Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lutheran Council Calls for Cooperation with Palestinian Leaders, End to Blockade

March 29, 2007

LWF Council Calls for Cooperation with Palestinian Leaders, End to Blockade

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) called on the international community to cooperate with the new Palestinian government and to end an international economic blockade. The council asked LWF members to pray on Thursday of Holy Week (April 5) for Christians in the Middle East.

The council also "affirmed that the core problem in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, if not solved, is a threat to peace not only in the Middle East but throughout the world."

The LWF governing body stated its position while approving recommendations from its Program Committee for International Affairs and Human Rights at the conclusion of the council's March 20-27 meeting in Lund, Sweden. The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, LWF president and presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, chaired the council meeting.

The meeting coincided with events to mark the 60th anniversary of the LWF in the city where it was established in 1947. The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition, with 140 member churches in 78 countries throughout the world, representing nearly 66.7 million Christians. It is based in Geneva.

"We welcome the fact that a Palestinian government of national unity has been established and stress the LWF Council's expectation that the new government will respect all previous agreements concerning or relevant to the search for peace in the region. We call on the international community to cooperate with the new Palestinian government and to end the international economic blockade in order to restore the health, education and welfare situation of the Palestinian people and the infrastructure of the Palestinian Territories," according to the March 26 council action.

The LWF governing body called "upon the State of Israel to comply with international humanitarian law and United Nations' resolutions concerning the occupation of the Palestinian Territories." It called for an international conference to be convened to resolve the long-standing issues between the parties, such as the status of Jerusalem, the return of refugees, settlements, borders and water resources.

The council noted the planned ecumenical commemorations, under the leadership of the heads of the local churches in Jerusalem, in June 2007 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

"We call for actions by the international community to end the illegal occupation and for the LWF member churches to join ecumenical coalitions for that purpose, such as the World Council of Churches'-initiated international week of action to end the occupation June 3-9, 2007."

"We welcome the initiative to create an interfaith Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, as a sign of shared commitment to building mutual trust and understanding among the faith communities and their peoples, and to call for this Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land to work to build peace among the two nations, and that it become a reference group for Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in any future negotiations," the council action said.

The LWF Council commended to the LWF member churches "The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism" issued by the heads of churches in Jerusalem in August 2006. []

"We express deep concern about the continued emigration of Christians from Palestine and the entire Middle East, and call on the LWF member churches to pray on Maundy Thursday (Thursday of Holy Week, April 5) for Christians in the Middle East and for their continued presence and ministry in the region in accordance with the call from the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC)," the council's action said.

The council reiterated the LWF's continued support to its member church -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land -- "in its struggle to be a witness for peace and justice in the region through its educational, ecumenical and interfaith activities."


*This report on the LWF Council meeting was supplied by Lutheran World Information, Geneva.

Information about the LWF and the LWF Council meeting in Lund, Sweden, is at on the Web.

ELCA News:
ELCA News Blog:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Interfaith Peace-Builders Delegation to Israel and Palestine

Interfaith Peace-Builders -
March 2007
Delegation to Israel/Palestine

*Photos now online at:
*Reports also posted online at:

Report One: A Thousand Experiences Settling
March 19-22, 2007: Jerusalem and the West Bank

Nobody is lining up to give me easy answers

It’s hard to believe we’ve only been here since Monday night. These three days have been a whirlwind of information and conflicting emotions. I had thought I would be able to write more specifically, but I need to let a thousand experiences settle.

Actually it’s not that I have heard much that I didn’t already know, but hearing stories first hand and seeing things for myself is a very different ball game. I was prepared for the separation wall to be depressing, but not for the degree to which it is also bizarre. It really does carve Palestinian communities into ghettos where children can’t get to school, farmers can’t get to their fields, sick people can’t get to hospital. We drove around one small town where we passed 4 or 5 checkpoints and drove for miles to get from one man’s home to that of his brother who lived “next door.”

On another occasion we visited Daher’s Vineyard where we met a remarkable Palestinian man named Daoud Nasser. His family has owned the land since 1916 and has papers proving it from both the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, and still he is involved in an ongoing court battle in Israel about the ownership of the land. In every direction around him you can see Israeli settlements built on the land appropriated from Palestinians. He is not allowed to make any renovations or even basic improvements to his land without an impossible-to-obtain permit. Among other structures slated for demolition by the Israelis, due to lack of a permit, are a flagstone patio and a tin roof he has erected to shelter his goats.

And yet Daoud is full of hope. He recognizes that each side in the conflict has a story to tell and human rights that need to be met. He organizes activities with Palestinian youth to keep them on a positive path. He has welcomed settlers to his home, just asking them to come without their guns. The day after our visit he was serving lunch to a group of 45 rabbis.

Visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, today, I was thinking a lot about how Israel was built with so much hope and on top of so much pain. I’ve started asking people we meet with if they can see a way that Israel can continue to be a Jewish homeland and still have full justice for Palestinians. Nobody is lining up to give me easy answers.

On a more positive note I had a wonderful time the other morning doing fabric self portraits with grade 4 Jewish and Palestinian children at the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, one of the very few bicultural schools in Israel.

--Elizabeth Shefrin

Deepening Questions

This is our third full day in Israel and Palestine, and while I feel like I’ve learned a lot already, I also feel like I have more questions than I did before. Part of me wants to try to figure out a way to compare the relationship of the Palestinians and the Israelis to that of other cases of difficulty in human relations so that I can more easily explain what is going on to others who haven’t been here in a way that they will more readily be able to understand.

Is this situation similar to that of the American Indians, as many of the Palestinians’ land has been taken away, and they have been forced to live on a very small percentage of the land that they formerly called their own?

Is it like apartheid was in South Africa, as the Palestinians must be ready to produce ID cards at a moment’s notice?

Is it like the Jim Crow era in the United States, where the schools are segregated by race or national origin?

Could this situation become like that of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, where core centers of the Muslim population were separated?

No doubt that many who settled in this area were persecuted or understandably feared persecution. But,

Are the policies of the Israeli government actually making most Israelis better off in the long run?

Is it the security wall that is under construction that has decreased the number of suicide bombings, or are there other factors at play?

Will the cost of the security harm the Israeli economy to such a degree that it undermines the Israeli economy?

Will the Israeli security policies wear down the Palestinians to the point that they will no longer protest inequitable treatment?

Although I certainly do not expect that I will miraculously find the answers to all of the questions in the next 10 days, I certainly hope to gain some information, background and insight that will help me as I puzzle through these and other questions.

--Denise Rathman

The Word Dies. . .

I am sitting out in the beautiful garden of St. George’s College –an Anglican house of study maintained for the purpose of experiential theological study and creativity in the “Holy Lands”. You just need to walk into the dining room and you meet interesting people with interesting stories and creative ideas.

Our experience has been well scheduled but packed. Mostly introductions to the situation and visits to meet Israelis and Palestinians so that we better can comprehend. Each day’s agenda builds on the previous ones. A very well put together experience.

Although only half way through our third full day, my thoughts and emotions are running wild, unchecked and on top of each other (it is hard to separate head from heart in this land). The gamut could not be broader--from disbelief, to rage, to extreme sorrow, to tears, to despair, to hope, to energy and anticipation for my after-trip activity, to wonder, to amazement, to calm, to not wanting to be calm, to tears, to thinking I have found the perfect place for our retirement group, to wanting to stay, to not wanting to wait to do something, to more tears, to ideas about how to use this for the classroom and public speaking, to tears, all with a remarkable peace I don’t think I have experienced much before. When times are the hardest I just look at our delegation leader, Lisa, and she smiles and tilts her head as if somehow she knows what is going on inside me and is letting me know that someone else feels the same.

Writing to you folks now is probably best described by a quote from one of the Holocaust survivors I found on our visit to the Israeli Holocaust Museum. “The word dies whenever reality demands absolute domain.” Still, I must try. I think I will start with the most impactful events of the last two days. I will tell you of Katarina and Daoud (David).

“If you understand what’s going on, you have to get involved. Of course, you can choose not to understand.”

No you can’t. What I saw and learned today brings new meaning to the idea of teaching by showing. Most Americans know the words but have no idea what they mean –at least I didn’t really comprehend. Our experience began with a meeting with a lovely young woman, half Columbian and half Belgian, who followed her Israeli boyfriend here only about one year ago.

Katarina, from a group titled Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) - - spoke of the Israeli Matrix of Control that intends, in her words, to “strangle the Palestinian population.” The matrix was assembled after the Oslo Accord and consists of three interacting parts:

1. Zones
2. The highway system
3. Settlement blocks


As part of the Oslo process, Palestinian land in the West Bank was divided into three zones, or areas:

--Zone “C” is land is under full Israeli security control and Israeli civil administration. This zone includes Israeli settlements, military bases and bypass roads (see more below), as well as an undeveloped buffer for “expansion” around these areas.

--Zone “B” lands are under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil administration and are generally smaller Palestinian communities in the countryside.

--Zone “A” includes primarily all the Palestinian cities and major built up population centers. Zone “A” is theoretically under Palestinian security control and civil administration but, since 2000, has experienced regular Israeli incursions.


In order to provide Israelis with a means of transportation between the settlements and Israel proper and to provide a means of swift protective response on behalf of the settlers (who are living in the West Bank illegally according to international law), Israel began the construction of highways throughout the West Bank. These highways are most often four lanes and take the most direct route between point A and point B. For instance, upon our arrival we left Ben-Gurion Airport on Highway 1 and then along 443 that took us directly to E. Jerusalem in about 20 minutes (without traffic). The highway is Israeli owned, Israeli built, Israeli maintained, and available only for cars with Israeli license plates or non-Israeli cars that have been granted special transportation permits. Part of this highway runs through Zone “C” areas of the West Bank and is “protected” by a concrete barrier on both sides of the highway. Strategically, that is not enough so 60 meters on either side of the highway are dug out. An electrical fence topped with barbed wire is in place at the end of the 60 meters.

As I mentioned, this highway is available only to Israelis. Of course, taking the straightest route means that some established Palestinian roads are cut through and blocked off. Some Palestinian towns are cut in half as well. Eventually the Israelis will get around to tunneling under their highway for the Palestinians to use. As one Palestinian put it, “Soon the Arabs will only be able to travel underground.”

Because these highways are restricted to Israeli cars, they must be monitored, thus surveillance cameras and checkpoints are put in place. If a Palestinian is found using the highway without proper permits and papers they can be detained and arrested at the discretion of the checkpoint soldiers. Of course, to get a permit, you must travel to the Israeli civil authority in the nearest Israeli settlement and apply for the permit, but the road that you would use has been blocked by the highway and no tunnel has been built yet. I hope you’re starting to get the picture. We were taken on an excursion that demonstrated the reality of this situation. The word dies when reality demands absolute domain.


The settlements of which I spoke, are illegal under the Geneva Convention and have recently been condemned as such by the International Court of Justice. Israel claims it has a plan of disengagement from the West Bank but the settlements keep growing. It is illegal for Palestinians to be inside one of the settlements–unless you’re hired at one-half minimum wage to help with the building of the settlement or for work in one of the industrial zones connected to the settlements.

I know the idea of a settlement harkens different images for different people. For these settlements, think of blocks and blocks of high-rise condos with swimming pools – real resort communities. Two settlements become part of one larger settlement, and two get connected with three, and three with four, and soon you have a circle of settlements around, what is, Palestinian owned land. The Palestinians on that land find themselves on an island inside an Israeli settlement. The law says they cannot be inside a settlement so they must abandon family homes and farms held for hundreds of years or be arrested, or worse. Hopefully, you are starting to understand. Pictures help and I will have plenty when I return. (Also, see the IFPB website,, where several pictures have all ready been posted).

I asked Katarina, if she came to this area following her Israeli boyfriend, how did she get involved in ICAHD. Her response was short and to the point, “Once you understand what is really going on you must get involved –of course, you can chose not to understand.” When I asked Katarina what she would say if she could say anything to Americans? Her response was shorter and to the point, “Stop paying for the wall.”

The U.S. sends at least $2.5 Billion in foreign aid to Israel each year for security. It seems that the majority of the money does not leave the U.S. because there is a proviso in the aid package that states that Israel shall only purchase the security equipment from the U.S. –how do you think so many Caterpillar tractors and bulldozers and heavy cranes, etc. got over here for use in building the wall? Not to mention arms and munitions used by the troops and checkpoint guards – an M16 slung over each guard’s shoulder.

“It’s my country, isn’t it”

Daoud is a young Palestinian born in the United Arab Emirates. He works with a Palestinian organization called Stop the Wall. Daoud is a bright, university educated young man. He took his time explaining to us, as one who lives in the Matrix of Control, what the wall really means. Let me sum up with this statistic, the border, as established after the 1947-9 war is approximately 190 miles in length. The planned route of the “security fence” is between 440 and 480 mi (depending on what happens in Jerusalem)–more than double the internationally recognized border. The extra length is caused by the wall’s frequent incursions into and throughout the West Bank.

All this at a cost of $2.5 million per kilometer when staffed. If built as planned, between 10% and 14% of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel (depending on the route of the wall in some neighborhoods around Jerusalem). Daoud gave us another interpretation of disengagement, stating that Israel says it will permit 20,000 Palestinian homes to be built between 2005 and 2025. At the same time, parts of municipal budgets reflect money to demolish 15,000 Palestinian homes by 2020.

Daoud took us around to places where the wall has split neighborhoods, split extended families living next to each other, separated parents from children, children from schools, and laborers from their work sites and home owners from electricity and water.

When asked about the role of nonviolent resistance in this struggle to stop the wall, he responded by saying, “I don’t like that word non-violence. This must stop and non-violence implies that we have given in.” OK, what about the place of unarmed resistance?

"I can talk about unarmed resistance, but when you are staring down the barrel of an M16, or tear gas, or rubber bullets, or a tank or I don't know what, and you are unarmed, what do you gain?"

I cried.

--Phil Schervish

Join a delegation to Israel and Palestine
IFPB upcoming delegation dates:
May 26 - June 9, 2007
July 28 - August 11, 2007
October 27 - November 10, 2007

Interfaith Peace-Builders
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Washington, DC 20001

phone: 202.244.0821

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pastor Russ Siler writes from Jerusalem

Pastor Russ Siler, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City - - writes...

From Jerusalem # 36
15 March 2007

Way back in 2003 as I was preparing to begin this ministry in Jerusalem, I remember so many friends and acquaintances saying to me, "Well, we're counting on you to bring peace over there." I'd grin and say something like, "If it happens while I'm there, you can bet I'll take credit for it!" It was our way of putting a smile on the continuing, grim countenance of fear and conflict.

Reality soon set in, however, and I quickly realized how low a priority peace with justice is apparently given by the community of nations of which we are all a part. Economic prosperity, a yearning for isolation characterized by "What can I do!" or "I'm sorry, but that's not my problem." along with those approaches loosely termed "national interests" all outrank peace with justice in our lists of international values. Yet I find that individuals and groups all over the world do value justice, especially for so many who are in such dire circumstances. It is these people who hold the keys to a lasting peace in this small, but vital piece of the Middle East—a peace which will bring security and freedom from fear for Israelis and the coveted right of self-determination for Palestinians. I know them, because they write me and tell me, and when they come here, they travel into the West Bank and see and hear for themselves.

Our small congregation here at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem's Old City welcomes many, many visitors to the Holy Land. They are received not only in our worship services, but also in our work and social settings. Just about all of us feel a great obligation to share with them the news, the opinions, and the real faces of the suffering they are not hearing or seeing from other sources. We pray for them, and we pray with them. These are some of our fervent prayers.

We pray that Israel, the United States, and the rest of the international community will truly give peace a chance by removing the roadblocks thrown in its path. Anyone who is following developments here in even a casual way will be aware that there have been three "conditions" placed before the new Palestinian government. Nations are righteously proclaiming that they will not deal with the government until these demands are met.

The first of these is the need for the new Palestinian government to "…recognize Israel's right to exist." This is not even a legal question; it is a philosophical one. We can pose arguments and counter-arguments until the proverbial "cows come home," but until the parties can sit together and present their fears, wishes, needs, and desires, no progress will be made. The United States and Israel have both sat down in the past with those they regarded as bitter enemies. They sat at the table in attempts to find the ways they could live together. They found they could not bully or batter their opponents into acceding to their point of view before they talked. They could, however, join with them in finding paths, albeit at times tortuous and circuitous, to a sustainable peace characterized by mutual respect.

The second demand is that the Palestinian government renounce violence. Our prayer is that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority will renounce violence as a means to achieve their respective goals and aims. The longer I live in this world, and especially in this land, the more I grow convinced that violence begets only violence and enmity in return. Neither Israel, nor the Palestinians, nor my country enters the conversation concerning violence with innocence, much less with "clean hands."

The third demand is that the democratically-elected Palestinian government agree to abide by all previous agreements with Israel. Many people here share that hope. The progress of past efforts needs to be incorporated into the progress of the present. We who pray simply add the fervent desire that this would be a requirement for both sides. Israel has agreed before to cease the expansion of its illegal settlement activity in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the building of homes for Israeli settlers on Palestinian land has not only continued, it has actually picked up speed in the wake of signed agreements such as the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. Palestinians must live up to their agreements and commitments, but to this point the international community [read the United States] has yet to press the nation of Israel to live up to its promises. Such inequities serve only to impede the quest for peace with justice.

My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [], has an on-going effort known as the World Hunger Appeal []. It raises in the neighborhood of $16-17 Million each year for relief, development and capacity building among the world’s poorest and most oppressed peoples. Some of that money finds its way into this corner of the world. It is my prayer that, along with these funds, the ELCA will send a clear message to those individuals and nations who are trying desperately to manage and steer the peace process: Let there be no more double standards! Then both sides will—maybe, just maybe—begin to see faint rays of hope struggling over the dark horizon.

These are our prayers as we prepare in hope to celebrate the light of a new Easter dawn!

Russell O. Siler, Pastor
English-speaking Congregation
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Jerusalem, Old City

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Easiest Targets - The Israeli Policy of Strip Searching Women and Children

If Americans Knew Investigation: "The Easiest Targets" - The Israeli Policy of Strip Searching Women and Children

Just published in CounterPunch:

If Americans Knew:

13-minute video on this topic, "The Easiest Targets," has just been released. View it online:
Order a DVD:

Israeli officials have been regularly strip-searching children for decades - some of them American citizens.

While organizations that focus on Israel-Palestine have long been aware that Israeli border officials regularly strip search men and women, If Americans Knew appears to be the first organization that has specifically investigated the policy of strip searching women. In the course of its investigation, If Americans Knew was astonished to learn that Israeli officials have also been strip searching young girls - as young as seven and below.

According to interviews with women in the United States, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli border officials periodically force Christian and Muslim females of all ages to remove their clothing and submit to searches. In some cases the children are then "felt" by Israeli officials.

Sometimes mothers and children are strip-searched together, at other times little girls are taken from their parents and strip-searched alone. Women are required to remove sanitary napkins, sometimes with small daughters at their side. Sometimes women are strip searched in the presence of their young sons.

All report deep feelings of humiliation. Many describe weeping at the degradation they felt.

"I remember crying and pleading with my mother," Gaza journalist Laila El-Haddad recalls of an experience when she was 12-years-old, hoping that her mother could convince the Israeli official to allow her to keep her undershirt on. But parents are unable to shield their children, El-Haddad and others report.

"They had machine guns," El-Haddad explains. "We just had to submit." El-Haddad, who holds a Masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, believes that the intention of the strip searches is to humiliate Palestinians so that they won't return to Palestine.

Oregon attorney Hala Gores remembers being strip-searched at the age of 10. Her family, Palestinian Christians from Nazareth, were leaving Israel because of Israeli discrimination against Christians. Gores has never returned to her family's ancestral home in Nazareth, she says, in part because she does not want to repeat the experience of having no control over what is done to her.

The Israeli policy appears to target only Christian and Muslim children, and is equally applied to those with Israeli citizenship and citizenship in other countries, including native-born Americans. There are no reports of Jewish children being strip-searched.

New Jersey stand-up comedian Maysoon Zayid describes being strip-searched at Ben Gurion Airport when she was "seven, eight, nine years old" on family trips to visit her parents' original home in Palestine. On her most recent trip in July 2006, Maysoon, an American citizen, had her sanitary pad taken by officials in Ben Gurion Airport. When the search was completed, she says, the Israeli official in charge, Inbal Sharon, then refused to return her pad or allow her to get another.

Zayid, who has cerebral palsy and was sitting in a wheelchair, was then forced to bleed publicly for hours while she waited for her flight.

Zayid, a former class president and yearbook editor at New Jersey's Cliffside Park High School known for her irreverent comedy routines and strong personality, describes sobbing uncontrollably. "No one spoke up," she remembers. "There were several women, including the woman who was pushing my wheelchair, none of whom said a word."

When she boarded her flight, Zayid recalls, "The flight attendants looked at me in disgust." She told them what had happened, and the attendants then gave her some of their own clothing to use.

In addition to taking her sanitary napkin, Israeli officials also confiscated medication that Zayid is required to take when flying. As a result, she vomited repeatedly throughout the 12-hour flight.

Zayid, who founded a program for newly disabled Palestinian youths - many of them permanently disabled from attacks by Israeli forces - was so depressed by her treatment that she determined never to return. "But that's what they want," she says, "They want us to get to the point where we don't go back." She says that she is already planning to return to her volunteer work in the West Bank.

Israeli practices vary and seem to be applied randomly, from elderly women to small children. In some instances women are taken into a room alone and are left sitting naked for hours. At other times they are strip-searched in groups, their clothes thrown in a pile. When they are finally allowed to get dressed, they describe having to rummage through the heap of clothing, naked and barefoot, to find their own garments.

Jewish Holocaust Survivor

While these policies largely target Palestinian and Palestinian-American women and children, some non-Palestinian Americans also report being subjected to strip searches by Israeli officials.

St. Louis resident Hedy Epstein, whose parents and extended family perished in Nazi camps, and whose story is featured in the Academy Award winning documentary "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport," reports being strip searched three years ago following her participation in nonviolent protests in the West Bank. Epstein, who was 79 at the time, describes being forced to bend over for an Israeli official to search her internally.

The strip searches appear to be illegal under numerous statutes. The Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory, prohibit: "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" and specifically emphasize: "Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour…"

Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: "No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy…"

In the US, such policies would appear to violate child abuse statutes. The state of Utah, for example, defines Child Abuse as: "Any form of cruelty to a child's physical, moral or mental well-being." The Encarta Encyclopedia defines child abuse as "Intentional acts that result in physical or emotional harm to children."

While the If Americans Knew investigation focused on practices concerning women and girls, many interviewees reported frequent random strip-searching of males as well - including American citizens, children, and the elderly.

While the practice is widely applied, many people find it too humiliating to speak of. One 68-year-old Christian businessman, who had been stripped naked at Ben Gurion airport in 2006 before being allowed to board his flight to return home, had never revealed his experience to his family until he learned of the If Americans Knew investigation. He then explained to his daughter why he had previously told her that he might never return to his original home, now in the state of Israel.

Christians, a thriving community that made up approximately 15 percent of Palestine's population before Zionist immigration and the creation of Israel (Muslims were 80 percent and Jews 5 percent), have now dwindled under Israeli occupation to approximately two percent of the total population.

Israeli spokespeople and sympathizers have bristled in recent months at the title of a book by former President Jimmy Carter, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid." In reply, Carter has emphasized that the Israeli "apartheid" he is describing is limited to the West Bank and Gaza. Many analysts have disagreed with Carter, providing evidence of pervasive discrimination within Israel itself. The If Americans Knew finding that Israel has been routinely strip-searching non-Jewish citizens of Israel would also indicate a wider policy of Israeli discrimination.

Since American taxpayers give Israel over $8 million per day, the Council for the National Interest, a Washington DC-based lobbying organization, is organizing a campaign to call on Congress to demand that Israel end these policies.

"We are extremely upset to learn that Israel is using American tax money in ways that degrade and humiliate women and children," says CNI President Eugene Bird. "We call on American women - on all Americans - to help us on this campaign."

The organization urges people to begin contacting their Congressional representatives immediately, and to disseminate the video report "The Easiest Targets" by If Americans Knew as widely as possible.

Watch "The Easiest Targets" online:

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We have set the suggested price for the DVD as low as possible so that this information will be disseminated widely to the American public. Since we can't count on the media to give this issue the coverage it deserves, we all need to do this ourselvesl! Please consider ordering 5 or more (at only $2 apiece) to distribute in your community.

Thank you for helping us tell people the facts on Palestine!

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Comment: Israel's policy keeps Mideast conflict alive

Opinion piece published in San Antonio

San Antonio Express News

Comment: Israel's policy keeps Mideast conflict alive

Jacob Nammar
Special to the Express-News

Palestinian Christians are on their last breath in the Holy Land.

This was the overwhelming conclusion of more than 300 international religious leaders and scholars recently at an impressive conference in Cleveland. The conference was co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council for Peace in the Middle East and Sabeel, a voice for Palestinian Christians.

How would the 1 billion world Christians feel about the systematic removal of their brothers and sisters from the Holy Land? Would it matter to them that the holy cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are becoming primarily Jewish cities? And would it be acceptable to reduce Christianity in the Holy Land to basically a caretaker function for empty churches, museums and holy shrines?

As chairman of Palestinians for Peace and Democracy, I had the privilege to participate in this conference and screen our San Antonio-produced film "The Iron Wall," which documents the illegal Jewish settlements and the wall's deep encroachment into the West Bank. Former President Jimmy Carter endorsed this award-winning film in his recent book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who opened the sold-out conference via video, eloquently set forth the analogy between the Palestinian struggle for justice and his experience with the South African apartheid. Then speaker after speaker, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, electrified the participants by telling them about the Palestinians' grave and inhumane suffering under Israel's 40 years of colonial occupation.

Today, Palestine-Israel, the land that gave birth to Christ and Christianity, is less than 2 percent Christians. Speakers emphasized that during the British Mandate, Palestine was officially considered a Christian country, with 50 percent of the population in Jerusalem and 90 percent in Bethlehem. However, with the creation of Israel in 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their ancestral land, and in the 1967 war an additional 350,000 were driven from their homes.

According to Ma'an, an online Palestinian news agency, the Palestinian National Information Center reports that since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, the uprising since September 2000, the Israeli military has "killed 5,050 Palestinians, mostly civilian men, women and children, wounding 49,760 and increasing to a total of 10,400 prisoners." In addition, in one way or another, Israel is occupying and controlling the entire land and suppressing the daily lives of the Palestinian population.

Professor of anthropology Jeff Halper, an Israeli American peace activist, 2006 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in Palestine, insisted "the Jewish state of Israel is not a democracy as it is perceived in the U.S. but an ethnocracy and, as the occupier and oppressor, is directly responsible for the conflict" in the Holy Land.

Not surprisingly, an investigation of Israel's military occupation and brutal policy reveals that it continues to violate the Palestinians' human rights, the United States' official policy, the United Nations' many resolutions and the International Court of Justice.

Further, Israel has refused to accept or live up to the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the international Quartet road map for peace and the 2002 peace proposal by the 23 Arab nations, which are all based on a complete withdrawal from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

The United States must not continue to finance and legitimize Israel's illegal colonization, which does not serve our best interests. This one-sided policy has become a liability and an embarrassment to Americans and has created enemies throughout the world. To change this, the U.S. must genuinely support the Palestinians' right of self-determination and become an honest broker for justice and lasting peace.

Since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in the 1967 war in six days, it can evacuate in six days, so it can rest on the seventh. Then we can begin to live together in peace.

Jacob Nammar of San Antonio is an international business executive.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Letter to Rice on Regional Diplomacy

Churches for Middle East Peace Letter to Rice on Regional Diplomacy

This email is also available online at:

Corinne Whitlatch, Executive Director
March 8, 2007

On March 7, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Board members signed a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applauding the decision to participate in meetings sponsored by the government of Iraq that will include Syria and Iran.

The signers reflect on CMEP board and staff travels to Syria and Iran while encouraging a broadening of the diplomatic engagement of the United States. CMEP also urges Sec. Rice's urgent and sustained attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as integral to achieving peace and stability in the region. The full text of the letter is included below.

The letter was faxed to key people in the Administration and will be delivered soon to all Congressional offices. CMEP encourages you to print out the letter and send it along with your personal note of recommendation to the attention of your representative and two senators.

Letter in PDF Format:


March 7, 2007
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Rice,

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is encouraged by your announcement that the United States will participate in international meetings sponsored by the Government of Iraq that will also include Syria and Iran. We support broadening the diplomatic engagement of the United States as a means to work for peace and stability in Iraq and the region.

We applaud the decision to join in high-level talks with Iran and Syria. We urge that this be the first step in diplomatic engagement with Syria and with Iran to deal with other outstanding issues that stand in the way of peace and security. We are alarmed that, despite Administration comments to the contrary, there is a widely-held perception that the United States is preparing for a military attack on Iran or is preparing Israel for such an attack. Active diplomacy, accompanied by stated support for peacemaking and respect for the United Nations and international treaties, could restore much of the goodwill that the United States once enjoyed as well as international cooperation in challenging Iran regarding its nuclear program.

Members of the CMEP Board and staff traveled to Syria, in April 2006, and to Iran, in late February 2007, to meet with government officials as well as both Christians and Muslim religious leaders. They report a considerable reservoir of friendly respect for the American people and apparent readiness for diplomatic engagement with the U.S. government. It is our recommendation that the United States look to the growing indigenous pressure for reform as the change agent for good governance in Syria and in Iran and that you engage with those currently in positions of authority.

In the context of a political process on the future of Iraq, we encourage the U.S. government to announce it will, in consultation with all Iraqi leaders and neighbors, develop a plan to work toward full military disengagement. Until then, the United States should avoid escalation.

Concurrent with the new diplomatic approach relative to Iraq, we urge your and the President's urgent and sustained attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is inexorably linked to all key issues in the Middle East. We agree with the findings of the Iraq Study Group that "the only basis on which peace can be achieved is that set forth in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and in the principle of "land for peace." Toward the objective of a two-state solution that ends the occupation and provides recognition and security to Israel, we urge you to bring to the table Israelis and Palestinians, who have the authority to negotiate, to broker a comprehensive ceasefire and prepare for negotiating the final status issues: Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees. A more detailed vision of a permanent status agreement from the Quartet would be helpful as a political horizon for the leaders and their people.

We appreciate your attention to our policy recommendations. And know that you are ever in our prayers.


Archbishop Vicken Aykazian
Armenian Orthodox Church

The Rt. Rev. Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in America

Rev. Daryl Byler
Director, Washington Office
Mennonite Central Committee

Jim Fine
Legislative Secretary for Foreign Policy
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Jeanette Holt
Associate Director
Alliance of Baptists

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church, (USA)

Rev. Philip Jones
Brethren Witness/Washington Office
Church of the Brethren

R. Aura Kanegis
Director of Public Affairs/Washington Office
American Friends Service Committee

Rob Keithan
Washington Office for Advocacy
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Antonios Kireopoulos
Representative to CMEP for the
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
and National Council of Churches

Rev. James Kofski
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Peter Makari
Executive, Middle East and Europe
Common Global Ministries Board of the
United Church of Christ and
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

T. Michael McNulty, SJ
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

The Very Rev. George Rados
Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America

Maureen Shea
Director of Government Relations
The Episcopal Church

Ann Staal
Social Witness/Middle East
Reformed Church in America

Karen Vagley
Director, Washington Office
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Jim Winkler
General Secretary, Board of Church & Society
United Methodist Church


Register today for CMEP's Advocacy Conference
"For the Peace of Jerusalem"
May 6-8, 2007 - Washington, DC


Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM).

Churches for Middle East Peace
Phone: 202-543-1222

Churches for Middle East Peace 110 Maryland Ave. NE Suite 311 Washington DC 20002

Monday, March 12, 2007

Alternative Travel Opportunities

Alternative Travel Opportunities, a listing courtesy of Friends of Sabeel - North America, was updated March 9, 2007. See the full list on the web page:

Alternative travel in the Holy Land provides an added benefit to pilgrimage by connecting you with the Living Stones of Palestine who live under military occupation. Visit the holy Christian sites, worship in ancient Palestinian Christian churches, walk where Jesus walked and bear witness to the realities of occupation - military checkpoints, refugee camps, Israel's Apartheid Wall, bypass roads, illegal settlements and more. This listing is from Friends of Sabeel--North America's Alternative Travel web page at

If you know of similar upcoming trips, please send details to:

Also, visit for resources on traveling in the Holy Land.

Sabeel International Witness Trip
October 11-20, 2007 (check for program and registration information)

The Society for Biblical Studies offers an extensive list of tours. For details go to the web site:
The Holy Land, the Holy People (departs 10 April 2007)
The Exodus Experience (departs 10 April 2007)
Biblical Survey: The Holy Land, the Holy People (departs 23 April 2007)
Holy Land Pilgrimage (departs 9 June 2007)
The Exodus Experience, departs 7 November 2007
To get updates by paper newsletter or email, call 781-641-4453 or send an email to:

Group Travel Directors: Holy Land visits by US church groups in the first halfof 2007 listed here are arranged by Group Travel Directors, Minneapolis. Meetings with indigenous Christians plus Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, as well as biblical-site visits, are included. Prices are from cities cited (other US departure points available). For details on Group Travel tours, go to - click "Find a Tour," enter "2007," then "Middle East."

March 7-19, "Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt," led by Pastor Jim and Judy Hinkhouse, Kinsmen Lutheran, Houston, $3255 from Houston.

April 19-30, "Walking the Pilgrim's Path," led by Pastor Paul and Sharon Koch, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Chicago, $2665 from Chicago O'Hare.

May 4-26, "Places, People, and Prayers," led by Dorothy Weaver and Kevin Clark of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, $4112 from Washington Dulles.

May 24-June 6, "Biblical Adventures to Egypt, Jordan, Israel," led by Anna Coyle, medical missionary/minister, and Charles Coyle, $3255 from St. Louis.

June 5-16, "A Journey of Faith: Exploring the Land of Jesus," led by Pastor Tim Hansen of Zion Lutheran, Litchfield, MInn., and Ruth Hansen, Northfield, Minn., $2899 from Twin Cities.

Holy Land Artisans sponsors a Volunteer in Mission (VIM) Study Trip to the Holy Land.
In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Search for Peace, Justice and Understanding
March 4 - 20, 2007 ($2,800 - including airfare)

With this VIM trip it is our hope that participants will have not only have a renewal of their faith but will acquire a true understanding of our Christian heritage and the unique problems faced by Christians in the Holy Land today. We will visit all the major holy sites but most importantly we will also get to know the "Living Stones" and learn of their hardships and their determination to remain in their homeland.

Information and itinerary are on website: or contact Lissa Caldwell at or

Peacemaking Task Force, Presbytery of East Iowa
2007 Congressional Accompaniment Project
April 1 - April 10 - Holy Week
Be part of a group of peacemakers on a 10-day trip to Israel and Palestine, accompanying U.S. congressional senior staff aides on a mission of peacemaking and fact-finding. It is an unparalleled chance to expand your own knowledge of the Holy Land and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can also help influence the political climate of Washington toward more fair policies that will help bring about a just peace in the region. Join us for the unforgettable celebration of Holy Week in Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, and more. For more information or to apply as an "Accompanier" for the 2007 CAP tour to Israel and Palestine, contact us immediately:

Darrell & Sue Yeaney, Coordinators
2007 CAP TourPeacemaking Task Force, Presbytery of East Iowa
319 354-7877

Interfaith Peace-Builders
Your participation as an eyewitness to the situation will enrich your understanding of the conflict and empower your work in the United States.

Delegations are scheduled for:
March 17 - 31, 2007
May 26 - June 9, 2007
July 28 - August 11, 2007
November 3 - November 17, 2007

These delegations put you in contact with 'ordinary' Israelis and Palestinians, and people and organizations working for peace and justice. You will confront and analyze the US role in the conflict and wrestle with ways to translate your experience to others when you return home. You will be an eyewitness to the situation - and your understanding of the conflict will be enriched and transformed.

Interfaith Peace-Builder leaders bring a wide range of knowledge, perspectives, and expertise to our delegations. Since 2001, Interfaith Peace-Builders has led 19 delegations and almost 250 people to Israel and Palestine. Our delegates have returned to undertake speaking, writing, and organizing to educate others about their experiences. Formerly a program of Fellowship of Reconciliation, IFPB continues to work in close partnership with FOR.

The cost of $1850 includes: 15 days, hotel and home stay accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, local transportation, guides, speaker/event fees, basic tips and gratuities. The cost does not include domestic and international airfares.

For more information, contact the Interfaith Peace-Builders office directly by phone (202-244-0821) or e-mail -

Christian Peacemaker Teams 2007 delegations:
March 19 - 31, 2007
May 29 - June 10, 2007
July 30 - August 11, 2007
October 16 - 28, 2007
November 19 - December 1, 2007
Contact Claire Evans, the CPT Coordinator for Delegations at or telephone 773.277.0253

Olive Cooperative Teachers Study Tour
April 4 - 11, 2007
For details, please see web page:

ICAHD/ETT Study Tour Program April 2007
To develop strategic campaigns and advocacy work, one of the most important means to equip the international community is to visit this region, witness the situation on the ground and receive in-depth analysis. ICAHD announces the next study tour, arranged in conjunction with Experience Travel Tours.

The ten-day tour will give participants the opportunity to spend time in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel. Get to know ICAHD staff and meet with organizations such as Breaking the Silence, Zochrot, the Christian Peacemakers Team, Badil, Sabeel and many more. See the Wall and how it cuts through towns and villages, imprisoning the Palestinians. Go through checkpoints, visit settlements and a refugee camps.

In 2007, forty years of Israeli occupation is being commemorated. Mark it by participating in the study tour and stand in solidarity with those who are working for the end of the occupation and a just and sustainable solution for both people groups.

To apply for participation in the study tour, e-mail ICAHD at or

Middle East Fellowship Incarnational Pilgrimage
April 14 - 28, 2007
May 19 - June 2, 2007
For more details, contact Christy Reiners: - Tel. 925-934-1754 - website

PC(USA) and Presbyterian Peace Program Trip
to Palestine and Israel
April 15 - 30, 2007
Presbyterian Church (USA) and Presbyterian Peace Program: contact co-leaders Victor Makari - or Sara Lisherness -

Meeting the Stones & Living Stones Pilgrimage April 15 -25, 2007
Contact Rev. Keith Hill, Douglasville, Ga. - - Tel. 770-942-0710 - or Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, - Tel. 404-441-2702

Global Exchange, Prospects for Peace with Justice
April 21 - 30, 2007
August 12 - 22, 2007 Dec. 2 - 12, 2007
For details, see

Seeking Understanding in Israel/Palestine:
A Two-Week Fact-Finding Trip
May 12-26, 2007
Organized by Friends of Sabeel - Colorado
For detailed information contact Joy Lapp
303-494-2338 or Email:

Tour Leaders: Joy Lapp, Instructor of Religion and Ethics, Metro State College of Denver and the Rev. Arnie Voigt, retired Lutheran minister. Joy spent three years in the Middle East working with the Mennonite Central Committee. She chair of Friends of Sabeel - Colorado. Arnie has visited Israel and Palestine many times and has led several tour groups.Cost: $2800. Includes round-trip airfare from Denver to Tel Aviv, hotel, 2 meals per day, tour guide and entrance fees, transportation, tips. Travelers must have a passport that is valid six months beyond date of re-entry to U.S. Confirmation needed by March 1, 2007. Contact Joy Lapp 303-494-2338 or Email:

Middle East Fellowship, Palestine Summer Encounter 2007
Middle East Fellowship, in partnership with Holy Land Trust announces the fourth annual Palestine Summer Encounter, a two month Arabic-training and volunteer program, starting on May 24, 2007.

Live with a Palestinian host family· Serve the community by volunteering with a local organization· Study Arabic in an Arabic-speaking country · Meet with Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and activists. Palestine Summer Encounter is a one-to-three-month cultural immersion program in Bethlehem. Participants undertake volunteer service at Palestinian agencies, schools, churches, hospitals and humanitarian organizations. The program emphasizes dialogue between Palestinians and members of the international community. Participants will also meet with Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers and human rights activists. For details please visit

A free packet of information, including a 15-minute DVD with interviews from former participants, is available upon request. The deadline for applications is April 20th 2007.

Contact: Middle East FellowshipP.O. Box 40040, Pasadena, CA 91114E-mail Phone 626 797 7904.

and... Holy Land Trust Travel & Encounter
Manger Street, P.O. Box 737
Bethlehem, Palestine

Pilgrims of Hope and Solidarity Tour
in the Land Where Jesus Walked
June 11-24, 2007 - Approximately $2575
The Middle East Peace Education Project (L. Michael Spath, D.Min., Ph.D., and the Rev. Robert Smith, M.Div)
"We do not look for reasons to hope as much as we seek to create opportunities for hope." - Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb - Christmas Lutheran Church; International Center of Bethlehem

Arab and Palestinian Christians are an oppressed minority facing a mortal crisis in their own land. Because of violence, corrupt governments and occupation, they are emigrating in massive numbers. This is a critical time for Christians in the Holy Land. In our lifetime there may no longer remain any indigenous worshiping, and praying Christian community left in the Holy Land. We visit the important biblical sites, but most important we meet the living stones - Christians, clergy and lay, men and women, struggling for survival, and working for a just Gospel-centered peace through nonviolent conflict resolution and social transformation. We explore ways to express our solidarity with our Christian sisters and brothers in the Holy Land.

Call 260/456-8920 or e-mail

Palestine Summer Celebration 2007
June 20 - August 18th, 2007
Come and celebrate Palestine
Learn Arabic
Study history
Get to know the people and their culture
Share some time with local familiesVolunteer with a local community organization

The Palestinian summer celebration is a unique annual program that gives people from all over the world the chance to encounter the life and culture in Palestine while donating time to a local community organization through voluntary work and internships. Participants will also have the opportunity to listen and question high level speakers of various positions and expertise. The 2007 celebration will be in the Bethlehem area, organized by Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies - - in partnership with Bethlehem University - - and the US-based Society for Biblical Studies -

For more information:
Siraj, Center for Holy Land Studies
Beit Sahour, Palestine
Telefax: +972 2 274 8590

Middle East Fellowship, Damascus Summer Encounter
June 10 - Aug. 11, 2007
Join us for a 9-week summer service program in Damascus, Syria. Participants will live with a host family, study the Arabic language by working with native speakers, serve the local community through volunteer projects and explore the culture and history of Syria through meetings, discussions and excursions to sites of historical, political or religious significance.

For more details, contact Christy Reiners: - Tel. 925-934-1754
Web page

Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery's Traveling Seminar
Oct. 15 - Nov. 4, 2007
This seminar will go to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. For details, contact Pauline Coffman at - tel. 708-524-5444.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Newish Resources from Churches for Middle East Peace

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) provides Israel and Palestine resources, new is the past couple of months.

This information is available online at:

1. Updated CMEP Resources: There are a number of new updates to CMEP web resources on US policy related to settlements, the separation barrier and Jerusalem.

Statements on American Policy Toward Settlements by U.S. Government Officials – 1968-2006 (Updated in cooperation with the Foundation for Middle East Peace)

US Policy on the Separation Barrier and Statements from Church Leaders -

Quotes from the Bush Administration Related to Jerusalem -

2. New Holy Land Prayer Service from Catholic Relief Services.

Catholic Relief Services offers a new prayer for peace in the Holy Land - - a simple prayer service easily adapted for any use.


Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM).

Churches for Middle East Peace
Phone: 202-543-1222

Churches for Middle East Peace
110 Maryland Ave. NE
Suite 311
Washington, DC 20002

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lutheran Pastor Russ Siler writes from Jerusalem

From Jerusalem # 35
17 February 2007

For Pastor's Siler's previous letters and more about the ministry in Jerusalem, go to

Friends, the government of Israel is afraid…very afraid. No, the administration does not fear for its existence, its security, or even the loss of its annual gift of $3.1 Billion, no strings attached, from the United States. Rather, its anxiety is growing that it may actually have to negotiate its borders, the continuation of its illegal settlements on Palestinian land, its total control over Gaza, its stranglehold on Jerusalem, before it has eaten all the land, water, and roadways it can digest politically. Israel’s creeping occupation of the land still remaining to the Arab inhabitants of historic Palestine before 1967—just 22 percent of that area, by the way—is based on its ability to keep its tactics just below the level of international sensitivity and outrage.

Thus, it is always to its advantage when Palestinians are seen by the rest of the world as causing a violent crisis or confrontation. So, just what is happening now? In January 2006, Palestinians elected its legislators. To just about everyone's surprise the Hamas party gained a clear majority. While a bewildered Hamas—which never believed it would be forced to govern at the present—wandered through the first weeks, and a dazed, defeated Fatah pondered its future, Israel and the United States leaped into action.

First Israel announced that it would impound $55 million per month in funds that belong absolutely to the Palestinian government, thus making it impossible for the new Hamas government to pay its workers. Then the United States proclaimed that it would not deal with Hamas in the smallest transaction, imposing draconian restrictions on any entity who worked with Palestinians using U.S. funds. Israel followed these initial steps by refusing to allow Palestinian legislators even to meet in a body. Then they arrested 38 Palestinian legislators and imprisoned them. Those men remain in Israeli prisons to this very day, and they have never been charged with a crime. Then came the harshest step of all: Israel reduced the flow of food and medical supplies into Gaza to a trickle, just large enough to stave off starvation and epidemic.

Previous to these actions they had announced to a "grateful" world that Israel had ended its occupation of Gaza, neglecting the tiny detail that its armed forces maintained absolute control over air, land, sea, commerce, and borders of Gaza. It was a more brutal occupation than existed before the so-called "disengagement" of 2005. One Israeli "journalist" had the gall to write in a local newspaper that Palestine had been given a Sovereign State. Some even believed her. Everybody seemed to ignore the injustice inherent in these acts, because the all-powerful mantra of "Security" was chanted every time a question was raised.

My question at this point is a simple, rhetorical one: Is there any doubt that Israel and the United States were consciously pushing the Palestinian people toward civil conflict? They were eminently successful…for a while. For a time there was open warfare. Innocent and guilty people alike suffered mightily. Far too many died. But now that is ending. Fatah and Hamas have agreed on a way to move forward together.

Predictably, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already voiced her skepticism. Both Israel and its great ally the United States are nervous. The cessation of hostilities means that the specter of internecine violence will no longer provide a ready excuse to avoid substantive negotiations. They are afraid that, as I mentioned above, their tactics may well exceed the world's level of tolerance. People might learn that Hamas is not the only party or entity to claim the whole of historic Palestine for its religion. Nearly a dozen years earlier the Likud Party declared that all of that same land belonged to Israel and the Jewish people. Or people may support the demand that Hamas "recognize" Israel's right to exist, but they may also make a reciprocal demand that Israel and the United States "recognize" a Hamas-led government as the legitimate, elected representative of the Palestinian people. If there are no scenes of bloody violence the world may seize this moment to demand that negotiations begin in earnest for lasting peace with real justice for all.

All of us can understand when people are afraid. We, as God's people, will stand solidly with them, but we must not, we dare not stand with any who would use the tools of the oppressor to drive away our hopes for peace. Now is the time for all people who see worth in all others to join together in the direction which will result in two states, two peoples, with security and justice and freedom for both.

And yet one thing more: the issues I spoke of above are the kinds of questions that will only be resolved when all sides agree to respect the others and to work together for answers acceptable to all. If I remember my history correctly, that's the way we have always acted when we truly desired peace with justice.

Russell O. Siler, Pastor
English-speaking Congregation
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Jerusalem, Old City