A delegation of Methodist leaders from around the world, who took part in the World Methodist Peace Prize Award ceremony and the Water and Peace Conference in Israel in October recognize the right of all people to live in peace and safety.
The Water and Peace Conference members expressed particular concern about two issues:
In environmental terms: particularly in relation to water justice, to the sacredness of the River Jordan and the equitable sharing of clean water with the region.
In political terms: especially in relation to Palestinian rights, in terms of land justice and in building the necessary concrete steps towards a lasting genuine peace.
The Water and Peace Conference and traveling seminar took place 8-13 October with 17 participants from New Zealand, India, Germany, Ireland, UK, USA, and South Africa. These leaders visited Jordan, Palestine and Israel and were able to see the current condition of the River Jordan, which suffers from pollution and is smaller than it was only a hundred years ago. It is no longer able to serve the neighboring populations and fails to replenish the waters of the Dead Sea, which is shrinking by a meter annually. People living on both the West and East Bank suffer from lack of water, and Palestinians are prevented from approaching the Jordan, according to Dr. R. F. Leão-Neto, who was a Conference organizer.
The conference group visited Peace Island, designated under a 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan, and saw what remains of a 1920s hydroelectric power station that provides energy for the region. Peace Island has become a symbol of what cooperation amongst the peoples of the region could bring: peace and prosperity. It was the product of Muslims, Christians and Jews working side by side with international cooperation to harness the power of the waters of the rivers Jordan and Yarmouk.
The travelling seminar designed to be a combination of a historical and biblical pilgrimage, together with a consideration of present day issues. It included visiting holy sites in Galilee and Jerusalem and the wilderness of the Jordan Valley. Opportunities for participants to engage with local people in their farms and villages, to meet and discuss current issues with municipal authorities in the West Bank and with officials working for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) were also included.
The participants heard how the settlements – illegal under international law and, in some cases, illegal under Israeli law – impose a system that excludes Palestinians and prevents them from access to markets to sell their produce. Some of the land on the West Bank is designated as military training ground or of Jewish archeological significance, thus preventing people from living there. Palestinians reported on their struggle to receive permission to build houses, schools, mosques, or farm facilities
Strong opinions exist on how to achieve a peaceful two-state solution and some of the difficult issues were discussed. Limited but significant peacemaking continues to chip away at every opportunity. EcoPeace-Middle East negotiates improvement of water supplies and environmental conditions as well as a master plan to address these issues on a more sustained basis. The smaller and much younger WMC Jerusalem Liaison Office acts as a Methodist presence to accompany, support, and pray for those involved in this situation: individuals, communities, churches and non-government organizations. It was agreed that despite the many obstacles, peacemaking efforts need to continue.
The ‘Tent of Nations’, located near Bethlehem in the West Bank, is one small but very significant peace initiative. Read about it and its great work under the WMC Peace Award story in this newsletter.
The Water and Peace Conference sees much potential for continuing further cooperation in similar small but significant peace initiatives. Plans are to be developed toward further cooperation with EcoPeace-Middle East, and with the work of the WMC Jerusalem Liaison Office. The Water and Peace Conference would not have been possible in the first place without the support of the dedicated people working in these two organizations.
The Conference witnessed the sad fact that the challenging words of Prophet Micah ring true today for all too many: “Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.” (Micah 3:9 and 10). Let us work together to build peace so that, instead, regardless of faith or ethnicity ‘…they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid….’ (Micah 4:4). As Methodists, here and now, the choice is ours to make a real difference or not, said Neto.