Jerusalem bishop laments return to cycles of violence in Israel Palestine

By Ecumenical News International
March 12, 2008

The vicious circle of violence which tormented Israelis and Palestinians for years has returned, says Jerusalem Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, following a shooting attack on a Jewish religious seminary - writes Judith Sudilovsky.

"This will not save the Holy Land, it will only unfortunately put it in a pool of blood," the bishop told Ecumenical News International in a telephone interview the day after the 6 March attack. "The shooting attack is shocking but the whole past week has been shocking."

A Palestinian gunman opened fire on a crowded library and study hall of the Mercaz Harav seminary, killing eight people and wounding 11 others. The seminary, or yeshiva, is located near the entrance to Jerusalem, and is home to several hundred students. It is the flagship yeshiva for the religious Zionist movement.

The attacker was a 20-year-old resident of East Jerusalem and according to reports had been employed by the seminary as a driver. An investigation into the attack is yet to be completed.

Media reports stated that Gaza's streets filled with crowds passing out sweets and armed men firing in the air in celebration following the attack. The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which is in control in Gaza, issued a statement blessing the attack and pledging it would not be the last.

Gaza has been under Israeli military attack for a week, and more than 110 Palestinians have died during violence on Israel's southern border with the territory, where militants have launched Qassam rocket attacks into Israeli southern towns for over a month.

Bishop Younan called on all religious and political leaders to stand up for justice and peace. He said Christian leaders are in dialogue with Muslim and Jewish religious leaders concerning the situation.

"If we allow ourselves to be led by violence we will be led nowhere," said Younan. He said moderates need to be prepared to be faced with opposition from the extremists. "The extremists on both sides are taking over. We are seeing the beginning results of that … We have to allow the voice of the moderates to be heard louder than the voice of violence."

Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, an Islamic scholar and founder of Wasatai, a new Palestinian Islamic group said, "Radical religious movements are trying to put all their efforts toward derailing the peace process. Unless we can create a peace culture this radical movement will succeed."

Dajani noted that Israel must realise it can not assure its security by building separation walls or other strong-arming measures. In order to create an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence, Israel should relax the conditions at checkpoints and roadways for Palestinians who have nothing to do with the violence, he said.

"Collective punishment only plays into the hands of the radicals," he said.

Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, said he supported calls for a cease-fire knowing that, difficult though it may be, Israel will need to talk with Hamas. "It's a difficult thing to say on a day with so many funerals, but there will be a cease-fire either sooner or later and it is better to have one sooner before more people are killed." He explained that religious leaders must take up the responsibility of calming the tensions in the current situation rather than fanning the flames.

"We need a religious voice for sanity," said Kronish.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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