Middle East peace needs respect for history, say Christian leaders

By staff writers
May 8, 2008

An unprecedented range of leaders from all sections of the Christian community have come together to affirm the right of both Israelis and Palestinians for a just and peaceful future - after years of division and violence.

In a letter published in today's Independent newspaper, 140 signatories, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, numerous bishops, evangelical leaders (including the Rev Dr Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance UK), academics and peace and development workers, say that celebrations of Israel's founding must be accompanied by proper recognition of the suffering of the displaced Palestinian people.

The letter reads as follows:

Today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people's ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust. Additionally, it is an opportunity to celebrate the wealth of cultural, economic and scientific achievements of Israeli society, in all its vitality and diversity.

This same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora, will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed. For them, this day is not just about the remembrance of a past catastrophic dispossession, dispersal, and loss; it is also a reminder that their struggle for self-determination and restitution is ongoing.

To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy. But it is vital if a peaceful way forward is to be forged, and is central to the Biblical call to "seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14). We acknowledge with sorrow that for the last 60 years, while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress.

To acknowledge and respect these dual histories is not, by itself, sufficient, but does offer a paradigm for building a peaceful future. Many lives have been lost, and there has been much suffering. The weak are exploited by the strong, while fear and bitterness stunt the imagination and cripple the capacity for forgiveness.

We therefore urge all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that "will produce lasting peace and security" (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples' shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Mairead Corrigan Maguire

The Right Rev Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn

Baroness Jenny Tonge

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners

The Rev Joel Edwards, General Director, the Evangelical Alliance

Canon Garth Hewitt, St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem

The Rev Malcolm Duncan, Leader, Faithworks

Stewart Hemsley, Chair of Pax Christi British Section

And 140 others

For the comlete statement and list of signatories, see: http://justpeace60.blogspot.com/

Ekklesia's statement in support of the declaration is here: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/7037

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.