Pax Christi Assembly: Looking back, in gratitude

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AEI was much involved in preparing the Pax Christi Assembly in Bethlehem, held May 13-17. In fact, all our staff took a share in organizational or content-related matters. As international conferences are not AEI’s daily cup of tea it was in fact for all of us a real training ground in dealing with practicalities. But there was to learn much more than that. Here a look-back from our perspective as main partner of Pax Christi in Palestine.

Besides the various “walking paths” on human rights and peace issues, which helped networking among the PC members and other local organizations, there were lively and inspirational round tables and workshops on peace and justice covering global and local issues.PAX-108

A combination of politics and spirituality typical for the Roman Catholic movement was present at the solemn Pax Christi Peace Award Ceremony at St Catherine’s Church on Saturday night 16 May. A Colombian women’s collective received the award instituted by a committee named after the former Dutch Cardinal Alfrink. The representative of the women’s group stressed the importance of practical daily peace work and connecting to spiritual values for women’s peace work to be rooted deeply in society. Walking in our own pathway we felt this an encouragement for the Sumud Story House which combines women’s, peace and development work for the community.

On that same day, as if to stress the important role of women as peace makers, the peace movement held a round table with six women panelists to discuss issues of peace and the Middle East. On the Palestinian side, the participants included Rania Murra, member of the international board of Pax Christi and director of AEI as well as Nora Carmi, representing Kairos Palestine, the Palestinian organization which brings out the voice of Palestinian Christianity. Several panelists called attention for the forgotten plight of the Syrian and Iraqi peoples, and for the terrorism and extremist violence that now affects the whole of the Middle East. At the same time there was a focused discussion on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a movement based on a call of Palestinian civil society dating back to 2006.

Remarkable was the statement of Wiltrud Roesch-Wechsler, of Pax Christi Germany, that although her national section was reluctant to implement a boycott against Israeli products, given the history of Germany during the Second World War, she felt that the political situation in Palestine reached a point that it became almost impossible to ignore the call for boycott. Another panelist, Jannie Kuik of PAX in the Netherlands, stated that the Dutch organization PAX actively promoted the banning of Israeli settlement products, but not products from Israel within the 1967 Green Line.

Rania Murra asked the Pax Christi movement to be more critically inquisitive towards its Israeli peace movement partners: “Ask them: what have you achieved?” It was mentioned that an international civilian presence in Palestine is more important than ever, as a show of moral support.PAX-119

The Assembly opened up to the local community. Pax Christi and AEI together held a public action on Nakba [disaster] Day, Friday May 15. With the vigil in Manger Square the participants commemorated the victims of the Nakba, both in the past and in the present (the “ongoing Nakbeh”). Former Palestinian ambassador to France, Hind Khoury, pronounced the names of destroyed villages from the Jerusalem and Hebron regions which the walking participants silently displayed on placards. An Arabic peace song, Ya Rabbi salameh, was learned and sung by all. The preparation of the vigil involved Jose Henriquez, the general secretary of Pax Christi who was not allowed by Israeli authorities to cross the Allenby Bridge to attend and lead the Assembly.

During the last day of the Assembly, Toine van Teeffelen explained the meaning to participants of the series of 120 large Wall story posters attached to the Wall around Rachel’s Tomb. “The fragile human stories of Palestinian sumud connect and make life, the Wall divides and kills.” The participants walked along and prayed at the place where Pope Francis last year left his car and touched the Wall in a gesture of sympathy and solidarity. The World Assembly ended in the garden of the Palestinian PC member organization Wi’am, where the participants asked for forgiveness for the submissive role lent to women in the Catholic Church, and the need to put issues of peace making higher on the church’s agenda.

All in all, the Assembly was an inspiring, uplifting and learning event for which AEI feels grateful. It also helped to create or deepen personal bonds with friends from all over the world, and solidify our common interest in faith-based matters of justice, peace and reconciliation.

Toine van Teeffelen

Arab Educational Institute

July 2015

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