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"Ending the Occupation"

Remarks by The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, S.S.J.E.
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
April 21, 2002

If I have anything of value to say tonight about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, it is only as an ordinary person of faith trying to make sense out of this complex and difficult situation. Out of prayer and through listening to God, I am trying to figure out what I am called to do. I begin with what Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers." As Christians we are called to be peacemakers, to offer ourselves to God in times of war and violence.

Several years ago, I was invited to a synagogue for Sabbath services, and I remember sitting down and saying the Psalms there that I have been praying five times a day for two decades as a monk. Psalms of joy, anxiety, hope, despair. I felt so at home with these Jewish brothers and sisters. I knew in my heart then what I had known intellectually: that this was my parent faith. I realized then the gift of our Jewish heritage and felt deep gratitude for all of the ways it had fed my Christian faith.

Later, in trips to Israel, I felt that same gratitude as I walked among archaeological digs, prayed at the Western Wall, and learned of how our Lord's witness was shaped by Judaism. I felt that same connection to our brothers and sisters in Abraham to whom we owe so much. All of us who are Christian have been fed and continue to be fed through our parent faith.

So I come tonight with that gratitude and respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters, but I also come to say to the government of Israel and to the Jewish community here that supports the military action of the State of Israel that you are wrong if you think that this will bring peace to your country.

Like many of you in this congregation, I am appalled and outraged by the suicide bombings that have killed innocent Israelis. The bombings that recently have taken place in Jerusalem are horrific examples, and I pray for the victims and their families. But I know that these suicide bombers do not represent the majority of the Palestinian people and are not their voice. If true peace is to be brought to the region, the injustice done to the Palestinian community for the past 100 years must be brought into the light and addressed. I do not think that our government, the Jewish government, the media, or the Jewish community in this country have been willing to do that. And so I believe that I must speak out. Only through our witness will peace come.

When I and my fellow bishops stood outside the Israeli consulate last October to protest the military incursion into Bethlehem and to witness to the Palestinian cause, we did not spend a lot of time debating about what to do. We just went. There was, as you know, a good deal of criticism of our action. Later, a member of our staff asked me, "What's the strategy behind this protest?" The strategy was, as it should be with all such witness: prayer. That's what we have to offer.

For me, praying for peace in the Middle East began in the first Intifada in 1987 when I was living at St. George's College in East Jerusalem. I was doing my laundry one day on the roof of the building when I heard shots fired and found that an unarmed Palestinian teenager had been killed by a soldier. Three days later I was walking through the Damascus Gate and heard on the radio that five Jewish men had been murdered in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. I went to the Western Wall to pray. I remember saying to myself that this is so overwhelming, all of this violence and hatred. I did not know how to respond. But I decided then to pray every day for peace. I've been faithful to that commitment, praying every day.

What do we mean by intercessory prayer? Intercession does not mean that we are telling God about suffering. God knows what is happening to those we pray for. God knows the suffering in Israel. When we offer intercession, we are saying to God that we will join God in that place where suffering is. And so, when tanks rolled into Bethlehem last October, I said that I would go to make that witness with others from the Episcopal Church, from Palestine, from Muslim and Jewish communities.

In the western church, right now we are celebrating Easter. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we experience a victory of hope, love, and goodness over death and violence. The situation in the Middle East is seemingly hopeless, where bombings are followed by deeper incursions, where Arafat and Sharon have been feeding a personal hatred for one another. But as Christians we know that is not true. We know that the world is different because of Christ. We know that good can come out of any situation. But not through more killing, not by military means, not by killing innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

Because of Christ's victory there can be resurrection here. Life can be changed so that it's better for Israelis and Palestinians. And that change will come if we seek the truth together. That is what I feel God is calling me to do. That is what Sabeel is trying to do, to raise up some of the injustice done to the Palestinian people in order that it can be addressed by the world. A lasting peace, secure borders, and a viable country for people of Palestine are so important to the peace we know must come.

Our prayers are important in the peace process. Through our prayers we will be drawn to join God in this place of suffering which God shares with the people of the Middle East. Through your prayers God's peace can be achieved.

Originally found on the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts website.


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