Visits to Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met an LWF delegation led by President Bishop Mark S. Hanson; General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko; and Vice-President for the Asia region, Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan in the PA offices in Gaza City September 3. He praised the LWF for its continued efforts to work for peace, justice and reconciliation in the region, and presented Bishops Hanson and Younan with Bethlehem 2000 Medal for their work.

“I know how much you are doing for our people, [for] Muslims and Christians, and Jerusalem,” Abbas told them. They spoke about the Middle East peace process, prospects for Lutheran schools, services offered by the LWF-run Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, and inter-faith relations.

Concerning the recent Israeli withdrawal from Gaza settlements, Abbas stressed the need to “take the momentum and work very hard to return to the Roadmap for Peace,” developed by the United States, in cooperation with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations (the Quartet), for a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Much has changed [but] much remains to be done,” he said.

General Secretary Ismael Noko expressed his gratitude to the PA President for the Palestinians’ gesture of welcome to the LWF Council and solidarity with the ELCJHL. He said the venue of the meeting was an opportunity for representatives of LWF member churches worldwide to share the experiences of the Palestinian people with their churches.

Visits with Church and Political Leaders in Jordan

This same group of leaders traveled to Jordan the weekend before the Annual Council Meeting began. They discussed the role of faith communities in promoting a culture of non-violence, respect for all religions and peaceful co-existence with Jordanian government officials in Amman.

At a meeting with Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran, delegation leaders Hanson, Noko and Younan commended Jordan’s contribution to the Middle East peace process, especially its support for inter-religious dialogue and far-reaching efforts to promote a culture of non-violence in resolving conflict. The meeting with Badran who is also Minister of Defence was also attended by Foreign Minister Farouq Qasrawi.

The representatives of the Jordanian government and king commended the LWF for its support to Palestinian refugees over several decades especially through humanitarian relief work. They also expressed willingness to work with the ELCJHL and the LWF on joint efforts to promote practical religious co-existence.

During separate meetings with the king’s personal envoy Prince Ghazi, and advisor, Mr Akel Biltaji, the significance of religious education in early schooling was discussed. Jordan, the LWF delegation learned, is involving students in education projects that promote religious tolerance. The LWF leaders also commended Jordan’s role as the custodian of holy sites in the Holy Land.

His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi, personal envoy and special advisor to King Abdullah, spoke frankly of the situation in Israel and the West Bank, emphasized the Royal Family’s interest in peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians, and sought formally to work with Lutherans to promote greater understanding.

Ghazi said Jordan is particularly concerned about the West Bank separation barrier which makes a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis impossible.

The prince proposed a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, which attempts to avoid “a clash of civilizations” and depoliticizes religion. There is a growing awareness among Muslims that there needs to be dialogue with Christians and others, he said. Education is also important for Muslims to promote greater understanding with others. Seven “principles” of emphasis for Muslims the prince highlighted were: no terrorism, no offensive jihad, good citizenry, the possibility of democracy, respect for religions, human rights and women’s rights, he said. “Those are seven issues we think we can deliver through education,” he said. Taken from stories by John Brooks, ELCA News Director