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Archbishops speaks with young people in Israel about reconciliation

Friday 12th May 2017

Archbishop Justin Welby spoke about reconciliation with Jewish and Arab young people at the Peres Centre for Peace in Jaffa, Tel Aviv.

On the final day of his 10-day visit to the Holy Land, the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday spoke about reconciliation with Jewish and Arab young people.

At an event at the Peres Centre for Peace in Jaffa, which was founded by the late former Israeli president Shimon Peres, the Archbishop spent time in conversation with the young mixed audience about peace and reconciliation.

The event was chaired by the son of Shimon Peres, Chemi Peres.

Read a transcript of Archbishop Justin’s opening remarks at the event:

“I was very struck by what Mr Peres said about the world we’re moving into, and it fits into much of what we’ve been thinking recently, particularly around the need for values.

What I want to do is say is a very short bit of history, and little bit about what I’ve been doing over the last 10 days here in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and finally a couple of what I hope are provocative and possibly annoying remarks about reconciliation and peace. And then spend most of the time in conversation, if you’re happy with that.

A little bit of background. I was in the oil industry before I was ordained, and in 2002 I was a parish priest in the middle of England, near Coventry. The Bishop of Coventry sent for me, which is always very worrying if you’re just a junior priest, and he said: “I’ve got a job for you. I want you to go to Coventry Cathedral and help run the international ministry of reconciliation there.

He said there’s good news and bad news: you’ll have to spend up to two weeks a month in war zones – and we can’t pay you. And my wife said that was such a crazy offer it could only be God so we’d better do it. So we did it. [Laughter]

On 14th November 1940, the city of Coventry was very heavily bombed. The first of the series of crushing air raids in England in the Second World War. The Cathedral was hit and it burnt to the ground, and the person who was in charge of the Cathedral committed it to be a place of reconciliation. On Christmas Day 1940, six weeks later, he spoke on the BBC – in the depths of the war – and he said, “After the war, we must build a new and more Christ-like world,” which is built on peace and reconciliation.

When the medieval beams of the Cathedral had burned, the nails had all dropped out. And someone had gathered up the hundreds and thousands of nails, and the symbols of the rebuilt cathedral in 1962 became a cross of nails. So this symbol of torture, of crucifixion, became a symbol of reconciliation and peace. Coventry now has 200 centres of reconciliation around the world. So I spent five years on that.

The last 10 days have been extraordinary. It’s the longest official trip I’ve done, by a long way. I’m very grateful to the British Embassy in Tel Aviv and to the Consul General and his team in Jerusalem.

We’ve had almost 80 meetings in those 10 days. We’ve gone all over the place, from the Galilee right the way down to Hebron. We spent a morning spent in Gaza last week, visiting the two Anglican hospitals run by my dear friend, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil Dawani. The Anglican Diocese here is very heavily involved in humanitarian work and educational work. So we went there together, we visited the Greek Orthodox bishop. There was violence going on, there were extremist groups going around with flags flying and heavily armed.

Then we went to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, and then we came out.

And you know as well as I do that the absolute poverty and difficulty and agony… and listening to some of the ordinary people we met in the hospital, groups of women speaking of the need not only for peace but also of liberation for women within their own context, very, very courageously. An extraordinary thing.

After that we went straight up to a kibbutz overlooking Gaza, which has seven seconds warning from when a rocket launches from Gaza until it hits. So there are bomb shelters everywhere. It’s within the Green Line. It’s been there quite a long time. One of the leaders showed us around. And the contrast there was really striking.

We went around the West Bank – in Bethlehem and Beit Jala. We were down in Hebron yesterday. We were up in the Galilee. We had a Shabbat dinner in Kibbutz Lavie, and we listen to a women who was 95, who was talking about Germany in the late 1930s and 1940s, and coming here in 1948. She spoke of her experience of starting with a bare hill and building. It was just extraordinary.

But we heard the other voices too. We heard the voices in Hebron. We heard the voices of Palestinians. We’ve spent a lot of time listening.

So that’s what we’ve been doing over the last 10 days, and I’ll draw a couple of conclusions in a minute. But I want to say that one of the things I feel very or strongly is that, as someone said to last week, if you come here for two weeks you feel you really understand the country – but if you come here for two years you know that you don’t know anything. [Laughter]

I’ve been here numerous times before, as has my wife, we first came here together in 1979. So we know we don’t know anything. I’m not going to read lectures – that would be so arrogant and presumptuous. So questions are fine, but don’t expect me to tell you what to do. I just think that would be so arrogant.

And then a couple of thoughts, which I hope will relate to some of the things here.

Reconciliation and peace are almost unachievable in any post-conflict society, or in any society in the depths of conflict. I’ve been working on this – as have some of my colleagues, with more experience – for many, many years. There are places where you can get calm – the avoidance of violent conflict. 

You can begin the process of reconciliation, in which you transform violent conflict to non-violent disagreement. But reconciliation – the point at which the idea of resorting to violence to deal with disagreement, diversity and difference, is unimaginable – that is something that very few societies achieve.

There are a number of rules – and I was very struck, being shown around building, that no two parts are the same. The complexity of the architecture speaks of this. The first rule is that whatever you do, do not simplify complexity. You have to embrace complexity. Whether it’s in Burundi, where we’ve worked. Or in Northern Ireland. You cannot say, “Well, it’s between them and them, and if we do this it answers all the questions.”

Reconciliation is not made by peace agreements. They may initiate it, but as John Paul Lederach, one of the great writers on reconciliation, has said, every year of conflict needs a year of reconciliation work.

Well, how long have there been struggles in this region? Actually I’m much more pessimistic. I think that each week of conflict needs a year of reconciliation work. Because once you’ve killed someone… their brother, their sister, their mother, their father, their children, their friends, they tell their children: “You can’t trust them, they killed my friend.” And it goes on down the generations.

Reconciliation is the point at which violence is unimaginable. One example, an astonishing one that is often overlooked, is that in Europe after 1945. Well over 10 million people were killed in Europe between 1914 and 1945. Four million were killed simply between the British and the Germans, let alone the other people on both sides.

And yet there, there has been a measure of reconciliation. We hate each other on the football field, but in most other places we behave in a relatively civilised manner. That’s because it’s become unimaginable to do anything else.

The one thing I want to say about this area to finish, having said that we have to embrace complexity in conflict, is that we have to be willing to spend years at this. Reconciliation is a mixture of event – which gives momentum – and patient work, which brings the change of hearts deep down. And that it’s almost unknown in our world today, even in places that have reached some kind of peace.

The last thing, relating back to here, which I’ve said publicly over the last 10 days. The one thing that is most obvious here is the desperate, desperate need for peace. Particularly the minority communities suffer most when there is not peace.

And peace doesn’t just mean no outright major wars like those going on in Iraq and Syria. It means a place where people can travel and move and relax, and are secure and safe and can be sure their children will be safe, and their grandchildren will be safe. And that when your kids go out in the evening and they’re not back by midnight, or whatever it is, you’re not thinking has something happened to them, something violent. You’re thinking, “Why are they disobeying my curfew?” That kind of thing.

I think that need has been borne in on me more and more deeply. The poor are the ones who suffer in times of conflict more than anyone else.”



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