WASHINGTON - The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the broader schism between Israel and Arab states, is of deep concern to a great many people who have no personal connection to either side. While Arab and Jewish Americans are on the front lines of citizen advocacy regarding US policy toward the conflict and peacemaking efforts, secular and Christian Americans are also involved and consider the conflict important to their lives and to the United States. Many people of all three faiths hold a profound attachment to the Holy Land. As an example, Christians grieve the severing of the natural and historic connection between their holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem by Israel's separation barrier.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is a coalition which seeks to influence the US Congress and Administration to adopt polices and take actions that would resolve the conflict and ease human suffering. The coalition brings together Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant national churches, denominations, and agencies to speak to the government with one clear voice, calling for justice and peace. The goal of CMEP is a negotiated agreement that would bring recognition and security to Israel and a sovereign viable state to Palestinians, with Jerusalem being shared by the governments and the people.
Not all Christians in America agree with us. Some hold a theological attachment to Israel and the Jewish people, interpreted as a directive that Israel should not give up any land -- even for the sake of peace. Most of these so-called "Christian Zionists" belong to non-denominational churches that often rally around charismatic preachers. News reports of Christians demonstrating passionate and exclusive support for Israel and of anti-Muslim diatribes by Christian pastors are known throughout the Arab and Muslim world. These reports distort the reality of American Christian sentiment. Regrettably, the moderate peace and justice language and actions of traditional churches are rarely considered newsworthy, making these voices within the Christian community rarely heard.
Some churches and denominations in the United States have direct partner ties with Palestinian churches and to churches in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Israel. All feel a strong attachment to the Holy Land and long for peace and reconciliation with all members of the Abrahamic family of faiths -- Jews, Christians and Muslims. In meetings with US policymakers, CMEP addresses the situation of Palestinian Christians, namely how the ongoing occupation and conflict leads to their emigration, further depletion of their already small numbers and the erosion of the historic Christian-Muslim nature of Palestinian society.
Our concern is not only for the Christians of the Holy Land, but for the whole of the Palestinian people, as well as the citizens of Israel. CMEP strives to be a balanced advocate for the common good of Israelis and Palestinians -- both victims of epic tragedies and repeated wars and violence. Neither has grasped the suffering of the other, and peace-making efforts by the United States and the international community have thus far been inadequate.
CMEP does not work alone on Capitol Hill and enjoys warm cooperative relationships with both Jewish and Arab organizations. Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek V'Shalom, Israel Policy Forum, Arab American Institute and American Task Force on Palestine have quite similar policy positions to the churches in the CMEP coalition. We visit Congressional offices and arrange meetings at the State Department knowing that our message will be reinforced by Jews and Arabs, both Muslim and Christian. As we bring our message to policymakers that this is not a zero sum game -- that the US must be a friend to both Israel and the Palestinians -- we find a growing understanding that unending conflict is not good for Israel or for America.
This is certainly a time of deep despair among all who work and pray for peace and reconciliation. The fracture of the Palestinian society and governance, along with weak US and Israeli leadership dampens hope of progress and raises fear of spiralling violence. Yet, we keep in mind that last summer and at numerous times in recent decades fighting has raged and pessimism ruled. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending the occupation is of such intense importance to so many people globally, that peacemaking is irrepressible. The Arab League Initiative offers new opportunities. We are now urging the US Administration to breathe life into the President's declared vision of a viable Palestinian state, including assurance that Jerusalem will be a shared city, the capital of Palestine and of Israel.
* Corinne Whitlatch is the Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace, www.cmep.org. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 16 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
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