Leaders intervene in Middle East

Published March 1, 2002

A series of suicide bombings in Israel and deadly retaliatory attacks by Israeli troops against Palestinian communities at the beginning of the year prompted religious leaders to intensify their efforts to find a path toward peace in the Middle East. At the end of January, leading Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy pledged to use their religious and moral authority to work for an end to violence and established a committee representing the three faiths in the Holy Land to carry out the mandate. The declaration came at the end of a conference in Alexandria, Egypt, that was co-hosted by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, and the most senior Islamic figure in Egypt, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Dr. Mohammed Sayed Tantawi. The most senior Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, was also present, along with Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and Israeli deputy foreign minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, who called the forum “historic and unprecedented.” The declaration also called for a “religiously sanctioned cease-fire, respected and observed on all sides.” It called on Israelis and Palestinians to implement measures recommended by an inquiry headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, including a freeze on new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The conference was supported in advance by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, the embattled Palestinian leader. Several days later, nearly 40 leading Christian and Muslim scholars and theologians from around the world, including Dr. Tantawi, attended a two-day seminar at Lambeth Palace in London, where they heard an address by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Dr. Carey and Dr. Tantawi, a leader of the Sunni branch of Islam, signed an agreement for greater dialogue between the Church of England and Sunni Islam. “Because of our common faith in God and our responsibility to witness against indifference to religion on the one hand and religious fanaticism on the other, we hope that we may be able to contribute to international efforts to achieve justice, peace and the welfare of all humanity,” the agreement said. Also at the end of January, Pope John Paul II hosted about 60 representatives of a dozen world religions in Assisi, Italy, to pray for peace and work towards global reconciliation. It was the third inter-religious summit hosted by the pontiff in Assisi, 200 kilometres north of Rome. The Anglican Communion was represented by the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. At the conclusion of the meeting, Pope John Paul said, “Violence never again. War never again. Terrorism never again. In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!” Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, is also scheduled to be active on the peace front. A teleconference on peace in the Middle East was scheduled for Feb. 19 in New York City and Pasadena, Calif. Under the theme Waging Reconciliation in the Holy Land, Bishop Griswold will lead a discussion with special guest Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East. An interfaith panel on the search for peace will be located at the Pasadena site while members of the panel and Bishop Griswold will participate in a question-and-answer period. A pre-conference orientation at both sites on Feb. 18 will explore the peacemaking efforts of the church and international support for the churches in the region. In Geneva, representatives of more than 40 churches agreed to participate in a World Council of Churches program called the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. Members of the program will accompany Palestinians and Israelis “in non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation (of Palestinian areas by Israel),” said a statement.


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