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Riverside Conversation on Middle East Peace

June 30, 2012

Pittsburgh

During a June 30 Riverside Conversation at the 220th General Assembly, Members of the Middle East Monitoring Group (MEMG) shared their study guide for the Kairos Palestine Document, encouraging people to take it to their congregations as a way to begin to understand the Israel-Palestine issues.

“This study guide can't be comprehensive,” said the Rev. J.C. Austin, MEMG member. “We need to recognize our inherit subjectivity in how we approach [the Kairos Palestine Document].”

Austin encouraged the audience of about 125 to be open to understanding all sides of the peace issue. The seven-member group produced the study guide to fulfill its mandate from the previous Assembly. That Assembly also asked them to gather narratives from a variety of Israelis and Palestinians. The eight narratives share the voices of four Palestinians and four Israelis.

“In order for reconciliation to begin, we must listen to the suffering of the other,” Naamah Kelman, an Israeli, writes in one of the eight narratives.

“I have struggled to reconcile my faith in Christ with a persisting (Arab-Israeli) conflict,” the Rev. Alex Awad, born in 1946 in Jerusalem, wrote in his narrative.

The study guide highlights the three sections of the Kairos Palestinian Document under the headings of faith, hope and love. People attending the conversation on Saturday spent several minutes reviewing and discussing a very small portion of the guide.

“One of the best things to come out of the process is that many more minsters, elders and other church members are aware that Palestinian Christians exist,” said 214th General Assembly Moderator the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel at his table.

Ruling elder commissioner Connie Lockwood (Western New York Presbytery), who sat at the same table, admitted that Middle East peace issues are difficult to understand and even harder to contemplate when personal lives are affected in the United States. She recently learned that her son works for a company that supplies equipment to Caterpillar, one of the companies proposed for divestment.

Teaching elder commissioner the Rev. Teresa Peterson (Lake Huron Presbytery) said news outlets and social media are not the best ways to understand the issues, and that it is “the church's responsibility to interpret what is happening so that we can live into hope for Middle East peace.”

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