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Peace in Middle East Will Come Only with Help from All of God’s People, says Yehezkel Landau

by Kay Campbell

“Spiritual Remedies for Political Pathologies”

PULASKI, Tennessee – There will be peace in Israel and Palestine, Professor Yehezkel Landau – founder of a joint Jewish-Palestinian-Christian peace initiative in Israel – told a small group of Middle Tennessee religious leaders during the first evening of a three-day conference, Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative. But religious leaders must be part of building that peace.

Professor Yehezkel Landau speaking at Martin Methodist College. - Photo: al.comLandau spoke Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., which is hosting the conference of the Nashville-based Faith and Culture Center. The conference is part of a nationwide Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative of Religions for Peace USA.

“I’m very, very pessimistic, in the short term, but very, very optimistic in the long term for justice and peace in God’s holy land,” Landau said. “And part of my hope comes because of networks for peace in Israel-Palestine. The political leaders – locked in a pathological cycle of violence between Hamas and the government of Israel – are way behind the people. The future looks good – we just have to get through the next five to 10 years, holding things up, and those leaders will be replaced.”

But peace in the Holy Land, a term for the area of Israel and Palestine that Landau used to emphasize his point, will come only with the support and leadership of Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders to change the dynamic of the political leaders – who are, he said, “Stuck in a dance of death and destruction.”

“We need spiritual remedies for our political pathologies,” Landau said, underlying the point by calling that statement his “sound byte” for the evening.

Landau, now a professor at the interfaith Hartford Seminary, helped to found Open House in Israel. Open House occupies the home in Israel where Landau’s former wife grew up with her family of Bulgarian Jewish refugees of the Holocaust. As a child, she had been told the house had been built by Palestinians who simply ran away after the war of independence in 1947. In 1967, at 19, she opened the door to a knock to meet a Palestinian man who told her about being forced out of the house at gunpoint when he was seven. Together, the two families, along with a Christian neighbor, transformed the house, with its legacy of conflict, into a community center for Israeli-Palestinian peace-building. “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East,” by Sandy Tolan, details that work, which is on-going.

“We have got to find ways to consecrate what we know to be holy – but we’re desecrating it now,” Landau said. “We have the wrong theology. If we put land before life, we – Jews, Muslims, Christians - have distorted our religious teachings.”

Mission Impossible,’ but for God

The work is not easy and often must start in painful places.

“We have to help people to transcend competing victimization scripts,” Landau said, referring to a statement he had made earlier in the day: “Faith should transform fear to trust, anger to forgiveness, and grief to compassion. Any religion that doesn’t do that, the leaders should not get paid.”

“If I didn’t believe in God, I would say this is a Mission Impossible,” Landau said.

Defining the forces at work in the on-going “constipation” is an important part of peace building, he said.

“The good news about the Holy Land is this: This is not a ‘holy war,’” Landau said. “This is a political war over land and power in which religion gets hijacked for nefarious, short-sighted ends. And one of the tragic results of religious-political zealotry is that most people of conscience will distance themselves from any religion.”

Religious communities – like the Family of Abraham in Middle Tennessee, one of the organizations supporting the conference – must build “communities of communities,” Landau said. These would be interfaith networks to demonstrate that it’s possible to celebrate particularism without segregation, and that, “We share an identity as part of the sacred family of humanity.”


But, Landau warned, building those networks with someone of a different faith is usually easier than talking to one’s co-religionists because of the diversity of views and concerns within faiths and within the denominations of each faith. Religious leaders who get too far ahead of their own faith family will lose their effectiveness.

“So I suggest that you spend 50 percent of your time on interfaith work and 50 percent in intrafaith, sharing the fruits of your experiences with your own community,” Landau said.

Jews shared a 1,400-year history of peace with their Muslim neighbors, with only the last 100 years marked by sustained violence, Landau said. Jews shared a 2,000-year history of mostly oppression and conflict with Christian neighbors, a vexed relationship that has lately become more peaceful. Sept. 11, 2001, taught him, Landau said, that making peace in the Middle East is crucial to making peace around the world.

“When 9/11 happened, I realized that the political pathology I lived with all the time (as, then, a resident of Israel) had now gone global,” Landau said.

But those pathologies can be healed, Landau said: “Interfaith engagement should not be that of an ambulance service, but of a public health campaign.”

“Hopefully, the future – for all of us together – will be a blessed one,” Landau said. “I know that’s what God wants. What do we want?”

This article was originally published by AL.com on November 7, 2014. Ms. Campbell recently participated in the Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative’s Community and Religious Leaders Conference of Middle Tennessee. The conference brought 25 community and religious leaders together to discuss the challenge of living together in an increasingly diverse religious landscape. Equipping and educating Christian leaders on internal resources to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia was a major theme of the three-day gathering.