Working toward ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ in the Holy Land

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Feb 6, 2013
Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during a December visit to St. Paul’s Church in West Jerusalem. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during a December visit to St. Paul’s Church in West Jerusalem. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

[Episcopal News Service] In 1873 the Anglican Church built St. Paul’s Church, its second church in Jerusalem, to serve Arab indigenous Christians, which it did until 1948 when most Arabs fled east to Jordan.

With the exception of a special service in 1961, the church, located on Tribes of Israel Road neighboring an Orthodox Jewish section just west of the Green Line, not more than a couple miles from St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem, remained closed.

The “Green Line” refers to the lines of demarcation set between Israel and its neighbors following the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.  The boundary divided Jerusalem, with the western portion of the city falling in the sovereign territory of Israel while the eastern portion fell within the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (later Jordan), a situation that prevailed until the Six Day War of 1967.

In 2007 the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem decided to renovate – the church had been set on fire three times – and reopen St. Paul’s, not because the diocese was in need of another church, explained the Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, dean of St. George’s Cathedral and canon pastor to St. Paul’s Arabic-speaking congregation, but because its existence sends an important message.

“It gives a sign of hope and light and it says that the church is there to look after the living and the dead stones,” said Naoum, adding it also says: “We are here, alive and present and will continue to be.”

The hope, said Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani while giving Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori a tour of the church in late December, is that it becomes a center for reconciliation.

And the Christian voice is often regarded as one of peace, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is the Christians’ responsibility, Naoum said, to “promote self-respect and tolerance and mutual affection to make that happen,” which the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem demonstrates through its 35 health and education institutions, many of them in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The life-giving diocesan institutions operate against a backdrop of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Christian minority is increasingly emigrating in search of a better life and better opportunities overseas. Meanwhile, the peace process has stalled, with Israeli and Palestinian leaders each citing the other’s actions as the source for blame.

But it is with the support of the Episcopal Church and organizations like the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem that Episcopalians also can promote that peace and justice in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“The partnership that we have with the Diocese of Jerusalem is both a way in which Episcopalians in the Episcopal Church can help to respond to human suffering in other parts of the world, but also an opportunity to learn from the witness, the radical self-giving of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem,” said Jefferts Schori.

“I think it’s a challenge to us, particularly in the United States’ context, and also in Europe, to see ways in which Muslims and Christians in particular live and work together and are members of the same communities,” she added.

St. John’s Episcopal School in Haifa is one such example of community: the school has educated generations of Muslim, Jewish and Christian children and has been officially recognized by the Israeli school district not only for its high-quality education but for its Peace-Education project, which deals with raising awareness among students about their rights, serving the community and conflict resolution..

Haifa, Israel’s northern-most city on the Mediterranean Sea, stands out as a model of diversity in which Jews, Christians, Muslims, the Druze, Baha’i, and others live in close proximity in integrated communities.

In late December, traffic came to a crawl in Haifa, where Christians, Muslims and Jews took to the streets to observe the “Feast of Feasts,” a celebration of religious holidays organized by the city’s mayor and heralded as a model of peaceful coexistence in Israel.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority during a December meeting at the Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority during a December meeting at the Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

“It’s clear that there are people of goodwill in each of the three religious traditions and each of the political entities, who want peace, who want a coexistence, it’s the hardliners in each party that are the difficult ones, as they are in our own context,” said Jefferts Schori, reflecting on her visit to the Holy Land. The presiding bishop visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories over Christmas and New Year at the invitation of Dawani. In addition to visiting diocesan institutions, the trip included meetings with British and American dignitaries, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority, and the ecumenical Heads of Churches of Jerusalem. (Click here for a story on the presiding bishop’s meeting with the Greek Patriarch.)

The presiding bishop last visited the Holy Land in March of 2008, prior to the last major conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, when in late December of that same year the Israelis launched three weeks of air and ground assaults in response to repeated rocket fire by Palestinians in Gaza. Some 1400 Gazans and 13 Israelis (four from friendly fire) died in the attacks.

“I see some progress here from the last time I was here both economically and politically. There is at the same time a sense of hope and a sense of despair with the Palestinians, eminently understandable. I think that the issue still is that the United States government needs to find a way to encourage the hardliners to soften up and find a mediated resolution. The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, the Israelis aren’t going anywhere. They need to find a way to coexist for their own survival, for everyone’s survival,” she said.

The latest visit came just more than a month after the most recent escalation of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas, the Islamist militant Palestinian party that has controlled Gaza since 2007. Closely following the cease fire, the United Nations General Assembly – with the support of 138 nations – voted to admit Palestine as a non-member state.

Jefferts Schori was accompanied by the Rev. Canon Robert Edmunds, the Episcopal Church’s Middle East partnerships officer and former chaplain to Dawani; Alexander Baumgarten, director of the Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations; and Bishop James Magness, the Episcopal Church’s bishop suffragan for federal ministries.

“Politically, I think this is a period of great frustration that the peace process has been stalled for a considerable amount of time and does not necessarily show signs of resuming anytime soon, particularly as American political leadership around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains uncertain,” said Baumgarten.

Nevertheless, Baumgarten cited recent statements and actions by the Obama Administration as “signs of hope.”

“Even as facts on the ground appear to complicate the future of a two-state solution, and political positions on all sides remain entrenched, we can see hope in the fact that the newly re-elected American administration has indicated it wishes to devote new political capital to the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Baumgarten.

Jefferts Schori recently joined with other American Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders in warning the White House and congressional leaders that “twilight has fallen on the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and urging “immediate, sustained U.S. leadership before darkness falls on the hopes for a peaceful resolution.”  (The full statement is here.)

General Convention in July 2012, through Resolution B019, expressed its “regret at the lack of progress in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful resolution of the longstanding conflict”; called for an end to the violence and reaffirmed the church’s “commitment to a negotiated two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people, with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both.”

“Episcopalians can be leaders in galvanizing American support for a just and lasting peace by telling the story of the Christian Churches of the Holy Land and their leaders, including the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem,” said Baumgarten.    “As intractable as political dynamics may seem at any given moment, the Christians of the Holy Land are serving as focal points for tangible and meaningful reconciliation as they stand boldly for a vision of peace that draws people from the margins to a place where agreement, compromise and peace with justice can be found,” said Baumgarten.

The resolution also calls on the church to support “Jewish, Muslim, and Christian study on peace with justice in the Middle East,” and for the Episcopal Church, and its dioceses and partners, to engage actively in the discipline of advocacy, education, and prayer for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the provision of humanitarian aid that promotes peace and reconciliation, Baumgarten added.

Episcopalians, Edmunds said, can assist the Diocese of Jerusalem by praying for the Christians who live in the Holy Land. “They’re the stewards of the faith; they’re the ones who keep the churches open.”

Father Loustinos, the Greek Orthodox priest who is the caretaker and restorer of Jacob’s Well in the West Bank city of Nablus, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori during a visit to the Christian holy site. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate took control Jacob’s Well in 1860. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

Father Justinus, the Greek Orthodox priest who is the caretaker and restorer of Jacob’s Well in the West Bank city of Nablus, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during a visit to the Christian holy site. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate took control Jacob’s Well in 1860. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

For those, he said, who can make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, it’s important to go home and share their stories and experiences; financial support keeps the institutions going, which is important to show that the church is alive and healthy and is “life affirming and peace building” and a symbol of “hope” in a place where hope and peace are in short supply.

It’s also important, for those who visit and for those who are interested in building peace in the Holy Land, to educate themselves about the people, the complex history and the politics, Edmunds said.

One popular misconception, for example, is that despite the fact that Christians have been in the Holy Land since the first Pentecost, people, especially those in the West, tend to think that Palestinian Christians have converted from Islam, which is not the case, said Edmunds.

Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land share a language, culture and customs, and a parallel history; it’s the rise of fundamentalism among Christians, Muslims and Jews, and “exclusivity thinking that is so damaging.”

— Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.


Comments (22)

  1. Vicki Tamoush says:

    I am concerned that the word “occupation” is not used in this article. Equally disappointing is the use of the word “fled” in the first paragraph. We cannot address what we do not acknowledge.

    1. martha knight says:

      I agree. Since neither side has a “plan” how can a treaty of peace be initiated?

  2. Florence Solomon says:

    It is definitely wonderful that we all support the Christians in the Holy Land. Just to bring to light that people there living under occupation are not free to speak out about the difficult conditions they have to endure. Ending the Israeli brutal military occupation is what we need to pray for and work on ending if we truly want to see peace with justice for all. May God bless our bishops and priests and all who are working for peace and justice in the Holy Land.

  3. Art Fisher says:

    I agree with prior comments and encourage more vigorous efforts.
    • Support the Presiding Bishop and Dioceasan Bishops, such as Bishop Bruno, who are working for peace for both Palestine and Israel.
    • Support Churches for Middle East Peace in its effort to educate, advocate, and lobby and support our Senators, Congressmen and President for a fresh look at policies leading to the two state solution.
    • Support and join other organizations of faith with these same goals.
    • Support education in all parishes towards these goals – especially encouraging travel to the Holy Land with organizations that give experiences in both Palestine and Israel…such as the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jersusalem and the Order of the Jerusalem Cross in the Diocese of Los Angeles…and several others.

  4. The Rev. Carol L Huntington says:

    The headline is “Working toward ‘ peace’ and ‘justice’ in the Holy Land”
    How can we or they or anyone work for justice when there is no mention of the injustices in Occupied Palestine in the article?
    Very strange indeed…

    1. martha knight says:

      Indeed .

  5. The Rev. Jim Lewis says:

    An excellent curriculum resource for parish and individual study is “Steadfast Hope.” It can be purchased on line through the Episcopal Peace Fellowship? As the PB avoids the word “occupation” and seems to gloss over the persecution of Palestinians by Israel, so too is she is not giving “Steadfast Hope” the kind of attention it deserves.

    1. Vicki Tamoush says:

      I agree. This resource has been just as useful to those who are just learning about the issues as it is for those who have many years of experience. The fact that it has been tailored to an Episcopalian audience makes it an invaluable resource.

  6. Robert H. Stiver, Oahu, Hawaii, USA says:

    Ms. Tamoush, Ms. Solomon, and Rev. Huntington, I am in great admiration of you for “speaking your minds.” My own frustration with people, religious and not, who refuse to face the facts on the holy ground, spans 50 years and counting. My life will see no surcease for the beleaguered Christians and Muslims of Palestine.

    1. Vicki Tamoush says:

      Thank you, Mr. Stiver. My personal philosophy is: Pray and Act. We cannot do either effectively unless we acknowledge the devastation that the illegal occupation of Palestine has visited upon everyone, EVERYONE, in the region. The occupation destroys Israelis, Palestinians, and all the peoples of the Middle East.

  7. Katerina Whitley says:

    I have not been able to call Israel/Palestine “the Holy Land” since visiting there for the first time in 1987 and realizing that it cannot be “holy” as long as so much of the land is occupied, so much of it stolen for settlements, and as long as our Palestinian sisters and brothers are suffering injustice. Nothing much has changed.

  8. Donna Hicks says:

    I am a cradle Episcopalian. I have been involved with Palestine/Israel issues for over 20 years, a drop in the bucket compared with other friends and colleagues. I lived for three months each year from 2002-2009 in Hebron/Al Khalil, the part of the city under Israeli military occupation, as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine team. While it is admirable that TEC supports the institutions which are part of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which do indeed offer services and support to the wider Palestinian community both inside Israel and in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and that it and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem offer a model of reconciliation to which Jesus calls us, my heart is breaking that the Church in which I was cradled and nurtured refuses to stand in solidarity with the wider Palestinian community who called in 2005 for “a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights” and the Palestinian Christian call in 2009 in the Kairos Palestine Document (remember South Africa?). When will we come out of our tower of privilege and ‘being nice’ and stand in solidarity — of public witness and nonviolent direct action — with our Palestinian sisters and brothers, oppressed by Israeli government policy inside Israel and by a brutal Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem?

    1. Vicki Tamoush says:


    2. The Rev. Carol L Huntington says:

      Well said, Donna!!

  9. Janet Benvie says:

    I’m a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and not from the US. I very much agree that it is strange in the extreme that an article headlined ‘Working toward Peace and Justice ..’ does not mention the major injustice – the Israeli Occupation – and also airbrushes over the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the years up to 1948 (and the declaration of the Israeli state). (Sadly cleansing that continues to this day).
    A significant number of Palestinian Christians signed up to the Kairos Declaration. It is full of calls for peace, reconciliation, justice, and acceptance of other faiths. Why have so many Western Christians all but ignored this document and in particular refused to sign up to it’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel while it continues its brutal occupation. Like Donna, I have lived in the West Bank (for four years) and the occupation is indeed brutal and unjust.
    Yes, we should call for justice and peace, but for how long do we call but not act?

  10. Cotton Fite says:

    With many of you, I applaud the variety of ministries the Diocese of Jerusalem supports, serving the needs of many Christian and Muslim Palestinians. I have repeatedly spent time with diocesan clergy and lay leadership in parishes and institutions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and have only respect for their presence. They are a courageous and faithful bunch. I find the overall tone of this article, however, disturbing. There is ample rhetoric about “…Christians … serving as focal points for tangible and meaningful reconciliation …” and the restoration of St. Paul’s in West Jerusalem sending “an important message” and giving “a sign of hope and light”, but I have no idea what either means. If “meaningful reconciliation” includes first confronting the massive injustice under which Palestinians suffer and St Paul’s mission is to be a place where honesty about the situation may be spoken, then I am reassured. But this article skirts too much for me to be optimistic. I hear nothing of Palestinian homes and olive groves demolished by Israeli bulldozers, young West Bank Palestinian adolescents terrorized by late night IDF arrests and interrogations, settler violence, evictions of Palestinians from their homes just a few blocks away from St. George’s in Sheikh Jarrah. Why is the call of Palestinian Christians in the 2009 Kairos Palestine document not encouraged to be read in this country? Why is the Episcopal edition of Steadfast Hope seen by our leadership as such a threat? When this article speaks of the peace process being stalled, why does the answer suggest both Israeli and Palestinian leaders are equally to blame? I agree that no one is totally blameless, but one is the oppressor and one the oppressed. Why can we not commend the hopefulness of Christians, Muslim and Jews reaching out to each other at the same time we name the massive injustice and brutality that occurs day after day?

    1. Diane Fite says:

      Regarding Mr. McCarthy’s comments above, one can’t have reconciliation and compromise until there is justice. Only when there are two equal parties to the conversation can reconciliation begin. It is very sad to me that leadership of my own church has chosen not to to be a prophetic voice on this issue. I would further venture to say that Israelis are not unhappy about Steadfast Hope because they feel it undermines their security but because it tells both sides of the narrative. One of which, the Palestinian’s, they prefer to be hidden. Learning more of the Palestinian side of the conflict through the carefully researched facts presented in Steadfast Hope leads any rational reader to question Israeli justifications for the occupation, restriction of Palestinian rights and Israeli settlement expansions into Palestinian territory. I would call efforts like those mentioned, speaking truth to power. If something this important needs changing we owe to ourselves and our world to speak out about it.

    2. Cotton Fite says:

      Dear Ed, I do believe this is the first time I’ve ever been accused of orthodoxy in any realm! More frequently, the charge is just the opposite. You are certainly right that security is a top priority for Israel – which is most ironic as I believe continuing the occupation will, in the long run, undermine Israel’s security. With you I hope we will all keep encouraging our government to pursue a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. I am, however, increasingly convinced a viable two state solution is no longer possible, nor is it desired by Israel. I believe the evidence for that is overwhelming. Finally, to lump Steadfast Hope, the Kairos Palestine document and BDS together as being biased in a pro-Palestinian direction is simply silly. Steadfast Hope is a carefully researched document which presents the Palestinian narrative, one far too few Americans know. Of course it is pro-Palestinian. They are the oppressed party. Please note the rest of the document’s title: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace. Kairos Palestine is a thoughtful and loving plea from Palestinian Christians for justice, peace and reconciliation. BDS is an effective non-violent strategy that helped end Apartheid in South Africa. I pray it will likewise hasten the end of this occupation which stands in such contradiction to the moral core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  11. Joe Bush says:

    Your website and your work is awesome. I live in the US and am disheartened by the despair and struggle over the last couple decades where news reports of the deterioration in relationships between Palestinians and Israelis which appears to me to have increased unchecked.

    I want to learn more, educate myself here in the US as to a path to peace. However, the message here in the US is often very controlled. To even discuss the issue often raises remarks of stupidity, ignorance as to Israel’s history and suggestions that one is antisemitic, which could not be further from the truth.

    Finding sources of information which educate in an unbiased manner, both sides of the conflict, the Israeli as well as the Palestinian is difficult. Often the Palestinians appear completely vilified understanding that people at war do terrible things to each other.

    I hope that they both find a path to peace, I try hard to imagine peace there someday. But I earnestly believe that a path to peace means that my country, the US must represent all people in despair, experiencing poor treatment including the Palestinians without being labeled antisemitic.

    As I try to study the history of the conflict in hopes of understanding the individual struggles I am convinced that the UN created this problem for noble, good reasons but that it is a growing problem that requires perhaps the world powers to collaboratively resolve. The parties do not seem capable at resolving this at this point . All nations have an obligation to help both the Palestinians and the Israelis move forward towards a positive future which embraces peace.

    I am not sure that happens here in the US too much. I would like to know where I may learn more about those efforts here. As often the message is overly controlled against the Palestinians, like the cancellation of the art exhibit of the artwork of the children of Gaza, when the Jewish community protested that it was biased exhibit. It is easy here in the US to only here that the Palestinians are the enemy. The Palestinian terrorists are an enemy as any terrorists are. But the Palestinian children?

    Your website shows how your group in small ways has begun a healing process and increases my desire to look for other groups here in the US, like yours that are working toward peace and making a difference.

    Thank you for your sharing your efforts. If anyone can direct me to other sites which support similar efforts towards peace I would be greatful.

    Joe Bush

    1. Anne Lynn says:

      While so many of us work toward a just peace in the Holy Land, The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem knows that children need to be educated today; families need to put food on the table tonight. We support the schools, hospitals and institutes for the disabled in the Diocese of Jerusalem which serve all, regardless of religious, ethnic or economic status.

      AFEDJ believes that peace and justice and humanitarian aid are two sides of the same coin. Both are needed to establish and sustain a just peace. Please sign up for our e-newsletter to get information on the important work of your denomination in the Holy Land. You’ll see where reconciliation, respect for differences and civic engagement is being taught now by determined people who live the story every day. AFEDJ welcomes your interest and support. or Joe Bush, we need you!

  12. Samia Khoury says:

    I read this article originally on the site of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation and responded to it as follows: Thank you for this very interesting and informative on-line news. However regarding the article Working towards peace and justice in the Holy Land I wanted to comment, but I was unable to. With all the various blocks at the end of the article I did not seem to be knowledgeable enough where to enter what. However this is what I would have like to comment: A very ineresting coverage, which brought back memories of St. Paul where we used to worship before 1948. But what struck me in the whole article is that the reader would have no notion that the Anglican Christians and all other Palestinian Christians and Muslims are living under an Israeli military occupation. The word simply does not come up in the whole article. Yes there is reference to peace and justice and reconciliation. How can there be reconciliation under occupation? How can there be peace without justice, and how can there be justice under a military occupation? We appreciate the support towards the services that the Anglican church is providing to the Palestinian community, but it would also be very meaningful to hear the voice of the church raised against all the violations of human rights, especially during Lent as the lives of some of the Palestinian prisoners (without charge or trial ) on hunger strike is very critical. Khoury

  13. The Rev. Roy Hayes says:

    One wonders whether the average Episcopalian is even aware that Christians who live in the Holy Land are Palestinians. Christians and Muslims suffer together under Israel’s occupation. TEC needs to do more effective teaching of the facts. I agree with Cotton.

Comments are closed.