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Equal in God’s Eyes: Human Rights and Dignity for All in Israel/Palestine

The theme of this year’s annual advocacy summit for Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is Equal in God’s Eyes: Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel/Palestine. For some, this statement will seem obvious. Of course, all of God’s human creation is created equally and in the image of God. We recall the words of the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Genesis,

“So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (1:27).

Yet throughout the world, in conflicts, in our own domestic politics, in legal discrimination and injustice, we often privilege the lives of some over the lives of others. 

Many Americans do not know how many Arab and Middle Eastern civilians have lost their lives

Consider in the U.S. context the ways we determine military success. One of the first measured criteria of whether a conflict has accomplished its goals is the number of American lives lost. One of the challenges of the history of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East is that many Americans do not know how many Arab and Middle Eastern civilians have lost their lives in different U.S. operations. Of course, one might argue that the goal of any nation is to “protect its own,” to have “secure borders,” and to offer “security” to its citizens. We would be remiss to not look deeply at the underlying ideologies that allow us to practice such measures of security and protection - namely, that we value the lives of Americans over the lives of other nations, some of whom we identify as our “enemies.” 

Jesus’ commandments are clear. Not only are we called to love our neighbor, but to love our enemies as well (Matthew 5:44). On a speaking tour a few years ago, I will never forget listening to my friend Palestinian Christian Sami Awad respond to this very issue. In speaking of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount he said: “When we hear the teachings of Jesus... He is telling us to love our enemies... I think that means we should not kill them.” 

He is telling us to love our enemies... I think that means we should not kill them.

In the spirit of honoring all people equally, two groups in Israel and Palestine - Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle - Family Forum, started an event in 2005 with 50 people on Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day). The Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony has continued in years since with about 10,000 people gathered last year in Tel Aviv. 

The goal of the ceremony is to “challenge the traditional narrative of victimhood and separation” and to stand together against war and loss of life on both sides of the conflict. The American Friends of Combatants for Peace explains the significance of this event on their website

"Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, is a sacred day in Israel. Nearly every Israeli family has lost someone in the conflict, and together they come together to remember these dear ones. However, traditionally, Israelis ignore the grief of Palestinian families. Indeed the official Israeli ceremonies are marked by a narrative of hopelessness, accepting that ‘we must live or die by our swords.’ This leads to deep pain, fueling the despair prevalent in both societies." 

The Joint Memorial gathers in the spirit of all people being seen as equal in God’s eyes. Israelis and Palestinians who participate, and the international community who comes alongside them, seek to build “a new reality based on mutual respect, dignity, equality, freedom, and peace.” Our collective goal? To turn a sense of helplessness into empowerment and hope. 

We were blown away.

I am proud that I personally, and the organization I lead, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) supports and co-sponsors this incredible gathering of courageous people. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of all beliefs coming together to say that we will honor the truth and dignity of all lives lost in the conflict. The ceremony this year was different than in years past because of COVID19 realities, travel restrictions, and stay-in-place orders in Palestine, Israel, and around the world. Our hope was that thousands more would gather to virtually participate and hear the stories, share the tears, and come together in a collective spirit of kindness, humanity, and love. We were blown away. At the end of the Memorial service the host announced that more than 170,000 people participated and joined the virtual ceremony. 

The world will be stronger and better when we come together in our collective grief.

Why were so many compelled together? When we gathered, we were reminded that the world will be stronger and better when we come together in our collective grief. That only when we can see the beauty, dignity, and imago Dei in our fellow humanity will we be able to end conflicts and to truly bring holistic hope, justice, and peace. 

You can learn more about Combatants for Peace by hearing from two of the participants in the movement on my #Activism podcast by listening here. If you would like to watch the 2020 Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony, that can be viewed here. And CMEP was honored to host Israeli peace activist Tuly Flint and Palestinian peace activist Sulaiman (or Suli) Khatib on our Spring 2020 Pilgrimage to Peace (P2P) tour which was hosted virtually and can be seen here. May we be reminded in our daily encounters with others and as we reflect about conflicts and the relationships between societies around the world that all are Equal in God’s Eyes.

Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

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