Convivencia: A Just Peace in Palestine – Jewish Perspectives

This was the second in a series of four webinars organised by the Convivencia Alliance which took place in January 2023.

The four distinguished speakers were:

Ronnie Kasrils, Cape Town
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, London
Prof. Daniel Boyarin, San Francisco
Prof. Haim Bresheeth-Zabner, London

The webinar was chaired by Dr. Les Levdow, London

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Glory to God in the Lowest: Dr Donald Wagner

This is a truly inspirational story of how a young conservative white evangelical Christian became a passionate life-long campaigner for Palestinian rights. 

The book reveals the heavy price Don has paid for his commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation. Don clearly stands in the subversive but non-violent tradition of Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella. 

I simply could not put this book down. It is a compelling, detailed, eye-witness commentary on the unfolding tragedy of Palestine over the past 40 years. It is also a searing indictment of the failure of the West, tragically with the complicity of the Church, to hold Israel accountable to its obligations under international law and repeated UN Resolutions. 

Don does not mince his words, describing Zionism for what it has become, a “brutal Israeli Apartheid-settler colonial regime.” p. 20.

At the same time, the book records the pioneering role Don and others have played in galvanising mainstream Western Christian engagement in the Middle East and in particular, advocating for, and partnering with, Palestinian Christians. 

I have known Don personally for over 25 years and it has been a privilege to accompany him on several significant journeys to Palestine. Indeed, his early writings were the inspiration for my own PhD which examined the history, theology and politics of Christian Zionism. 

Although I am confident this book will sell many copies, I am sure that what matters more to Don will be the extent to which readers are motivated to engage in the struggle for truth, justice and peace. For this is also a practical book. It is a call to action, indeed, a ‘Cry for Hope’. In the concluding chapters Don helpfully draws attention to numerous resources and initiatives which will enable readers to advocate and connect with fellow Christians in Palestine.  

There are so many excellent quotes. I’ll restrain myself to one: “Palestine becomes at once a metaphor and a living reality of a people rising from the ashes of defeat to claim what is rightfully theirs – justice and only justice.” p. 20.

After serving for five years as a pastor in a remarkable Black church, Donald Wagner comes to fully understand the original sin of racism. As his journey continues, he encounters another marginalised people the Palestinians and witnesses their struggle for justice and equality. Touched by their resilience and fight against injustice, he leaves the pastorate to assume full time work as an advocate for Palestinian political and human rights.

The memoir begins in mid-September 1982, with a gut-wrenching day interviewing survivors of the Sabra-Shatila massacre in Lebanon, as they wept and waited for the bodies of family members to be pulled from the rubble. Donald Wagner’s conversation with the local Imam ended with a challenge: You must return home and tell what you have seen. This is all we ask. Go back and tell the truth.” Glory To God in the Lowest is a metaphor for his counter intuitive journey with the victims of the “chosen people” in the “unholy land”.

I am sure I am not alone in acknowledging a deep debt of gratitude to Don for his unflinching example of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Faithwashing: How interfaith groups are being used to undermine Palestinian rights

‘Faithwashing’ refers to the use of interfaith relationships and alliances to deny Palestinian human rights and silence criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is centred on the idea that at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is centuries-old religious differences as opposed to a settler colonial project that continues to dispossess and disenfranchise Palestinians.

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Archbishop Mouneer Anis on the Centre for Christian Muslim Understanding and Partnership

An interview with Archbishop Mouneer Anis, First Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Alexandria, about the launch of the Centre for Christian Muslim Understanding and Partnership at All Saints Cathedral in Cairo this week. The vision is to promote peace and harmony between faith communities through more understanding of faiths, cultures and through working together for the common good.

The Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt played an important role in the drafting of the interfaith agreement between the Anglican Communion and Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, signed in 2002 at Lambeth Palace in London. Since then, the Diocese and Al-Azhar have worked together on many community projects through Egypt, and have arranged and participated in an annual dialogue meeting.

The Centre for Christian-Muslim Understanding and Partnership was established in order to bring these projects together in one organisation, in order to further develop and resource this vital work in the future. The idea for such a centre was developed and supported by the Anglican Archbishop of Alexandria, the Most Rev. Dr. Samy Fawzy Shehata, and His Eminence, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al-Tayyeb. Archbishop Samy then asked Archbishop Emeritus Mouneer Anis to develop the centre and serve as its first director.

See also Egypt’s Anglicans Offer Challenge to Intolerance

When Peacemaking is Controversial

Earlier this year the Charity Commission notified our trustees of ‘regulatory concerns’, presumably arising from a complaint, questioning whether some articles on the Peacemaker Trust website, were ‘in line with the advancement of the Christian religion or promotion of religious harmony’

The trustees responded by pointing out that the Church of England, and many other Christian denominations, define ‘the advancement of the Christian religion’ in terms of the ‘Five Marks of Mission’These include the aim of seeking “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” 

The trustees emphasized that “We understand our charitable purposes in these terms and seek to be catalysts for peacemaking, especially where minorities are persecuted, where justice is denied, human rights are suppressed or reconciliation is needed.”

They referred to a quote by John Stott found on our website

“The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice – and so the pain – of the cross.” 

They concluded that “Dr Sizer’s stance in challenging racism, segregation and apartheid, based on non-violence and international law, is intended to advance an orthodox presentation of the Christian religion and promote religious harmony, by supporting justice, peace and reconciliation. This, in the opinion of the trustees, clearly falls within our charitable purposes.”

The trustees are grateful that the Charity Commission responded:

Thank you for the comprehensive response you have provided to our letter; the Commission are satisfied with the assurances provided by The Trustees and no further engagement is needed.”

Convivencia: Interfaith Coexistence

Convivencia simply means ‘coexistence’. It is an academic hypothesis, first proposed by the Spanish philologist Américo Castro, regarding the coexistence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities during the period of Spanish history from the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the early eighth century until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

By extension the term can describe the contemporary religious and cultural interaction and exchange fostered by such proximity as a way to challenge the various forms of ethno-supremacism and exclusive religious nationalisms emerging in different parts of the world. 

Professor Haim Bresheeth has written a short introductory article on Convivencia published by Faith Initiative.

The Executive Summary may be viewed on the website of the Jewish Network for Palestine.

In June 2021, The Jewish Network for Palestine invited me to give a short presentation on Convivencia at their annual meeting. JNP have written a significant document on Convivencia to be launched in the Spring, in liaison with Muslim and Christian organisations.

Ramy Taleb – Director of the Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon

We are delighted to commend the the work of the Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon.

“FFRL is a locally led, diverse community of peace-seekers working primarily with the emerging generation in Lebanon. We support young people in Lebanon by caring for their emotional, physical, social and spiritual well-being, with the aim of empowering them as young leaders for peace as they take up their various roles and responsibilities in society, so as to strengthen social cohesion and build a path towards a more peaceful future in Lebanon.”

In this short interview Ramy talks about some of FFRL’s exciting projects. To find out more visit their website

Jewish Network for Palestine: Convivencia

The Jewish Network for Palestine recently invited me to give a short presentation on ‘Convivencia’ or coexistence at their 2021 annual meeting.

Convivencia simply means ‘coexistence’. It is an academic hypothesis, first proposed by the Spanish philologist Américo Castro, regarding the coexistence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities during the period of Spanish history from the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the early eighth century until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

By extension the term can describe the contemporary religious and cultural interaction and exchange fostered by such proximity as a way to challenge the various forms of ethno-supremacism and exclusive religious nationalisms emerging in different parts of the world.