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Religion Still Has the Right Words for Peace

It is not at all surprising that as The Baptist Times goes to press, the eyes of the world are fixed on Washington. It would be churlish – and foolish – to wish to deny Barack Obama his triumph, or to refuse to recognise the validity of the wave of emotion which has swept America because of it.

Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but they elected a black president, and one of surpassing charisma and competence.

Americans are, quite rightly, proud of themselves. In a convoluted process of mental adjustment, people who didn’t vote for him because he was black are now glad he was elected anyway. So racism receives its deadliest blow from the rapier of irony rather than the bludgeon of legislation.

He should enjoy the day while he can, for the stories and images coming out of Gaza are enough to take the shine off it for any president with ambitions for global leadership. There is a ceasefire, not a peace; Hamas regards itself as undefeated; Israel’s leadership is facing criticism for stopping too soon; the material damage to buildings and infrastructure runs into billions; the injuries are horrendous; the psychological trauma is unbearable, and the legacy of hatred incalculable.

Anyone who sees this war purely as a necessary evil, a surgical strike against a political cancer which will leave the wound neatly cauterised, should think again.

And on the other side, English graffiti left by Israeli soldiers in a house in Gaza reads: ‘Arabs need 2 die’, ‘Die you all’, ‘Make war, not peace’, ‘1 is down, 999 to go’ and – on the image of a gravestone – ‘Arabs 1948-2009′. Soldiers are soldiers the world over, and nuanced reflectiveness is not a survival characteristic in combat. But this is a truer indication of the real mindset of too many Israelis than any guarded interview or sanitised government press release.

The call therefore from peace activities such as Gene Stoltfus for reconciliation at the grassroots resonates all the more powerfully. To combat such deep-rooted hatred and rejectionism, a profound spiritual movement is needed, and far from being a cause of divisiveness – as it is perceived in this country – religion is the only power which has a language of the necessary depth and subtlety.

But without political action for justice, any talk of reconciliation is futile. We should pray that Barack Obama will be strong enough and wise enough to meet all the challenges ahead of him; the Israel/Palestine question is one of the greatest.

Rev. Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.