We've all heard the press reports about the "peace process" for the Middle East over the years, and its often said that Israel-Palestine conflict is at the heart of it. Spending two weeks in the land has given us the opportunity to hear first hand from representatives of the different groups, and to acknowledge the many complexities which a 60 second news report will never reflect. One such complexity is that not all Arabs here are Muslims: there are Arab Christians, Druze and others. And not all (tribal) Jews are (religious) Jews: many in Tel Aviv are only lightly observant Jews, and a few (tribal) Jews follow other religions.
I'll start with the pessimism about the process. One Jewish settler (or "returner" in his view), said the peace process was "dead". All that remained was "managing the conflict", and even that was in trouble after recent rocket attacks from Gaza to Jerusalem. (Which, we understand, killed at most one Israeli; the Israeli drone attacks killed about 20 non-combatants along with the Palestinian Chief Negotiator.)
The Dean of the Anglican Cathedral here, a Palestinian Christian priest, supports the hunt for a "two state solution", which is the preferred solution of the international community, and (we understand) rather reluctantly the State of Israel. The Christians are often the moderate voice in the region, not being allied to extremists on either side. And so the leaders of the Christian churches here support the current 'process', and will do as long as the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority do.
A more optimistic voice was from a different Palestinian Christian priest, who sees a two state solution as possible, but with the rather large caveat that it needs the State of Israel to want to make it work. And my previous post strongly suggests that they don't -- or at least that message isn't filtering around government departments very well.
A high point of my time looking at the contemporary issues of the land had to be meeting Salim, a Christian Palestinian Arab, with roots in the Greek Orthodox church. He works to reconcile Jew with Palestinian here, and so far has taken several thousand young people going through week-long courses/experiences together. This group says that the majority of Jews and Arabs in the land want peace, but (as ever) the minority of extremists on both sides are the ones who instil the fear in the other through violence, rhetoric, or other actions. These are the ones that are loud and get the attention and the press, skewing it for all. What's needed is a grass-roots movement to demand peace from all their leaders: the equivalent of the strength that brought about the million man march to Washington to demand equal rights for Blacks. Or to demand peace in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. This work of reconciliation is slow and small-scale, but each course there are more people in the region who know that bonds of trust can be formed with the Other, and that life is better for it. For me this is the small seed of hope. (If you want to learn more, they have published a book on the process of reconciliation, and another book of stories of people that have been through this process: more details at http://www.musalaha.org/books.asp?offset=5, or borrow my copies.)
I must add a theological note, given what I'm studying, and why I'm here. The Bible contains Isaiah's vision of a future reality of a "new Jerusalem" (which can also mean a renewed Jerusalem), with the symbolic picture where "lambs will live safely with wolves". And St.Paul says that amongst Christian believers, the usual distinctions and rivalries between Jews and Greeks, between men and women, or even between masters and their slaves, have all dissolved. Being adopted as children of God, and therefore , is so much important than our worldly nationalities: we become brothers and sisters irrespective of tribe or colour or education or background.
In time God will bring about a "one state solution". And this is the ideal for the current Jerusalem too. But for either solution to be a real one it requires men and women like Salim to work to bring reconciliation of all faiths and nationalities in this place. And, suggests the Dean, doing so will bring greater peace to the rest of the world too. I believe him, and will pray for the peace of his unique city. Please do the same.