Although they had disagreed about the war to get Iraq out of Kuwait, U.S. Jewish and mainline Christian leaders have joined in pressing for an Arab-Israeli accord and in aiding the harried Kurds.
As the religious groups hoisted a mounting stream of relief to the displaced Kurds, supplementing U.S. supplies, concerted backing came for renewed efforts for Arab-Israeli peace.An unusual joint statement by leaders of the National Council of Churches and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations said they saw "new opportunities for peace in the region."
Although they had held "divergent opinions regarding the Persian Gulf crisis" - (mainline church leaders opposed the use of force and Jewish leaders supported it) - they said many issues "bind us together powerfully."
These, they said, include grief for the war's civilian deaths, the bereaved, the economic dislocations, the thousands made homeless. Both Christian and Jewish groups dispatched help in goods and funds.
Regarding a solution to the long, smouldering Mideast hostility in which most Arab countries have been in a state of declared war against Israel for 42 years, the Jewish-Christian appeal said:
"We pray that the Palestinian people will be able soon to enter into earnest negotiations for peace," that they "be afforded the opportunity to freely and responsibly choose their representatives" and "be assured of their full human rights."
U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III has been pressing for Arab-Israeli talks, making little headway so far.
The plight of the Kurds, whose origins reach back to biblical times, got growing assistance both from government and religious agencies.
Yet their ordeal intensified, with the United Nations estimating up to 800,000 refugees along the Iraq-Turkey border, and another million seeking asylum in Iran. Estimated deaths of refugees was doubled to 2,000 daily.
The history of the Kurds stretches back 4,000 years in a region once known as Mesopotamia. A close-knit, fervently independent tribal people, they possibly descended from the Medes of the Old Testament, whose empire fell in 550 B.C.
Darius, Median king of Persia in the time of the prophet Daniel, may have been a Kurd. At one time, many Kurds followed a Persian form of Zoroastrianism. Most now are Sunni Muslims, converted to Islam in the seventh century.
They lost control of their homeland, Kurdistan, when it was carved up after World War I among Turkey, northeastern Iraq and northwestern Iran (formerly Persia). Forces of Iraq's Saddam Hussein crushed the Kurds' latest struggle for independence, driving their families into the mountains to hunger and freezing temperatures.
An ancient Kurdish axiom goes, "The Kurds have no friends."
Most church relief agencies, including Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Services and Catholic Near East Welfare Association, were rounding up funds and supplies for the displaced multitudes. Other help came from the Mennonites, a Jewish relief organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptists.