Sunday, February 06, 2005

NCC Delegation to the Middle East Issues Its Statement: Barriers Do Not Bring Freedom


Barriers Do Not Bring Freedom

For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)

As a delegation of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, we traveled across the Middle East from Beirut to Cairo to Bethlehem to Jerusalem over the past two weeks, from January 21-February 4, 2005 on a mission of peace. Our journey coincided with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Middle East Council of Churches and individual partner churches have graciously hosted our delegation. We are grateful to God for the witness to Christ made by the living churches of the Middle East from which we descend. We affirm the whole earth is God’s holy land, though of course the land of Israel and Palestine holds particular importance for us, for it is the land of the Prophets and Our Savior. We also affirm that God’s children are called to seek justice, to break down the walls that separate them, and to live side by side in peace.

Especially for the sake of the children, we have hope that peace remains possible and a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine can be reached. But for many of us this was our saddest journey to the Holy Land. Facts on the ground make time of the utmost essence. We posed a question to those with whom we met: “Is there a new window of opportunity for peace?” Our conclusion is that a sliver of hope for peace does exist, but we feel strongly the moment must be seized now or the future will remain dim. As American church leaders, we urge our government to take balanced, strategic action now.

Our word is one of alarm and worry. Current policies promise more war, death, and destruction. We are deeply concerned for all people in the region whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of other faiths. There are far too many disturbing realities to give us confidence. Not only should people everywhere insist on and act for peace in the Middle East, they must also pray fervently for the peace of Jerusalem.

We believe that American Christians must see themselves as bridge-builders for peace and must not abandon or forget all God’s children of the Middle East. We heard many pleas from our Christian sisters and brothers to raise our voices and work for a just, enduring, and comprehensive peace. The rapid disappearance of the Christian presence in the Holy Land and, indeed, the entire region due to emigration is alarming and can only be reversed if conditions are changed for all the peoples of the Middle East. The Christian community in the Middle East is a living church, not simply the custodian of sacred places for others to visit. We pledged to them we will redouble our efforts for an end of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and for an end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

We met with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders as well as with a wide variety of missionaries, intellectuals, and political officials including those of Israel, Palestine, and the United States. Dialogue and understanding between all faith communities is not an academic exercise in the Middle East; it is absolutely necessary for survival. We must all work for a change of heart and a change of mind that leads toward reconciliation and harmony. We confess that the life of every human being is sacred and that the violent death of anyone is tragic.

Our delegation was in the region at a momentous time: the beginning of President Bush’s second term in office; the election of a new Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his moves to demilitarize the militants; Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s opening move to disengage from Gaza; the continued building of Israel’s Separation Barrier; the killing of a 10-year old Palestinian girl in the Gaza; the exposure of Israel’s decision to invoke the Absentee Law which has the effect of confiscating Palestinian land in East Jerusalem; elections in Iraq; and the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

We reaffirm our strong support for Israel and for its right to live in peace and security. Israel has suffered from a long series of suicide bombings, which we find reprehensible. Our support of Israel goes back many years, as does our support for justice for the Palestinian people. Our itinerary included a visit to Yad Vashem, where we honored the victims of Auschwitz and other victims of the Holocaust. We met with victims of terror and other representatives of a wide spectrum of the Jewish community.

We understand that the Separation Barrier is being built as a deterrent against attacks on Israel. However, we learned 85% of Israel’s Separation Barrier is being built on Palestinian land. Much of this is to include West Bank settlements within the Barrier. Quite simply, these settlements should never have been built and must be removed. Like any other nation, Israel has the right to build a Barrier; however one people’s barrier should not be built on the land of another people. We call for the removal of the Separation Barrier from Palestinian territory.

We personally witnessed the devastating effects of the Barrier. Because it is being built not on the 1967 Green Line but primarily on Palestinian land, parents are separated from children, husbands from wives, farmers from their land, patients from hospitals, workers from employers, and local Christians from the holy sites. Palestinian leaders long ago accepted a two-state solution giving Palestine 22% of the territory that once comprised Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Now, the 22% has shrunk considerably due to the so-called “natural growth” of Israeli settlements and a vast strategic network of roads, highways and tunnels open only to Israeli settlers, police, and the military. Palestinians, like people everywhere, must have freedom of movement. Palestinian land is increasingly being chopped into tiny cantons making the possibility of a sustainable Palestinian state unachievable.

Israel has established hundreds upon hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks, and gates across the Occupied Territories making daily life and travel extremely difficult for ordinary Palestinians. Palestinians and Israelis are trapped in a cycle of violence. The crushing burden of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory contributes to deep anger and violent resistance, which contributes to fear throughout Israeli society. Israelis told us of a hardening of the Israeli soul against Palestinians, and Palestinians told us of the desperation they feel under Israel’s collective punishment. Normal life has ceased. At least half of the Palestinian people live in poverty. We were distressed to learn too many Israelis have little or no knowledge of the human rights abuses experienced by Palestinians.

Our delegation witnessed several of the many instances of harassment and humiliation visited daily upon Palestinian people. Stereotypes of all Palestinians as terrorists must be broken, and Palestinians must understand that many Israelis also want a just peace. Presently, a “lethal dialogue” is underway between extremists on all sides. This must be transformed into a peaceful dialogue. While every leader we met – Christian, Jewish, Muslim – condemned violence, it is clear the overriding problem is Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territory.

We are authentic friends of Israel and we have a vision of peace and security. We are not blind in our support and reserve the right to question the actions even of our friends. We believe genuine negotiations and not unilateral action can avoid unimaginable violence in the future.

We urge President Bush to send a credible special envoy to assist in negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Strong, genuinely constructive US action can hasten peace. We ask Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice upon her visit to Israel this weekend to touch the wall and feel the pain it causes.

We ask the international community to invest in Palestinian projects and businesses. We learned of the pressing need for aid to flow to Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem, in addition to other occupied territories.

We will invite Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas, at the time of their next visits to the United States, to meet with ecumenical leaders as partners in peacemaking.

We call on American Christians to contact the President of the United States and their Members of Congress to insist U.S. policy be balanced toward both Israel and Palestine.

Middle East churches have a vital role to play as bridge builders and peacemakers. We pledge our solidarity with them as part of the One Body of Christ and we will look for ways to lift up their presence and needs within our churches.

We affirm and endorse the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program which assists Palestinians and Israelis in their everyday lives and urge our member communions to support and participate in this program. We urge people of faith and others in the U.S. and from around the world to visit the Middle East and better understand the situation for themselves.

As people of faith, we affirm life. When ancient olive trees are uprooted from the soil in which they were planted, when access to water is denied, when children’s futures are threatened, this does not lead to life in this world as intended by God. Join us in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem and in seeking justice for all people of the Middle East.

The National Council of Churches is composed of 36 member national denominations, which collectively represent 45 million people in 130,000 congregations.

Members of the delegation are:

*Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, President of the NCCCUSA;

*Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the NCCCUSA;

*Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Armenian Orthodox Church of America, Secretary of the NCCCUSA;

*Dr. Sylvia Campbell, Alliance of Baptists, NCCCUSA Justice and Advocacy Commission;

*Rev. Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Vice-President of the NCCCUSA;

*Rev. SeungKoo Choi, General Secretary, Korean Presbyterian Church in America;

*Bishop C. Christopher Epting, Episcopal Church;

*Ms. Ann E. Hafften, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;

*Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Disciples of Christ, NCCCUSA Justice and Advocacy Commission Chair;

*Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, Greek Orthodox Church, Associate General Secretary of the NCCCUSA;

*Mr. Jim Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.


Contact information:

National Council of Churches USA, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115 USA
Phone: 212-870-2025; Fax: 212-870-2817; Email:


Blogger Pete said...

When did Transjordan stop being part of the original Palestine? I thought that the Kingdom of Jordan was part of the original Palestine until the early 1920's? If I am correct than Jordan represents 76% of the original Palestine and the Israels and Palestinians are fighting over the remaining 24%. Jewish and Palestinian land? Who determinies that objective truth? Your posting seems to suggest that there is an objective truth to ownership of that land. Wasn't Jesus born in Bethelhem? Wasn't he Jewish and isn't that Arab West Bank land according to your terms? How could that be??? Was he a settler living on an illegal settlement on the West Bank? I'm not arguing for Israel to keep the West Bank but you must clear your heads from your politically correct propaganda. shame on you.

February 15, 2005 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

When did Transjordan stop being part of the original Palestine? I thought that the Kingdom of Jordan was part of the original Palestine until the early 1920's? If I am correct than Jordan represents 76% of the original Palestine and the Israels and Palestinians are fighting over the remaining 24%. Jewish and Palestinian land? Who determinies that objective truth? Your posting seems to suggest that there is an objective truth to ownership of that land. Wasn't Jesus born in Bethelhem? Wasn't he Jewish and isn't that Arab West Bank land according to your terms? How could that be??? Was he a settler living on an illegal settlement on the West Bank? I'm not arguing for Israel to keep the West Bank but you must clear your heads from your politically correct propaganda. shame on you.

February 15, 2005 at 8:08 AM  
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Blogger Lloyd Kraus said...

How to Make Peace in the Middle East

I believe that anyone who wants to talk about peace in the middle east has to first have read the Old Testament, New Testament and the Qu'ran. It only makes sense to figure out a solution for peace that answers what the other side is fighting for . . . What the 911 terrorists, Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghani insurgents are fighting for or defending against? What is their political and religious agenda.

The political and religious solution for Israel is for Israel to agree to the following Peace Agreement. Yes, both the Jewish Orthodox and the Islamic fundamentalist could agree to the following peace terms based on defending their land:

The borders of Israel shall basically be her pre-1967 borders. ("basically" could mean behind her new security wall; "basically" could include the very large Israeli settlements; "basically" could mean Israel can still call Jerusalem their capitol).

The borders of Palestine shall basically be Gaza and the West Bank.

The Old City of Jerusalem shall be sacred land with equal rights to those who honor the faith of Abraham. Israel agrees to recognize the Dome of the Rock as a shrine to Abraham. The rights of Israel and Palestine to have their capitol buildings located outside the walled city of Jerusalem shall not be infringed. (Practically, the municipal issues affecting Jerusalem should remain the same, both sides get to call Jerusalem their capitol, the Dome of the Rock is recognized as a shrine - because if Jewish Fundamentalists ever try to re-built Solomon's Temple on the same land - an immediate war would follow. Perhaps all three religions could take steps to recognize their similar beliefs.

Palestinians living within the borders of Israel shall be Palestinian-Israeli Citizens. Jewish people living within the borders of Palestine, Syria (Golan Heights) and Lebanon (Shebaa Farms) shall be Jewish citizens of those countries. Citizens of each country agree to respect their nation's sovereignty over private, public, political, military, criminal and civil issues, as well as the actions and decisions of each sovereign government. Dual citizenship shall be allowed, but citizens will be obligated to respect the sovereignty of the countries within whose borders they reside. (No one is required to leave the land that they are currently living in. Jewish people would be allowed to remain in the West Bank - Judea and Samaria - thus not violating the Creator's Land Promise to Abraham and the Jewish people. Note: Why are over a million Palestinians within the land of Israel basically at Peace in Israel - because they are given citizenship and land rights within the State of Israel - now can the opposite take place?)

The rights of Palestinians to emigrate to Israel, and the rights of Jewish people to emigrate to the West Bank shall be equal. (Note: "equal" has to be mutually agreed. This right address both the Creator's promise to the Jewish People to live in the West Bank - Judea and Samria; and this also addresses the 1948 land issue where 700,000 Palestinians lost their right to live within the land of Israel.)

Each state and its citizens shall respect the rights of the current occupants, including current water usage rights across international borders.

Israel, Lebanon and Syria agree to unconditionally forgive any and all past political, military, economic, property, civil, criminal, private and public claims and differences wrought between each nation and its citizens. This unconditional amnesty shall be both resolute and forthright. Land Restitution for the Palestinians shall be addressed voluntarily.
Israel shall demilitarize from the occupied territories when the UN Security Council shall unanimously agree that hostilities against Israel have ceased. The occupied territories shall thereafter remain demilitarized by all parties. (After peace becomes real, stops, Israel is expected to relax its security system. Without eventual Israeli demilitarization from the occupied territories, there will be outstanding Land Issues that will give rise to terrorism.)

Does anyone in the American or Israeli government know that every Prophet and story in the Qu'ran is about an Israelite in the Old or New Testament.

"Moses said to his people: O my people! Remember the bounty of God upon you when He bestowed prophets upon you, and made you kings and gave you that which had not been given to anyone before you amongst the nations. O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has written for you, and do not turn tail, otherwise you will be losers." (Qur'an Chapter 5, verse 21)
Does anyone in the American or Israeli government know that Muslims go to Mecca to pay homage to Abraham. Does anyone in the Israeli government know that every Muslim knows that they believe in the same Creator as the Jewish people. Does anyone in the American government know that every Muslim knows that Jesus was the Messiah - and will come back as the Messiah.

Of course, there is a lot of propaganda that makes the other side the terrorists; but almost all wars are about terror against civilians: When we firebombed the civilians in Japan in World War II; when we B-52 blanked-bombed Hanoi to bring them to the Peace Treaty; when we had a balance of terror vis-a-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War (our missiles were aimed at the civilian city centers); when Israel returns missile fire from the Gazan's with a Tank projectile - that is terrorism too. We didn't terrorize the Japanese or Vietnamese or Russians because we wanted to blow up innocent civilians - we did so because of our political agenda.

The political and religious solution for the Middle East have to be based about what the three Bibles have to say to each group about Land.

What were the Crusades about . . . to plant the Christian flag in the Holy Land. What is America's Christian support of Israel based on . . . partly the same reason; and the return of the Messiah.

The right wing military solution, or Vietnam solution, is not even remotely the answer. What 911 and Iraq have in common is the power and strength of the suicide-bomber. Our government never planned for the "suicide" element of 911; nor did they plan for the "suicide" element after "mission accomplished." But, what do the "suicider's" fight for. They like all soldiers; yes, soldiers, fight for, and defend, Land. All wars are caused over conflicts over Land. The suiciders are simply defending their land.

Also, there is a lot of propaganda about 70 Virgins. All Muslims are taught when they go to heaven (grandmothers, school teachers, children. . . all Muslims) get served at the "waiting gates to heaven" by 70 Virgins - not 70 Virgins to sleep with - It does say, though, basically better to die defending your land than to submit yourself as a slave - the same thing Pancho Villa basically said.). Again, people should read all three books before they can address what the other side is really thinking.

Perhaps if the Jewish and Muslim People actually read the New Testament they could learn something too.

With todays "military responders" and ignorant "political solutioners" in power, the situation for Israel and America may get worse.

Does America or Israel really have to give up their hegemony or power? NO!

For Peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, America will have to withdraw all their military forces from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan; America will also have to foster peace instead of military solutions for Israel - and Israel will have to do the same. Once we do this, the reason for these Middle East Wars will end.

By Lloyd Kraus

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