Reflections on the Holidays and Conflict

29 March 2024
High Holidays and Conflict

This holiday weekend, for many of us, is dedicated to stories of suffering, resurrection, and forgiveness. We are reminded how our respective spiritual traditions and scriptures elevate the dignity of every living soul in the image of God, and that “vengeance is not ours.”

During this season of Ramadan, Easter, and Passover, the descendants of Abraham – millions of them – are massively suffering from an unholy war of terror and revenge in the Holy Land. Daily violence continues to escalate and spread in and outside Gaza, traumatizing innocent Muslims, Jews, and Christians for generations to come.

As the world’s largest grassroots interfaith network, URI is not a religious organization. We are non-political and non-partisan. That said, we are never neutral when it comes to violence. We oppose violence, war, and injustice everywhere, and work diligently to create safe spaces for healing, listening, and reconciliation.

I just returned from nearly three weeks in the region, meeting with grassroots partners and friends of all faiths, including Palestinians, Israelis, Emiratis, and Jordanians. Over the past days and weeks, we have heard the intensifying cries from members of our interfaith Cooperation Circles, who understand deeply, from firsthand experience, how violence inevitably creates more problems than it solves.

Our network of interfaith partners and friends are daily grieving the more than 30,000 Israeli and Palestinian lives lost and millions of civilians injured and displaced over the past five months since October 7th. These community voices are appealing for all parties to the conflict – from Israel and Hamas to Hezbollah, Houthis, Iran, the United States, Qatar, and Russia – to end this war, return all hostages to their families, and accelerate access to humanitarian assistance. Hundreds of CC members join in support.

URI is committed to ending all violence, especially religiously motivated violence. And we consistently and compassionately stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of all forms of violence.

Sound too simple? Well, it is, and it isn’t.

Near or far, we are reminded that violence is contagious. Every act of violence contributes to the further spread of violence geographically as well as intergenerationally. And without basic human security, humanity cannot flourish. Without psychological and physical safety, there can be no justice, peace, or much-needed healing.

With each passing day, risk of escalation, trauma, and anxiety are growing, as we fear this conflict spreading - harming, injuring, and displacing millions more civilians. The risk also grows for worst-case scenarios. An expansion of this war will increase the threat of the usage of new mass destruction weapons, including but not limited to the potential use of nuclear missiles, affecting the entire planet. The specter of moving from more than 30,000 to millions dead should force us all to consider the horrific consequences, fervently pray for mercy, and redouble our efforts to love and care for our neighbors.

We all know violence and war rarely resolve any underlying conflict, and innocent civilians are the most at risk to suffer. More than 80 percent of war casualties end up being innocent families, women, and children. 

We acknowledge the historical and religious significance of the Holy Land for many faith traditions. We also recall and rely on the inherently peaceful and compassionate nature of three Abrahamic religions, especially during this time of high holidays. We must work together to find once and for all a just and lasting peace that recognizes and honors the dignity and humanity of all Israelis and Palestinians, regardless of one's personal faith or beliefs.  

We continually remind our members, partners, and supporters worldwide that

violence is not inevitable. It is a choice, and it can be prevented. Each of us has a role to play in speaking up against hateful speech, and doing whatever we can locally, online, and regionally to stop the spread of violence.

On April 5, we will celebrate the UN International Day of Conscience – “Golden Rule Day” – when we are all encouraged to “Love Thy Neighbor” as a daily practice—a collective call for empathy in action.

Today, the world needs URI more than ever. Let’s arise.

April 5 – International Day of Conscience – Golden Rule Day – Love Thy Neighbor

The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of humankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people." Article 1 of the Declaration states that

"all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."