Women’s Division Calls for Broader View on Middle-East Conflicts
Press ReleaseDirectors of the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries called for increased awareness and analysis of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East in a five-point recommendation adopted during their annual meeting in Stamford, Conn., in October. Directors drafted the action after hearing the testimonies of a mission intern and a graduate student who were in Beirut, Lebanon, during the Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon hostilities this summer.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Dana E. Jones, 212-870-3755
The action urged United Methodist Women members to:
- Seek additional perspectives on Middle-East issues beyond those presented by mainstream media, especially during times of war. Resources for these perspectives may include Response; New World Outlook; mission studies of the Women's Division and United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries; and websites of the Women's Division, General Board of Global Ministries, and General Board of Church and Society.
- Critically evaluate justifications given by political, religious and other sectarian leaders for military attacks or declared war.
- Contact media outlets when reports on conflicts do not include the voices of all parties impacted by the hostilities, including civilians.
- Engage their elected representatives about the impact of conflict on women, children and youth of the Middle East.
Ryan Clayburn of Poteau First United Methodist Church in Poteau, Okla., is a mission intern of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries who was working with the World Christian Student Federation in Beirut, Lebanon, when the Israeli-Hezbollah-Lebanon war began last summer. Stephen McInerney of Southern Pines First Baptist Church in Southern Pines, N.C., had just returned to Beirut for graduate studies at American University when newscasts reported on Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. Both men said Beirut was a beautiful modern-day city before the bombing and lamented the devastating military attack on the country.
In their presentation to directors, they expressed concern that U.S. media coverage of the conflict did not give people an accurate understanding of the impact of the attack.
"A lot of people have an image that Beirut is always war-torn," Mr. McInerney said. "But for 16 years, there wasn't war, and that went mostly unnoticed in the United States. It wasn't in the news. So there wasn't an appreciation for what had happened because of the bombing."
Mr. McInerney said during the three years he lived in Beirut, there were violent incidents on the Israel-Lebanon border every several months. Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers made the news, but no one expected it would result in a war, he said.
"Everyone expected an Israeli response, but not the extent of it," Mr. McInerney said. "That evening I went out to dinner with a friend. Next morning I could hear a series of booms. I didn't know what they were. I thought maybe they were Israeli jets flying over Beirut as a show of force. I got up and found out Israel had bombed the Beirut airport. Everyone's response was, `Hezbollah doesn't use the commercial airport. What's that got to do with us?' The day before, they bombed out about a dozen bridges. Everyone was in shock."
To Mr. McInerney and his friends, discussions in Western media about whether Israel's response was excessive were farcical debates, he said. By the time Israel dropped flyers announcing the bombing and telling people to leave the city, the bombing had been under way for several days, he said.
"I got angry hearing Israeli news reports basically saying that anyone still there had bombs in their bedrooms or were supporting Hezbollah `because we told them to leave,'" he said. "It was blatantly false. I was so angry to not hear the Israeli prime minister called on that by any reporter. Leaving home is not an easy thing to do. There are Palestinians to the South who fled fighting in 1948 and haven't been able to go back to their homes since."
The destruction was devastating, Mr. McInerney said.
"It would be like if you took a 30-block area in Manhattan and knocked every building down," he said.
After seven days of the conflict, Mr. McInerney was evacuated to Cyprus on a Norwegian cargo ship. Once back in Boston, he eagerly talked to media, hoping to add a new perspective to what was being aired.
"I'd say all of these things about the atrocities, and then they would ask what kind of ship did you take out of Cyprus," he said. "I'd say, `A Norwegian cargo ship, and that's what would be played. Everything else would be cut out. I don't believe the United States could have supported Israel if U.S. media coverage wasn't so poor. Poor media coverage makes war atrocities possible."
As a mission intern, Mr. Clayburn was working for peace even before the most recent conflict began. He coordinated programs designed to build bridges between youth in religious communities in the region. In a program offered before the war, French and Lebanese, who are Christian and Muslim, focused on the theme "Religion: Sources of Peace or Violence."
"My job duties in Beirut focused on building a dialogue between Muslims and Christians," said Mr. Clayburn, who began his work in July 2005. "The war cut short programs we'd spent a year to plan."
Deciding to leave Lebanon when the bombing intensified was a difficult decision for Mr. Clayburn because it called on him to leave behind friends who could not leave the country. Leaving was also dangerous.
"The road that I took out of Lebanon was bombed four times behind me," he said. "I saw it on CNN when I finally reached a hotel room in Syria.
"When I left, I didn't know I was going to Syria. I thought was going into the mountains, where Christians had gone to escape persecution for centuries, but my Lebanese friend encouraged the driver to take us farther till we had passed Tripoli. The driver said, `I have two sons now,' and took us to the border. I wonder if he made it back."