21 February 2008

February 2008

by Rod Benson

In December 2007 I spent two weeks in Israel and Palestine with Australian church leaders, encouraging Palestinian Christians and observing daily life in the West Bank. We visited Jerusalem, Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and several refugee camps. We met Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, Israeli and Palestinian politicians, and civic and human rights leaders.

We heard of Israeli grief and pain resulting from violent attacks and fear of terrorist activity. We saw and heard evidence of systematic harassment, physical and psychological oppression, and widespread unemployment and poverty resulting from Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.

The imprisonment of political prisoners, the segregated road system, the proliferation of hundreds of checkpoints and road blocks throughout the West Bank, the restrictions on movement of people and goods, and the effective isolation of Palestinian communities from one another all reduce the quality of life for Palestinians, foment active resistance, and stand in the way of a just peace.

The nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. Both Israel and Palestine have a right to political autonomy, security and self-determination. Most ordinary people long for a just and lasting peace in the region. But in my judgment this appears remote.

Yet there are signs of hope. Human rights organisations and local community organisations do courageous work. More Israelis are becoming aware of the financial and human cost of the conflict. Political leaders are seeking to work toward a resolution of the conflict.

Here’s what you and I can do to further peace and harmony in Israel and Palestine:

  • pray for a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine;
  • learn all you can about the region and the conflict, being aware that there are at least two sides to every story;
  • sponsor aid and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza;
  • encourage the Australian Government to take more action to support peace;
  • build stronger relationships with Jewish and Muslim people in Australia to encourage greater understanding.

Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College.

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