Palestinian Christians appeal for reconciliation

 The daily humiliation of life for Palestinians was brought home to one of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland's regional forums when it met at the Avila Retreat Centre, Dublin, 26-28 November. The Rev Dr Mitri Raheb, Director of the International Lutheran Centre in Bethlehem, had his ticket, visa and passport ready for the journey to Ireland. At the last minute the Israeli Military refused to give him a permit to travel via Tel Aviv which meant he had to miss the conference. In a paper faxed to the Middle East Forum (Churches' Commission on Mission) Dr. Raheb wrote: "This is how we are daily humiliated, as non human beings, this is the inhuman face of the Israeli occupation." Despite this experience, not unprecedented for him personally, Dr. Raheb argued that reconciliation work must not to be delayed until the end of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He wrote : "Many people think of reconciliation as something that comes only after justice is done. Some liberationists bridle at all talk of reconciliation during the conflict. No doubt they have seen church leaders disguise a bogus neutrality behind calls for reconciliation. Nevertheless, non-violent activists have repeatedly demonstrated the value of reaching across the divide while the struggle for justice is going on. Both sides have to live together after the end of the conflictThose who insist on waiting till justice is done to be reconciled, may never be reconciled, for justice is seldom done completely." Mitri Raheb's planned co-speaker Jean Zaru, Clerk of the Quaker meeting in Ramallah, was able to be present. She urged the people of Britain and Ireland not to give in to the lies and myths which dehumanise Palestinians. "If the causes of conflict are not addressed, the wheel of violence will keep turning and more people will be crushed." Jean commended the report, "Who is my Neighbour?" compiled by the ecumenical delegation from British and Irish Churches which visited the Middle East for two weeks in March this year. And she reiterated the significance which Palestinian Christians gave to the visit of the CTBI delegation. "The whole Palestinian community was very welcoming. You came in solidarity and sharing and trying to understand. Together as partners we are in dialogue and we understood one another. You entered into our situation. Many groups come and go without being involved in the passion of Christ. You entered into the passion of Christ. You heard the cries of the captives, the sick and the hungry and by doing that you expressed your solidarity with the Palestinian Christian community in particular and the Palestinian community in general." She continued: "Your statement (after the delegation's visit) was a highlight and it was heard by Palestinian Christians. They were asking for it and those who read it on the internet were asking for it. They said it was an intelligent statement to make after a short visit." In describing the role of a partner she quoted a passage from Henri Nouwen's text: "The Wounded Healer"no one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process (without willingness) to make one's own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding. The great illusion of leadership is to think that people can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there. The gathering also was addressed by Mr Tony Mannix, Regional Director for the Middle East, Department of the Foreign Affairs, Government of Ireland (and former Ambassador to Iran). He positively acknowledged the work of churches and other civil society organisations in development and advocacy work designed to foster the achievement of a just peace in the Middle East. He spoke of the urgent need for an end by the Israeli Government to its policy of closures, to the building of settlements in the Occupied Territories and to the "serious violations of human rights by the occupying power" and for the Palestinian leadership to take further steps to calm the situation by reducing violence and incitement. Jean Zaru challenged him: "Why can Israel get away with so much? The occupation as a structure is violence. The blood of my people is warm, and the cries of my people for justice are loud and clear." Before it adjourned the Forum identified ways by which the British and Irish churches' engagement with the search for justice, peace and security in the Middle East could be strengthened ecumenically in the areas of awareness-raising, theology, prayer, pilgrimages, accompaniment, advocacy, inter faith work and information technology.

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