Peace and Justice in the Holy Land – North East Conference to remember

Conference in hall

Conference in hall

On 3 November, more than 140 people crowded into St Joseph’s Parish centre, Gateshead to hear first hand about the realities of daily life in the ‘Holy Land’ and to consider how injustice and conflict can be converted into a Just Peace so that, in the words of Nora Carmi a keynote speaker, that land “can once again become holy.”

The day was organised by regional Ecumenical Accompaniers, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Justice & Peace & supported by North East Christian Churches.

Nora is a Palestinian Christian, whose family became refugees after the partition of the land and the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. She lives in East Jerusalem and spoke of her experience of the plight of Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. She currently works for Kairos Palestine which is supported by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and ‘at this crucial moment in time’ calls on Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the International Community and the World Churches to accelerate action for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. She told the conference, that far from being anti semitic, she works with Israelis on a regular basis. She feels the starting point in working towards a just peace is to recognise “we are all equal –like the African Ubuntu –I am because you are” and for all parties to recognise international law.

Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, the other keynote speaker, was not present in person due to representations from UK Jewish communities, but he sent a statement which the organisers read to the conference participants in which he said: ‘I believe my work in RHR is first and foremost about carrying out my obligation as a Jew to work for justice and the equal dignity of all human beings here in the land of Israel …We must take responsibility for the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people we have displaced, just as they must come to terms with the profound Jewish connection to this country…. that how we learn to live with the Arabs with whom we share the land is the greatest religious challenge the Jewish people have had to face in thousands of years. So far, in my opinion, we have not been meeting that challenge adequately’

Short DVDs illustrated some of the work of the Rabbis for Human Rights eg negotiating access for Palestinian farmers to their agricultural land in the face of opposition from illegal Israeli settlers and resisting evictions of Palestinians and the demolition of their homes

There followed some first responses from UK Church representatives: Stephen Leah from the Methodist Conference, Archdeacon Geoff Miller from Newcastle Diocese (C of E) and Colin Carr, a Dominican priest who acts as theological advisor to the North East Christian Churches Together. They offered a range of responses including:

A theological perspective which will lead us to ‘truthful compassion’ and a holding to account of ourselves and our brothers and sisters when violence occurs
Personal encounters which can lead to the understanding of the situation by ‘standing in the other’s shoes’
Action for justice: lobbying our political representatives for a stronger insistence on adherence to international law and applying economic pressure eg through a boycott of produce from illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land

Workshops in the afternoons offered a range of practical ways to respond: from practical charity for those suffering most; to solidarity through partnerships with schools, churches and communities; to advocacy, where human rights are abused and injustices perpetrated

Finally a panel of contributors chaired by John Battle, former chair of the parliamentary International Development Committee, helped the conference consider some possible next steps which included:

· Making and taking opportunities to increase our awareness and understanding of the situation

· Building relationships both with Palestinian and Israeli communities ‘over there’ and Jewish and Muslim Communities ‘over here’

· Joining our voices to those calling for respect for international law and human rights for all who live in that land

· Taking time for prayerful reflection together especially during Advent and Week of Prayer for Peace in Palestine and Israel at the end of May

The day ended with images and words to aid our reflection but the journey has just begun for North East Christian Churches

The following organisations ran workshops: CAFOD/Christian Aid, Methodist Church, Friends of Sabeel UK, Pax Christi, Friends of the Holy Land, Villages Group, Ecumenical Accompaniers in Palestine and Israel

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