In contradistinction to the mainstream news media and its biased manipulation of the public opinion in America, several church leaders have spoken out for the cause of justice over several weeks on the events in the Middle East. They are the representatives of the Church for Middle East Peace, an ecumenical group of Christian organizations representing Common Global Ministries, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Canada, National Council of Churches and Church World Service, Presbyterian Church USA, Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ), United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society and World Council of Churches. This group is of the conviction that a sound U.S. policy is crucial for achieving and maintaining peace in the Middle East.
Among the principal concerns of the group is the avoidance and resolution of armed conflicts, human rights, arms transfers, foreign aid and the unique status of Jerusalem, which is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims. It recognizes the right of Israel to exist at peace with its neighbors within internationally recognized borders, the right of Palestinians to self-determination and a just and peaceful resolution of conflicts.
With regard to Jerusalem, the group recently urged the U.S. government to call upon the negotiators to move beyond the exclusivist claims and create a Jerusalem that is a sign of peace and a symbol of reconciliation for all humankind. They also maintain Jerusalem should be resolved by negotiations taking into consideration the international law and its special status guaranteed by the international community and the question of the U.S. Embassy location should be considered only after negotiations are completed and after taking into consideration issues of human and political rights of Palestinians and Israelis.
In recent statements to President Clinton, these church leaders expressed their concern about the recent escalation of violence and use of disproportionate force by Israelis. Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Frank T. Griswald in his statement asked the President to call upon Israel to refrain from the use of disproportionate military response to the violence, especially the use of heavy military equipment.
"Teenagers and children armed with slingshots and rocks do not deserve to be shot dead in cold blood," wrote Griswald.
Clifford Kirkpatrick of the Presbyterian Church, while deploring murder of Israeli soldiers, stated such an act does not justify "the unconscionable massive retaliation of the Israeli military, including indiscriminate shooting of children and adults on the streets." He also wrote, "Surely you can understand the frustrations of Palestinian Christians and Muslims forced to live under a clear form of apartheid, in which their land has been expropriated and turned into hostile illegal settlements, their workers denied access to their jobs, their homes destroyed and their basic human rights denied."
Bishop George Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, along with his entire conference of bishops also singled out the Israeli army for what they said was the disproportionate and excessive use of force.
"We oppose Israel's use of U.S. supplied Apache and Cobra helicopters against Palestinian civilians," said the Evangelical bishops.
When President Clinton arranged the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, church leaders offered their support for organizing it, but they chastised him and his government for taking sides. Representatives of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) stated; "While the U.S. has taken a lead role in convening the summit, it has done little so far to pressure the Israeli government to acknowledge responsibility for the continuation of and perpetration of unjustified control over the Palestinian people and occupation of Palestinian lands." These leaders called for a greater role of international community including the UN in mediating a solution with "a full, impartial investigation of the recent violence." They also reminded President Clinton of their earlier statement to continue working for peace on the principle of justice.
It must be realized that the calls for justice for the Palestinians are limited to just a handful of Christian organizations. It is therefore essential the Islamic organizations in America expedite their contacts with the vast number of remaining organizations. Islam shares a great deal of commonality with people of the Christian and Jewish faith. Belief in all the prophets of God including Abraham, Moses and Jesus is an article of faith and a necessary condition for being a Muslim. Adherents are asked to approach their brethren in Abrahamic faith sincerely and to explore the common grounds between them. The Qur'an asks its followers to "Say: 'O People of the Book! Come to a common terms between us and you: That we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than God' " (3:46). Islam also enjoins its followers to abide by the highest standards of conduct when it comes to debating and exploring the differences with any other people. "Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path and He knows those who receive guidance" (16:125).
According to Islamic understanding, acquiring peace and justice are in the very nature of man. Muslims are required to seek justice for themselves and for humankind. "Peace" and "justice" are the two frequently used words in the Qur'an. For example, regarding justice it states: "God commands you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due; And when you judge between man and man, that you judge with justice: Verily how excellent is the teaching which He gives you! For God is He who hears and sees all things" (4:58). And, "O You who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it is against rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts of your heart, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do" (4:135).
We hear a lot of talk and emphasis on peace, which is undoubtedly a noble cause. The press and the U.S. administration often emphasize peace in the Middle East, more specifically between Israelis and Palestinians. While Israel is inhabited by people brought in from outside, Palestinians who were living in these areas have been driven out of their homes and others living under Israeli occupation with grave violations of their internationally recognized rights and are daily subjected to the humiliating conditions described in the above. The successive U.S. governments have done all they could for the establishment and success of Israel and now the U.S. claims to be the broker for peaceful resolution of their conflict. But it is abundantly clear that to broker peace, justice must accompany it. Without justice, there could be no peace for either Palestinians or Israelis. They are the two sides of the same coin.
Dr. Siraj Mufti currently serves as Islamic consultant to the Correctional Corporation of America in Arizona. He recently retired as Chaplain from the U.S. Department of Justice. Previously, he was Research Professor at the University of Arizona.