The horrible cycle of violence, occupation, and terror in the Middle East must be brought to an end. Every day, more Palestinians and Israelis lose their lives, and every day, many more are losing their hopes for a future of dignity, security and peace.
We call on Catholics in this nation to join with us in fervent prayer and greater advocacy for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As citizens, we urge our government to use every means to persuade leaders on both sides to turn away from actions which permit, incite or employ violence and to return to the search for peace based on mutual respect and equal justice for Palestinians and Israelis. Nothing is gained by demonizing one side or the other in this conflict. The human and moral imperative now is for a just peace based on understanding, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
It is clearer now than ever before that the status-quo is unacceptable. Israeli occupation cannot be sustained “militarily or morally” nor can the indiscriminate use of force in civilian areas. Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be tolerated * both because they are morally indefensible and because they undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. This deadly cycle of action and reaction, suicide bombing, and aggressive attacks must be ended.
As we said in our statement last June, sustained U.S. leadership, in cooperation with others in the international community, is required to encourage, persuade and insist that both parties take the steps necessary to end the violence, rapidly resolve the differences between them and begin to live in peace together. We must make clear that attacks on civilians must end, whether they are carried out in shopping malls by suicide bombers or in refugee camps by military units. We must insist that the parties embrace an immediate cease-fire and return to the arduous task of negotiating a just peace, without delay or pre-conditions. Only negotiation can lead to an end to violence and occupation, a secure state for Israel and a viable state for Palestinians.
We hope the return to the region of General Anthony Zinni, the encouraging proposals from Saudi Arabia, and elements of the Mitchell and Tenet reports can provide the basis for new and urgent diplomatic efforts to replace bloody conflict with serious dialogue based in respect for relevant UN resolutions, such as that just approved by the Security Council, and other provisions of international law. Real peace and security will not come from terror or tanks, but only from a determination to find the ways for both Israelis and Palestinians to live together with dignity, justice and peace.
We stand with the Church in the Holy Land, which has not escaped the violence, as evidenced by the damage inflicted on Bethlehem University, St. Joseph’s School, the Creche maternity clinic and other church institutions. We join with leaders of the Christian community in the Holy Land in their haunting question: “Is this the future that we all want for our children?” We share their conviction that “the key to a just peace is in the hands of both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. War, shelling, and destruction will not bring justice and security; rather, it will intensify hatred and bitterness.” We share their belief “that Israeli and Palestinian peoples are called to be partners in an historic peace.”
Speaking out of the tragic circumstances of this ongoing conflict, the Christian leaders of the Holy Land have said: “Our prayers for peace are more urgently needed than ever.” May Catholics throughout this nation join us in imploring God for justice, peace and reconciliation in the land we call “holy.”
May we heed the words of the Psalmist: “I will hear what God proclaims; for He proclaims peace to his people, and to his faithful ones, and to those who put in Him their hope” (Ps 85, 9).
* Note: General Anthony Zinni, the U.S. special envoy, is on a peace mission that, among other things, seeks to encourage the parties to implement a truce negotiated last June by CIA Director George Tenet and to implement detailed proposals for a return to negotiations issued last May by an international commission headed by George Mitchell. The Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has recently called for a peace settlement based on the establishment of a Palestinian State in the territories now occupied by Israel and normalization of relations between Arab governments and Israel.
Commenting through a national ecumenical coalition named Churches for Middle East Peace, the leaders made clear that the United States must use the resolution as a springboard to propose and implement clear-cut initiatives that will stop the violence, return both parties to negotiations, and end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Dennis Frado, U.N. representative for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said of the United Nations Security Council action, "This U.N. Security Council resolution breaks new ground because it is the first time the Council has gone on record specifically endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state. More importantly, it comes at a most critical time for all people of the region. Now, hopefully, the U.S. will support Council discussions of various peace initiatives such as that of the Saudi Crown Prince. The U.N. Security Council remains the best forum in which to fulfill and implement U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and bring an end to the conflict."
The church leaders, many of whom have been in close contact with Palestinian Christian churches in recent days, supported the U.N. resolution but warned that words must be followed by action if more senseless deaths are to be avoided. Father Drew Christiansen, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center and long-time adviser on Mideast affairs to the U.S. Catholic bishops, stated, "Every day our hearts weep at the suffering in Palestine and Israel. I pray that the U.N. action will lead both Israelis and Palestinians to a cessation of violence and an immediate return to negotiations within the framework of international law. Unless the occupation ends, no one can expect a ceasefire to last."
Father Christiansen continued, "I hope that just as Vice President Cheney condemned Palestinian violence, which we see as intolerable, he will by the same token make absolutely clear that Israel has to stop its killing of Palestinian civilians in their homes, withdraw its weaponry, and cede the territories to others - either to the Palestinians or to international authorities."
This theme was echoed by James Matlack, Washington office director for the American Friends Service Committee. After conferring with Quaker staff in the region, Matlack commented, "There is a desperate need to end the violence on all sides. The quickest and surest way to do so - the path that can lead to peace and security for all parties - is for Israel to commit itself and move promptly to end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Though the United Nations now calls for creation of a Palestinian state, the lands on which it would be created - and its people - are under daily and devastating Israeli assault. And sadly, these lethal attacks are often carried out using weapons and munitions supplied by the United States."
Churches for Middle East Peace has worked diligently for nearly two decades with policymakers in Washington to encourage steps that will produce a comprehensive and just peace. For American church leaders, the U.S. role remains key. Father Christiansen expressed relief at the opportunities offered by Zinni's visit: "I am hopeful that the U.S. is now declaring that it can not and will not sit on the sidelines and will instead pursue a solution within the United Nations. Though words alone will not cause the killings of Palestinians and Israelis to cease, the right words to the right people can go a long way toward making this happen. The special envoy must speak those words to both Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat. This deadly spiral must be ended now."
World Council of Churches Commission of the Churches on International
Geneva, 15 March 2002
Open letter to the member churches of the World Council of Churches, regional and national councils of churches and ecumenical partner organizations
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
We have all been watching with growing alarm as, hour by hour, the violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis intensifies. The killings, bombings and destruction continue to escalate in defiance of the repeated admonitions and appeals of the United Nations, of governments and of people around the world. Israel is rapidly re-occupying Palestinian lands by military force, raiding Palestinian refugee camps and engaging in mass indiscriminate detentions of civilian inhabitants under the most degrading circumstances. Attacks on medical and rescue staff, coupled with the severe new restrictions on access to hospitals and other medical facilities, add to the systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In his address to the United Nations Security Council on March 12, secretary general Kofi Annan emphasized the critical need to end the illegal occupation and the violence.
The WCC is receiving regular eye-witness reports from Palestinian church workers about invasions, occupation and major physical damage or destruction of church-related and internationally supported schools and other facilities. A number of statements and appeals have also come to us from the Middle East Council of Churches Department for Service to Palestinian Refugees (MECC/DSPR) and from other Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious groups and secular Palestinian and Israeli organizations, pleading for determined international action, including the deployment of UN monitors, to put a stop to the escalating violence and to address dire humanitarian needs.
The thirteen Patriarchs and Heads of Churches and Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a statement on March 9 (attached), expressing their deep distress at the increasing bloodshed, joining their voices with every Palestinian and Israeli seeking a just peace. Saying that "Israeli security is dependant on Palestinian freedom and justice," they call upon Israeli citizens and the Israeli government to "stop all kinds of destruction and death caused by the heavy Israeli weaponry, [for the] way the present Israeli government is dealing with the situation makes neither for security nor for a just peace". The church leaders also urge the Palestinian people to put "an end to every kind of violent response", reiterating that the way to peace is through negotiations. They appeal too, and in particular, to churches around the world to contact their respective governments to seek their active involvement in the quest for peace.
The WCC, Action by Churches Together (ACT), APRODEV (WCC-related development organisations in Europe) and the MECC/DSPR are all seeking to respond to the humanitarian crisis, and all need your help and support. Above all, however, an immediate common effort is required to break through the stagnation of the international community and to encourage action that corresponds to words. More than ever, we must hear and respond to the cries of the churches and bring them to the urgent attention of Christians, our communities, our media and our governments.
Our united message is clearly stated by the WCC Executive and Central Committees: the illegal occupation of Palestine must come to an end. It is at the root of the violence. Unless this is addressed, there can be little hope for a just and lasting peace. We therefore urge you to strengthen your efforts related to the 2002 focus of the Decade to Overcome Violence: "End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine".
The WCC has also initiated the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Through this, the Council is organising a continuing international ecumenical presence in Palestine to monitor and report on human rights violations, offer protection to individuals and communities, and accompany local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in their efforts of non-violent resistance to occupation, closures, and destruction of Palestinian homes and sources of livelihood. Some Christians and others are already in the area and have remained present through the current violence. It is hoped that others will join them soon. We urge you to contact your own national organizing bodies to offer participation or other forms of support.
In the present circumstances, however, this is not enough to provide the immediate protection needed. Thus we urge you to apply pressure on your governments to support proposals that have been brought to the UN Security Council, and encourage the rapid deployment of an intergovernmental monitoring body in Palestine.
The churches of Jerusalem have also asked for prayers for peace. The global fellowship of churches can join together in special prayer vigils and services of worship with the Christians of Palestine. A collection of prayers from the local churches has been published by the WCC for use on such occasions. These prayers and other materials related to the WCC initiatives are available at www.wcc-coe.org or by mail upon request.
We are not alone in our faith commitments to the peoples caught up in this tragic conflict. Thus wherever possible, we encourage you to engage in dialogue and common actions with your Jewish, Muslim and other neighbours who share a common longing for peace and justice.
This terrible tragedy of violence and injustice must end. To remain silent now can only be seen as complicity with the violence, the systematic abuses of human rights and the refusal, especially by the State of Israel, to abide by its obligations under international law. Now is the time for each one of us to speak out and act, fulfilling our Christian vocation as peacemakers.
Dwain C. Epps, Director
Commission of the Churches on International Affairs