Thursday, August 2, 2007

Lutherans in the Holy Land Look to the Future

Greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). For much more about the ministries of the ELCJHL, go to the church's web site:

June-July 2007
Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, City of Peace.

We repeatedly denounced the recent internal fighting between Hamas and Fatah as well as the resulting Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip. Bishop Younan was among the civil society leaders asked to speak at a unity rally in Ramallah in the midst of the fighting:

There is no Fatah cause, nor is there a Hamas cause. There is only one Palestinian cause, which is to bring justice and peace to the Palestinians and the Israelis, for the sake of both peoples. We have much more that unites us, and we must get back to the focus: a viable, sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace with justice, a shared Jerusalem, a just solution to the refugee problem and an end to the settlement enterprise.

We find ourselves once again at what could be a crucial turning point for Palestine/Israel, and once again, leaders have the ability to choose peace with justice and make real progress toward calming the boiling pot called the Middle East. The question is, will anyone be able to make real improvements on the ground for Palestinians? Since former Palestinian Yasser Arafat did the main things the Quartet is demanding of Hamas (renouncing violence and recognizing Israel), life has mostly gotten continuously worse for Palestinians, with increasing movement restrictions and a doubling of the illegal settler population during the Oslo "peace process years." And now, while the West was busy making sure Hamas would honor past peace agreements in theory if they were ever given the opportunity to lead as the people elected them to do, while the illegal settlements continued to balloon, the construction of the separation wall ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice actually accelerated around Jerusalem, and more and more were locked into tiny enclaves by checkpoints, walls, Israeli-only roads and military zones.

Now there is another chance, but unless substantive measures are offered, people will again be convinced that Abbas can't bring real improvement on the ground. The current offer of 250 prisoners freed may sound good to the West, but must be understood in the Palestinian context in which there are 10,000 prisoners, between 1000 and 2000 are being held in administrative detention, without any charge. Another 50 or so are parliament members jailed not for any action but for simply being a part of Hamas. And every night the incursions continue, Israeli tanks invade towns and gather up yet another round of prisoners. We pray that all prisoners in Palestine and Israel will be soon released for the sake of peace.

We must look to the future, set our vision and find the strategies that will get us there. Palestinian people, Gaza and the West Bank are one and we must be one to find peace together. Let us unite to renounce violence, rebuild our economy and infrastructure and get on with building our state. International community and Israel, this situation did not come out of nowhere. The boycott on top of already draconian movement restrictions and continuous human rights violations bred this situation. Reports show that any economic recovery would be impossible unless the movement restrictions are removed. Show us your desire for peace and your willingness to adhere to UN resolutions such as freezing settlements, ensuring freedom of worship in Jerusalem and easing movement restrictions. Show us that we have a partner for peace.

Bishop Munib Younan, ELCJHL

[For more about the incursions cited by the bishop here, see an article in Ha'aretz: - "Twilight Zone/'Mowing the grass' in Nablus," by Gideon Levy.]

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