Christianity and the Middle East: New Palestine-Israel Quarterly Focuses on "Religion and Politics"

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Christianity and the Middle East: New Palestine-Israel Quarterly Focuses on "Religion and Politics"

By the Rev. L. Humphrey Walz

The complimentary trial copy of the first issue of the quarterly Palestine-Israel Journal took me by surprise. Since the recent death throes of New Outlook, established in 1957 by Simha Flapan, I had not expected ever to see another joint Palestinian-Israeli periodical dedicated to reconciliation. Yet here it was.

Its founders, editors, staff, board and sponsors all are Palestinians and Israelis with top track records in pursuing an honorable, durable and mutually beneficial peace among their region's peoples. The Sept. 13, 1993 Yasser Arafat-Yitzhak Rabin White House lawn signing of the Declaration of Principles had sharpened their hopeful visions. But the equivocal, dilatory follow-up--Palestinian, Israeli and American alike--along with the vigor of opponents soon began reviving apprehensions. Better informed and motivated publics, it became clear, would be essential to speeding up the snail's-pace approach to peace. To this end, Israeli Victor Cygielman and Palestinian Ziad Abu Zayyad combined their journalistic expertise to produce this sizeable quarterly review.

Rallying a seasoned team of administrators and writers, they produced a first issue focusing on "Peace Economics" to help readers grasp what could and could not be accomplished in May in Cairo where the Gaza-Jericho-first agreement was finalized. The third issue, scheduled to reach subscribers just ahead of this Washington Report, concentrates on the friction-generating problems of water distribution throughout the Middle East.

In between came a "Religion and Politics" issue, upon which this column will concentrate. Even by limiting this review to the issue's Christian themes and writers, however, it is difficult to summarize adequately its wide range of illuminating articles from contrasting sources.

All but one of the issue's Christian, Jewish and Muslim writers are Israelis or Palestinians, though some live in England, France or the U.S.A. The exception is Dominican Brother Superior Marcel Dubois of Isaiah House, Jerusalem, who teaches philosophy at Hebrew University.

Its editorial, "Let Us Beat Our Swords Into Ploughshares," derives its title from the prophets Isaiah and Micah, who are honored by Jew, Christian and Muslim alike. In it, Abu Zayyad emphasizes that "attempts to achieve peace require much more courage than the decision to go to war." (A salutory but as-yet-unrealized example would be Prime Minister Rabin putting into action his declared "readiness to remove settlements on the West Bank and the Golan Heights.") There must, therefore, also be a "rallying of the masses around the peacemakers." All parties must "put an end to bloodshed and destruction, and channel our efforts toward construction, development and extricating the Middle East from the vicious circle of conflicts, hostility and arms race."

"Attempts to achieve peace require much more courage than the decision to go to war."

This fits closely into the cited prophets' understanding of religion's call to obedient responses in harmony with the perceived will of a righteous and merciful God. (See Isaiah 2:2-4, and Micah 4:1-4.)

However, the varied interpretations of religion also include disheartening phenomena. Cygielman's lead article on "Religion and Nationalism" focuses squarely on the deplorable "blend of uncompromising nationalism and burning religious faith...that bodes ill for the peoples of this region." As chilling examples of this threat, he provides excerpts from the militant credos of the Israeli Jewish Gush Emunim settlers and of the Muslim Palestinian Hamas. "Each side," as he expresses it, "denies the other any right whatsoever to this promised and disputed land--and all, of course, in the name of God."

A salutary, if difficult, approach to resolving differences within, among and about religious categories is open, receptive dialogue. …