April 11, 2008 Volume 22, Number 02
Blessed are the peacemakers
Middle East imbroglio complicate their calling
By Charles Nienkirchen | Special to ChristianWeek
The Arab/Israeli/Palestinian conflict was birthed in diplomatic duplicity, intensified by intermittent wars and rationalized by clashing religious ideologies. Inhabitants of the Middle East have been victimized by a tormented, volatile history. Moreover, the conflict is riddled with contradictory, discordant narratives of the past that spawn skewed interpretations of the present and guarantee that the imbroglio will continue indefinitely into the future.
Contemplate the present despairing scenario. Israel, enthusiastically cheered by Christian Zionists, prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Meanwhile, infuriated, Islamic Palestinian militants, determined to make the river of time flow backwards, plot the extermination of the Jewish state.
In this bloody, multilayered and deadlocked struggle, the healing of one group seems to require the ongoing traumatization of the other. Bombs and bullets frequently sabotage the work of ballots to determine political destinies. Angst and exhaustion grow on all sides.
Though pessimistic about the prospects of lasting peace in the region, I'm convinced nonetheless that peacemaking attempts must continue. Too much is at stake to abort. It is imperative to strive to curb the violence, given its lethally explosive and globally expansive nature. The conflict's magnitude and complexity, however, are undeniably daunting.
Peace initiatives, to have any credibility whatever, must address simultaneously several contentious issues. These include the determination and security of Israel's borders (and reciprocally those of a new Palestinian state), the status of Jewish settlements in the now "occupied/held" territories and the repatriation of/compensation for Arab refugees confined to camps since the 1948 war.
Peace initiatives must consider the rights of access to already strained water resources, the final status of Jerusalem and the administration of its numerous shrines sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. And lastly, a credible peace initiative will negotiate a comprehensive, broader regional peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours based on the recognition of the Jewish nation's right to exist (only Egypt and Jordan currently have peace treaties with Israel).
For concerned Canadian Christians I propose the following modus operandi:
• Reclaim robustly our national heritage of peacemaking in the Middle East in the honoured tradition of a Canadian prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, who received a Nobel Prize in 1957 for his solution to the Suez crisis. It was said that he "saved the world."
• Serve as even-handed, relationally sensitive, peace ambassadors who enter fully informed into the diverse, personal stories of those embroiled in this conflict. We don't naively allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to be taken over by partisan political agendas that distort gospel values.
• Demonstrate fraternal empathy with the full spectrum of followers of Jesus Christ in the region embracing both Messianic Jews and Arab/Palestinian Christians of ancient and recent origin. We thereby give a politically transcendent witness to the Spirit-created unity of the Church.
• Exhibit impartial generosity to alleviate the humanitarian needs of all those suffering due to the conflict, regardless of their ethnic identity or religious affiliation. Genuine compassion knows no political boundaries.
• Promote resourced, educational travel experiences in the region, which offer an alternative to overly romanticized "holy land" tourism. This will expose participants to the "unholiness" of the "holy land" and the reasons for it.
• Pray relentlessly for the spiritual and physical welfare of all persons in the region. We refuse to perceive them in an eschatologically abstract manner as mere actors in an End Time apocalyptic drama to which we pay admission.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Charles Nienkirchen is a professor at Ambrose University College in Calgary. He is also the creator/director of the "Down Ancient Paths" travel study program. He has travelled extensively in the Middle East as a student, pilgrim and professor and was a Scholar in Residence at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.