Rostrevor Declaration: A meeting of significant members drawn from different churches and faiths on “Higher quality of disagreement”.
Like most other Western countries the island of Ireland is experiencing many challenges as it struggles to manage the growing diversity of communities within it. While the cultural and social fabric of our society becomes more rich and colourful, the relationships between some of our faith groups, reflecting a global trend as religious conflicts grow around the world, are becoming or in danger of becoming more tense. As global populations shift and more people are displaced by violence, war, climate change or simply lack of opportunity, it is likely that the religious demography will continue to change.
The growth of Islam in Ireland, North and South has challenged some of the historically Christian characteristics of the Island and its peoples; as, within both Christianity and Islam, and to some extent Judaism, there are traditions which see themselves as conservative and orthodox, and which makes claims to truth which are “particularist” or in some cases wholly “exclusivist”. The tensions between faith communities are reflective of what is happening globally as Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders and their followers experience a fear of the other, which contributes to polarisation and radicalisation.
On the 10th March, 2017 a gathering of 30 significant members of the three Abrahamic faiths came together from Ireland North and South and Britain to pursue a conversation not with the aim of seeking, still less enforcing consensus, but rather fostering a Higher Quality of Disagreement. The gathering built some improbable relationships which bridged the divide between the groups of believers and created a sense of common purpose and an environment conducive to addressing contentious but common concerns.
Some principles were agreed as an outcome to our first gathering which have and will continue to be refined through further discussions which are distilled and the rolling report will be referred to as the Rostrevor Declaration :
- The Scriptures of all three faiths, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, encourage us to treat others as we would like them to treat us. As members of faith communities we have a responsibility to act according to the scriptures and actively remind other members of our communities of this scriptural wisdom and thus deserving of respect.
- We encourage members of faith communities to remember that members of all faiths were created in the image of the heavenly Creator.
- Our places of worship should be regarded with respect and be places of safety and hospitality.
- We need to re-humanise rather than dehumanise community relations by reminding members of our believing communities of the positive characteristics of other faiths while protecting total academic freedom and respectful free speech as given in international instruments [Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights] and biblically proclaimed in 1 Peter 3:15.
- We will actively build mutual respect by advocating for the safety, freedom and well-being of one another, which includes standing up for the liberties of followers of other faiths to worship, manifest their faith and change their religion in this land and beyond, and we will speak out and be activists wherever we see persecution at home or overseas.
- We will help to reduce fear between our believing communities by advocating and facilitating education and understanding among and between the communities.
- We will encourage members of our communities not simply to speak the truth but strive to live it with integrity.
- We are committed to building friendship between members of our faith communities and letting the mercy of the heavenly creator inform how we relate to each other.
A third meeting took place at An Cuan in Rostrevor on 18th January 2018, bringing together faith leaders, politicians and artists to reflect on the theme of the Epiphany in Christian tradition and the relevance of the feast for our world today.
The meeting brought to a close this series of gatherings and at the same time began to explore how the Rostrevor Declaration could be implemented and applied to specific issues such as Brexit, the integration of asylum seekers and strengthening the Good Friday Agreement.
I bought this book in March 2014, soon after it was published, at the bookshop at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. Although Verso have recently published it as a paperback, its title and length (313 pages) may not immediately appeal to many readers. I wanted therefore to write a fairly full summary of the book (not a review or a critique) because I believe it sheds so much light on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If ten pages are too long to read, just read this first page to get an idea of what the book is about!
This is how the blurb explains the title:
‘Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has drawn on Zionism, the movement behind its creation, to provide a sense of self and political direction. In this groundbreaking new work, Ilan Pappe looks at the continued role of Zionist ideology. The Idea of Israel considers the way Zionism operates outside of the government and military in areas such as the country’s education system, media, and cinema, and the uses that are made of the Holocaust in supporting the state’s ideological structure.
‘In particular, Pappe examines the way successive generations of historians have framed the 1948 conflict as a liberation campaign, creating a foundation myth that went unquestioned in Israeli society until the 1990s. Pappe himself was part of the post-Zionist movement that arose then. He was attacked and received death threats as he exposed the truth about how Palestinians have been treated and the gruesome structure that links the production of knowledge to the exercise of power. The Idea of Israel is a powerful and urgent intervention in the war of ideas concerning the past, and the future, of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’
In his short but passionate little book, Chosen? Walter Brueggemann addresses some of the important questions regarding God’s purposes for Israel and the Church. For example, are contemporary Israeli citizens the descendants of the Israelites in the Bible whom God called chosen? Was the promise of land to Abraham permanent and irrevocable? What about others living in the promised land? Who are the Zionists, and what do they believe? The subtitle of the book tells us where he intends to look for answers, “Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” His publisher, Westminster John Knox, promises,
“The reader will get answers to their key questions about how to understand God’s promises to the biblical people often called Israel and the conflict between Israel and Palestine today.”
Chosen? comprises 59 pages of scripture commentary in four short chapters, a Q&A with the author, a glossary and 20-page study guide to facilitate group discussion around each of the chapters. The four chapters are:
- Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- God’s Chosen People, Claim and Problem
- Holy Land?
- Zionism and Israel
The book also contains very helpful guidelines for respectful dialogue first published by the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1992. Significantly, the title includes a question mark. I added a question mark to the titles of two of my own books: Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.[i] Walter is recognising, as I did, that views differ on whether the Jews are God’s chosen people, even though, unlike me, he personally concludes that they are.
The late Tony Judt described this book as ‘the best modern history of the Balfour Declaration,’ and Eugene Rogan of Oxford sees it as ‘the most original exposition of the Balfour Declaration to date.’ It deserves a wide circulation as we live through the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on 2 November, 2017. The author, Jonathan Schneer, is an American historian who specialises in modern British history and teaches at Georgia Tech’s School of History, Technology, and Society.
This is an attempt simply to summarise the contents of the book with a number of quotations. If it were a review, my only criticism of the book would be that, in concentrating so much on the politics behind the Declaration, there is no discussion of the religious beliefs of key players like Lord Balfour and David Lloyd George which made them so open to supporting Zionism.
The Balfour Declaration (BD) needs to be understood in the context of World War I
By the time the BD was issued on 2 November 1917, Britain and Germany had been at war for over three years. Millions had been slaughtered in the trenches and neither side seemed to be winning. The Battle of the Somme had been fought between 1 July and 1 November, 1916, and Passchendale between July and November, 1917. The British government was seeking for ways to turn the tide in the war. Some in the cabinet believed that all their energies should be concentrated on the western front on the continent (‘the westerners’), while others believed that new initiatives in the Middle East could break the deadlock and give Britain the advantage (‘the easterners’). After the fall of the Asquith government in December 1916, Lloyd George, an easterner, became Prime Minister.
This book seeks to explain how many of the problems of the Middle East in the last century can be traced back to the colonial ambitions of Britain and France and in particular to the ‘venomous rivalry’ between them in their struggle for mastery of the region. It was this rivalry which lay behind the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the creation by Britain of the kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan, Britain’s support for the independence of Syria and Lebanon, and French support for the Jewish underground which was working against the British in Palestine in 1948.
What follows is a summary of the main themes of the book, combined with quotations from key passages.
The Sykes-Picot agreement (May 1916) was an attempt by Britain and France to deal with their rival ambitions in the Middle East and to define spheres of influence in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The ‘line in the sand’, which was literally drawn on the map by Mark Sykes (for Britain) and Francois Georges-Picot (for France), ran (in Sykes’ words) ‘from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk’. Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq (including Mosul) were allocated to France, while Transjordan and southern Iraq were allocated to Britain. Because Britain and France both wanted control of Palestine, it was finally agreed that it should come under international control.
‘The compromise, which neither power liked, was that the Holy Land should have an international administration.’ (2)
At 4 a.m. on May 27 — some 90 minutes before the start of Ramadan — a hunger strike by nearly 1500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails came to an end, exactly 40 days after it was declared. They had refused food in protest at the denial of their human rights. The demands of the strike for freedom and dignity were straightforward – for the right to family visits, the ability to speak to their family by telephone, to receive medical care, not to be subject to isolation or to imprisonment without charge or trial under administrative detention.
Two prominent Christian leaders, Gregory Lahham III, former Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, and Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, joined in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners as did many other people of faith around the world. Patriarch Gregory, who is 83 years old, said in an interview with Al-Mayadeen TV, “I say to the prisoners, we are with you in your sacrifice for Palestine.” Archbishop Atallah, said the prisoners’ cause is the “issue of all Palestinian people,” stressing his support for the prisoners’ just demands. He went on to say, “We belong to this land and we belong to this people who fights for freedom. We will always remain biased to the just Palestinian cause.” The Patriarch and Archbishop joined social activists and supporters all over the world in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Continue reading