Church statements on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Homily by H.B. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate, on behalf of Their Beatitudes the Patriarichs and Heads of the Christian Communities in Jerusalem
Jerusalem Ecumenical Worship Service
12 October 2000


Brothers and Sisters

1. I greet you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, on behalf of my brothers, Patriarch Diodoros I, Patriarch Torkom II, and all the heads of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem, here present or represented. Together we raise our prayer to God, for peace in Jerusalem and in all the Holy Land.

We are gathered here to pray, to put ourselves in the presence of God, in His love and justice for all his children, those living in conflict or those living in peace. We are gathered here to ask God Almighty to give us His peace, the peace which is the fruit of His love and His justice in the conflict we are living these days between our two peoples, Palestinian and Israeli.

2. We started our prayer by listening to the word of God. In the first reading, we listened to Prophet Micah reproaching the oppression in his days. The Prophet said:

"Disaster for those who plot evil... Seizing the fields they covet, they take over houses as well... who build Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity" (Micah 2:1-3; 3:9-11)
Hearing these verses, we keep silent in front of the mystery of iniquity which filled and fills today the Holy City, besides the mystery of the love of God for her and for the whole humankind in her.

3. In the second reading, we listened to the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (12: 9-21), talking about love which should govern and regulate relations between individuals and peoples. Talking about love could be strange for us in these days, in the midst of over agitated feelings, exacerbation of the situation and bloodshed. Saint Paul says:

"Let love be without any pretence. Avoid what is evil; stick to what is good. In brotherly love let your feelings of deep affection for one another come to expression and regard others as more important than yourself. In the service of the Lord, work not half heartedly but with consciousness and an eager spirit. Be joyful in hope, persevere in hardship; keep praying regularly."

You may say: so far, this is an acceptable speech. Hope, perseverance and prayer in hardship are required, as well as brotherly and sincere love. But let us continue and listen attentively to the following verses, which are also Godís word to us:
"Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them. Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow. Give the same consideration to all others alike... Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect. As much as is possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone... If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head. Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good."

To this kind of speech one could say: how can we live up to it, today and in these present circumstances?

This is the word of God. This word tells us that we did not gather this evening in this church just to manifest and say that we expressed our solidarity with the suffering of our brothers and sisters. This word reminds us that we gathered to stand before God not before men. And in our standing before God Almighty, we listened to His word which challenges us, humanly speaking, with an impossible behavior. Yes, today, in the present circumstances, while Israel calls upon its soldiers and its sophisticated military armament to fight an almost unarmed people, and to wound and kill, we came to pray and to listen to the word of God telling us:

"Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them. Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow. Give the same consideration to all others alike... Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect. As much as is possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone... If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head. Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good."

4. Our daily life is full of various forms of oppression. Israeli occupation of Palestinian land impedes our freedom, and the development of a normal Palestinian society. It puts limits our daily freedoms, nourishes mutual hatred and violence. This is true. It is also true that we believed and we still believe in God, our common Father for all, Palestinians and Israelis. Although we believe that our land was in the past and is still today a land of hatred and bloodshed, we also believe that it was and must be today too a land of forgiveness and Redemption. Violence, as long as it lasts, or as imposed by spirits who refuse to listen to the cries of the poor and to the voice of the victims, and to see the core of the question: in other words. a Palestinian people oppressed and deprived of his freedom, it then follows that such freedom should necessarily be given back. Violence as long as it lasts for these reasons, is neither our goal, nor our destiny. Our destiny is the freedom in our land, and hence tranquility and security in it for all, Palestinians and Israelis alike. Before that, amidst the hatred and the bloodshed, the word of God should dwell in our hearts; we have to listen to it, to meditate it, even if it hurts our feelings:
"Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them. Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow. Give the same consideration to all others alike... Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect. As much as is possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone... If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head. Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good."

5. Those who have chosen these readings for our prayer this evening have done well. In most difficult circumstances, they put us before most difficult sacred text which challenges our human understanding and norms of behavior. If we are true believers in God, let us ponder and meditate on how our freedom, our political freedom, relate to the word of God, who says that love must be the guide of man in the worst and darkest circumstances, such as those we are living today. Let us learn how to make the link between those actions claiming for freedom and for all our rights, and the permanent listening to the voice of God echoing in the depth of our conscience:
"Let love be without any pretence. Avoid what is evil; stick to what is good. In brotherly love let your feelings of deep affection for one another come to expression..."

6. We listened also to the word of God in the Gospel of St Luke (19: 37-42.44b):
"As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it, and said: If you too had only recognized on this day the way to peace. But in fact it is hidden from your eyes... because you did not recognize the moment of your visitation."

What is the way to peace which was not recognized by the people of this holy city in the time of Jesus? It was the deafness to his voice and to his message. It was not listening to the voice of God and not understanding the true meaning of believing in God. It was the reduction of God and His limitation in human institutions and human considerations, which deformed the true image of God.

The same danger threatens us today. We are not better than our predecessors in the service of this holy city. These verses do not judge only those who lived in the past. They judge each of us too, when we deviate from the essence of the belief in God, and when we submit our faith in God to human feelings, reactions, interests and ambitions.

7. Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today to pray: to see before God why all these troubles took place, and what we have to do? Why did the Palestinians revolt? To say: enough to promises, and to the delaying of promises as much as to hesitations. The question today is not a question of mere troubles or public disorder which should be tamed. This vision will only make violence a permanent fact in this Holy Land. The true question is that of a people kept in hostage who is asking for his freedom. According to this vision measures should be taken, with the true courage to give back the required freedom. This is the way to start a new era which corresponds to the vocation of this holy land.

8. We pray and ask the mercy of God for all those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their people, and for their families. We pray for the Jewish people, our partner in this land in making justice and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike. For the political leaders, Israelis and Palestinians, we pray. May God inspire them with the light to see the core of the problem and the right ways to deal with it. May He give them courage and strength to implement what God inspires them.

This is a holy land, a land of faith and prayer. It is written nowhere that it should remain a land of hatred and blood. On the contrary, in the mercy of God, this land is determined to be a land of redemption and love.

This is why we have come to pray; not for more hatred and more troubles, but for more justice and more love, in the munificence of God Almighty. Amen.

Michel Sabbah
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem


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