I want to offer a personal reflection on my small experience in Israel and Gaza, in years past, and offer my ultimate hope for that region in the future.
There are no words that can do justice to the heinous acts of October 7, 2023, indiscriminately perpetrated by Hamas. It took a few days for the entire world to discover the horror of what happened and to recoil from the total disregard of human worth. I join with most everyone else in hearing the cries of lamentation and condemning the wanton cruelty.
This regional war has now begun, in the context of a lingering unresolved Palestinian State issue and several Middle East nations’ intents to destroy the State of Israel! The prospect of an even more horrendous global war breaking out looms in the background. In this setting, I would like to share my tiny involvement in that area and my large hope.
MY TINY INVOLVEMENT First, in June 1984, Mary and I were guests of the State of Israel. We witnessed the miracle of “the desert blooming,” and we became ardent supporters of Israel. In 1988, I was selected as one of five clergy, worldwide, to represent Christianity on the 50th Anniversary of Kristallnacht in Frankfort, Germany, and to visit the concentration camp in Dachau. In April 2013, I was part of the official delegation at the dedication of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, in Warsaw.
Second, every Anglican (Episcopal) bishop has to be twinned with another bishop in another part of the world. For eight years I had a Companion Relationship with the bishop of Jerusalem. That linkage led me to visit Gaza, Jordan, West Bank, Israel, and Jerusalem on a regular basis, offering support to our hospitals, schools, and churches in each of these locales. (Yes, some Palestinians are Episcopalians.)
I became an ardent supporter of the Palestinian Christians and the plight of the Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, who have no home of their own. I was even there with my little gas mask in Ramallah, West Bank, when the Scud Missiles were fired in 1991.
Third, as the United Religions Initiative was starting, I began going back to Jerusalem – not because of the State of Israel and the Episcopal Church – to work with Druze and Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews, et al. Once the Dalai Lama, Richard Blum (Dianne Feinstein’s husband), and I had an interfaith conference in Jerusalem.
All of this led to me lecturing at City University, London, to students from Gaza and Israel. (Amazing young people who had to live together to receive full scholarships.)
MY LARGE HOPE Today in Gaza and Israel, amid the hostage-taking, the killing, and the bombing, I know URI people who have stretched their hearts to care about people across the borders. They have built trust among themselves. They are attempting to understand the roots of peace that reside at the foundations of each other’s religions. They are praying for each other’s political leaders to discover ways for coexistence and to stop the killing.
These are not ethereal people. Some now live under the bombing in Gaza. Some have been kidnapped. Some have seen family members shot and left for dead. Nevertheless, they are all convinced that it will take more than bombs, guns, and barbed wire to bring about peace in that place. Ultimately, it will require eyes to see beyond all the layers of entrenched separation and an ability to identify the God-given humanity of the other. If you can see – really see – the human beings on the other side, peace would be possible.
It is often said that there will never be peace in the Middle East. I disagree. I have seen it with my own eyes in the brave URI people who are there now on opposite sides of the war divide. They have not allowed war to blind them with hatred. They can still see humanity in the enemy. In the long run, they are MY LARGE HOPE.