On the 15th day of every month Methodists around Britain and Ireland pray with Christians in the Middle East.
Today I held my Methodist prayer handbook alongside my newsfeed, and I almost wept. Two weeks ago I was in Israel and Palestine, and as I prayed I pictured the people I met.
With the killings of at least 60 Palestinians in Gaza yesterday, and the killing and wounding of many others over the past few weeks, and the deliberate forestalling of any final status peace negotiations with the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, I prayed for Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land.
I pray for peace, but sometimes the bright spots of peace look as if they will be overwhelmed.
Just two weeks ago I saw something of the grinding reality of the occupation of the West Bank – the separation barrier, the checkpoints, the permit system, the military incursions, the expanding settlements. I heard the Israeli Defence Force spokesperson talk about how Gazan protesters were legitimate targets because they were Hamas supporters. And I heard the Palestinian Authority representative defend the speech by Mahmoud Abbas denying the nature of the Holocaust. I left the country feeling pessimistic and today it looks worse
And yet…I was also privileged to meet people committed to peace – the Hand in Hand school where Arabic and Hebrew are taught together and narratives of Israeli Independence Day are told alongside the stories of the Nakba“Nakba” or Day of Catastrophe is how Palestinians refer to their experiences of expulsion in the 1948 war. The Abraham Fund which finances initiatives which make encounters between communities more possible and equitable. Individuals committed to the dialogue which is a pre-requisite for peace. The family at the Tent of Nations with their patient, welcoming non-violent resistance against settlement encroachment in violation of international law.
The prospects for peace look grim today. But I find challenge in the words of Martin Luther King:
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Unarmed truth and unconditional love. Isn’t this the way of Jesus, who walked the roads of the Holy Land, and teaches us the ways of justice and peace? As we “seek peace and pursue it” what does it mean to listen for the truth needed for justice and peace, and to let it be heard? How do we overcome the starless night of violence and injustice with the bright daybreak of unconditional love?
Today, all I can do is to pray for those who have been killed or injured, for those who are violent and those who are peaceful, for those who are striving for dialogue, for those who have the power and responsibility to negotiate for change, and for those who feel powerless. I will give to one of the charities working to pick up the pieces in Gaza. And I will read, listen and discuss with others how to act.
And so this day of all days I pray: “May true peace be found in the Holy Land, with Israelis and Palestinians understanding each other’s needs….For all who live in the Holy Lands of sacred scriptures, we pray.”
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