The pressure for religious dialogue within Israel herself.
1. What is the purpose of this dialogue?
Like all dialogue and conversations and communications to keep the lines of communication and supply of information and resources open. The world is global and the three main religions of our world (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) straddle our planet. We know how they all acknowledge the same God and certain prophets going back to Abraham/Ibrahim to Islam. This conversation inter-religious is also designed to defuse tension between these religions which are at the centre of the Near East trouble spot. Much has been achieved by the religious leaders in this respect but the real talking must be done by the political leaders of West and East.
2. Other Religions of note
The Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Hinduism, the Sikh religion, the Buddhist religion and various minor offshoots of the mainstream religions. These religions of note are of real significance and maturity despite persecution and repression. They are noble religions like the Triumvirate of principal religions.
3. Where are we now?
We are speaking to each other – Cardinal Tauran of the Vatican Council for inter-religious dialogue in Rome sees to that. Each religion retains its own integrity and substance. There are several denominations within Christianity lead by Roman Catholicism which commands several hundred million adherents followed by the worldwide Anglican Communion springing from the Church of England which broke free from Rome in the 16th Century. German Protestantism is not without its influence. The real searchlight is on Islam and Judaism with Catholicism as the enthusiastic gooseberry. If Islamists and Jews may better understand each other and relate much will be achieved. They both revere the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem their Sacred City and they live alongside each other in that Holy City and Palestine now named Israel as in the Old Testament. This country may be the prism for better Islamic/Judaistic relations already improving. The Palestine Arabs may not vote in Israel’s elections nor serve in its Army nor I suspect represent clients in Israel’s Courts. But they are treated in Israeli hospitals. Their commercial freedom is limited. They do have freedom of worship and expression. Their political powers are strictly contained. In a nutshell they live on sufferance in Israel but will not give up the ghost. They are really second class “citizens” and cannot obtain an Israeli passport in all reality. This whole apparatus derives from the religious divide as Jewish Israelis will not trust their Islamic Arab brothers. There have been several attempts to obliterate Israel as a nation state since the Second World War by adjacent Arab States (Egypt and Syria and even Jordan). Israel’s military which is very well led has always prevailed. Their infantry armour and Air Force is of the highest calibre. If the Jewish religion and Islam could create conciliatory gestures to each other the lot of these Palestinian Israeli Arabs would brighten and thereby the tension in that region would be released and softened. Thus I argue the real current issue is the internal rights of Israeli Arabs first and foremost. It will be easier to resolve this matter than Israel’s political and military isolation in the region. Let us do one thing at a time step by step and restore proper freedom and equality to all Israelis Arab or Jewish in Israel.
The Israelis are denied fraternity with these Arabs under the present unequal regime. That Fraternity is a right of all men and women. Let us see the truth: this Fraternity Arab and Jew in Israel I speak of will yield real benefits for Jews and Arabs alike and in the whole region and for inter-religious dialogue. The ripples will go out.
4. The Way Forward
Essentially it is to concentrate on building up this fraternity inside Israel. The Christian Church has very sacred Holy places in Israel. Why has it all but abandoned them? These places are venerated and revered by Christians. The time is right to reclaim spiritually these places without causing rancour among Jews and Islamists.
There can be no crusade but a way should be found for Christians to live in Israel and pray at our shrines in the Holy Land. That way the shrines will be taken care of and the worldwide Christian Church strengthened in spirit. These shrines must not be abandoned. Interestingly it all comes back to Christianity, Islamists and Jews in one country Israel which is a very Holy place to all three religions. For the Israeli Jews it is the Promised Land itself, the land of milk and honey that Moses promised to God’s Servant Israel. Israel is spoken of by the Mother of God in the Magnificat: God promised His mercy to Abraham and his descendants for ever – the grains of sand on the sea shore and the stars in the heavenly firmament as the Bible tells us.
Jesus always spoke truly yet a little ambiguously. Realistically we will never be one religion on earth as religions may develop but they do not hand in their arms and disarm unlike Nation States. It simply won’t happen. We will be one in Heaven in Christ I concede and Jesus is the only way to the Father but not by us all becoming Christians. He did not mean that. Religions are above all vibrant in their particular history and religious observances. If they lose their own sacred character and tradition we have all lost our brother. Rather we want to gain a brother not lose him. Our long lost brother will return.