Scholar: Religion Isn't Heart of Mideast Conflict

Though Testimony of Christian Coexistence Is Key for Peace

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By Mirko Testa

ROME, NOV. 10, 2009 ( To solve the problems of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the economic, social and political tensions must be resolved, and the focus must be on communities that represent true peaceful coexistence beyond religious diversity.
This is the conviction of Gianluca Solera, administrator of the Egypt-based Anna Lindh Foundation, which is working for dialogue between the cultures of the Mediterranean.
Solera, a Catholic of remote Jewish origins, spent many years in Brussels as a political adviser of the European Parliament. Then he traveled to the Middle East in the summer of 2004 and stayed in the Palestinian Territories for two years studying Arabic at Bir Zeit University.
He subsequently recounted his experiences in the volume «Muri, Lacrime, Za’tar» (Walls, Tears, Za’tar), with a prologue by Archbihsop Michel Sabbah, retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Solera spoke to ZENIT, pointing out some of the basic problems that affect the path to peace, such as the «process of theologization linked to the creation of the state of Israel» and the «great confusion between the cultural, spiritual and emotional plane and the religious, political and institutional plane that is consuming Israel from within.»

Settling down
Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said in 1947 that the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of two peoples on the same land. In this connection, Solera explained, the problem of the Jewish settlements constitutes a serious obstacle to reconciliation between the two sides.
Solera explained that «there are settlers who go there expressly to fight and to sacrifice their life for the land of Israel.»
In his opinion, the causes of this situation lie in a culture that is «fruit of the history of persecution of Jews, which has generated a permanent state of alert and a sort of collective obsession.»
However, he says, this is not the norm but rather an expression of a minority. In fact, in his book, Solera speaks of groups who are effectively committed to integration and dialogue, such as the Rabbis for Human Rights Association, which in 2006 won the peace prize of the Niwano Foundation.

Solera said that Jewish identity needs to be conceived as something larger than borders.

«If Jewish identity is reduced to a question of borders, it loses its nature,» he said.
On the other hand, the author criticized recourse «to religious identity as the last resource to reinforce the battles of the nationalist movement, in a logic that takes God prisoner.»
However, he specified, «we must be careful not to represent politically or in the media the Palestinian-Israeli question as a clash of civilizations.»
Solera characterized this as a «very serious political and cultural error in the West, which creates the conditions for instability and generates tension within our society.»
«The consequences could be devastating also for us, for our relations with the Arab world and for the stability of our own communities in the West. Thus we dig an even more profound chasm between the two shores of the Mediterranean,» he lamented.
And he proposed: «The differences in terms of development, of democracy, of recognition of cultural rights, of dignity, which might exist between the Arab community and the West, are a factor of greater instability than the misunderstandings between being Muslim and being Christian.
«I believe that the policy of intercultural dialogue has no meaning if the tensions of a political, economic and social nature are not addressed first.»
For Solera, «to take refuge in cultural and religious identity is a by-product of the incapacity to address these crucial questions.»
«Hence, we must de-activate the bombs of diversity» because they constitute «the terrain on which fanaticism can put down roots and grow.»


It is in this context that Christians carry out a fundamental role «showing that there can be coexistence despite religious-cultural diversity,» the author affirmed.
He pointed to Taybeh, formerly Ephraim, where Christ sought refuge with his disciples. There, there is a lively community which has opened its schools to Muslim children of the surrounding villages.
There, Catholic parishes have been created, and a residence for the elderly and a rehabilitation center for the handicapped without resources from Palestinian Territories or abroad.
«It is necessary to defend the communities that live in peaceful coexistence,» Solera said. «But they must really be defended, through pilgrimages, visits, the twinning of parishes, through in-depth work between the faithful of the community.
«Christians must show that they are bearers of brotherhood beyond political expediencies.»

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