Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lutheran bishops and various expressions of outrage and faith

I want to return my focus to the ELCA bishops visiting in Palestine and Israel, as well as other expressions of faith and concern from world Lutherans and a meditation by Jewish theologian Yehezkel Landau.

1. Tough Streets of the City, by Dan Lehman, from the ELCA blog page:

2. North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials, ELCA News,

3. Christians mobilize for ending violence in and around Gaza, WCC News.

. LWF Reiterates Support for Holy Land Vision of Peace, Urges Ceasefire in Gaza,

5. "If Only" - Meditation by Yehezkel Landau.

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1. Tough Streets of the City by Daniel J. Lehmann

Lutheran bishops walked the crowded, littered and graffiti-strewn streets of the West Bank city of Hebron Saturday, seeing firsthand the impact of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city.

The modern, sleek mid-rise building in the heart of the old city of Hebron stands ringed by Israeli Defense Forces personnel and lookout posts. In the ancient streets below, shops become sparse the closer they are to the settlement of some 500 people.

Camped in the middle of 170,000 Palestinians, the complex highlights one of the biggest problems confronting the two sides: the expanding presence of Israelis in the occupied territory of the West Bank.

The trip by bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.

On Saturday, shoppers jammed the streets just a few blocks for the heart of the old city. In the older section, the few shopkeepers open for business leaped from their chairs to offer scarves, jewelry, Palestinian memorabilia and handicrafts to the conspicuous out-of-towners, some of the few pedestrians on the narrow streets.

The visit to Hebron was arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel [] . A unit of the World Council of Churches [], the group keeps track of how Israel deals with Palestinians in territories it controls.

Just past the shops the bishops toured the Abraham Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It houses the purported remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and other Old Testament figures.

On Sunday, the group was to split up to attend worship in the various churches of the ELCJHL and spend time with members afterward.


2. North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials -

January 9, 2009
North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials

JERUSALEM (ELCA) -- Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) met Jan. 8 with Israeli government and religious officials as part of a pilgrimage to the Middle East. The bishops also toured the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and laid a wreath.

Forty-five bishops representing both churches are participating in a series of meetings Jan. 6-13 with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank. The visit, focused on supporting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, is the North American Lutheran bishops' annual academy for theological reflection and study.

The Lutheran bishops met with the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger and Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who spoke about the current fighting in Gaza.

For nearly eight years Israelis living near Gaza have been subject to periodic rocket attacks on their homes, launched by Hamas from Gaza, Metzger said. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but it has the right to self-defense if Israeli lives are threatened, he said.

"When you return to your countries, please be ambassadors to our feelings," Metzger said to the Lutheran bishops. "We don't want war. We don't want to kill innocent people. We want only to defend ourselves."

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the rabbis that the bishops opposed the escalating violence. "I hope you hear -- it didn't sound like you have -- our rejection of any violence perpetrated upon the people of Israel -- the violence of suicide bombers, Hamas rockets, or rockets from the north today," Hanson said.

The rabbis feel "deep distress" for the loss of innocent lives in the Gaza conflict, Amar said. To help explain the large number of civilian casualties, the rabbis said authorities showed them maps and photos of where they believe rockets have been fired from Gaza. Earlier in the day, a rocket launched from Lebanon into Israel was determined to be an isolated incident.

As of Jan. 9 nearly 800 Palestinians have been killed in the recent conflict in Gaza, according to news reports. Governments, churches and relief organizations have expressed concern for the high number of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian crisis for residents of Gaza lacking food, water and basic necessities. Gaza is the most densely populated area in the world, with 1.5 million people living on a strip of land 28 miles long.

Hanson said Lutherans and Jews have strengthened the foundation given to them from shared spiritual history and sacred texts during the past 25 years. He referred to the actions of the ELCA and ELCIC in the 1990s repudiating Martin Luther's anti-Jewish writings. Lutherans and Jews are work together in the Middle East in the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, he said. In the United States they join together in the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative [].

He told the rabbis that "as a Christian leader, on the basis of the Christian tradition of just war-unjust war principles, it is impossible for me to see that the response of Israel to the Hamas rockets meets the ethical test of proportionality or concern for noncombatants."

Hanson said it was his prayer that Lutherans and Jews could have honest conversations. "If we can't have honest conversations, who is going to win this encounter with religious extremists and fanatics who thrive on violence begetting violence?" Hanson asked the rabbis.

The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop, told the rabbis, "I must confess to you that we struggle with this (Gaza conflict), but I want to say to you that we are committed to staying at the table. The cracks that Bishop Hanson has alluded to -- about how our relationship may be strained at this time because of our struggle to understand all perspectives -- are there, and we need to acknowledge them. But our commitment is to stay at the table with you."

The bishops also met Bahij Mansour, director, Department for Religious Affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A small group from both churches held private meetings with Israel's Minister of the Interior, Meir Sheetrit, in Tel Aviv, and Minister of Tourism, Ruhama Avraham, in Jerusalem. Meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni earlier in the day were canceled, following the rocket attack on Israel.

--- Information about the 2009 Bishops' Academy is at on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

This story is at
ELCA News Blog:

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3. Christians mobilize for ending violence in and around Gaza -

09.01.09 14:19
Christians mobilize for ending violence in and around Gaza

Individuals, groups, churches and councils of churches from Kenya to Sweden to the United States to Australia are carrying out hundreds of advocacy actions involving Christians concerned about the Gaza crisis, especially the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and the need for a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

The WCC has received reports of church-related advocacy in some 20 countries, including statements, public demonstrations and letter campaigns addressed to government officials and parliament members []. They are usually accompanied by vigils and prayer services and collection of funds to support humanitarian relief work.

Their goals include an immediate cease-fire that ends violence against civilians on both sides of the border, free access for humanitarian aid, lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and internationally sponsored negotiations under the framework of international law as the basis for peace.

Two weeks after the Israeli army launched the current attack on Gaza, an estimated 770 Palestinians have been killed, several thousands have been wounded and many have been made homeless. Four Israelis have been killed by cross-border rocket attacks and seven members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have died in the fighting, four of them killed by friendly fire.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the IDF is failing to fulfill its obligation under international law to help wounded civilians in Gaza. A United Nations relief agency suspended aid operations in Gaza after some of their facilities were targeted and two of their local staff killed by the IDF. Church-related facilities are not spared, as three DanChurchAid-supported mobile clinics bombed by the IDF show.

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4. LWF Reiterates Support for Holy Land Vision of Peace, Urges Ceasefire in Gaza
Noko Calls for Prayers, Advocacy, as North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Middle East -

GENEVA, 6 January 2009 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) reiterates its commitment to a vision of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, urging an immediate cessation of both Israeli military operations on Gaza and Hamas missile attacks on southern Israel, and the swift establishment of a workable ceasefire agreement.

In a statement released today, LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko says, “The present bloodshed and destruction will not secure peace for either Israelis or Palestinians. It will only plant the seeds for more conflict, marginalizing the peacemakers, breeding despair, promoting radicalization and strengthening the appeal of violence.”

Reports citing local medical sources put the Palestinian death toll at more than 550 and nearly 3,000 civilian injuries, since Israel launched its 27 December operation on Gaza, including ground assaults since 3 January, aimed at stopping Hamas militants from firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel. Hamas says it has killed five Israelis by rocket fire and in combat.

Pointing to the impact of the Israeli siege on the entire civilian population of Gaza during the six-month ceasefire, Noko notes the blockade “imposed severe suffering on the entire civilian population of Gaza, fostering despair and rage rather than promoting an atmosphere for negotiations and peace.” He adds however, that attacks by Hamas and other militant organizations “are condemned by the LWF as an unacceptable response threatening the lives
of another civilian population.” Equally, while Israel has an obligation to protect its people and territory, its current military operations “are disproportionate to the actual threat and have resulted in an intolerable number of civilian deaths and injuries.”

The general secretary expresses grave concern for the critical humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, urging the Israeli government to ensure full humanitarian access to the people compelled to survive this conflict “without electricity, medical supplies, or sufficient food or water.”

Citing the LWF’s long-standing support to its member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) in various activities fostering the establishment of peace with justice in the Holy Land, Noko insists the root cause of the Middle East conflict must be addressed. “The interpretation of God’s promise to Abraham and differing understandings of who may rightfully claim his legacy, which lie at the very heart of this conflict, can only be resolved by dialogue and reconciliation among all his children,” he says.

He criticizes both parties’ short-sighted focus on political gains through “displays of armed power,” rather than on the “difficult search for peace,” saying this approach was a betrayal of the Israeli and Palestinian “peoples’ hopes for a peaceful future.”

Noko released his statement as a delegation of bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, led by LWF President Bishop Mark S. Hanson, proceeded with their visits with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian religious, community and political leaders under an annual event hosted by the ELCJHL. (See separate story at:

He appeals to all LWF member churches to pray for peace, advocate for justice, and convey these concerns to political leaders. “Without a just peace in the Holy Land, there can be no true or sustainable peace for any of us,” Noko concludes.

The full text of the general secretary’s statement is available on the LWF web site at: --- ---

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5. "If Only" - Prof. Yehezkel Landau wrote,

Dear brothers and sisters, after struggling for days to find a way to express my thoughts and feelings about the ongoing horrors in Gaza and Israel, in a way that might be meaningful and hopeful, I composed the prayerful appeal that is attached. Share it with others as you see fit.

May God help us rise above our partisan perceptions and widen our constricted hearts, so we can let the light of Divine compassion in to guide us to a truer and safer path.

What helps to get me through dark and distressing times like these is the verse from tomorrow's Torah portion, Genesis 50:20: Joseph says to his brothers, "What you meant to do unto me for evil God used [transformed] for good." To me this is the most challenging and consoling verse in the whole Hebrew Bible.

An appeal addressed to Jews, Arabs, and concerned people everywhere in response to the war between Israel and Hamas by Yehezkel Landau

If only our empathy and compassion were as strong as our capacity for self-justification;

If only we could protect ourselves in ways that do not inflict harm on others;

If only we could see ourselves as interdependent, rather than isolated and threatened;

If only we could see the Image of God in one another, rather than projecting mythic images of Arab Nazis or Jewish Crusaders;

If only our leaders were committed to transforming conflict nonviolently rather than too often using military means to achieve political aims;

If only peace education were a part of school curricula throughout Palestine and Israel;

If only political agreements outlawed incitement and demonization in public speeches;

If only the Israeli and Arab media conveyed multiple perspectives, along with humanizing stories and images, rather than reinforcing prejudices;

If only we could address the core issues and grievances, rather than reacting to the latest round of violence or the fear of further violence;

If only the Arab perception of the state of Israel (in its pre-1967 borders, with mutually accepted adjustments) was of a people coming home and exercising the right of self-determination, rather than of a colonial conquest by outsiders;

If only Arab and Muslim leaders could acknowledge the existential fears of the Jewish people following the Holocaust and reinforced by subsequent wars, bellicose rhetoric, and the prospect of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Israel’s adversaries;

If only the Jewish people, in Israel and elsewhere, could acknowledge the deep, unhealed wound of the Palestinian people, displaced and dispossessed in large numbers in the war of 1948 and under prolonged occupation following the 1967 war;

If only Israel would join the Palestinian people in developing democratic institutions rather than destroying their civic infrastructure in the name of self-defense;

If only we could see the problem as a regional crisis, with multiple, interrelated challenges, rather than a bilateral conflict between Israelis and Palestinians;

If only the new American administration would engage wholeheartedly in Middle East peacemaking, deploying a full-time envoy to the region with negotiating skills comparable to those exhibited by George Mitchell in Northern Ireland;

If only a spiritual dimension to peacebuilding—drawing on the practical resources in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—were included in Middle East diplomacy, so that religious extremists would be countered in their own terms and political arrangements would be grounded in mutual repentance, the healing of trauma, and sustained hope for the future;

If only we could envision a future of cooperation and shared blessing, rather than a no-win war lasting generations;

If only the children on “the other side” were as precious to us as our neighbors’ children;

If only our young people were exposed to their peers on “the other side” early on, so that they could build friendships that transcend the “us-vs.-them” dichotomy;

If only we could build Shalom/Salaam together, with a Jewish-Arab peace corps constructing homes, schools, and hospitals in a state of Palestine alongside Israel, and with expanded cross-border initiatives in the areas of health, education, culture, the environment, and sports;

…then perhaps, with God’s help and courageous leadership on all sides, both Israelis and Palestinians could experience genuine peace and security, with fear transformed to trust, anger to forgiveness, grief to compassion, and narrow self-interest to mutual solidarity.

[The writer is a dual American-Israeli citizen who co-founded the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle, Israel, and now teaches Judaism and interfaith relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.]

(Prof.) Yehezkel Landau
Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations;
Director, Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program
Hartford Seminary
77 Sherman Street·
Hartford, CT 06105 USA
Phone: 860.509.9538 ∙ Fax: 860.509.9509

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