Australia is focusing on Gaza, Austria has town pilgrimages. Brazil has seminary students debating conflict over "holy" land. Canadians, Scots, Norwegians, British and French are making contact with lawmakers. Directors of church-related aid agencies are visiting Israeli and Palestinian partner organizations. And on the high Wall that hems in Bethlehem, Palestinians are "showing" prayers at night.
The events are part of World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, 4-10 June 2009. Churches and related organizations in more than 20 countries are taking part. The action week, led by the World Council of Churches is dedicated to prayer, education and advocacy for an end to a 60-year conflict.
"We feel as if we are in one world and every one else and all other cities, live in another world," says a student’s prayer that may be projected on the Wall and is one of many available online from a church-related organization in Bethlehem.
During the action week, the peace prayers will be read aloud at local sites of suffering – near settlements, at demolished homes, at checkpoints, in refugee camps and in parishes and schools in the West Bank and Gaza. Churches on every continent will also make use of the prayers.
People and parishes around the world are invited to send their own prayers for peace to Bethlehem for this "World Week". The invitation is open to churches well beyond the membership of the WCC.
Parishes and organizations in some 40 countries responded during last year’s action week, thanks especially to members of Pax Christi International. Emailing prayers enables people "to show direct solidarity" in addition to parish events, a Swedish organizer says.
While "World Week" prayers ask help from heaven, church advocates also seek changes on earth. On 5 June, two church groups in England will visit an Israeli-owned company in the West Midlands that makes engines for drones used in the Gaza war. After a public witness there, they will build a peace cairn at a local church.
Special focus on settlements
Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, which are illegal under international law, are a special focus this year. A UK advocacy paper on settlement products suggests morally responsible actions people and parishes in the European Union can take with retailers and governments which maintain economic links to the occupation. The paper was developed by Quaker Peace and Social Witness, one of 12 organisations behind the action week in the UK.
Parliamentarians, local parishioners and a Palestinian legislator will meet for an advocacy evening on June 10 at an Edinburgh parish in Scotland. To enter, they will have to walk around a full-sized image of the Wall outside the church.
Church groups in France have joined a civil society campaign for Palestinian rights which is focused on candidates in the 7 June election for the European Parliament. Most of Australia’s parliamentarians have received a report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, with a cover letter from church representatives in Canberra. Meanwhile, 3000 Australian parishes have received information kits about Israel-Palestine.
Participating countries report that joint actions in June for World Week often strengthen or give rise to individual church actions for Israel-Palestine peace during the rest of the year.
Education to counter misinformation is a goal of the week. Norwegian organizers are tackling conflict-related problems in tourism and theology. A tourism seminar will explore a Code of Conduct developed by Palestinian tourism groups. A theology seminar will examine the concept of "Promised Land" with a pastor who has written a new book on the subject.
In the Netherlands, a story-telling relay will spread across the country, starting at the beach. The idea comes from parish protests during the recent Gaza war.
In the Philippines, World Week is one impetus behind a new Philippines Solidarity Group for Peace which links religious, youth, indigenous and academic organizations and includes Protestants, Roman Catholics and Muslims.
Brazil, Austria, South Africa, the USA and other countries will have congregations and conferences learning, singing and praying about peace, thanks to a liturgy from Ireland. The order of service was inspired by a church leaders’ visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory for action week last year. It includes testimonies by young Palestinians and Israelis about peace.
An ecumenical service sponsored by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem has anchored World Week during each of its four years. This year the East Jerusalem event is on Sunday 7 June. A prayer from the Jerusalem church leaders is available to nearly 400 WCC member churches in more than 100 countries.
The World Week and its joint actions are part of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum which is convened by the WCC.
More on the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel here: http://worldweekforpeace.org