Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pastor Russ Siler writes from Jerusalem

Pastor Russ Siler, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City - - writes...

From Jerusalem # 36
15 March 2007

Way back in 2003 as I was preparing to begin this ministry in Jerusalem, I remember so many friends and acquaintances saying to me, "Well, we're counting on you to bring peace over there." I'd grin and say something like, "If it happens while I'm there, you can bet I'll take credit for it!" It was our way of putting a smile on the continuing, grim countenance of fear and conflict.

Reality soon set in, however, and I quickly realized how low a priority peace with justice is apparently given by the community of nations of which we are all a part. Economic prosperity, a yearning for isolation characterized by "What can I do!" or "I'm sorry, but that's not my problem." along with those approaches loosely termed "national interests" all outrank peace with justice in our lists of international values. Yet I find that individuals and groups all over the world do value justice, especially for so many who are in such dire circumstances. It is these people who hold the keys to a lasting peace in this small, but vital piece of the Middle East—a peace which will bring security and freedom from fear for Israelis and the coveted right of self-determination for Palestinians. I know them, because they write me and tell me, and when they come here, they travel into the West Bank and see and hear for themselves.

Our small congregation here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem's Old City welcomes many, many visitors to the Holy Land. They are received not only in our worship services, but also in our work and social settings. Just about all of us feel a great obligation to share with them the news, the opinions, and the real faces of the suffering they are not hearing or seeing from other sources. We pray for them, and we pray with them. These are some of our fervent prayers.

We pray that Israel, the United States, and the rest of the international community will truly give peace a chance by removing the roadblocks thrown in its path. Anyone who is following developments here in even a casual way will be aware that there have been three "conditions" placed before the new Palestinian government. Nations are righteously proclaiming that they will not deal with the government until these demands are met.

The first of these is the need for the new Palestinian government to "…recognize Israel's right to exist." This is not even a legal question; it is a philosophical one. We can pose arguments and counter-arguments until the proverbial "cows come home," but until the parties can sit together and present their fears, wishes, needs, and desires, no progress will be made. The United States and Israel have both sat down in the past with those they regarded as bitter enemies. They sat at the table in attempts to find the ways they could live together. They found they could not bully or batter their opponents into acceding to their point of view before they talked. They could, however, join with them in finding paths, albeit at times tortuous and circuitous, to a sustainable peace characterized by mutual respect.

The second demand is that the Palestinian government renounce violence. Our prayer is that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority will renounce violence as a means to achieve their respective goals and aims. The longer I live in this world, and especially in this land, the more I grow convinced that violence begets only violence and enmity in return. Neither Israel, nor the Palestinians, nor my country enters the conversation concerning violence with innocence, much less with "clean hands."

The third demand is that the democratically-elected Palestinian government agree to abide by all previous agreements with Israel. Many people here share that hope. The progress of past efforts needs to be incorporated into the progress of the present. We who pray simply add the fervent desire that this would be a requirement for both sides. Israel has agreed before to cease the expansion of its illegal settlement activity in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the building of homes for Israeli settlers on Palestinian land has not only continued, it has actually picked up speed in the wake of signed agreements such as the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. Palestinians must live up to their agreements and commitments, but to this point the international community [read the United States] has yet to press the nation of Israel to live up to its promises. Such inequities serve only to impede the quest for peace with justice.

My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [], has an on-going effort known as the World Hunger Appeal []. It raises in the neighborhood of $16-17 Million each year for relief, development and capacity building among the world’s poorest and most oppressed peoples. Some of that money finds its way into this corner of the world. It is my prayer that, along with these funds, the ELCA will send a clear message to those individuals and nations who are trying desperately to manage and steer the peace process: Let there be no more double standards! Then both sides will—maybe, just maybe—begin to see faint rays of hope struggling over the dark horizon.

These are our prayers as we prepare in hope to celebrate the light of a new Easter dawn!

Russell O. Siler, Pastor
English-speaking Congregation
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Jerusalem, Old City

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land:

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