reinforce the basic value that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore has a right to life. – to ensure that territorial disagreements sholuld not be transformed into religious wars. We ask you to continue in your vigil prayers. Pray for us. If you have not started, in the name of our living Lord, do start a vigil prayer. Pray unceasingly until just peace and reconciliation will be implemented in the land of resurrection Your Brother in Christ Bishop Munib A. Younan, The Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem