Palestine and Global Peace

I wonder if you can remember the comedy film Miss Congeniality staring Sandra Bullock. There’s a scene in which she appears in  the Miss USA beauty pageant. Each contestant steps up to the microphone to answer the question, “What’s the most important thing our society needs?” They each smile and give the same cliched answer – “world peace”. All except Sandra Bullock who replies, “Harsher punishment for parole violators”. When the crowd goes silent and Sandra Bullock realises they don’t share her enthusiasm for justice, she adds, “And world peace” and then the crowd goes wild.

Although the humorous scene makes light of ‘world peace’, implicitly, it raises the question, “If we all believe in ‘world peace’, if we all want ‘world peace’ why, oh why, is it so elusive? I suggest the clue lies in Sandra Bullock’s unpopular reply, but lets leave that for now and come back to it later.

When we turn our attention from fiction to reality, and in particular to Gaza, we recognise peace is a serious, urgent, vital, not just need, but demand. There are people living and breathing in Gaza today who will be dead by tonight, or who will die tomorrow or on Thursday and on Friday.. In a very real sense, Palestine is the litmus test, or as Revd Dr Munther Isaac said this week, “Gaza is the moral compass” of the world order. If the international community cannot, or will not, apply international law and binding UN resolutions, and stop the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, if the highest court in the world, the ICJ will not hold Israel accountable for genocide, then there is no hope for peace anywhere else in the world. All we have is anarchy, the law of the jungle, the survival of the strongest. Ironically Sandra Bullock was right in Miss Congeniality. World peace begins by holding parole violators accountable because there will be no peace without justice.

Our theme today is Palestine and Global Peace. The question is what can we do about it? Although we may feel angry, we may feel helpless and frustrated, there is actually much we can do to bring peace. But first let’s begin with a little theology and then conclude with strategy – some practical things we can do to make a difference in Palestine specifically but apply anywhere there is a need for peace.

  1. The Biblical Vision of Global Peace

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are realistic about the causes and solutions for resolving conflict and achieving peace. 

But above all they contain a glorious vision of the world at peace. Because global peace is not just an aspiration but a future certainty.

1.1 The Vision of Peace

While theologians speculate about an apocalyptic future, the Book of Revelation assures us of a world at peace with God.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22: 2)

However we understand the detail of God’s working in our world today, these verses describe where the world is headed. God’s plan is nothing less than paradise restored. We look forward to peace and reconciliation between God, his creation and his people, where pain, suffering and death are no more. If that is God’s vision, what are the causes of conflict in our world?

1.2 The Causes of Conflict

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:1-2)

The failure to achieve peace in Palestine in the last 75 years is largely due to the intrinsic nature of Zionism – which is a Western settler colonial project based on greed and covetousness intent on stealing Palestine and building an apartheid state denying or minimizing the inalienable rights of the indigenous Palestinian people. Without justice for the Palestinians there can be no peace for Israelis. But there is another cause. The prophet Jeremiah describes a different kind of peace –a false peace.

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

On Palm Sunday 

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it  and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)

Why, because instead of accepting the Prince of Peace, the people preferred the appeasement of the Pharisees or the violence of the Zealots – The Pharisees submitted to Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, the Zealots believed peace would come by rebelling against Rome. Jesus wept because neither would bring the peace of God. Just as today neither submission to the apartheid of Zionism nor the violence of Hamas will bring peace.

At the Last Supper Jesus promised his disciples,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

What is the kind of peace that the world gives? 

The kind of peace that is not peace? It is the peace which calls for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza. The peace which drops food supplies by parachute while supplying Israel with more bombs. The peace that calls for more aid without condemning those refusing to allow access to aid. The peace that claims to support a two-state solution but will not recognise Palestine. The world’s peace is peace without justice. Peace without justice is appeasement of injustice. Peace without justice is complicity with injustice. If that is the biblical vision of global peace and the reasons why we have yet to experience it, what is the answer? 

1.3 The Answer to Conflict

What did Jesus mean when he said ““Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you?” (John 14:27). As the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), Jesus is promising to bestow peace. His peace. The peace of God. The peace of God’s presence. The peace of God’s power to do His will. We experience this peace when we submit to God’s will. As you probably know, the word for submission in Arabic is ‘Islam’.  Islam simply means ‘submission to God’, to surrender unconditionally to God’s will. This is not exclusive to Muslims. Christians are called to submit to the perfect will of God, to know him, to love him, obey him and so become like him also. 

This is how we experience the peace of God. In Philippians, we are told what will happen on the day Jesus returns. 

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:9-10)

One day the whole world shall be brought into submission to God’s perfect will. Then there will be global peace. Until that day comes, we have a choice – to continue to rebel or to kneel voluntarily, freely, joyfully, willingly. When we do, when we submit to the will of God, we experience God’s peace, irrespective of our circumstances. If God’s purpose and vision is global peace, no wonder Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers. 

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God”(Matthew 5:9)

Not widowmakers but peacemakers. Not even peacekeepers but peacemakers. Peacekeepers keep the peace. Peacemakers make peace where this is no peace.  And this is first peace with God, then peace with ourselves,  and then peace with others. This is our calling, this is our mandate – beginning with ourselves, we are to lead others into submission to his perfect will, to know him, love him, obey him and become like him also. And so, by the grace of God, to help bring the “healing of the nations” described in the Book of Revelation. That was a brief introduction to the theology of peace – the vision, the need and the answer.

A Strategy to Achieve Global Peace

Now let consider a strategy. What can we do to bring about global peace, beginning with Palestine. I suggest Palestinians want 10 things of us:

  1. To lobby our government to demand an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
  2. To demand that the UN and humanitarian agencies be allowed unhindered access to provide sufficient supplies of food, water, medical aid, tents, clothing. 500 lorries a day.
  3. To demand the immediate release of all hostages which includes all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention.
  4. To demand Israel pays war reparations for every civilian death, every injury, every home, every university, every school, hospital, clinic, and every business destroyed.
  5. To demand support for the South African submission to the International Court of Justice charging Israel with genocide. 
  6. To institute war crimes investigations against Israeli military and political leaders.
  7. To arrest returning citizens who have joined the Israeli military and investigate their complicity in war crimes.
  8. To ban export licenses from western companies supplying Israel with weapons or military equipment.
  9. To institute punitive sanctions until Israel withdraws completely and unconditionally from all territory seized and colonised since 1967. 
  10. To join the BDS movement. BDS is the best way, a non-violent way to bring the liberation of Palestine from settler colonial military-imposed apartheid. It worked in South Africa. It can work in Palestine. Boycott Israeli goods. Boycott Western companies profiting from the illegal Israeli settlements. It is your money and your choice.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave this endorsement for BDS.

The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the last century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure. If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.”  

In the Psalms we are instructed to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). 

Let me close with the words of a song written by Garth Hewitt which was inspired by that verse. 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
Pray for the peace, pray for the peace 
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem 

But peace itself will never come
Till there’s justice for everyone 
And there can be no peace for the Jew 
Till there’s peace for the Palestinian too 

May the justice of God fall down like fire 
And bring a home for the Palestinian
May the mercy of God pour down like rain 
And protect the Jewish people 

And may the beautiful eyes of a holy God 
Who weeps for all His children
Bring the healing hope for his wounded ones 
For the Jew and the Palestinian.