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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Reverend’s talk pleads for peace in Middle East

By Diana Frantz
Variety Editor

Friday, November 21, 2003

During Tuesday’s daily chapel service, the Reverend Sandra Olewine, United Methodist Liaison to Jerusalem, delivered a message of hope for peace in Jerusalem. She used Christian Scripture – Mark 10:35-40 – to explain the complex conflict between Muslim Palestine and Jewish Israel.

Olewine concentrated on three words uttered by Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Mark: "We are able." These words, she said, should be the mission of the church of the 21st century. According to Olewine, Christians must continually say "we are able" to achieve peace, even in the face of bloody, messy and seemingly unsolvable situations such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Olewine has served as the United Methodist Liaison to Jerusalem since 1996. For the past three years, she has worked with the Palestinian congregation of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

Living and working in the midst of the violent, long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Olewine admits that sometimes she feels on the verge of hopelessness. When peace seems far away and her faith dwindles, when she is on the verge of being unable to say "I am able," Olewine says that she invariably encounters people who encourage her.

She told the story of two inspirational men who restored her faltering hope for peace. Yitzhak, an Israeli Jew, and Yazi, a Palestinian Muslim, both lost loved ones to violence.

"They had every reason to hate each other," Olewine said. "But instead they embraced the enemy to find solace, strength and hope."

Despite the conflict that separated their people, Yazi and Yitzhak collaborated in a call for peace. Together they composed a document entitled, "The Argument of the Coffins," a plea to the Bush administration, the European Union and the United Nations to help stop the violence between Israel and Palestine.

"We demand peace," wrote Yazi and Yitzhak. They emphasized the massive loss of life experienced in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Yazi and Yitzhak called for people to face the grim fact that 1400 Palestinian and Israeli lives had been lost since September 2000. They encouraged citizens and leaders of the world to acknowledge the tragedy and deem it utterly unacceptable.

In addition to the written document, Yazi and Yitzak helped organize a display of 1000 coffins to remind the public of the individual tragedies experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis. For Yazi, Yitzhak and Olewine, the thousands of lives lost are testament to the need for peace. With each death, comes fresh tragedy for the loved ones of the dead.

"Leaders have no excuse not to work for peace" when two men who could have been bitter foes were able to work together and embrace the enemy, Olewine said, referring to Yazi and Yitzhak.

Observing their ability to cooperate and seek peace against all odds, Olewine’s faith in the possibility of peace was restored. Olewine challenged chapelgoers to follow the example of Yazi and Yitzhak, "to love those who seem unlovable," to stand up and say "we are able" in the face of the impossible.

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