At the moment it is Israel and Gaza that dominate the news. There have been a number of ceasefires but each one has been broken by one side or the other. Israel insists it wants peace but it's fearful for its security. The Palestinian Authority wants peace though Hamas is intent in ridding the world of the State of Israel. Is it possible ever to dialogue with someone who wants rid of you? And to strengthen its borders Israel is intent on an expansionist policy which makes the situation worse. Here in Scotland people seem to polarise when it comes to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Many Christians see Israel as an apartheid state and use every opportunity to oppose it. In conversation it's taken for granted that we all feel the same way. They even approach Jews about Israel suggesting that somehow they are responsible. And often demonstrations are accompanied by anti-semitic incidents. This makes the Jewish community uneasy and I often think unable to criticise Israel's policy in public. In this there are two sides to the story and it's difficult to stand in both camps at the same time. Donald Nicholl, who for a long time was head of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, said he would know it was time to leave when he found himself taking sides in the conflict. When I'm with those who are pro-Palestine I feel a need to put forward how Israel might feel and when I'm with Jews the need to put forward the situation of Palestinians so that everyone thinks I'm on the other side while in a sense I'm on both sides.
I also wonder why people are so quick to demonstrate against Israel but no word against some of the other atrocities around the world or the walls that isolate communities from one another - a very large number of them in Belfast, on our own doorstep. Are we a bit fearful of opposing loudly Muslim regimes, I wonder? Take Mosul at the moment. For the first time in 1600 years Mass has not been said in what is Iraq' second's city because the Christian population has fled and a christian community nearly as old as Christianity itself has been devastated. And it has fled because Christians were given an ultimatum - covert to Islam, submit to its rule and pay a religious levy or face death. This was read out in Mosques and broadcast on loudspeakers. The homes of Chriristians were daubed with the letter "N" for Nasara which means Christian or Nazarene. And the international community, as well as the Christian community, seems to be silent apart from Bishop Angelaus, head of the Coptic Church in Britain.
Tich Nhat Hanh has said the way to peace is peace but there seems to be little motivation for it. As someone said 'there's enough religion for hate and not enough for love'. Rather we appear to be afraid of one another, suspicious of one another, unable to compromise and live with one another's differences and truths. I have to believe that interreligious dialogue is one small step to overcome this. Please God this is true.