Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Holy Wars and Holy Peace, Is there Hope? by David Kreider

Holy wars
I grew up in Israel, in the aftermath of one of history’s most horrific tragedies. Traumatized and desperate after six million of their kin were annihilated in gas chambers and death camps across Eastern Europe, my first friends were Jews whose hopes for a sanctuary and a homeland converged in this place where their faith had been born. Sadly, their tragedy has given birth to yet another in that beleaguered land, causing a conflict that has infected the entire Middle East and three of the world’s great faiths - over half the world’s population.

As a Christian in that context I grew up aware of the histories and the differences that have put Jews, Christians and Muslims at odds. I felt the tensions that still linger, centuries-old, as a result of the Inquisitions, the Crusades and Conquests, and the prejudices that have given rise to such horrific bloodbaths as the holocaust that now poison our relationships. Growing up a member of a peace church tradition, as a Mennonite, with our own martyrs’ history of persecution for our faith, and the conviction that Jesus taught a message of love and of peacemaking even at the expense of his own life, I also felt a deep aversion to the violence I saw around me.

Over the years since leaving Israel in 1971 to pursue my education in Virginia, I’ve watched as the US has played fast and loose with its dominance and self-interest around the world, as it has taken sides at the expense of the disempowered and disenfranchised, and we have pursued our own economic and political interests at the expense of the impoverished and humiliated we have exploited or ignored in our wake. As we experienced our own tragedy on September 11, 2001, I watched in horror as our president led our country, the most powerful nation on earth, like a wounded bull elephant in a blind rage against the bees who had stung it, not recognizing our own culpability in the injustices we had fanned into flame, and went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq and talked of other “Axes of Evil” in Syria and Iran.

I have seen the power of competing religious ideologies in the Middle East and around the world. They contend for influence in the halls and think tanks of Washington and elsewhere to devastating effect, in Jerusalem, in Kabul, in Baghdad, in Islamabad, in Tehran, in Mumbai, in Beirut and Cairo, and the list goes on. Is this the vision for the world God had in mind?

Towards Holy Peace
Jesus, as one who taught from the Torah from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam take their roots, it seems to me, was about a different politics. His vision was for a social order that transcended all boundaries - a ‘kingdom’ whose transformative force and governing moral law was love - an all-inclusive love that encompassed God, our ‘neighbors,’ and even our enemies.

Jesus was deliberate and passionate about inclusively engaging others outside his tradition and he often affirmed their faith [Matthew 8:10-12]. His most animated act recorded in the Gospels [Mark 11:15-17] sees him so infuriated by the merchants’ disregard for those whose space they had exploited in the Temple’s Gentile Courtyard that he chases them and their animals out with a whip. The words that burned in his mind were from Isaiah 56:3,6-8:

“Do not let the foreigner say ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ …The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, [..] and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house; and their offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples..”

The author of the letter to the first century church in Ephesus later put it this way:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near [..] uniting Jews and Gentiles into one family, [breaking] down the dividing wall of hostility [..] that he might create in himself one new humanity [..] thus making peace [..] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but… members of the household of God.” [Ephesians 2:13-22].

A personal journey
One of the most meaningful experiences of my life has been my opportunity these past two years to get acquainted with Muslim and Jewish colleagues at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. As our friendships grew several of us formed a group we called Interfaith Search for Scriptural Common Ground for Peace to explore the teachings in our faiths that relate to peacemaking - compassion, love, nonviolence, forgiveness, mercy, etc. As we shared and discussed our scriptures we found a growing sense of kinship and awe in the realization that we were also finding our common humanity, a deepening sense of connection together in our common quest for God and God’s moral laws for humanity as revealed to us through our prophets.

Marc Gopin, in his book “Holy War, Holy Peace, How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East” features a remarkable document drawn up by several rabbis and sheikhs called the Jerusalem Peace Agreement which I found profoundly moving:

“We as representatives of the two faiths, of Islam and Judaism, agree to the following: Both the Torah and the Qur’an are expressions of faith which speak of the divine revelation and oneness of G-d . Both [..] teach their faithful to honor every human being as the living image of G-d. The Holy Torah revealed to Moses, peace be upon him, the prophet of the Jewish people, calls for the respect and honor of every human being regardless of race or creed [and for] special respect and feeling of brotherhood to all believers in the one G-d. Thus Muslims, who worship the same G-d as the Jews, are primary recipients of these feelings of brotherhood.

The Holy Qur’an revealed to Mohammed, peace be upon him, the prophet of Islam, calls for the respect and honor of every human being regardless of race or creed [and for] special respect and feeling of brotherhood to all believers in the one G-d. Thus Jews, who worship the same G-d as the Muslims, are primary recipients of these feelings of brotherhood.

Based on these eternal truths of the Holy Torah and the Holy Qur’an, we declare that no human being shall be persecuted, physically or morally, because of their faith or the practice of their beliefs. We also express our wish for greater harmony and understanding between [us]. We the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, the children of Abraham, are united to offer our prayers [..] for the end of all enmity and for the beginning of an era of peace, love and compassion.” (Excerpts 2002, 53-54)

The question that haunts and saddens me as I read this beautiful affirmation of common faith is where is Jesus in this, a Jew who also spoke of God as One, and of love and peace and faith beyond the framework of his own tradition? Where were Christians in this?

Reason for hope

There is a growing groundswell of passion for inter-religious peacemaking around the world. Universities and seminaries are building programs in interfaith studies. Closer to home, I am excited to see Eastern Mennonite University too developing a center for interfaith engagement and peacebuilding. Initiatives such as “A Common Word between Us and You,” from 300 Muslim clerics to Christian leaders in the West, and the Interfaith Youth Core movement of Eboo Patel are reflective of this hunger for mutual understanding and peace. At higher levels of US policy analysis, the Center for Strategic International Studies and the U.S. Institute of Peace have sponsored landmark studies whose findings point to inter-religious diplomacy as strategic to engaging the ideological underpinnings of terrorist groups whose networks have become global and their designs apocalyptic. World leaders like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Barak Obama have increasingly engaged the language of faith in their work to bridge the political and ideological divides we face in today’s world. Today in Iran, the Green Movement has also brought together a deep spiritual hunger for peace, religious freedom of expression, justice, and good governance that is uniting people across the lines of our faiths in prayer, solidarity, political action, and support.

Those who recognize the transformative premises in the teachings of our prophets for peacemaking and compassion have an increasingly strategic role to play in transforming the twisted logics of holy war to those of peace and a new social order built on a moral law of love that bridges enmity. Those who have espoused the premises in our scriptures of peace through justice, and of nonviolence, and acted on a politics of compassionate service to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised and worked for development, dialogue and peacebuilding are garnering renewed respect across these lines of faith and politics. It is to this work that we have been called by God, and with this unprecedented convergence of interest in interfaith engagement, we have a remarkable opportunity to rediscover our Creator’s vision for the world in our conversations and collaborative efforts for peace. May our God draw us together as a global human family through our faith and our pursuit of the truth God has sought so diligently to reveal to us, and give us wisdom in the pursuit of peace and justice in our world.

David Kreider is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University where he is also involved on the Advisory Board of Abraham’s Tent, a Center for Interfaith Engagement. David is also involved with a local interfaith Scriptural Reasoning group among Jews, Muslims and Christians in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prominent Israelis speaking out for peace and a two-state solution

A growing number of Israelis are coming to realize that their security does not lie in military power, but in a negotiated friendly coexistence with their neighbors. And they are coming to recognize that they need the help of the international community to do so. A fascinating set of perspectives from some key people..

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The High Price of Israeli-Palestinian Peace

A just and secure peace in Israel-Palestine, a scenario in which Jews and Palestinians can coexist with mutual good will, whether in two separately-governed states side-by-side or within each who will undoubtedly govern a mixture of both peoples within their respective jurisdictions, will require a monumental restructuring to dismantle the monolithic economic and political structures that have contributed to their alienation and disparities. The dream will demand a high price in good faith. But the price must be paid, sooner or later. We must begin, I believe, to talk about what justice and peaceful coexistence and true security mean and what must be done to truly achieve them.

B'tselem, Israel's Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories paints a difficult picture when it comes to one of the most contentious issues of this conflict, that of the settlements that now fill the Israeli occupied West Bank. Check out this link along with this one as a background to these thoughts. Consider also this 2002 map of the West Bank and consider that this is occupied Palestinian land: West Bank settlements map. Consider that Israel controls 80% of the water here and that the World Bank has this week (July 9, 2009)noted publicly the deteriorating quality and increasing costs of the water Palestinians are receiving, confirming increasing incidences of diarrhea and water born illnesses in Palestinian households.

Consider also that the West Bank is fenced off and divided up by a complex network of settler-only roads and checkpoints controlled by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) that limit access to Palestinians. These settlements and this network of "cantons" are a major source of frustration, economic hardship, a violation of Geneva Conventions and international law, and a significant obstacle to peace.

Dismantling and transforming these "facts on the ground" which Israel has persisted in creating against all odds and opposition, will be one of the necessary hurdles on the road to a viable peace. Perhaps the one redeeming value of these "facts" lies in the possibility that they could constitute a meaningful offer in reparations to Palestinian refugees if turned over intact as part of a genuine gesture towards a truly transformative peace. I am convinced this will be a necessary component of a just solution. Part of such a transformation will be a meaningful resolve to work together towards mutual coexistence and economic prosperity. The challenge of "selling" this notion to the Israeli settlers who now live in the settlements and consider them "home" will be difficult. But Israelis and Palestinians must begin to envision a new reality - of coexistence and genuine good will. It will take courage and statesmanship unlike any we have seen in history. Even Anwar Sadat's will pale next to what must be achieved here now.

I believe two things: that such a call for justice is both necessary and possible. It will however not be easy because many have much to lose in restoring the scales of justice.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Secret Israeli database reveals full extent of illegal settlement - By Uri Blau

"...The defense establishment, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, steadfastly refused to publicize the figures, arguing, for one thing, that publication could endanger state security or harm Israel's foreign relations. Someone who is liable to be particularly interested in the data collected by Spiegel is George Mitchell, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, who came to Israel this week for his first visit since his appointment. It was Mitchell who authored the 2001 report that led to the formulation of the road map, which established a parallel between halting terror and halting construction in the settlements.

The official database, the most comprehensive one of its kind ever compiled in Israel about the territories, was recently obtained by Haaretz. Here, for the first time, information the state has been hiding for years is revealed. An analysis of the data reveals that, in the vast majority of the settlements - about 75 percent - construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police
stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents...

Click here for full article as it appears in Haaretz.

When Strategic Paradigms Clash: Why Israel's National Security Strategy is a Recipe for Disaster - The Gaza Case in Point

Security and socio-economic development are inter-related paradigms that profoundly impact our international geo-political relationships. Security and economic wellbeing are powerful human needs and represent forces that must work in concert or they will clash with disastrous consequences. Israel's national security strategy, particularly as it has come to play itself out in Gaza is a case in point. Based primarily on overwhelming force and repressive military action, collective punishment and economic blockades that reduce millions of innocent men, women and children to impoverishment and starvation, refusal to negotiate, destruction of Palestinian social and economic infrastructure - Israel's security is actually being undermined by these tacks, with dire consequences to millions of innocent people and future generations who are becoming hardened and radicalized as enemies.

For anyone interested in analyzing security, it is worth noting that Israel's national security doctrine runs in marked contradiction to US National Security Strategy (one may Google those two phrases to see for yourself or check out the link below) which recognizes the strategic interdependence of diplomacy, development, and defense as foundational to an integrated national security strategy. I am convinced Israel must reexamine these dynamics to forestall the powerful political forces now playing against her.

When Strategic Paradigms Clash: Why Israel's National Security Strategy is a Recipe for Disaster - The Gaza Case in Point.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sir Gerald Kaufmann, Jewish Member of Parliament speaks out about the Israeli assault on Gaza

Conversation with Senator Jim Webb on Gaza

January 28, 2009
Dear Mr. Kreider:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the conflict in the Gaza Strip. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me.

As you may know, on January 8, by unanimous consent, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 10, expressing the Sense of the Senate on the conflict in Gaza. While the resolution affirms U.S. support for Israel's security and condemns the Hamas rocket attacks, I believe it presented an incomplete response to the situation in Gaza.

I am very concerned about the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Reports from the United Nations and from humanitarian organizations citing lack of access for humanitarian assistance in Gaza are very troubling. We here in the U.S. should be insisting that the situation be rectified immediately and permanently. Israel indeed has a right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks, but in my view a meaningful ceasefire must be brokered to stop the escalation of violence, followed by a serious conflict resolution process that involves all parties in the region.

To state the obvious, a lasting solution to the conflict in the Middle East is critical to global peace and security. Without an inclusive, diplomatic process that effectively addresses the core interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, the cycle of violence will obviously continue. It is my strong belief that the United States and the international community must place stability in this region as a top priority. As a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, please be assured my staff and I are monitoring this serious situation very closely and will work with the incoming Obama Administration toward bringing such stability into reality.

I would also invite you to visit my website at http://www.webb.senate.gov for regular updates about my activities and positions on issues that are important to Virginia and our nation.

Thank you once again for contacting my office.

Jim Webb
United States Senator

An Open Reply:

"Dear Senator Webb,

I want to express my thanks for your response to my letter regarding the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza. I agree that this situation is dire, and indeed urgent from a humanitarian standpoint as well as from a strategic national security standpoint. I agree that it relates to the root causes of our 'global war on terrorism'. Israel's unbalanced national security strategy based primarily on overwhelming force, repressive military leverages, collective punishment on a defenseless population, her persistent refusal to negotiate directly and inclusively with elected Palestinian leaderships, and her de facto strategy of de-development to weaken Palestinian social and economic infrastructure are a recipe for disaster. This runs in explicit contradiction to the spirit of our own US National Security Strategy which recognizes the strategic interdependence of diplomacy, development, and defense as integral to just peace and human security. Israel must change this untenable approach and take this opportunity to initiate a smarter and more comprehensive security strategy based on social justice to resolve this melee of compounding frustration and injustice that constitutes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I appreciate your recognition of this as a primary international concern, and your work to engage it from your position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

David Kreider

Keywords:Gaza,Israeli-Palestinian,conflict,security strategy,diplomacy,development,Foreign Relations,humanitarian crisis,disaster,collective punishment,repressive military,occupation,de-development,war on terrorism

Sunday, January 25, 2009

No Justice No Peace in Palestine

My wife and I grew up across the lines between Israel and Gaza. For us to watch the growing anger and frustration between blood kindred, who as Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God, trace their roots to Abraham, and share a love for this sacred land, has been heartbreaking. The prophets we revere - Isaiah (58:6-12), Jeremiah (7:3-7), and Micah (6:8) - call us to live together with justice, mercy, and humility before God. We must find the way to do so, wherever the lines fall.

Over 1250 people have died over the three week War and thousands more are injured and dying in Gaza. Israel’s attack on this besieged population has compounded what was already a humanitarian crisis. Gaza has endured what Desmond Tutu has called the equivalent of apartheid, even before this onslaught.

People are now living without food, medicine, clean water, electricity, and heat in Gaza, utterly dependent on aid. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Mothers and their traumatized children are walking through the rubble of their devastated homes and city to piece together their lives. The United Nations estimates that 90,000 people were displaced in the War. Many have little to go back to, or money to buy what they now need to survive.

I was struck by this Letter in the Sydney Morning Herald January 17: "Nearly 70 years ago, in a small eastern European city, an oppressed and occupied people were under siege, living under atrocious and brutal conditions, lacking food, medicine, electricity, water, and slowly being strangled in the hope they would just disappear. Warsaw Ghetto 1941 - Gaza 2008. Israel, you are a disgrace. - Zaid Khan.”

Cutting words, but sadly fitting. Sir Gerald Kaufmann, a Jewish Member of British Parliament echoed the same sentiments ( click here to watch). This is a demoralizing realization for Jews who see in the faces of Palestinians, images of themselves 68 years ago.

I understand Israel’s fears of rockets; I experienced them myself in Israel in 1967 and 1973. But despite our fears we must realize that violence will solve nothing - guns, missiles, rockets, bombs, and tanks do not settle injustices. They only add grief and anger to the festering grievances in peoples’ minds, and fuel to the fires.

Of the 1.5 million people in Gaza (72 percent are women and children, 47 percent are under the age of 14), most just want to live a peaceful and productive life. They have been caught between Israel’s increasingly oppressive occupation and a leadership over whose militancy they realistically have no control.

Palestinians have lived for 60 years with injustices that were foisted upon them in the wake of a holocaust they had no part in creating and have been demonized as a people for their efforts to reclaim the homes and lands they lost. Tragically, resorts to violence have led to more violence. It is time to resolve these injustices, difficult and painful as that will be. Jews are not the only victims of history in this sad state of affairs. Unfortunately, Palestinians are victims too.

Our unilateral sympathies for Israel have served neither party to forge a just and meaningful peace. This peace cannot be achieved as a zero-sum game, where one wins at the expense of the other. Everyone deserves the terms of justice – apart from that, there is no justice, and there will be no peace.

Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006 was a horrific tragedy that only consolidated Israel’s extremist adversaries. Analysts at Israel’s highly-regarded Reut Institute responded with an assessment concluding Israel’s national security strategy was in crisis, calling for political rather than military action. It is unconscionable that this has just been repeated in Gaza. It is time to address the root causes of this conflict through dialogue. This is in Israel's interests, Palestinians' interests, and America's interests, to engage these issues that also lie at the heart of our “War on Terror.”

Playing blame games with each other is not helpful. We must address these injustices head-on, and recognize our own culpabilities in them, if we are to diffuse them. The human spirit, as Desmond Tutu has said, does not tolerate injustice - they cannot coexist in peace.

David Kreider lived in Israel from 1953-1974; his wife Mary Ann lived in Gaza 1956-1974. David is completing an MA in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He can be reached at kreiderart@gmail.com.