Interfaith Institutions Must Fulfil Their Role Regarding Gaza

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The conflict in Gaza, which lasted six months, was marked by intense and widespread bombardment. This relentless assault has resulted in the deaths of over 30,000 individuals, two-thirds of whom are women and children, obliterated tens of thousands of homes, and displaced more than 2 million Palestinians, confining them to a reduced area in the south of Gaza. 

This conflict has regressed the Israeli-Palestinian situation to the conditions of 1948, characterised by animosity, displacement, and notably, the dehumanisation of Palestinians. 

Remarkably, for the first time in this long-standing conflict, the International Court of Justice, prompted by South Africa, has commenced deliberations to determine whether the Israeli government and its armed forces have perpetrated genocide against the Palestinian people.

The war has, in many respects, victimised us all, extending its effects to Palestinians and individuals worldwide. The global community’s double standards and political duplicity in addressing this crisis have undermined the credibility and authority of supposed international bodies, including the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League, diminishing their perceived roles as defenders of human rights, democratic principles, and ethical standards. 

A worldwide crisis of polarisation has emerged, with one side advocating for solidarity with the Palestinian cause, acknowledging their dignity and rights, and the other rejecting calls for a ceasefire, instead supporting the Israeli military offensive against Gazans and Palestinians in the West Bank.

Religious leaders and their institutions find themselves amidst this polarisation. Regrettably, many have not managed to adopt a decisive ethical stance against the Gaza conflict. However, neutrality is not an option for true peacemakers. To gain acceptance in discourse among Middle Eastern and Muslim communities, they must confront the widespread view of Israel’s actions in Gaza as ethnic cleansing and genocide—a perspective universally acknowledged. 

No peace initiative will hold credibility unless it addresses the profound moral crisis experienced by Palestinians and their allies. Peacemakers are obligated to oppose the deliberate targeting of civilians in Gaza, the blockade restricting access to food and medicine, ethnic cleansing, and the genocidal campaign.

-Longstanding Grievances of Palestinians 

Some religious institutions have issued unequivocal statements recognising the magnitude and impact of Israeli military actions on Gazans and other Palestinians. These statements have acknowledged the occupation of Gaza, the apartheid regime, and the longstanding grievances of the Palestinian people predating October 7. 

Yet, there have also been “balanced” statements that merely echo a common humanity or equate the oppressor with the oppressed, overlooking the apartheid system in Palestine. Such responses have only intensified the frustration of those desperate for solidarity, relief, and governmental action against ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Interfaith leaders and their organisations possess the potential to be a compelling voice for peace and justice, reminding everyone of the sanctity of human life. Within each religious tradition, numerous examples exist where leaders have used their prophetic voice to call for an end to conflict and violence, aiming to restore justice and peace within their communities. 

A joint interfaith appeal for a ceasefire, calling for an end to all civilian attacks, including the daily atrocities in Gaza, could send a potent message, uniting Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Rooted in their shared Abrahamic faith in the sacredness of life, religious leaders can initiate joint campaigns to engage their communities.

The conflict in Gaza has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale. The urgent need for aid and relief is colossal. Interfaith collaboration can be organised around providing this essential support. A call from within churches, mosques, and synagogues to aid Gazan children and women could help depoliticise assistance to refugees, bridging divides exacerbated by the conflict.

For centuries, religious leaders have served as spiritual healers in times of war. In the current Gaza conflict, millions of Palestinians are traumatised. Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders can offer a unified platform for healing and reconciliation.

The challenge in executing joint interfaith actions during such conflicts is not a lack of options but rather a reluctance or hesitancy among leaders and followers to adopt a nonviolent, principled stance against killing. Leaders brave enough to engage in joint interfaith solidarity actions see themselves as peacemakers, not merely custodians of their faith’s rituals and symbols. 

Historically, these peacemakers have taken firm stands against racism, discrimination, and apartheid, both within their communities and externally. Such leaders refuse silence in the face of genocide, ethnic cleansing, or massacres, even when these acts are broadcast live. Regarding the Gaza conflict, silent and complacent religious and interfaith leaders cannot claim ignorance.

To preserve the integrity, credibility, and legitimacy of interfaith peacemaking and dialogue in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these voices must be heard more than ever before.

The author is the Resident Representative to the President, J&K Anjuman-E-Sharie Shian on Interfaith Dialogue and can be contacted at: / Twitter Handle :@agasyedmuntazir

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