Amy Eilberg, Wael Khouli, Charles Lutz: Peace is not a competition among faiths

  • Updated: August 18, 2009 - 8:56 PM

Jews, Muslims and Christians can seek, and do seek, stability in the Holy Land.

In the Israeli-Palestinian search for peace, most people see religious influences as far more harmful than helpful. That negative perception is founded in fact. Movements from inside all three monotheist traditions support political stances that work against peaceful resolution of the Holy Land conflict.

Some Muslims believe God ordains and blesses violent acts of suicide bombers against Israeli Jews.

Some Jews insist that God has promised them eternally all the land "from the river to the sea" and that Palestinians living on parts of it don't belong there.

Some Christians (mostly Americans), identifying as Christian Zionists, insist that Jews alone must control all of the Holy Land to usher in Christ's second coming.

But the struggle for justice and peace in that land will never be resolved by groups telling other groups, in effect: "God wants us to win and you to lose."

On the ground in Israel and Palestine, significant numbers of Jews, Christians and Muslims meet regularly to promote peace. These are ordinary people who believe that developing sustained, respectful relationships powerfully serves the cause of peace. Simultaneously, leaders of traditional Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities meet below the radar screen, working privately to develop ways to influence Israeli and Palestinian governments. They help prepare the ground in both communities for the triumph of peace and justice that people long for, in the land they all call home.

Locally, a newly formed group, Minnesota Advocates for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (MAIPP), links persons of Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage who have a common goal. We advocate to U.S. officials for direct diplomatic intervention to achieve a just and lasting peace in the war-torn region, while pressing members of our own communities to work persistently for peace.

All MAIPP members are passionate peace activists. All have roots in one of the Abrahamic faith communities. All decry the ways in which extremists of our three religions contribute to the perpetuation of violence and injustice in the Middle East, believing their political actions are inspired by their God. All understand that our three faiths share passion for peace, the call to seek justice in human societies, profound respect for "the other" and commitment to coexistence of all who dwell on earth.

We reject any thesis that the relationship of the monotheist faith communities must be one of conflict. We recall that, for most of the past 1,500 years, people from the three traditions did coexist with relative peace in that land sliver at the Mediterranean's southeast corner. When the Arabs took back Jerusalem from the Crusaders, Jewish families were welcomed to restore the holy city's multifaith character. And while Jews suffered centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe, they generally flourished in most of the Arab world.

It is precisely this promise of peaceful relationships that shapes MAIPP's work. Our multifaith, multicultural group of peacemakers seeks to help both community members and elected officials move beyond the usual polarizing way of viewing the conflict. We urge Minnesotans to move beyond being pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. We seek a third way: pursuit of a just peace for both peoples, without which neither community can thrive.

We support policies by our own government that hold precisely this promise. Thus the goal is two sovereign states living together with security and mutual respect.

This result best serves the interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike. As President Obama has stressed, it also serves the national self-interest of the United States.

To truly support a peaceful resolution serving both parties to the conflict, we must impede the impulse to cheer and protest only for "our side." This most serious of "games" can be won only if all of us stop and ask, "What will truly benefit all peoples affected by this century-old tragedy? What will help create a peaceful future for all children of the region?"

Amy Eilberg, Mendota Heights, is a rabbi. She works at the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas. Wael Khouli, a Muslim, is a St. Paul physician and member of American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Charles Lutz, Minneapolis, is a Christian and is Minnesota coordinator of Churches for Middle East Peace.

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