Title

Religiously inspired peace builders

Publication Date

1-1-2003

Abstract

Religion in the Middle East is suffering a crisis in reputation receiving much of the blame for the perpetual cycles of hatred and violence in the region. Israeli society can be characterized by multi layered hostility and divisions within its own religious ranks, just within the Jewish community. Add that to the heated ethno-religious rivalry with the Palestinians and you have arguably the most intractable conflict in the world today. Many organizations which used to intervene or fund interventions to try and change these adversarial relationships have either pulled their organization away, or their funding. Most activists and observers see the transformation of this conflict as a hopeless endeavor. The clash of religions is seen as the strongest agent fanning the fires of the Middle East conflict. The images of religious influence in the region are the chanting of “Allahu Akbar” (translation: God is Great) by celebratory Palestinians in response to Israeli or American deaths while religious settlers use the bible to justify the continued resettlement of the West Bank and repression of Palestinian life. Thus, the myth created is that religion is the space occupied by those who are most responsible for the intractability of the conflict. Judaism and Islam are routinely scapegoated for the continuous state of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. There is no denying that devout followers of their respective faiths have committed atrocities to one another and to themselves in the name of their religion. Because the conflict is continuously in the international spotlight, the reputations of the major monotheistic religions have suffered due to the stigmas of hard lines, fundamentalism, and incitement. Three major questions must be raised here. First, if the politics of hatred and violence dominate the religious landscape, is that a fair representation of religion in this region? Second, is religion getting fair representation in the Middle East peace processes? And finally, can religions show a different face? What if there were a different application of religion in the Middle East conflict that acted outside of the adversarial box? This Capstone is a resounding affirmation of the positive potential embedded within the deep walls of religious tradition as a force for healing and transformation in the Israel/Palestine conflict. The focus will be on Judaism and rabbis as the catalysts to illustrate how religion can help undo a century of mistrust and violence. This is not a substitute for a political process. Power, resources and land allocations will ultimately have to be negotiated by politicians. However, without a simultaneous peace process that engages the religious population and ultimately brings reconciliation between among the three monotheistic religions, the political peace process will continue to be undermined. Rabbi Marc Gopin wrote a letter to Bill Clinton on December 16th, 1998 expressing a reframing of the Middle East conflict through a more religiously sensitive lens. In one excerpt he writes, Everything that I, and many others in conflict resolution, studied from around the world indicates that this [religion] is the key missing ingredient in many peace negotiations. The derailed rational negotiations are critical, but they are also constantly undermined by deep cultural and spiritual roots of mistrust and rage. We have a solution, and that is for there always to be a parallel peace process between the most respected members of the culture on each side. The secular members of the respective communities in the culture are already well represented in the peace process, but not the religious community, and everything indicates that they will continue to be obstructionist until their revered figures become part of the process of envisioning the future, together with the other peacemakers. Politicians were not the only ones avoiding religion in previous agreements. The previous generation of peace-builders also saw religion as a roadblock to achieving peace. Religion can no longer afford to be perceived as the region’s greatest liability. It needs to be reframed as its greatest asset and most powerful ally.

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