Bishop Says Time Is Critical for Peace in Middle East

January 06, 2010

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE - Time may be running out to reach a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestinians, said a United Methodist leader who was part of a delegation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims visiting the Middle East.
 
"People of faith must always look for paths that lead to peace, even when they are overgrown from disuse or blocked by security checkpoints," said United Methodist Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, Denver Area, who joined a delegation of 15 U.S. religious leaders in the Holy Land, Dec. 17-23. "We heard again and again that the window of hope for a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is closing."
 
Stanovsky said continued Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory fragment the Palestinian homeland and threaten to render it ungovernable.
 
"But I also experienced fatigue and impatience, and frustration that both the current Israeli and Palestinian leadership seem to be waiting for the other to take the first step," she said.
 
The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East organized the trip that included Christian leaders of The United Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), National Baptist Convention, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Episcopal Church. Jewish leaders from Reform Judaism, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, along with Muslim leaders of the Islamic Society of North America and Clergy Beyond Borders, also were represented.
 
Holy Spirit at work
 
The delegation flew into Amman, Jordon, drove through Jericho to Jerusalem, visited Ramallah and Bethlehem, and flew out of Tel Aviv, Stanovsky said. The week was spent praying together and talking with Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians.
 
"This was my first trip to the Middle East," she said. "What made the land holy for me was God's Holy Spirit at work through people of all three faith traditions who pray and yearn and work for peace in this land, despite their own group's 'exclusive' claims. God is still at work; people still seek and follow God's leading; hope is alive."
 
The delegation agreed to call on the United States to be a catalyst in achieving a ceasefire. The delegation also called for allowing the flow of humanitarian and economic assistance to the people of Gaza, for continuing efforts to improve the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to increase security and economic development, and for reducing the number of checkpoints and freezing all settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
 
Rabbi Paul Menitoff, representing the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said, "Even on the most emotional issues of refugees and Jerusalem, we believe most Palestinians understand that they will have to accept a negotiated solution regarding refugees that does not jeopardize the Jewish majority in Israel; and most Israelis understand that they will have to accept a negotiated solution regarding sharing Jerusalem that includes provision for both Israel and Palestine to have their capitals in Jerusalem." 
 
Longing for peace
 
Members of the delegation also committed to working within their constituencies to promote peace.
 
"Unfortunately, religious belief and zeal can be an obstacle to peace," Stanovsky said. "People who believe God is on their side, and has given them a right to certain land, are not necessarily the best negotiators."
 
She said representatives of each faith tradition in the delegation committed to offering leadership within their spheres of influence.
 
"For me, that means preparing a thorough report to the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and to the Council of Bishops, and finding ways to educate United Methodists on the complexity of the issues involved," Stanovsky said.
 
The United Methodist Church opposes Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
 
Stanovsky has been involved in interfaith relations as president-director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, 1990-95, and as a member of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. She helped draft the United Methodist resolutions on Jewish-Christian relations.
 
She longs for peace in our lifetime.
 
"Wouldn't it be a blessing if in our lifetimes we could re-hallow the Holy Land so that it was a safe, secure and sacred homeland for Jews, Christians, and Muslims?"
 
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tennessee.
 
[In photo at left, above, Stanovsky (at left), with Rev. Mark Holman of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Bishop Margaret Payne of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Rabbi Paul Menitoff, representing the Central Conference of American Rabbis, during a visit to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem.]