Opening address on “Is there hope for peace in Israel and Palestine?”, Tampere University 16 May 2024

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to follow a panel discussion on how Palestinian, Israeli and international civil society actors build solutions for just peace. Especially I wish to welcome our foreign guests and speakers, who will soon be introduced more closely by the moderator. I am happy to have you here in Tampere and am most curious to hear about your work for the peace in Israel and Palestine.

Following the daily news, we know that there currently is no peace. On the contrary, there is war and destruction in Gaza. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives in this latest phase of the conflict in the Holy Land that has been going on for decades. There is a burning need for justice and peace as well as for security. Many people both in Israel and Palestine are losing their hope for a safe future. What will the land be like tomorrow if justice, freedom, and human rights are not fully acknowledged and guaranteed?

People who live in the shadow of constant enmity only grow in suspicion and hatred against the other. Generation after generation continue to go from a retaliation to retaliation. This is a vicious circle that is very hard to break. What could be done – or is there anything to be done?

“Blessed are the Peacemakers”, says Jesus in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (5:9). It is one of the beatitudes Jesus proclaims in his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

This is an important Biblical passage and very much beloved by the Christians. To be a peacemaker makes you a child of God. But this is not a message to Christians only. It aligns also with the Jewish and Islamic teaching. In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 34 commands, “Strive for peace and promote it!” The Surah Al-Hujurat of the Qur’an says, “If two parties of the believers happen to fight, make peace between them.” (49:9)

These passages from the Holy writings underline peacemaking because it is the will of God. Justice and peace belong to the very being of God, hence no oppression or killing can be justified by faith in God. But to be a peacemaker is a task of all, no matter which faith one might confess, if any. All people share in the same common humanity and are partakers of the same human dignity and share the same calling.

Contrary to this beatitude proclaimed by Jesus, many effective and dangerous weapons have been named “peacemakers”. Firearms and bombers have been called with this name. Maybe the underlying thought is that threatening someone with a weapon makes him silent and too afraid to stand up, speak up, and oppose violence? Or, maybe making peace refers to silencing a whole people, destroying their homes, families, lives, and forcing them to an unjust peace? Or, maybe the thought is that by using most powerful weapons there will simply remain no longer any enemies in the end, and all war will be over?

The problem with peacemaking using arms is that it will only result in a temporary peace, armistice at the best. It will not take long before the fighting begins again. The experience of injustice leaves its mark, and the next generation will swear a retribution.

At the same time, western Europe is quickly boosting its arms industry to be able support Ukraine it its defense against the invading neighbor. I have no good solution for a just peace neither in Ukraine, nor in Israel and Palestine. Many international attempts have been made in co-operation with authorities of other states to bring peace. But they are not the only ones that can act for peace. In the panel discussion to follow, we shall hear about civil society actors’ efforts. Peacemaking begins with individuals who have found trust in the others through getting to know them as human beings and not as enemies or competitors. Even more than that, becoming peacemakers will help to recognize the others as children of God.