Israel/Palestine: Having tried everything else...

...can prayer hurt?

Today's NYTimes does a run down on Francis's invitation to Presidents Peres and Abbas to come to the Vatican to pray. Amdist the story's general skepticism about prayer, there are those who think it could help....and proabably won't hurt.

"Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli author, said he thought for some time that “what we’re missing around the negotiating table are chaplains....I’d like to replace some of the diplomats with genuine religious leaders, people who understand that this conflict is primarily about intangibles and not a line on a map,” said Mr. Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “The problem is, how do you separate politics from prayer, how do you get prayer to influence politics rather than politics intruding on prayer.”

In a previous post, I mentioned a book I've just read: Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes by Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem (published by Orbis). It is a theological, scriptural, geo-political meditation on the long history of empire in Palestine, includng the current empire. Raheb's weekly preaching task must have helped him create this thought-out and accessible way of seeing the conflict without being conflictual himself. A short piece is excerpted after the break.

Bonus link: Forty maps that explain the Middle East.

Mitri Raheb: "I was born in Bethlehem into a Palestinian Christian family. Palestine is my home, and Christianity is my faith. This is the land of my physical and spiritual ancestors. I was born under Jordanian rule and, at the age of five, experienced the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Bethlehem. I have just turned fifty years of age and have already witnessed nine wars. When Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands at the White House in 1993, I thought that the Israelis and Palestinians would finally live together in peace.

"Today, I fear for my two daughters, Dana and Tala, and wonder whether they will ever experience peace during their lifetimes. But I am convinced that war is not destiny. After all, in the midst of the Roman occupation the angels proclaimed peace on earth. Peace in the Holy Land must be the mandate for all of us. We cannot abandon responsibility for our fellow human beings. Engaged responsibility belongs to mature citizens and is crucial for a civil society to function and thrive. I know that many have given up on peace in the Middle East. Many have tried their best but to no avail. I would argue that the world has been managing the conflict rather than solving it. The peace model that has been employed to date has been a type of Pax Romana where the empire dictates peace either through endless processes or through facts on the ground (settlements, land confiscation, colonization, and so forth), thus buying time to expand the boundaries of the empire….

"Peace dictated by the empire is not desirable, doable, or durable. Is peace with the empire, therefore, ever truly possible? Our forefathers and foremothers in the Bible struggled with this critical question repeatedly and developed diverse answers. Some authors, such as Deutero-Isaiah, saw the empire as a tool in the hand of God fulfilling his will (Is 45:1–4); others saw the empire as the ultimate axis of evil that God would destroy completely (Rv 18). And Trito-Isaiah imagines the unimaginable: The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust. (Is 65:25) 

"Here a new Middle Eastern reality is envisioned: the wolf (a code for the empire) will be domesticated and no longer harm the lamb, while the lion (a code for the superpower) will be tamed and will eat straw like an ox. A new reality is envisioned whereby the empire will disarm and will cease to put its faith and its resources in military spending but rather will live peacefully."

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a former editor of Commonweal. 

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