Rector's Note: How will my prayer for peace in Israel change me? -10.12.23
My heart has been so heavy this week as war rages between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. I watched my Facebook feed in growing horror as I realized that friends on a Community Peacemaker Team delegation to Palestine were trapped in the conflict. Meanwhile, Jewish friends were seeking news of family members and friends in Israel who were in harm’s way.
I feel empty, useless and torn over the atrocities that occurred against innocent Israelis, and the devastation that retaliation is bringing upon the people who live in the “open air prison” that is Palestine. This is war born out of long conflict, attack and counterattack, oppression, and isolation in this region. But no matter where one takes an intellectual stand in a conflict that reaches back to the 19th century, this war is its product, and innocent people are dying. More than 2,000 are dead on either side, including 20 Americans.
In the early 2000’s, I worked for Catholic Relief Services in global advocacy, organizing Americans to lift their voices on global issues such as conflict, famine, poverty, and the AIDS pandemic. Part of that work was advocating for a “Roadmap to Peace” that included a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. At that time Israel and Palestine were in the throws of conflict following the second intifada or Palestinian uprising against Israel in 2000. Israel was erecting the border wall that would isolate Palestinians and gravely restrict their access to work, food, medicine, and other basic needs from that time forward. It was a move that also reduced Palestinian suicide bombing and other attacks by 90 percent.
In these subsequent decades, the region has steadily rejected these brokered efforts and has grown ever more polarized until each side now finds itself governed by the most extreme representatives of its interests. The cost was the powder keg that exploded last weekend.
In the face of all of this, and my own very simplistic understanding of an incredibly complex situation, my prayer for peace feels empty and impotent. I am reflecting a lot about Rick Pearce’s thoughtful forum on prayer, which he gave on Sunday. Teaching us the prayer practice of St. Claire, he pointed out that when we pray, we must be willing to be changed by God, along with the situation we are praying about. It is a form of prayer that is responsive, willing to get to work, open to internal changes as well as external ones.
As I sit in prayer for the end of the violence in Israel and Palestine and a permanent peaceful solution, I find myself creating space for the pain and horror that is occurring on both sides. I am sitting in this painful in-between place and trying to be open to the cry of the innocent that is erupting from both sides. And I’m reaching out for teachers wiser than me to help me know what to do, what to become.
My colleague who led the Community Peacemaker Delegation to the West Bank, noted the pain of her own privilege as she and fellow Americans were escorted safely out of Palestine by friends who would remain in harm’s way. In an essay on the Community Peacemaker Team web page, she wrote
All the way to Jerusalem, I felt waves of conflicted feelings. I was happy to be out of the West Bank, and just a little bit closer to the airport, even though I had no idea how long it would take to get a flight home. I was amazed by the network of Palestinian friends and strangers that devoted themselves to getting us out of the West Bank, who were concerned for our welfare, who were willing to help us, even though my home nation was throwing more resources into killing their people. And I was also so sad to leave my friends behind. Because I carry a US passport, I can climb over rubble and demand to be let out of the West Bank. But my friends would be shot if they tried the same thing.
(Learn more about Community Peacemaker Teams here).
I sit with her feelings of privilege, of being able to escape the painful realities of the justice issues I care about, because of my nationality or my skin color. I’m reminded that solidarity is a choice, and its transforming nature is making that choice to stay in the presence of the pain that others have no choice but to feel.
That pain was very clear to me in an email that my colleague Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein sent to her networks this week, titled “An Open Letter to my Brothers and Sisters of Faith.” Sunie is a passionate advocate for multi-faith understanding. She wrote:
My heart is breaking. Too much hatred. Too many deaths. Too much sadness and crushed dreams. My friends and family in Israel are living in fear and will never be the same. My Muslim and Christian and other brothers and sisters of this region including Israel and Palestine belonging to our larger family of Adam and Eve are living in fear and will never be the same. I who work so hard to build bridges that join and not fences that divide and destroy am hurting beyond words and will never be the same. I am hurting for all of these people, who are members of our human family, the beginning of which we read this week in our Torah portion in our synagogues as we begin the cycle of Torah readings once again. How do we get through this?
This is NOT about politics; it is about the respect we are to show for human lives and the humility we must all hold onto as we remember that we do NOT have the right to destroy the lives of others.
This is exactly why this work of Multi-Faith engagement and connections is of such vital importance to me. We need to respect each other. We need to listen to each other. We need to learn to understand each other and truly see each other for all that we are. We need to acknowledge differences and have the challenging conversations because when we can't talk with each other, and we can't see the humanity in each other, fear, hatred and destruction such as we are all now witnessing happens.
I sit with her call to commit to the work of multi-faith engagement and feel the prompt to open my heart wider to this local and global work.
Finally my husband, Jess, sent me a Guardian essay by Naomi Klein, who writes to her colleagues on the political left that to halt the intractable path of violence in Israel and Palestine requires “values that side with the child over the gun every single time, no matter whose gun and no matter whose child.
”This requires a political stance that is “unshakably morally consistent, and does not mistake that consistency with moral equivalency between occupier and occupied. Love.”
I sit with her call to solidarity and love, two values that shape my own faith system. How shall I open my heart to them as this war rages on, joining the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and scores of other armed conflicts in our world right now. How shall I let my peace be disturbed, my solidarity be activated, my love released at this time? For now I will pray, and pay attention to the ways that God answers that prayer through me.
PS – Look to the parish newsletter for ongoing suggestions on how to pray, learn, give and act in ways that amplify the cry for peace in this region. Today’s e-news provides links resources to assist your own reflection and action.