Just War, just peace in the Middle East

Mideast peace talks resume this week, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveling to Egypt and Israel for negotiations between … Continued

Mideast peace talks resume this week, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveling to Egypt and Israel for negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Is religion helping or hurting the attempt to forge peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians?

Enduring peace in Israel/Palestine has ever been elusive. Jesus himself laments over Jerusalem and the violence the city has visited upon the prophets. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…” he cries, looking down at the city and mourning the violence that has been done there. Jesus reveals he has longed to “gather your children together,” but, he weeps, “you were not willing!” Even Jesus, the “prince of peace” could not make eternal peace in this land. This holy city, this “navel of the world” and cradle to the three great “Abrahamic” religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, has also been a crucible for violence.

And yet, at the same time, it is not. Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together in this region for centuries without all-out war. People of these three faiths have been neighbors with roots in culture, religion and even race. Yet, it must also be said that an absence of overt violence has not always meant the presence of justice. From before Jesus’ time and the Roman occupation until the present, struggles in this land for both justice and peace have been more the norm than the exception. War and more war, including “World Wars,” have desecrated the land.

Is religion helping or hurting the current attempt to forge peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians? Yes, is the answer. Yes religion is hurting the peace process; and yes, it is helping for without the engagement of religion, no enduring peace can be made.

Not one of these three great religions is all about “peace,” nor all about violence and the justification of war. The tradition of Just War is alive in the Abrahamic faiths, as is the even more problematic concept of “Crusade.” So too are scriptural supports for pacifism.

What is needed now is a breakthrough concept, one that does not talk about either war or peace in the abstract, but proposes “practice norms,” that is, practical steps that have a proven historical track record of reducing conflict, and increasing the presence of justice and peace. Some of us, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, call this new concept Just Peace.

The first step in practical peacemaking, however, is to acknowledge that each of the Abrahamic religions has within itself, and in its most sacred texts, explicit support for violence and for war. As a team of Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars and religious leaders, including myself, write in Abrahamic Alternatives to War: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Just Peacemaking:

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian sacred texts all contain sections that support violence and justify warfare as a means to achieve certain goals. In particular historical circumstances, these texts have served as the basis to legitimate violent campaigns, oftentimes against other faith communities.

Yet, we also argue:

Many of the passages from sacred texts in all three religious traditions that are misused in contemporary situations to support violence and war are taken out of context, interpreted in historically inaccurate ways, or can be better translated. Finally, all of these passages need to be understood within (and constrained by) the primary spiritual aims of the individual faith.

The good news for peacemaking not only in the Middle East, but also in the whole world today is that:

There are also a great many teachings and ethical imperatives within Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures that promote peace and present the means to achieve it. These include mandates to strive for political, social, and economic justice; tolerant intercommunal coexistence; and nonviolent conflict resolution.

The emerging paradigm of Just Peace, meant to offer a practical and workable alternative to both Just War theory and Pacifism (“Crusade” should never be regarded as acceptable), is a set of ten practices that have a proven track record of increasing the conditions that allow for more justice, and greater peace to emerge in local communities, in nations and in whole regions of the world. Currently, the religious leaders and scholars who produced Abrahamic Alternatives to War, with some additional members, are nearly finished with an Interfaith Just Peacemaking book that shows the Muslim, Jewish and Christian rational and support for such a set of practices.

Peace in Israel/Palestine, or elsewhere in the world, will not come about without a religious commitment to practice these ethical teachings in ways that actually do something practical to increase the likelihood that an enduring peace with justice will come. It is not only Israel/Palestine that needs this commitment, but indeed to so many parts of the world torn with heart-rending violence and seemingly intractable warfare.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • yasseryousufi

    The reason there cannot be a settlement over Palestine in near future is because the balance of power is so lopsided. One side has gathered all the power humanly possible whether in terms of deadly arsenal or propaganda or having the biggest superpower by the balls while the other is a motley crowd of idealists/secularists and a bunch freedom fighters who have no vision to where to take their nation, no army, no navy, no central government. We have to brace ourself for more of the status quo for next several years unless some drastic changes appear on the ground. Israelis have no incentive to change the situation on the ground. Its economy is booming, there hasn’t been a suicide bombing in Israel proper for 2 1/2 years. So as of now, the side which actually has to offer something tangible is in no mood of doing so. US is Government, which is the only entity which can force Israel to make peace is simply spineless to say the least.

  • Secular

    It is really disingenuous to claim that mid-east conflict is not religious. Whatever color you may give to the conflict as it exists today, one cannot escape the fact that the genesis is most definitely religious. But for the fact that the ancient Hebrews had not claimed that the land was a grant from their skydaddy to them, this would not be happening today. The way I see it is back some 3000 years ago, there was essentially inter-tribal battle for that piece of land. The actual reasons are probably lost for ever. But piecing through the Old Testament, it was admittedly occupied by Canaanites, Jebusites, and assorted other peoples. Then came the Hebrews who claimed it was benediction to them from their deity. This myth was then embedded into their founding texts, thus given this false notion of sacredness to the mythical claim and entitlement. Admittedly that deity forgot to inform the same to the sundry people already there. May be they would have quietly moved on to some other place. Anyway I digress. Hebrews established themselves, be it be in a very contentious manner. However, over the period due to countless number of conflicts and wars most of the Hebrews or Jews had migrated out of the region. Thus that area had been occupied for past 1000 to 1500 years by whoever, had not migrated out – actually the descendants of the ancient Jews and other religionists, who had not emigrated. Over the 15 centuries, most of the people, for reasons irrelevant to the issue on hand, have turned out to be muslims. Then comes the late 19th century with rampant anti-semitism of past centuries the emigrants to Europe have been looking for a piece of land they could call their own. In fact if my memory serves me right the areas considered was newly colonized South America. Along come in the early 20th century a notion that preparations be made for the impending 2nd coming. Based on the some dubious predictions, this time of new testament, the Prime Minister of England Lloyd George and his Foreign secretary issued the so call “Balfour Deceleration. This was done to ensure the facilitate the necessary conditions were in place for second coming. It did not matter to the imperial masters, this time that there were people already living there for nearly a hundred generations. Let alone it wasn’t theirs to give away. The native peoples of mid-east, or at least for the past 15 centuries were Royally screwed (pun intended), yet again. That is the genesis of the present conflict. Now to say that religion is not the cause of the conflict is sticking your head in the sand. It is totally fallacious, and shows how bent up the people are to absolve religion of its culpabilities.

  • Secular

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwait writes, “Many of the passages from sacred texts in all three religious traditions that are misused in contemporary situations to support violence and war are taken out of context, interpreted in historically inaccurate ways, or can be better translated. Finally, all of these passages need to be understood within (and constrained by) the primary spiritual aims of the individual faith”. The above is utter drivel. To say that they are taken out of context or that interpreted in a historically in accurate manner, above all can be better translated, is in my opinion utter prevarication. What kind of context does one use when there is blanket statement urging the destruction of Amalekites, Canaanites, etc, etc. What kind of historically accurate interpretation is there when the so called sacred, vile putrid texts urge the follower to Smite the Infidel and kill the non-believer. How many different ways can you translate translate a passage that tells you that its ok to sell spoiled meat to a stranger, and still be honest to yourself. You guys never cease to amaze me in your rationalizations for the religions. All religion is a decrypt institution that is best relegated to the dust heap of History, just like Astrology. Wait we still have dimwits who follow Astrology, don’t we. Ok, there are more than one way to be a dimwit, I suppose. Actually some of the dimwits do not limit themselves to just one way, I guess.

  • mono1


  • woodstock-41

    Note: “Georgetown Faith”: Via Sisstar Else the 4 Others are AntiU.S. “Anti-1st Amendment” (aka Commy’s!)::all art Garbage Peple and or “NGO”s!! i.e.:Fr, C. J. McCloskey (Jealous)Adam S. McHugh (Jealous)Mohammad Ali Salah (Garbage)! Opps, Becky Garrison (Jealous garbage). Et al

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