Voices in Conversation: Israel-Palestine

November 08, 2010

Conversation does not come easily on the subject of Israel-Palestine. 

On October 5, the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns (CCUIC) invited United Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, and Orthodox Christian representatives to a round-table discussion at the Conference Center in West Sacramento. 
The purpose of the meeting was clearly stated: for individuals to share, from their faith perspective, what are the most important issues for United Methodists to consider when discussing Palestinian-Israeli concerns. Speakers were asked to recommend how UM congregations might become better informed. 
18 persons participated – representing the Jewish Community Relations Council (San Francisco and Sacramento offices), St. Nicolas Orthodox Church (San Francisco church with Palestinian members), The Rebuilding Alliance (a group which works with all faiths to rebuild schools in Israel-Palestine), and the California-Nevada Annual Conference's Office of Connectional Ministries, Board of Missions, Israel-Palestine Task Force, and Board of Church and Society (in addition to CCUIC).
No Muslims accepted the invitation to attend.
Though the meeting began and ended in prayer, in between emotions ran high, as individuals shared the missions of the organizations and committees they represent.
"It quickly became apparent that participants could say very little on the sensitive subject of Israel-Palestine without expressing a bias – that, in fact, how any one speaks of history, religious differences, and government policy is shaped by individual experience," reports Heather Leslie Hammer, chair of CCUIC.
She says the meeting helped members of CCUIC realize that there is a need for continued work in the area of building ecumenical and interfaith relationships in local communities. To that end, the commission will cooperate with the Israel-Palestine Task Force to resource churches: with CCUIC promoting interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, and the Task Force promoting social justice work in areas of non-violence and human rights. 
Both groups have used Compassionate Listening as a method to foster interfaith dialogue. 
"Despite our different perspectives, we all agreed to unite in praying for peace," Hammer says of the October roundtable, adding, "We invite local churches to do the same."