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Jefferts Schori visits Jerusalem with US delegation

06 February 2015

christian aid/heidi levine

Destitute: children in an area of Beit Hanoun, north of the Gaza Strip, stand in front of a house reduced to rubble during the conflict

Destitute: children in an area of Beit Hanoun, north of the Gaza Strip, stand in front of a house reduced to rubble during the conflict

THOSE people who seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians should take time to listen to other points of view and make space for God to help those of different faiths and cultures come together, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, said during a recent visit to Jerusalem.

Dr Jefferts Schori was preaching in St George's Cathedral after a week-long visit to the Holy Land as the head of an interfaith delegation from the US.

She acknowledged that working for peace "requires vulnerability, and a willingness to make space where God might enter and make peace in us and in the world around us. Listening deeply to the story another person tells is an essential and holy way of opening that space."

Achieving this, she said, required "slowing down, sitting down in patience, breathing deeply, and focusing our attention on another rather than ourselves".

The 15-member delegation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims held high-level meetings in Israel and the West Bank. Those they met included the former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

The group listened to "a wide range of perspectives on peace, religion, and politics, and [shared] their own views about the role the three Abrahamic faiths must play in helping to shape a better world", the Episcopal News Service said.

Commenting on the visit, Dr Jefferts Schori said that the delegation had "built bridges this week, and we're going to keep travelling those bridges . . . until God's shalom and salaam and peace prevail".

Besides Dr Jefferts Schori, the group's co-leaders were the President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbi Steve Gutow, and the national director of interfaith and community alliances for the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Syeed.

Attempts to revive peace negotiations have failed to make progress; so Palestinians have no choice but to carry on with daily life as best they can. For those in the Gaza Strip, daily life is still overshadowed by the effects of last summer's war with Israel.

The programmes manager for Palestine and Israel at Embrace the Middle East, Stephen Tunstall, who has just returned from Gaza, said that little of the $5.4 billion (£3.6 billion) pledged in October for the reconstruction of Gaza appears to have reached the territory. "Only a small proportion of the pledges have been fulfilled," he said, "and the much-maligned UN-supported reconstruction mechanism is yet to result in rebuilt homes.

"While houses stand in ruins, tens of thousands remain homeless. Multiplied by the loss of jobs and government salaries, a corresponding increase in crime and lawlessness, and shortages of medical supplies and services, these are truly bleak days. Most people are anticipating another conflict before long."

A new report on last year's conflict, Gaza 2014: Findings of an independent medical fact-finding mission, published by a Christian Aid partner, Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR-Israel), alleges that large quantities of powerful explosives were used indiscriminately by the Israeli military. The Israel Defense Forces have denied such allegations, and insist that attacks on Gaza were confined to carefully selected targets.

Christian Aid's policy and ad- vocacy officer, William Bell, said: "Christian Aid welcomes this report, as an opportunity to hear from those who endured and suffered the true horror of war. Having visited Gaza just after the ceasefire, Christian Aid can testify to the level of destruction and suffering of this beleaguered population."

But, he went on, "Without international intervention that . . . guarantees the long-term security and dignity of all living in this region - both Palestinian and Israeli - then those lives will remain shattered."

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