And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” —Genesis 4:8–10
The story of our human cruelty towards each other appears in the very first book of the Bible in the legendary first family, putting into writing the ancient reality of murderous animosity between brothers, a reality that still appears today, thousands of years later, between peoples and tribes around the world. No wonder we sometimes feel frustration and despair in the effort to seek reconciliation for ourselves or to help mediate it for others. There is so much blood crying out from the ground!
Nowhere is this animosity more vividly tragic than in the Holy Land—the part of the world that three great religious traditions hold sacred. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the deeply sacred with the equally deep profanity of violence between peoples that renders the circumstances in the Middle East so painful to behold, and so unbearable for those who must endure them.
In this issue we bring you the voices of several Friends whose lives and vocations have taken them into the midst of this land of conflict. Mary Ellen McNish, executive secretary of American Friends Service Committee, shares details of her recent trip to the Middle East with an interfaith delegation (p. 6). In an open letter written last December, Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Meeting, urges Friends to become more actively involved in searching for a just peace (p. 9). Colin South, director of the Friends Schools in Ramallah, and his wife Kathy share their immediate reactions to the murder of two Israeli soldiers and the retaliatory bombing of the police station where this took place, adjacent to the Friends Boys School (p.11). And Maia Carter, who has been living in the Middle East during the past year, shares her reflections on the current crisis in her Christmas letter to family and Friends back in the U.S.
Despite the extensive news coverage of the tensions in the Middle East, we believe that some of the facts reported here and the perspectives they represent are missing from the usual coverage we in the West receive. There is much blood crying from the ground, and grave injustices and atrocities on both sides of this struggle. As Friends, it is our tradition and our obligation to reach for understanding and pursue peace—not as partisans, but seeking that of God in all parties involved. It is easy to find that Inner Light in those with whom we agree or sympathize. How much more difficult it is to pursue that Light in those whose actions repel us—and yet how necessary. Is there any human alive not in need of forgiveness and redemption? Some, certainly, far more than others. But isn’t that the heart of peacemaking? To find our common humanity, to acknowledge our own failings, to seek forgiveness, make restitution when necessary, and then to embrace new understandings and new behaviors that can move us beyond our old animosities?
The ecumenical delegation that traveled to the Middle East came back convinced of the necessity of sharing the realities they witnessed. But in addition, they were convinced of the need to hold both Israelis and Palestinians daily in the Light. In the end, as we seek truth and pursue justice, our prayers for all who are caught in this struggle may be our most powerful contribution to its resolution.