Liechty helped launch first college peace program in Israel
While others were stuck in front of the television watching college football bowl games the first week of January, football fan and chair of the peace, justice and conflict studies department Joe Liechty was assisting in a pioneering peace initiative in a land where people have been battling for centuries.
Liechty and colleagues David R. Brubaker from Eastern Mennonite University and Gordon Matties from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg, were at Mar Elias College in Galilee the first week of January to help develop what will be the first undergraduate college peace program in Israel.
Glenn Witmer, a Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker in Israel, and Mar Elias Peace Center director Marie Loller have spearheaded the planning efforts. Witmer calls the region a “laboratory for peace studies” to which Mennonites have been invited to help experiment.
Elias Chacour founded the college, located in Ibillin in northern Israel, 24 years ago. He is a Melkite Catholic priest and a Palestinian-born Arab-Israeli who has long worked for reconciliation among the Holy Land’s conflicting religious and ethnic groups.
The student body includes Christians, Jews, Muslims and Druze. A peace center affiliated with the school was started in 1994, but Mar Elias now aspires to become Galilee’s “university of peace.”
“I find it so exemplary that a community of Palestinian Christians in Israel should be that intent on peace,” Liechty said. “Anything you can do to support that you should do.”
During the meetings, the three Mennonites joined two scholars from Australia and one from Ireland as consultants to a Mar Elias committee working on the peace studies program.
Liechty noted that most academic peace studies programs are spin-offs from programs such as international relations, but that’s not the case at Goshen, EMU and CMU. “In Mennonite institutions, peace studies is applied Christology,” he said. “From what I know of Elias Chacour, he believes that too.”