Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lenten Resource from CMEP

Lent is already underway, but there is still time to download and share "The Road to Reconciliation - Reflections for Lent," provided by Churches for Middle East Peace -

Find it online at

From Anna Rhee, Grassroots Coordinator:

February 2, 2008

The devotions and traditions of Lent present opportunities for reflection on the meaning of Christ's sacrifice for us and our response. It is a time for somber contemplation and repentance as we humbly recognize our sins and failures. We focus on the need for God's grace as we seek to respond anew to God's presence in our lives and in the world.

For advocates of Middle East peacemaking, the current events that accompany this year's Lenten season exude danger and despair, even as the scene on the world's diplomatic stage signal some positive forward movement.

The reflections in this resource, "The Road to Reconciliation" - including one for Forgiveness Vespers and Clean Monday, the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Christians - lift up the critical need for Middle East peacemaking. We are challenged to seize the openings for reconciliation and to recommit ourselves to vital activities that make for peace.

Let us take this Lenten journey together knowing that we seek and struggle in partnership and community toward peace with justice in the Holy Land.

Click here to download "The Road to Reconciliation" -


The Road to Reconciliation - Reflections for Lent

Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:1-12

"Authentic Worship: Serving the Neighbor's Need"
Charles P. Lutz, CMEP Minnesota Grassroots Advocacy Program

Forgiveness Vespers and Clean Monday
Matthew 6:14-21

"Principles for Living"
The Very Reverend George M. Rados and Subdeacon Will Cohen, Ss. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, Potomac, MD

First week
Matthew 4:1-11

"Tempted to Take Shortcuts"
Ann Staal, Reformed Church in America

Second week
Genesis 12:1-3

"Blessing All of Abraham's Children"
Dr. Charles Kimball, Wake Forest University

Third week
John 4:5-42

"God's Grace Does Not Depend on Our (or Their) Virtue"
T. Michael McNulty, SJ, Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Fourth week
John 9:1-41

"The Worlds of Sin and Light"
Warren Clark, Churches for Middle East Peace

Fifth week
Ezekiel 37 and Psalm 130

"Rattle Them Bones, Hope in the Lord"
Rev. Phil Jones, Church of the Brethren


Register today for CMEP's 2008 Advocacy Conference, Calming the Storm: Middle East Peacemaking in a Turbulent Time, April 20-22, 2008 - Washington, D.C. -

Churches for Middle East Peace
Phone: 202-543-1222

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CMEP Network Conference Call with Andrew Whitley

Join the CMEP Network Conference Call with Andrew Whitley, Director of the Representative Office of UNRWA -

Topic: Humanitarian Concerns in Gaza & the West Bank: Implications for Progress Toward Peace.

Wednesday, Feb. 27th at 1pm ET/12pm CT/11am MT/10am PT

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is pleased to announce that Andrew Whitley, Director of the Representative Office of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), will be the guest speaker for our next grassroots network conference call this Wednesday, February 27th at 1pm ET.

Mr. Whitley will report on UNRWA's work in the West Bank and Gaza, the current humanitarian situation and its implications for progress on the peace process. Mr. Whitley was a speaker at a Feb 12th Capitol Hill Briefing - - "Re-Calculating Annapolis: Understanding the Crisis in Gaza and Southern Israel and Its Impact on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process" co-hosted by CMEP and collegial Jewish and Arab-American organizations.

To view the video of this event, please click here:

Churches for Middle East Peace offers occasional conference calls featuring prominent policy analysts and issue experts from the CMEP/church community and others who stand with CMEP in support of Middle East peace. The conference call speakers offer their perspectives and provide timely, informational updates on key developments in Washington and the region.

HOW TO CALL IN: Dial 1-641-715-3200 and then enter the access code 644415#. You are responsible for domestic long distance charges associated with this call. The call will last approximately one hour, beginning promptly at 1pm (ET).

QUESTIONS: The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session open to all participants. Questions should be submitted by email before or during the call to

"Letters from Gaza (6)...between Gaza and Sderot," by Najwa Sheikh (in Gaza), UNRWA, February 2008 -

"U.S. plans millions in new aid to Palestinians - - by Sue Pleming, Reuters, February 22, 2008

"Top UN relief official spotlights worsening conditions in Gaza, West Bank/decries rocket attacks against Israel" - - UN News Center, February 17-18, 2008

"Open the Rafah Crossing" - - Editorial, Haaretz (Israel), February 8, 2008


SPEAKER BIO: ANDREW WHITLEY is currently Director of the Representative Office of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. At the UN, Whitley has also served with UNCTAD in Geneva, as Chief of the Secretary-General's Office, and with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, holding senior posts in UN transitional administrations in East Timor and Kosovo. Mr. Whitley previously worked as an academic, in Tehran and New York; as a foreign correspondent specializing in the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America, with the BBC and Financial Times; and in human rights. He was the founding director of Middle East Watch now Human Rights Watch/Middle East and North Africa.


Register today for CMEP's 2008 Advocacy Conference - - Calming the Storm: Middle East Peacemaking in a Turbulent Time, April 20-22, 2008, Washington, D.C.


Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM).


phone: 202-543-1222

Reports from Andrew Pappone at Jenin

Diane Adkin, of Portland, Ore., US Sales Coordinator for Canaan Fair Trade - - shared a series of reports from Andrew Pappone. Drew is a Reed College graduate who studied the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) for his anthropology degree -

Drew has spent the past two months in Jenin, working for the PFTA. You can find all his correspondence of the web site of Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights (AUPHR) -

Here are two of Drew's reports.

February 5, 2008

A few days ago, the Israeli Army came to the office building housing the Palestine Fair Trade Association and demolished an adjacent store. At about 7 pm on Friday, February 2, the IDF came to Jenin City Center with several Jeeps and Hummers, pulled up outside the building and proceeded to take the store apart. They ripped down the door, smashed windows on the adjoining grocery store, and ripped down the awning on most of the building. By the time I got to the office the next day, the demolished store was empty, with nothing but a broken door, toilet, and other debris scattered on the floor. No one here knows exactly what the soldiers were allegedly looking for, or if they found whatever it was, but everyone is in pretty unanimous agreement that no matter what they were hoping to find, it wasn't on the awning they ripped down, or in the toilet pipe they ripped up, or in the glass of the windows they smashed.

In other news, Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians in a nearby village yesterday.

I found out about the three murdered Palestinians when I returned from Ramallah early in the morning. When I got out of the bus in Jenin, I was surprised to hear a lot of gunfire in the streets and went to investigate its source. There was a crowd of about 400 people, two ambulances, and a 23-year-old boy wrapped in a flag, being carried down the middle of the road. Other young men walked alongside the body, firing M-16s and Kalashnikovs in the air. Many in the crowd were distraught and glancing at their faces, it seemed that all many of them could do was stare blankly into space.

To an American like myself, perhaps the most surprising part of all of this was the response of the general population to the news and the following funeral. Of course, things like this are not a part of my life in the United States. It's not normal for three kids my age to get killed by an occupying force or for people with Islamic Jihad headbands to march through the streets shooting automatic weapons. And it shouldn't have to be a part of anyone's life. But when I spoke to people about the event, who ranged in age from 14-40, all of them told me "It's normal", or, "This happens every day in our lives". Which means that every day three bereaved fathers bend down in the street to kiss the forehead of their recently murdered son, and five year old kids, clutched tightly by their mothers, shutter as automatic gunfire reverberates through the streets and dead bodies can be seen amongst a crowd of people.

Growing up surrounded by such events, it's no wonder that an estimated 90% of children in surrounding refugee camps have psychological symptoms closely related to those of post-traumatic stress disorder. But as many human rights workers in the area are quick to point out, there is a difference between the situation of young Palestinians with some form of PTSD and, say, veterans of the Vietnam War. Whereas American soldiers know there is a better life than the one they experience in war and don't think of the combat situation as "normal", for young Palestinians there is no other, more normal daily experience. They live through these types of events everyday, until the events themselves give the situation the sense of "normalcy" it inevitably takes on. The battle to take the sense of normalcy away from these events, to make them more unusual than usual, will be even more difficult than removing some of the facts on the ground that catalyze the events in the first place. But it's a battle worth fighting and one that doesn't mean taking lives, as much as it means giving them back.

Andrew Pappone

Feb. 20, 2008

Well, spring has definitely arrived in Palestine. Besides the unseasonably cold rain/snowfall we had a couple days ago, the sun is warmer, and the skies are drier than they were a month ago. Space heaters have even become less necessary, which makes life much more pleasant.

Nobody ever talks about the fields of wildflowers in the West Bank (I realize of course, that I am as big an offender as any). The fields seem to change color every day, with new wildflowers surrounding the olive trees. These beautiful, pastoral scenes are almost enough to make one forget the surrounding problems.

I would like to devote this last newsletter to something slightly more uplifting than my past topics, and try my hardest to leave Palestine with some shreds of hope still remaining in my head.

In past issues, I have mentioned Jenin Refugee Camp, the home of about 30,000 people who lost their homes in 1948 and 1967, and now live with the daily threat of violent Israeli military incursions. The streets, once winding, narrow alleys reminiscent of crowded markets in Syria or Egypt, were rebuilt (after they were destroyed by the IDF in 2002) to be wide enough for tanks (mandated by Israel). The violence in the camp has left around 95% of the children with some form of post-traumatic stress syndrome. But I said I was going to be uplifting. In the face of this, there is an amazing program that has been designed to give the children of the camp alternative outlets and ways to express themselves. The Freedom Theatre - - runs art, theater, and computer projects in the camp, involving a few hundred children directly, and hundreds more in the audiences of plays the theatre produces. The theatre believes that the Palestinians are engaged in a sort of two-prong intifada, on both cultural, and military levels. The theatre focuses on combating the effects of the cultural intifada, simultaneously giving children peaceful ways to deal with the violence in their daily lives, and preserve their culture and traditions.

Interestingly, the theatre was started by an Israeli Jew, Arna Mer Khamis, who, in 1948, was a member of the Jewish Youth Brigades, and rode in Jeeps through the streets of Tel Aviv, proclaiming the victories of Zionism. Later, Arna had a change of political views as she saw the Israel she fought for grown increasingly more brutal, land-hungry, and abusive to its neighbors. She started the theatre in the late 90s but the theatre was shut down and then destroyed by the Israeli Army in 2002, shortly after Arna died of cancer. In 2005, Arna's son, Juliano, reopened the theatre and it has been operating successfully ever since.

If peace is achieved in Palestine, it won't be because of the politicians and United States-led peace talks. Peace will be a result of projects like the Freedom Theatre and the people who are involved in their programs.

Andrew Pappone

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

News from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

The February newsletter is online from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI) -

Here are some samples...

EAPPI Web Pages
EAPPI has a newly remodelled website. Check it out at: Let us know any feedback you have. We plan to keep it regularly updated with new articles and information. There are news updates, a picture gallery, information about the history of the programme and we plan to add a video gallery too. You can read the latest reports from serving EAs in the “Eyewitnesses” section of news and find ways to support and become involved in EAPPI.

Solidarity demonstration at Erez crossing: ‘End the Siege in Gaza’
On Saturday, 26 January, the EAPPI Group 25, together with the EAPPI Jerusalem staff and staff from the Jerusalem Interchurch Centre, joined the solidarity convoy organized by the Israeli peace organization, Gush Shalom, to the Erez crossing to Gaza. (Simultaneously, at the other end of Gaza, were the remarkable scenes of the fence coming down and Gazans going on mass shopping trips in Egypt.)

The wave of solidarity was impressive! Around 2000 Israelis, Palestinians and Internationals arrived in busses and cars from all over Israel to join the convoy and the demonstration which followed at Erez crossing. The participants were asked to bring basic supplies such as flour, oil, salt and milk powder to be handed over to the long suffering people in Gaza.

At present EAPPI has no presence in Gaza. By participating in the demonstration and delivering some essential supplies, the Palestinian people of Gaza see a sign of care and the offer of hope that they are not forgotten by the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements nor by the international community who were able to accompany them to the crossing in a sign of solidarity and encouragement.

International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel : 4-10 June 2008
With over 450 former Ecumenical Accompaniers back in their home countries in mid 2008, we hope that as many former EAs as possible will be active during the week, with a focal point in touch with them in each country. Current EAs serving in the field will be joining initiatives of local Church communities and Church Related Organizations.

The action week is part of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (a WCC initiative that was launched in June 2007). It is oriented toward peacemaking. The goal is to build a tradition around 4-10 June. The hope is that the week will be a landmark that draws us forward and becomes linked to year-round actions. Watch the EAPPI website for links to the ICAPPI information.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Israeli invasion of Beit Ummar Feb 13

Palestine News Network reports on an incursion at Beit Ummar in the West Bank (below). I see very little coverage in the western press. Search the name "Beit Ummar" to find additional reports from Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Solidarity Movement and others.

Palestine News Network report on the web:

Israeli forces arrest 43 Palestinians in 10 hour invasion of Beit Ummar
Feb 13, 2008

Hebron / Najeeb Farraj - In an ongoing attack on the town of Beit Ummar in the southern West Bank’s Hebron, Israeli forces have arrested at least 43 Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 25.

Beginning during Wednesday’s early morning hours, 1 am, some 100 Israeli soldiers stormed the town and announced via loudspeakers that if anyone left their homes, they would be shot.
After the curfew was imposed Israeli forces closed all entrances to the town and overtook several homes, using the highest rooftops as sniper posts.

Dozens of soldiers then began breaking into homes and demanded that hundreds of people gather in the town square. Beit Ummar has not seen an attack of such magnitude in years. Eyewitnesses from the Christian Peacemaker Teams reported that Israeli forces were denying ambluances access.

For 10 hours Israeli forces remained in the town, holding it hostage. An Israeli military spokesperson said that this was in response to last months attempted attack on the Etzion Settlement bloc in which two Palestinians, allegedly carrying knives, were killed. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

Due to the Israeli invasion, schools were unable to open on Wednesday, nor were municipal offices and other businesses.

The 43 people who were arrested were taken away in buses, bound and blindfolded, to unknown locations.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Pastor Eric Shafer reports from travels in Jerusalem

Eric Shafer's excellent reports from his recent trip to Palestine and Israel are on his blog:

I picked one to share. Please go to Eric's blog to see the rest of his fine messages. Eric, my former boss and a good friend, traveled with a group that included bishops and other leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

From Jerusalem - Sunday, February 3, 2008

Early Sunday morning Kris and I hurried into the Old City to help the Holmans prepare for 9:00 a.m. worship at Redeemer Lutheran Church there []. Before worship we helped carry hymnals (LBW's) from the chapel to the main church where worship was held today. I also did some sermon videotaping with Tim Frakes outside of Redeemer on the Via Dolorosa.

Today the English and Arab language congregations at Redeemer (there are also German and Danish language congregations) worshiped together in the main sanctuary at 9:00 a.m. Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL preached [] and Pastor Mark Holman presided. Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire S. Burkat greeted the congregation and also assisted with communion (for photos go to

Bishop Younan preached on Isaiah 58, first in Arabic and then in English. In his sermon, Bishop Younan spoke of Isaiah's link between fasting and social justice - "there is no benefit to fasting if it doesn't benefit the world." He noted that "Isaiah calls us to help loose the bonds of injustice," "let the oppressed free," and "break every yoke." "It is not about my own spirituality," said Younan, "but the world." Bishop Younan then quickly made the connection to the current situation here in Jerusalem - "our spirituality must not allow injustice to triumph .... we must stand for security (for Israel and Palestine) and for an end of the occupation (of Palestine by Israel). "Our fasting must be to help the world."

Bishop Burkat greeted the congregation on behalf of those "pilgrims from southeastern Pennsylvania" who were worshipping at Redeemer this day. She presented gifts from our group to Bishop Younan and Pastor Holman. In addition to Kris and me and Bishop Burkat, Phil & Rene Krey also worshiped at Redeemer. Others from our group worshiped in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour at the Lutheran congregations there.

After worship we joined Redeemer members for tea and then headed with the Holmans and Tim Frakes to Bethlehem for lunch. Following lunch, Tim and I taped the final section of my Trinity Ash Wednesday sermon in front the the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. We then returned to Jerusalem. Kris went back to the Holmans home to help them get ready to host dinner for our group at their home that evening. Tim and I met up with Bishop Burkat to help her tape two videotapes, a Lenten greeting for the SE PA synod web site [] and an introduction for her report to the coming synod assembly. We taped in front of Redeemer Church and also at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We then returned to the Lutheran Guest House where I reviewed Tim's work on my Ash Wednesday sermon videotape and we made final edits. I then waited until the others returned to the Guest House to travel with them by cab to the Holmans' home for dinner and our evening program.

My Ash Wednesday sermon can now be viewed online at one of two links: or
It is nine minutes long.

Sunday evening our group had a wonderful dinner at the Holmans' home (where Kris and I are staying) in east Jerusalem. Following dinner we heard a very moving presentation by members of The Parents' Circle - Families Forum. This group is made up of Israeli and Palestinian people whose family members have been killed by the violence of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and, instead of more violence and revenge, have banded together to tell their stories and call for an end to this conflict and violence. About 500 families are now part of their group. Their web site is

Our presenters were Rami Elchanan and Aziz Sarah. Rami began by noting that he is a 7th generation Israeli Jew but, most importantly, "I am a human being." His is a "story of price and pain." Rami served as an Israeli soldier in the 1972 Yom Kippor war and "lost many friends." He came out of that experience "angry and detached." Ten years ago, 9/4/1997, his beloved 14 year old daughter was killed by a suicide bomber. Following such an experience, Rami noted, one has a choice - to get even or try to determine "why?" He chose to ask "what can I do to help prevent this from happening to others" and to direct his life to the simple truth that "we are not doomed," that "we can break the cycle of revenge," that "dialogue is the way and that we must "listen to each other's pain." Rami says that his calling (my word) now is to make "cracks of hope in the wall of fear." Whether victims of Isreali or Palestinian violence, Rami said, "our blood is the same" and "our tears are just as bitter."

Aziz, a Palestinian, told of how when he was nine years old Israeli soldiers came into his home and took his 18 year old brother away. His brother was imprisoned and released one year later. He died in the hospital shortly after his release from prison. At first, "peace and reconciliation seemed like a stupid idea" and he was filled with angry against the Israelis. But, finally, "I realized we all have a common humanity" and that there "must be a way out of this other than more violence." "You can choose." "Peace and reconciliation are possible."

The Parents Circle operates a telephone line, "Hello Peace" for victims and violence and their families and friends. This line has received more than 1,000,000 calls since 2002! They also do anti-violence school programs, first through blogs and then face to face meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. There is a radio program, "All for Peace" and much more. More than 5,000 have died in the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict. "It is less painful to donate blood than to spill it." We must find a way to help "these two crazy nations - Palestine and Israel, from killing each other." "People are dying every day." What must we in the USA do? "Not sit aside - defend the poor, help the oppressed, not support one side only" (in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict).

There is much more on their web site, including (under "Personal Stories") both Rami's ("Replacing Pain with Hope") and Aziz's ("A Conflict Close to Home") stories. Their own words online tell their stories much better than I have. This moving evening ended a long and full Sunday in Jerusalem.


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Friday, February 8, 2008

Sabeel Conferences set for Pasadena and Philadelphia

I want to be sure this announcement reaches you folks in time for you to consider registering for the Sabeel Confrence in Philadelphia in April. A major conference will be underway this month in Pasadena, Calif., "From Occupation to Liberation: Voices We Need to Hear," Feb. 15-16

Here are details about the Philadelphia event:

Philadelphia Sabeel Conference, April 25-26, 2008
Theme: "In Search of a Homeland - The Quest for Place and Peace in Israel and Palestine"

Conference Overview
A two day conference will be held at Villanova University, Connelly Center, to promote education and advocacy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sixty years ago in 1948, Israel celebrated its independence while Palestinians endured their Nakba, or "catastrophe," as they fled their land as refugees. Speakers will address the history and root causes of the conflict as well as the current realities and hopes for peace. Workshops will offer time for discussion and advice. There will also be a film screening, cultural event, and art exhibit by renowned local artist Rajie Cook.

+ Rev. Naim Ateek Director, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Jerusalem, "Christian Strategies for Non-Violent Peacemaking."
+ Dr. Marc Ellis, Director for Jewish Studies, Baylor University,
"The Jewish Dream and the 1948 Reality."
+ Dr. Elia Zureik, Emeritus Faculty, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada,
"A Journey of 60 years; the Story of Palestinian Refugees."
+ Dr. Yvonne Haddad, History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Georgetown University
"Understanding our Muslim Friends."
+ Jeff Halper, Coordinator, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee,
"Reframing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A View from the Ground."
+ John Hubers Former Middle East Director, Reformed Church of America,
"Whose Homeland Is It? Confronting Christian Zionism."

+ Susan Abulhawa, Founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, Author: The Scar of David (Best Book Award, USA Book News)
+ Fr. John Sullivan and Sr. Maria Rieckelman, Maryknoll Missionaries, led six pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
+ Rev. Kail Ellis, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Science, Villanova University.
+ Dr. Roger AllenProfessor of Arabic, University of Pennsylvania.
+ Dr. Linda Hanna and Leila Barclay, "Environmental Impact of War."
+ Members of Jewish Voice for Peace, "Jewish Anti-Occupation Activism."

Ecumenical Working Group for Middle East Peace, Philadelphia area
Villanova Center for Peace and Justice Education
Office of Justice and Peace of the Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova
Friends of Sabeel-North America

More information is at the web site of Friends of Sabeel - North America -

Sabeel (In Arabic, "the Way") is a Jerusalem-based ecumenical peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians. The web site in Jerusalem provides more background -

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

In the Middle East, God is on the side of peace

Eric Shafer, formerly my boss at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is traveling in the Holy Land now with Bishop Claire Burkat of the ELCA's Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

Eric sent the op ed piece below to his hometome paper, The Morning Call, in the Allentown, Pa. area.

For pictures from the delegation, see the synod's web page:

Video produced by Tim Frakes is available at

In the Middle East, God is on the side of peace
By Eric C. Shafer
February 6, 2008,0,7678242.story

On a February Sunday in 2004, my wife, Kris, and I were traveling with a group of U.S. Lutheran communicators in the West Bank, the area of biblical Palestine occupied by Israel since 1967. We were scheduled to worship at Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala, a town next to Bethlehem. But that Sunday the entire area was under an Israeli army curfew. Since we were accompanied by the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, we were able to get through the military checkpoint from Jerusalem.

This was a surreal experience -- our two Lutheran World Federation vans following the bishop's car into the Beit Jala area. Our three vehicles, with hazard lights blinking, were the only ones on the road that morning. All businesses, schools and homes were closed, even boarded up. Normally on a Sunday morning, a work day for the majority Muslim population, the streets would have been teeming with people. Not this day. The streets and sidewalks were completely vacant and quiet except for an occasional stray dog. The Israeli curfew kept everyone at home and off the streets. Those who ventured out risked arrest and prison.

The church bells were ringing as we approached Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala. We wondered if anyone would be there. As we entered the church grounds, there were hundreds of people waiting for the bishop and for worship. Surprised by their bravery, bravery I thought might be foolhardy, I asked one of our hosts why he had violated the curfew and risked imprisonment to come to worship that day. ''If God calls us, we're coming,'' was all he needed to say.

Like most Americans my age, I had watched the invasion of Jordanian territory by the Israelis during the 1967 war and had assumed that the Israelis were the good guys. I would say that I had even assumed that God was on the side of the Israelis. That's certainly what most U.S. Christians and most Americans probably still believe.

However, I have now heard different views, views expressed to me when I have traveled several times to Jerusalem, Jordan and the West Bank and met Palestinian Christians, Lutherans who are part of the Lutheran World Federation. They are Palestinians who had their homes and pastures and olive tree groves forcefully taken from them during the 1967 war. They are Palestinians -- Muslim and Christian -- who now have to live elsewhere, no longer able to make a living on lands which had been part of their families since the time of Christ.

I have long been a real admirer of modern Israel, what the Israeli people have done with their country created out of desert lands in 1948. But, much to my surprise, these lands may have been desert, but they were not deserted! Real people, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, lived on these lands and were forcibly removed in 1948 and again in 1967.

We have seen what legacy these wars have brought to the people of the Middle East and the world. Sixty years of almost constant war and conflict with extremists reveling in death and destruction, wars and conflicts which seem to simmer under the surface and regularly erupt as they have in Lebanon and Gaza.

Abraham Lincoln, when asked if God was on the side of the Union forces (and, by implication, not on the side of the Confederate forces), is said to have responded, ''The question is not, is God on our side, the question is, are we on God's side?''

In the Middle East, as in most earthly conflicts, there are Godly people on all sides of the current conflicts. The extremists on both sides may get the headlines. Often forgotten are the majority of people who live behind the headlines; Israelis who fear suicide bombers, Palestinians cut off from oil and heat, food, employment and medical care. The question then is Lincoln's question: Are we on God's side?

And what would God's side be? In the Gospels, Jesus Christ gives us some ideas. God's side is standing for and with the poor and powerless. God's side is standing for peace in the face of violence and war, ''turning the other cheek,'' as Jesus says. God's side is realizing that God is calling us to be peace makers even in the face of opposing forces all claiming God's direction. God's side is for peace in the Middle East and throughout this world.

We are called to be on God's side, to stand with God and God's values of peace and love for humankind and to stand with others who share these values, in Israel and Palestine and everywhere.

The Rev. Eric C. Shafer, senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, is traveling in Jerusalem and the West Bank and plans to preach today from Jerusalem via satellite. His daily blog and sermon are available online at .
Copyright © 2008, The Morning Call

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

CoExistence and Peace Making

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land sent this report on the January Amman conference, "CoExistence and Peace Making."

For pictures and more information, go to the web site of the church:

February 2008
Steps Forward in Muslim and Christian Relations

Christian and Muslim scholars and leaders from all over the Middle East met in Jordan in late January for the Third International Conference on “CoExistence and Peace Making." The conference, organized by the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center (JICRC) among others, is a continuation of the interfaith work being done there since the Amman Message was issued in the fall of 2004.

In their final statement, Christian and Muslim leaders pledged themselves to work for many things, including:
• Respect of religious freedom, belief;• Respect of all messengers (and prophets), holy books,religious texts and symbols and prohibition of any desecration;
• Respect of and free access to all holy places
• Respect of responsible (practice of) freedom of expression which does not harm the belief and feelings of others.
• Continuation of dialogue and human cooperation to achieve justice, peace, development and decent living, called for by the human and religious teachings of the heavenly religions;
• Expand dialogue from the circles of the elite to larger community groups at the grass root level;
• School curriculum to include encouragement of dialogue, acceptance and respect of the other.

This also follows an initiative last fall of 138 Muslim scholars and leaders issuing "A Common Word Between You and Us" quoting verses from both the Bible and the Koran illustrating that the essence of our religions is love of God and love of the neighbor. It calls for Muslims and Christians to work together for common values and the public good. The letter ends with a quote from the Koran — "Vie one with another in good works ... Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ" — before making a final plea for peace: "So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works."

God, bless these and other efforts to work together, Muslims, Christians and Jews, for the greater good of all.

For more information about the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center see this web page:

For details about the report issued at the conference, see this one:

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For information about traveling in the Holy Land in June with Ann Hafften and Franz Schemmel, see our brochure:

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Join us in the Holy Land: Listening in Love and Seeking Peace

I invite all my readers to consider making a trip to the Holy Land and to encourage others to visit too. In June I will lead a 9-day trip with my husband, Pastor Franz Schemmel. It will be my 16th visit to the lands of Palestine and Israel. Three years ago we led a very fine group headed by Bishop Kevin Kanouse of the ELCA's Northern Texas - Northern Louisiana Synod.

The brief blurb below describes the trip. A link to the detailed brochure is at the Group Travel web site -

Listening in Love and Seeking Peace in the Holy Land
Dates: 6/9/08 - 6/18/08
Cost: $2898

A blessing of faith and challenge awaits those who make this pilgrimage. We will go to the sites associated with the Jesus’ life and ministry and meet the leaders of today’s Lutheran ministries in Palestine. We will see the Separation Barrier and its effects on daily life. We will taste and experience the cultures of Israel and Palestine and explore the old city of Jerusalem. We will meet with people who are passionately involved in the effort toward peace with justice and worship with the Lutheran congregation in Bethlehem.

We plan to meet with Sabeel, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, leaders of the Deheishe refugee community, volunteers with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, leadership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land the the Lutheran World Federation ministries (Augusta Victoria Hospital). the Parents' Circle, and the Christiana Peacemakers Team in Hebron. There is so much more; please see the brochure. I feel this program is very strong. This pilgrimage will engage us in faith as we witness ancient sites and modern struggles. Please join us on this unforgettable journey.

Please share word of this opportunity as widely as you can. Thank you.

Ann Hafften and Pastor Franz Schemmel