Facing unending cycles of violence, Christians in Israel and Palestine find themselves on both sides, which raises questions about their possible role in the conflict and its resolution as well as about relations between them, writes Israeli Jesuit David Neuhaus in the journal Proche-Orient Chrétien (1/2/2015). Being a minority and facing potential decline through emigration, ecumenism is important among Christian Palestinians. Several centers run by believers of various denominations attempt to promote unity and solidarity. The leaders of the 12 most important churches in Jerusalem meet regularly to discuss issues and publish common statements, and leaders of some Palestinian evangelical churches have joined the efforts of historical, mainstream denominations.
In addition, among 160,000 Christians who hold Israeli citizenship, three-quarters are Palestinian Arabs, who—except for a small part—mostly identify with the wider Palestinian population, while one quarter are not Arabs and live within the Hebrew-speaking Jewish society. Russian speakers who arrived after 1990 make up a majority of those non-Arab Christians. To those citizens should be added between 120,000 and 150,000 Christian migrants to Israel: migrant workers (mostly from Asia, including 40,000 Filipinos) and asylum seekers (mostly from Africa). They face challenges of integrating as Christians within Israeli society, so much that some choose to emigrate or convert to Judaism, while around 100 Messianic congregations claim that accepting Christ does not remove their Jewish identity. Much work remains to be done for developing an ecumenical movement bringing together all those diverse components of local Christianity, ranging from historical churches to new components. Neuhaus feels that such work is much needed in an Israeli environment in which Christian faith and culture are almost completely absent.
But Neuhaus remarks that there are different types of ecumenism. One type of ecumenism promotes solidarity, such as the one associated with national unity among Christian Palestinians: the ecumenism converges with political interests (pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, e.g. Christian Zionists). Another type of ecumenism promotes piety, as a way also to escape from surrounding conflicts, with faith becoming a refuge: with such a discourse, nothing prevents Christian Israelis and Christian Palestinians from coming together. But a new form of ecumenism is emerging, which is described as “prophetic ecumenism.” In this model, while the Christians are separated by the conflict, they are “united by their faith in the Christ who is peace.” Both carry the pain, anguish and suffering of their own people, but both are open of the pain of the other, willing to exercise self-criticism, to promote communion with the immigrants and migrants, and called to develop a common witness that can reveal alternatives to war and violence, while calling for justice and pardon.
(Proche-Orient Chrétien, Faculté des Sciences Religieuses, Université Saint-Joseph, Rue de Damas, P.O. Box 17-5208 Mar Mikhaël, Beirut 1104-2020, Lebanon).