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Professor examines Middle East conflict

Becky Hogan | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The only way to achieve harmony in the world is to first secure peace in the Middle East, according to Father David Burrell, professor of philosophy and theology, who advocated this stance in a lecture Tuesday entitled “Peacemaking in the Holy Land: Political Islam.”

Burrell insisted that the conflicts that afflict the Holy Land must be understood in terms of the relationships among Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“Any bipolar relationship gets stuck,” Burrell said when referring to the conflicts between Judaism and Christianity. Burrell explained that Islam is the third member of this seemingly bipolar relationship that has caused religious and political strife in the Middle East throughout the last century.

Throughout the lecture, Burrell referred to key historical events that have escalated this conflict. He also explained that, although the conflict in the Holy Land today is partially a religious conflict, it did not begin as such.

“The conflict began with two peoples occupying one small piece of land,” he said.

Describing both Palestinian and Israeli society as “fractured,” Burrell said the major distinction between these two societies is that the Israeli people believe the Holy Land belongs to them, while Palestinians believe that they “belong to the land.” In order to overcome this disparity, Burrell said Palestinians must develop as “civil society.”

Burrell also said it is essential for anyone who examines this conflict to be able to differentiate between “good religious groups” and “bad religious groups.”

“Good religious groups,” Burrell said, “work for reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

Burrell also noted that secular groups could also be instrumental in bringing peace to the region.

Additionally, Burrell focused on the violence and unrest that occurred in the Gaza Strip this summer, which has escalated the already heated conflict.

“The Israeli response [to Palestinian attacks] was to destroy electrical generators and this was a totally disproportionate response,” Burrell said. Also, in delaying the cease-fire agreements in this region and using untargeted weapons, Burrell said, the Israeli response to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah was disproportionate.

Burrell argued that the United States as well as Lebanon is at fault for creating a “major divide” between the western world and the Middle East due to their involvement in the recent conflicts. However, he said the American presence is extremely important in bringing peace to the Middle East.

To move forward in this conflict, Burrell said he thinks nongovernmental organizations will be essential in bringing greater awareness to the situation. He also argued that peace requires Israeli cooperation and continued dialogue.

“If Israelis make it more possible for Palestinians to develop an infrastructure […], more progress can be made towards a two-state solution,” he said.

During his 25 years in Jerusalem, Burrell has worked with the Ecumenical Center for Theological Studies in Tantur to help build peace in this troubled region.