Holy Land Festival unites Muslims, Christians in hope for restored peace

WASHINGTON HOLY LAND FESTIVALAlong the western banks of the Jordan River, the place of Christ’s baptism and today known as Qasr al-Yahud, numerous churches and monasteries of different religions sit vacant and silenced due to the dangerous landmines that lie beneath them.

For almost 50 years, Qasr al-Yahud has been empty due to the landmines installed during the 1967 Six Day war between the Arabs and the Israeli people.

Halo Trust, a nonprofit organization, has worked to remove the landmines in the Qasr al-Yahud area since 2012. The group is dedicated to providing save environments for those living in areas surrounded by landmines through landmine removal, as well as assisting in local community rebuilding in the aftermath of war.

Their work has brought together various religious denominations in efforts to preserve the sacred churches, such as the Coptic church, the Franciscan church and the Syrian church, that all sit on the site of Qasr al-Yahud.

“We’ve got agreements with the eight churches, we’ve got agreements with the Israeli government, and we’ve got agreements with the Palestinian authorities,” said Adam Jasinski, executive director of Halo Trust, in an interview with Catholic News Service July 15.

Jasinski spoke about the Jordan River landmine removal in a seminar at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America as part of its fourth annual Holy Land Festival held July 15.

The festival cultivates a conversation of hope around the Holy Land, with many groups coming together to engage visitors with the situation of Christians and of peace in the Holy Land.

Father Jim Gardiner, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement as well as a member of the Holy Land Committee of the Archdiocese of Washington, spoke to CNS about how the festival brought together so many different groups of people.

“Nobody knows who is Christian, Muslim or Catholic,” Father Gardiner said.

The interdenominational environment at the festival was a mere taste of what takes place at Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land. Two Bethlehem University students, Lela Abu Ayyash and Lara Kasbari, spoke about their experiences living and going to school in Palestine during the Holy Land festival in a seminar.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC STANDARD 

Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope

Hope-Slider

The following is an Easter meditation from Churches for Middle East Peace, an organization that promotes interfaith initiatives for peace in the Holy Land.  

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.”
Luke 24: 1-10

Early in the morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, walked to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagine them walking in silence, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, others in a daze. Their eyes are still adjusting to the morning light. One of them is carrying the spices they had prepared the night before, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, would be cause for alarm. Who had been there before them? They cautiously walk into the tomb and find it empty. What happens next would cause anyone to be terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes (AKA angels) stood beside them and began to speak to them. These heavenly beings remind the women what Jesus had told them about how he would rise again on the third day. Immediately after their conversation, the women return to the eleven disciples and tell them everything that had happened. Hallelujah! What terrific news!

Jesus was no stranger to persistent hope. Jesus taught these women, and his disciples, what it meant to persistently hope. To have hope is more than a wish. It involves knowledge of something true, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s not a premonition, or some special kind of revelation. It’s the hope we carry with us even when circumstances seem dire. It’s the hope that propels us forward in the face of uncertainty and fear. This is the kind of hope exhibited by the women that morning. It seemed as though everything was lost. Their Lord had been crucified. What would happen to them, his followers? Still, they faithfully went to the tomb to honor him by preparing his body for burial. Although none of them expected to find the tomb empty, I imagine them replaying Jesus’ words on the walk to the tomb. What did Jesus mean when he said he would rise again on the third day? Maybe it was this wondering which propelled them to go to the tomb that morning.

Palestinian and Israeli women are often the most overlooked, yet effective peacemakers.

FULL ARTICLE FROM  CHURCHES FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE 

How a Gaza Christian became a blind Muslim’s eyes

gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The man constantly checked his watch as he stood at the entrance to the Borno Mosque in the center of Gaza City. Anyone coming across him couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t praying inside with the others. Why did he keep checking his watch? For whom or what was he waiting? Then a man wearing dark glasses exited the mosque. The man at the door guided him and helped him put on his shoes. Al-Monitor asked after the two men and found that the one by the door is a Christian who regularly waits there to assist his blind Muslim friend.

Kamal Tarzi, 55, known as Abu Elias, has stuck by his Muslim friend, the 45-year-old pharmacist Hatem Khreis since Khreis lost his sight preparing a prescription five years ago. Tarzi says he is Khreis’ best friend and eyes.

“Hatem and I have been friends for 15 years, and we have been through joy and pain,” Tarzi told Al-Monitor. “I always accompany him, and people are shocked when they learn that I am Christian and that he is Muslim, given the depth of our relationship.”

Tarzi explained how he came to escort his friend: “After my friend lost his sight, his life turned upside down. He went from preparing medical prescriptions for patients to relying on people’s help to be able to live his daily life and take his own medicine.

“Growing up, Hatem would always perform prayers at the mosque, but after the incident five years ago, he was no longer able to do so because there was no one available to guide him there. I saw how he would shed tears whenever the call to prayer would come from the mosque. That is why I decided to take him to the mosque to pray as he did in the past.

“The first day I helped him get to the mosque, four years ago, he was so happy. So I told him I would be taking him every day to perform all the prayers. He was thrilled to hear my decision. It was as if he had found something he had lost for a long time.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL MONITOR 

Can Israelis And Palestinians Change Their Minds?

mind changeNote:  Although not directly addressing the thematic content of this page, this article speaks to an issue that also lies at the heart of interfaith dialogue – are we able to change our minds about “the other.”  Read it with that in mind. 

What makes people change their minds? About the really hard stuff.

Covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the past three years, I’ve often wondered if people here ever do.

This conflict is frequently described as “intractable,” with neither side willing to give up their historical perspective or their entrenched positions to end it. And it does not take many interviews to hear repetitions of the same sweeping narrative repeated on each side. Palestinians from different places cite the same historical events to back their views. Israelis who have never met each other use similar turns of phrase.

“People have a lot of [psychological] resources invested in what they believe about the conflict,” says Thomas Zeitzoff, a political scientist at American University in Washington, D.C., who has researched Israeli and Palestinian attitudes.

He says the high political stakes and emotional involvement make it hard for Israelis and Palestinians to change their minds.

But there have been certain shifts – in public opinion and in individual beliefs – during the 68 years of Israel’s existence and almost half-century of the Israeli military control over Palestinian territories.

Why? Experts list a range of influences that – to varying degrees – can move or even flip deeply held views.

“You can point to major events, either in the world or people’s lives, changes in their social context, as well as changes in the kind of messages they get from politicians and other elite sources,” says Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College who researches politics and misperceptions.

Other factors include repeated exposure to a new idea, whatever the source, scientific research, and direct personal experience.

Four people – two Israeli and two Palestinian – told me their stories of personal, radical belief change related to the conflict. They not only changed their minds, but, a higher hurdle, their behavior.

Here are some triggers that led these people to see the world differently than they had before, even in the midst of a larger impasse.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NPR 

 

 

Jewish, Muslim and Christian kids from the US and Jerusalem come together at a Seattle summer camp

summer campAt a summer camp in Mount Vernon, Washington the campers do plenty of classic camp activities.

“Yesterday there was tie-dye, sports, swimming,” says Riva, a camper from Bellevue.

But Kids4Peace ultimately has a deeper purpose. The camp brings Jewish, Muslim and Christian 12 year olds from Washington state together with 12 year old Palestinians and Israelis, from Jerusalem, for 12 days.

“Where I live everyone is Jewish,” says Meital, a Jewish girl who lives between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “There’s different varieties of Judaism where I live but there’s no Muslims or Christians. But I have met Arabs before.”

Meital’s lack of exposure to other cultures and religions is exactly why the camp was established.

“The organization was started in Jerusalem, in 2002, during a time of pretty intense violence in the Middle East, in Israel/Palestine in particular,” says Kids4Peace Northwest regional director, Jordan Goldwarg. “And the goal has always been to bring kids together to talk about their religion, their culture, their heritage and to learn from each other. Also, just to have time and opportunity to be kids together and to grow up in a safe environment.”

Twice a day, between weaving friendship bracelets and roasting s’mores, the kids are led through some pretty deep discussions.

“Learning how to be a better listener. Learning how to build trust with other people. Learning how to see different perspectives and different sides of a story,” Goldwarg said. “We also spend time everyday engaged in interfaith learning. So the kids really start to understand: What does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be Muslim? What does it mean to be Christian?

The values of each of these faiths lead us towards peace.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MY NORTHWEST

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Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Could Reopen To Jews, Christians And Other Non-Muslim Visitors

temple-mount-jerusalemThe religious sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City could be reopened to Jewish and Christian visitors more than 15 years after they were shut out. For months, Israel and Jordan have been secretly discussing the possibility of readmitting non-Muslim visitors to the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum on the mount, according to Haaretz.

Details of the secret negotiations were revealed in a report by the International Crisis Group in Brussels, which concluded that reopening the sites to non-Muslims could help keep peace on the Temple Mount. But an agreement could be harder to reach with Israel’s new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party.

Some Israeli leaders have said opening the site to paying visits would give the Jordanian-influenced Waqf, an Islamic trust that oversees the daily religious affairs in and around the mosque, an incentive to maintain peace on the contested holy site. However, an official in Netanyahu’s office said, “There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount,” Haaretz reported.

Jewish and Christian visitors were allowed to purchase a ticket and enter the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum on the mount until 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising against Israel erupted after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site in September. The Israeli government, which manages the mount’s security and admission, subsequently banned Jews and tourists altogether from the Temple Mount. In 2003, the sites were reopened to Jews and tourists despite opposition from the Jordanian government and the Muslim Waqf.

Today, the Temple Mount is the site of frequent and sometimes violent clashes between Muslim visitors and Jews who wish to pray there. Defense officials said the violence has partly caused an upsurge in terror attacks in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, where some terrorists have openly dedicated their attacks in defense of the Temple Mount.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES 

‘We Palestinian Christians say Allahu Akbar’

palestine_pop.siThe only Palestinian Orthodox Christian bishop in the Holy Land speaking about the suffering of Palestinian Christians, their unity with Muslims in the Palestinian struggle, about Orthodox Christian martyrs, and Ukraine.

Archbishop Sebastia Theodosios (Atallah Hanna), 49, is the only Orthodox Christian archbishop from Palestine stationed in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, while all other bishops of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are Greeks. The Israeli authorities had detained him several times, or stopped him at the border, and taken away his passport. Among all Jerusalem clergymen he is the only one who has no privilege of passing through the VIP gate in the airport – because of his nationality. “For the Israeli authorities, I am not a bishop, but rather a Palestinian,” explains his Beatitude. When talking on the phone he says a lot of words you would normally hear from a Muslim: “Alhamdulillah, Insha’Allah, Masha’Allah”. He speaks Arabic, and the Arabic for ‘god’ is Allah, whether you are a Christian or a Muslim.

Your Beatitude, what’s it like being the Palestinian bishop in the Holy Land?

Firstly, I’d like to confirm that I am the only Palestinian bishop in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. A fellow bishop is serving in the city of Irbid in the north of Jordan; and there are also several Palestinian priests.

I take pride in belonging to this great religious institution that’s over 2,000 years old.

My church has been protecting the Christian presence in the Holy Land and the sacred items related to the life of Christ and Christian Church history.

I am proud of my religion and nationality, I am proud to belong to my fatherland. I am a Palestinian, and I belong to this religious people who are fighting for the sake of their freedom and dignity to implement their dreams and national rights.

I support Palestinians and share their cause and their issues. We the Palestinian Orthodox Christians are not detached from their hardships.

The Palestinian issue is a problem that concerns all of us, Christians and Muslims alike. It’s a problem of every free intellectual individual aspiring for justice and freedom in this world.

We the Palestinian Christians suffer along with the rest of Palestinians from occupation and hardships of our economic situation. Muslims and Christians suffer equally, as there is no difference in suffering for any of us. We are all living in the same complicated circumstances, and overcoming the same difficulties.

As a church and as individuals we protect this people, and we hope a day will come when Palestinians get their freedom and dignity.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RT.COM