Holy Land peace requires justice, sacrifice, says patriarch


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Peace in the Holy Land will come only when all parties embrace justice and forgiveness and sacrifice for the good of all people, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem said during a program at the United States Institute of Peace.

Patriarch Fouad Twal called for continued prayer so that Jews, Muslims and Christians understand that true peace entails more than talking about who’s right and who’s wrong.

“Peace is a gift given by God, but entrusted to man, to human beings, who must struggle, who must work, who must pray to obtain peace and achieve peace,” the patriarch told about 100 people during a two-hour panel discussion Feb. 28. The panel also included Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders from the Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

“Peace cannot be obtained without justice and even without forgiveness,” Patriarch Twal said. “It’s not a question only of who’s right, who’s wrong. Forgiveness cannot be obtained without sacrifices, cannot be obtained without compromises. And I think peace is worth it to pay the price of sacrifice and compromise.”

Patriarch Twal added that all religious leaders have an important role to play in the peace process, from how they address their faith communities to the education of future generations.

“Our children, the Jewish children, Muslims and Christians, when they study together, when they play soccer together, when they eat together, when they dance together, we can prepare a new generation,” he said.

Afterward, Patriarch Twal repeated his call for prayer, especially for Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“May the Lord change their hearts and minds to work for the well-being of their population,” he told Catholic News Service. “We need to have a vision, a vision in 20 years, 30 years, how this will be, not to be satisfied with momentary victories.

“We need people to respect the international law and not to make their own law according to their fears. We need people who are not afraid of peace. They must be afraid of war and not rely only on their military power and military option, but rely on international resolution for the well-being of everybody,” he said.

Panelists included Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel; Mahmoud Habbash, minister of religious affairs for the Palestinian Authority; and Canon Trond Bakkevig, a Lutheran pastor in the Church of Norway who is convener of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. They said religious leaders have important roles to play in promoting peace within their worship communities.

Rabbi Metzger and Habbash pointed to efforts to ease tensions across both cultures.

“Peace is not achieved by beautiful words or oratory or wishes,” Habbash said. “It needs to be translated into acts on the ground.”

Without offering specifics, Habbash cited concerns that oppressive actions carried out by Israeli authorities against residents in Palestinian territory can quickly erode the willingness among average citizens to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve peace.

“In Palestine, Palestinian people for more than 60 years have been living under oppression, suppression, occupation, a lack of dignity and lack of humanity,” he said. “Is it conceivable for people who do not have dignity and freedom to grow peace?”

Habbash outlined three paths facing Palestinians and Israelis: a two-state solution in which Palestine and Israel peacefully coexist side-by-side as long as Israel withdraws to the borders that existed before the 1967 war; one country — known as Israel — where democracy and human rights exist for all residents; or the status quo, which regularly erupts into violence, continuing the tensions and animosity among Jewish and Muslim people that exists throughout much of the West Bank.

He called the third option unacceptable because it is “leads to death.”

Rabbi Metzger said peace will come when both sides respect each other and that talks must encompass more than discussions around land. Security and respect, he said, must be a prime concern.

“We believe there is a desire for peace on behalf of the Palestinian people,” Rabbi Metzger added. But he questioned Palestinian practices, such as inflaming rhetoric about Jewish people in Palestinian school textbooks and periodic rocket attacks from Gaza into communities in southern Israel.

“People (Israelis) are acting restrained,” he said. “But people also have a limit to their patience.”

Prior to the program, panelists met with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss U.S. efforts to bring peace to the Holy Land. Rabbi Metzger said the delegation urged the administration to include religious leaders in diplomacy.