A delegation of 28 peace pilgrims from the Diocese of Massachusetts, led by Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, spent 10 days in the Middle East meeting with both Israelis and Palestinians and assessing the prospects for peace. Despite the violence and anger, they found a few signs of hope.
In a closing press conference on June 18, called a Day of Hope, Shaw said that the delegation was 'impressed by how much worse relations between Palestinians and Israelis are today than they were when many members of our group were here a year ago. Fear and suspicion have increased' but during meetings with religious leaders 'we have heard of the grassroots work that gives us hope.'
The delegation offered four observations on the political situation: 'First, the violence on both sides must stop. We condemn terrorism and we condemn the effort to control Palestinians through military means. Second, both parties are suffering under the occupation, which has to end.'
Third, we believe that there needs to be a return to the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel on those borders. That state needs to be a viable state' with investment by the international community to build 'a civil society, establish a security infrastructure, and ensure sustainable economic development.'
'Fourth, we ask that the Israeli government take seriously the removal of settlements from Palestine -- all of the settlements.'
Shaw said the members of the delegation were convinced that 'these foundation stones for peace are in the best interests of all parties. As church leaders we see them as foundation stones for reconciliation, which is the path to peace that our tradition teaches. We believe that the role of the church in conflict is to offer hope for reconciliation, even between bitterest enemies' and that both sides need to 'sit down together to acknowledge the grief they share in this conflict's history.'
The group pledged to continue its work with all those who are working for peace and to educate Americans about 'the harsh realities of the conflict and the work for peace that you are doing.' It also announced intentions to urge the American government to intensify its efforts to bring peace, convinced that peace was not possible without the direct involvement of the US government. And they said that a similar effort was necessary for the church 'to be a leader and a teacher' on the search for peace.
'The Episcopal Church has long felt that the Palestinian side of the story has been neglected by the media,' Shaw said in earlier comments, 'but the Road Map for Peace put forth by thoughtful world leaders is very promising. This is a critical time for Israel. We hope that Palestinians and Israelis will be able to put aside old hatreds and forge a new relationship based not only on pain, but also on hope.'