Friday, April 02, 2004

Christian Citizenship Seminar focuses on tension between Israel and Palestine.

Tensions between Israel and Palestine formed the central focus as nearly 100 youth and advisors met for this year's Christian Citizenship Seminar March 20-25 in New York and Washington, D.C.

Participants came from California, the Midwest, and several East Coast states for the event, sponsored by the General Board's Youth/Young Adult Ministries office and the Brethren Witness/Washington Office. The seminar examines a different theme of current global or domestic significance each year. News of the assassination of a Hamas leader in Israel came during the week this year, adding a note of immediate relevance to the conversations. Most speakers approached the issue from the Palestinian perspective, recounting the difficulties and oppression this group has suffered in a struggle over land that has significance to several major religions.

Rick Polhamus, a Brethren member of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who has spent several extended stays in the West Bank, shared about CPT's work, his own experiences of being tear-gassed and breaking up situations of conflict, and the need to find the people behind the stories. "It's when we get back to being human that we can transform things," he said. Catholic aid worker Joseph Donnelly, a drama/music team from New York, and Brian Avery of International Solidarity Movement also described their experiences working among the Palestinian people, sometimes with strong emotion. Much attention was given to the "separation barrier" being built as a security measure and boundary through the disputed territory; simulated security "checkpoints" even greeted participants as they came to one session.

Other speakers included National Council of Churches general secretary Bob Edgar, who talked about the political process in general as well as the NCC's work on the Israel-Palestine issue including his own recent trip to the region. He described the situation as one of rage on one side and fear on the other. Jim Wetekan, media director for Churches for Middle East Peace, framed the discussion in terms of political advocacy; Washington-area Rabbi Bruce Aft helped to express some of the Jewish/Israeli perspective in the situation; and Imam J. Abdul-Malik gave an outline of Islamic beliefs and practice.

"I found (the seminar) as a whole really valuable, because it allows us to discuss world events and the Middle East," participant Nick Kauffman of Goshen, Ind., said. "We never discuss things like this at school. This gives us a chance to all get together and talk about it."

The week also featured worship in New York churches, a tour of the United Nations, small-group discussions, a political comedy performance by Dave Lippman, visits with congressional representatives, and free time for exploring the two cities.

Source: Newsline 4/02/2004

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