'Promised Land' Conference Gives Fresh Perspective on Israel-Palestine Conflict

The World Council of Church's "Promised Land" conference has thrown up fresh theological perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Church leaders and theologians from around the world left last weekend's conference with a better understanding of the question of land in the Bible, in theology and in the conflict, the WCC said.

In a final document, "The Bern Perspective," delegates agreed that the Bible "must not be utilized to justify oppression or supply simplistic commentary on contemporary events."

It goes on to state that Christians should differentiate between biblical history and biblical stories as well as the Israel of the Bible and the modern state of Israel.

"Let us continue to critically and creatively examine notions of the 'Promised Land,' rediscovering in the Bible and in our traditions life-giving metaphors for promoting justice, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness for the fullness of the earth and all its inhabitants," the document states.

Delegates at the conference heard different perspectives on the concept of the "Promised Land" from nine panel discussions.

Some of the participants said their views had been changed by "constructive confrontation" during the conference, hosted by the Swiss Protestant Federation and Reformed Churches from Bern, Jura and Solothurn.

In a communiqué, the host churches said: "Concrete contributions to the discussions from Palestinian Christians helped to significantly change approaches to the issues."

"In the controversial and at times passionate debates a constructive sensitivity to the central themes developed," they further stated.

Conference delegates agreed that Christians in Palestine-Israel could make positive contributions to the process of healing that has taken place between Jews and Christians in Europe and North America, and raised the possibility of beginning similar dialogues with Muslims.

The conference ended with an ecumenical service in which Palestinian theologian Fr. Jamal Khader highlighted the importance of peace in Jerusalem, describing it as the home of the world's three major religions.

"Peace begins in Jerusalem and shines forth into the world from there," he said.

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