The Common Good
May 2011

Holding On to Hope

by Julie Polter | May 2011

Six books on the ongoing search for peace and justice in the Middle East and beyond.

Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, by Mark Braverman. Synergy Books. Braverman describes his upbringing as immersed in Jewish history and culture that nurtured a lifelong love for Israel. A 2006 trip to the Holy Land, during which he witnessed the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and met Muslim, Christian, and Jewish peace activists, impelled him to take that love to another level and work full time on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Drawing on his career in clinical psychology and crisis management, Braverman asserts that the desire of many Christians to atone for centuries of institutionalized anti-Semitism works alongside the deep-seated desire of the Jewish people for security to undercut efforts to bring peace to Israel/Palestine. He insightfully discusses the distortions in the current conversation on the conflict and lifts up the teachings of the prophets and Jesus that should impel both Jews and Christians to work for justice for Palestinians.

Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology, by Gary M. Burge. Baker Academic. The nation of Israel and the land it occupies hold special significance for Christian Zionists, who see it as key to God's final plans for creation. Burge, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, counters this with a careful exploration of the theological role of land in the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. He develops a Christian theology of the relationship between land and our faith, and provides vital context for assessing the scripture-based claims and counterclaims made about the territory of Israel/Palestine as part of the current Middle East conflict.

Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, by Isobel Coleman. Random House. Coleman, director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, describes the rise of Islamic feminism and how it is a key element in grassroots efforts to lift the economic, political, and educational status of women around the globe. She outlines the role of Muslim women in transforming the societies of five of the most conservative countries in the Middle East (broadly defined): Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. This well-written blend of analysis and profiles of activists and educators challenges Western stereotypes of Muslim women, presenting a picture that is more real, complicated, and hopeful.

When Religion Becomes Lethal: The Explosive Mix of Politics and Religion in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by Charles Kimball. Jossey-Bass. Kimball, director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, advises both caution and hope when it comes to the role of religion in contemporary politics. He begins with a careful overview of how, in sacred text and history, religion and politics interact in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He then examines the constructive and destructive ways adherents of the faiths have interpreted and acted on their traditions in the public square, focusing specifically on Israel, the U.S., Iraq, and Iran. While religion often has indeed been lethal, he sees the potential for more peaceful ways forward within and between each tradition -- strands of flexibility and openness to pluralism that could defuse the combustible religion-politics mix.

Our Way to Fight: Israeli and Palestinian Activists for Peace, by Michael Riordon. Lawrence Hill Books. "Some want to fight by gun, but also there are people who want to fight by their intelligence, their talent," Mustafa Staiti, a 23-year-old Palestinian who teaches photography and film at the Freedom Theatre, in the Jenin refugee camp, tells Canadian writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Riordon. Riordon traveled extensively through Israel and occupied Palestine to meet Israelis, Palestinians, and others who have chosen to work for a just peace. From the founder of a Palestinian fair-trade olive oil company to Israeli draft resisters, from young teachers in refugee camps to Israeli elders documenting abuse of Palestinians at military checkpoints, Riordon tells the often hidden stories of those refusing to accept conflict as the only way forward.

Allah: A Christian Response, by Miroslav Volf. HarperOne. "The claim that Muslims and Christians worship radically different deities is good for fighting, but not for living together peacefully," writes Volf, a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. As "a committed Christian who embraces classical expressions of the Christian faith," Volf doesn't deny or dismiss some “important and ineradicable differences" between Christianity and Islam. But he builds the theological case that Christians and Muslims have "a common God" -- that while each faith may have different understandings of God, they both worship the one and only God and are called to the same "ultimate values." This thoughtful book spurs deeper reflection on the Christian faith and how it is to be lived out in the world.

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