Whether it be God, Allah, Buddha or Brahma, we rejoice in our Creator and live by his moral laws. We may worship through different rituals and celebrate through different festivals. But the tenets of all religions are the same: that we give thanks and honor creation, that good will ultimately be rewarded and evil ultimately punished and that we love our fellow man as ourselves. [Continue reading…]
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has invited Pope Francis to visit the Middle East and, specifically, the West Bank.
Since his election in March, Francis has often spoken of the common ground shared by different religions and has asked all to pray for peace in the Holy Land.
Israel and Palestine have once again been deadlocked in peace talks and this month’s progress seems dire as both sides have dug in. Israel has announced the construction of another 1,500 Jewish homes in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and the building of a security wall along the Jordan border while claiming that Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Hardly the spirit of good negotiations.
For these peace talks to succeed, perhaps we will need the prayers of all Jews, Christians and Muslims. After all, those practicing these three religions all pray to the same God—the God of Abraham. Let’s hope God listens.
Although terrible news from Syria is all that we’ve heard recently, a new symbol of hope will tower over the country. Last month, a 40-foot statue of Jesus was erected on a Syrian mountaintop over which, in ancient times, pilgrims crossed en route from Constantinople to Jerusalem. The statue stands on a 65-foot base, bringing its total height to 105 feet.
While organizers worked on the site to complete the project, all sides in the Syrian civil war held a cease fire, proving peace is possible in the troubled nation.
Appropriately, it took three days to raise the statue, as it was three days after his crucifixion that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is also fitting that the statue is 40 feet tall: Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, where his devotion to God was tested. Forty is a number used throughout the Bible. (The flood lasted for 40 days and 40 nights and the Israelites were banished to 40 years in the Sinai desert.) Scholars believe the figure was used to mean a “significantly high number.”
The project to raise the Jesus statue in Syria started eight years ago and was appropriately named: I Have Come to Save the World.
Saudi Arabia stunned the world this month when it refused the coveted two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council it was elected to. Although the General Assembly of the UN has 193 nations as its members, the real power lies with the 15-country membership of the UN Security Council.
The Security Council has all authority over international peace and security. Only it has the power to launch peacekeeping operations, to establish international sanctions and to authorize military action anywhere in the world. The key victors of World War II—the United States, France, England, Russia and China—are the only permanent members of the Security Council, and each has complete veto-wielding ability. The other 10 members are temporary and are elected to serve only two-year terms.
It was the first time Saudi Arabia had been elected to the Security Council and also the first time a country had rejected the position. Saudi Arabia cited two reasons for its unprecedented action. First, it argued that the power in the Security Council is undiplomatic, unrepresentative and, simply, unfair: Permanently providing each of five countries with complete veto action is not representative of the basis for a “United Nations.” Second, Saudi Arabia is protesting the delay and lack of decisive action regarding conflicts in the troubled Middle East, specifically in Syria and Egypt and between Israel and Palestine.
Perhaps the Saudis are right here. Maybe it is time for United Nations reform.
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu warns the world about Iran and lowers expectations for peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu doesn’t trust Iran. Last month, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, surprised the world by requesting peaceful relationships with the West. Rouhani insisted that Iran does not want nuclear weapons and offered to open his country up to United Nations inspectors.
While nuclear talks began in Geneva this week, Netanyahu reminded the world that nothing has changed in Iran. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the supreme leader of Iran—the Ayatollah has absolute power and, therefore, the final word on Iran’s nuclear program.
Further, Netanyahu has expressed little hope in the current round of renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Last week, he stated that the Palestinians are the root of the conflict and that, still, in this round of peace talks, they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Without that recognition, no peace or resolution is possible.
Will peace ever come to the Middle East?
History has proven that evil can lurk anywhere and breed terrible violence into any society. Just last week, another ill-fallen individual wreaked carnage upon the innocent—this time, close to the United States Capitol. A dozen lives were wiped away at the Washington Navy Yard by a crazed gunman.
And so, it should be no surprise that such acts can occur anywhere in the world. The massacre in Kenya is not an act of religion but rather one of wickedness by those seeking vengeance and attacking the purity of life. What makes this act most sinful is that these offenders claim to be acting on behalf of their religion. One could not be more blasphemous. No religion condones the taking of innocent lives, especially not Islam.
Qur’an, Al-Ma’idah, 5:33 If one kills the innocent, it shall be as if he has killed all of mankind. If one has saved them, it will be as if he saved all of mankind
The new Pope has proven he will walk a different path. Although the media reports that Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, is the first non-European Pope in history, he is actually the second. Pope Gelasius served in the fifth century and was from Carthage, now Tunisia, in Africa.
Regardless, in the past six months, Pope Francis has handled his pontiff role much differently than his predecessors did:
- He is less formal. On the night of his election, he took the bus back to his hotel.
- He lives a humble existence, choosing to reside in a small Vatican apartment for which he pays rent, rather than in the grandeur of the official papal residence.
- The evening before Good Friday, he visited a jail and kissed the feet of 12 prisoners, including two women and one Muslim.
- He has criticized his clergy, claiming some have become wolves rather than shepherds.
- He favors a wider and more active role for women in the church.
And last week, Pope Francis suggested that the Catholic Church has been too tough on issues of homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
The world has been changing at a rapid pace. Perhaps the time has arrived that the world’s largest Christian church, too, will follow suit.
Studies at an Israeli university have proven that Israeli teens exposed to Palestinian rocket attacks in southern Israel are more violent and vengeful in later life. This may be the root of the Palestinian conflict, as Israelis and Palestinians both seek out revenge for the spilled blood of family and close friends.
A rattled week in the Middle East: Israel/Palestine peace talks off to an unsteady start, massacre in Egypt, and Iran accelerating its nuclear program.
Just days before the Israeli and Palestinian peace talks started, Israel provoked the Palestinians with the announcement of 1,200 new Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The United Nations has deemed all Israeli settlement in the West Bank illegal, but Israel has been left alone to continue building there. In 40 years, more than a half-million Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank.
The same day the Israeli and Palestinian peace talks began, Egyptian security forces stormed deposed President Morsi supporters, bringing the death toll in Egypt’s crackdown to over 600 and the number injured to more than 4,000. Despite the bloody assault, supporters of the ousted president vowed only to strengthen their protest. Most of the supporters are with the fundamental Muslim Brotherhood and won’t back down, or easily forget.
Meanwhile, Israel claims that Iran is accelerating its nuclear weapon capability.
After six visits by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel and the West Bank over the past five months, he finally got both sides to agree to a resumption of peace talks. It will be the first such dialogue in over three years.
Israel seized the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Days War, and the Palestinians have been struggling for independence since. Without any doubt, this has been the pinnacle conflict in the Middle East through the past 46 years.
Tens of thousands of innocent lives have been wasted in suicide bombings, land mine explosions and rocket attacks. The United Nations has deemed the Israeli occupation of the West Bank illegal, and every U.S. presidential administration has attempted to resolve the conflict.
The key issues in the negotiations will be the following:
- Final borders between Israel and Palestine—land swaps will be necessary as more than a half-million Israelis live on 130 settlements throughout the West Bank
- The rightful return of four million Palestinian refugees
- The status of Jerusalem—both sides claim it to be their capital
- Guaranteed security of Israel