Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jerusalem's church leaders `on the current devastating situation in Gaza'

This strong statement came hrough the office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land []. Bishop Munib Younan is active in the group of Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem.

Dec. 30, 2008
Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem

On the current devastating situation in Gaza

We, the Patriarchs, Bishops and the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem, follow with deep concern, regrett, and shock the war currently raging in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent destruction, murder and bloodshed, especially at a time when we celebrate Christmas, the birth of the King of love and peace. As we express our deep sorrow at the renewed cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and the continued absence of peace in our Holy Land, we denounce the ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip and all forms of violence and killings from all parties. We believe that the continuation of this bloodshed and violence will not lead to peace and justice but breed more hatred and hostility – and thus continued confrontation between the two peoples.

Accordingly, we call upon all officials of both parties to the conflict to return to their senses and refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and non-violent means.

We also call upon the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and intervene immediately and actively stop the bloodshed and end all forms of confrontation; to work hard and strong to put an end to the current confrontation and remove the causes of conflict between the two peoples; and to finally resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a just and comprehensive solution based on international resolutions.

To the various Palestinian factions we say: It is time to end your division and settle your differences. We call on all factions at this particular time to put the interests of the Palestinian people above personal and factional interests and to move immediately toward national comprehensive reconciliation and use all non-violent means to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

Finally, we raise our prayers to the Child in the manger to inspire the authorities and decision makers on both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, for immediate action to end the current tragic situation in the Gaza Strip. We pray for the victims, the wounded and the broken-hearted. May the Lord God Almighty grant all those who have lost loved ones consolation and patience. We pray for all those living in panic and fear, that God may bless them with calm, tranquility and true peace.

We call on all to observe next Sunday, January 4, as a day for justice and peace in the land of peace.

+ Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+ Patriarch Fuad Twal, Latin Patriarchate.
+ Patriarch Torkom II, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate.
Fr. Pier Battista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custody of the Holy Land
+ Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Abune Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+ Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate.
+ Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem & the Middle East.
+ Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land.
+ Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+ Bishop Youssef Zre’i, Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate.
Fr. Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

Jerusalem on 30 December 20

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

CMEP calls on President Bush to work for renewed peace in Gaza

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has issued a letter regarding the assault on Gaza. The White House and Capitol Hill offices need to hear from concerned American Christians at this time. The U.S. must work with international partners to bring about an immediate cease-fire. See the letter at this link:

Here is the action alert sent out by CMEP:

The escalating Gaza violence of these past days has been a sobering jolt from holiday celebrations. For Palestinians and Israelis, there has been no peace.

We at Churches for Middle East Peace mourn the loss of life on both sides and call now on the United States to exercise bold leadership to immediately end the violence, restore the cease-fire and lift the blockade of Gaza's borders.

The White House and Capitol Hill offices are sure to receive countless messages supporting a continuation of the Israeli military offensive. They need to hear from concerned American Christians that the U.S. must work with international partners to bring about an immediate cease-fire for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Please take action today and call for a immediate cease-fire.

Without an urgent diplomatic solution, both Palestinians and Israelis will suffer, the risk of a broader confrontation will increase, and hope for continuation of the Annapolis peace efforts will grow ever dimmer.

The Bush Administration is in its final weeks, but it has an opportunity now to take serious action on behalf of Israeli-Palestinian peace and to safeguard U.S. interests. Congress too must encourage and support American diplomatic leadership.

The CMEP coalition has sent an urgent letter today to President Bush, as well as a copy to the Obama transition team, urging prompt U.S. action to end this crisis. The CMEP leaders said:

"As people of faith, we care deeply about the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians and deplore the violent deaths of those caught in this conflict. We reject all justifications for the unconscionable Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel. We similarly reject the Israeli response as disproportionate and believe that it is likely to strengthen extremists and undermine moderates in the region. While we appreciate Secretary Rice's statement of December 27 calling for an immediate cease-fire, there must now be prompt action by your Administration to help bring about an end to the violence." Read the full letter here -

As we anticipate the coming new year, we must all pray and act for an urgent end to the violence in Gaza and southern Israel and a renewal of hope for peace in the Holy Land in 2009.


Take Action:

Call the White House comments line (202-456-1111). View talking points here -

Send an email to the President and your Senators and Representative through CMEP's email system -

Sign the ecumenical Christian letter to President-elect Obama urging him to make Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority -


Background Reading:

View statements by Jewish and Arab collegial groups as well as statements by Secretary Rice, the White House, and the UN Security Council -

View the CMEP letter to President Bush on the violence in Gaza and southern Israel -

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas 2008 message from Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan

The 2008 Christmas message arrived from Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan in Jerusalem. For more about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, go to

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)
Christmas 2008

The Savior cares for our fears

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10-11

1. Sources of fear today

More than ever, the angel’s words, “Fear not,” sound strange to our ears. All around us it seems we have much more to fear than last year. On a global scale, economic uncertainty abounds. Huge financial institutions collapse, stock markets plummet and fortunes are wiped out. How many pensioners will be made penniless? How many children will go hungry? How many laborers will lose their jobs? How poor must the poor get before human greed is reigned in?

I was recently in Tanzania, where I saw with my own eyes the effects of global climate change. The “Great White Mountain” is becoming less white. The snows of Kilimanjaro are melting as the temperature of the world increases. How many glaciers will disappear? How many more Hurricane Katrinas will wipe out the homes of the disadvantaged? How many sea-level civilizations will drown before we cease our senseless polluting, which has led to the global warming crisis?

Though the world’s nations seem unable to make the necessary decisions, they are united in fear. Will there be real change, as politicians promise? Will the war-torn countries of the world, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Columbia and Palestine, ever see peace? How many walls of fear must be erected? How many innocent lives will be lost? How many parents in Gaza will burn clothing and furniture before the siege will end? Do elections bring to office charismatic, courageous leaders who will work for peace, justice and the common good, or simply use their power to secure their own country’s welfare and comfort?

Such questions were not unknown in ancient times, for the writer of the first book of Timothy sums up the answers with these words: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” At the heart of the crisis confronting our world is the love of money in the form of neo-liberal economics – a set of economic principles that seek to maximize private returns in the shortest possible time. This failed economic model has pushed our world to the brink of financial, political and ecological disaster and has created more fear than ever. As the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, said while receiving his award in December, “The effects of this crisis may prove another setback for the developing world. The very poorest people are already being hit hardest by the impact of climate change, rising food prices and lower level of foreign trade.”

Every where you turn there are more things to fear. In such times, we would do well to turn off the TV and stop listening to news that will only multiply our worries.

But in the midst of this, something unexpected can still happen. For us today, as for the poor and despised shepherds outside Bethlehem, the angels’ words still apply: “Fear not.”

2. Sources of fear during the shepherd’s day

The shepherds in the text knew something of such fears. They were, after all, on guard duty that night. They probably expected the night to pass uneventfully, as it had so many nights before. Yet they were still alert to threats to their charges, such as predators or thieves.

Animal husbandry is work rife with risk and economic uncertainty. The flock could be easily wiped out by disease or predators. The animals could perish in drought or flood. They could starve or stray without careful oversight.

Further, the shepherds were part of a powerless minority people under the rule of a mighty, occupying nation. Perhaps the Roman army had a 1st century version of checkpoints and closures. No doubt whatever methods they used, life under the Romans was difficult.

So the shepherds faced threats on many fronts. That night in the field, the shepherds were prepared for wolves. They were prepared for thieves. But they were not prepared for what happened: Imagine their fear when a messenger of the Lord, shining with God’s glory, appeared to them. And perhaps the idea of a fearsome God coming to earth was not a happy one.

So the first thing the angel says is, “Fear not.” God’s incarnation among you is an occasion of great joy for all people. Though God entered history in a specific time and place, the joy was intended for the shepherds then, for you today, and for all people of all times in all places.

3. Amidst these fears, God became incarnate

In the midst of the night, with threats that creep about under cover of darkness, God became incarnate. The shepherds apparently forgot their concerns about predators and the safety of the sheep, for they agreed to “go see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.” Perhaps they remembered the ancient prophecies about a coming messiah or were persuaded by the divine messenger. Perhaps they expected this messiah to save them from their economic, ecological or political troubles. All we know is that they believed God had made known to them God’s action in the world and their response was to go themselves to see it.
What did the shepherds find when they arrived at the stable? What they found was a savior not incarnated as a captain of industry or as a Wall Street tycoon to usher in an era of prosperity. The messiah was not incarnated as Mother Nature to restore harmony to the natural order. Nor was he a political messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel.

What they found was a baby – the Creator of the cosmos incarnate as a human baby to be among us, to share all that it means to be human. And at the same time, this baby was divine, sent to deliver a message of divine hope: Fear not.

This baby came to say, Fear not: God has heard the cries of the people. Fear not: God will heal you from your sins. Fear not: the God of justice and compassion acts in history. Fear not: the kingdom of God is at hand. Fear not: God has come to give you hope as you await the day of the Lord and his liberation.

4. Amidst today’s fears, God is still incarnate

The shepherds experienced God incarnate in the midst of their fears. This compels us to look for God in the unexpected in the midst of our fears, where we would least expect or imagine the divine to appear.

Martin Luther called this “Deus absconditus,” the hidden God. Because no one can see God and live, Luther reasoned, God reveals Godself indirectly. Thus, Jesus came not in divine glory and majesty, as one would expect. Instead, Jesus came where you’d least expect him: as a vulnerable baby, amidst the filth of a stable, in a setting of oppression and suffering. In this, God says: Fear not.

So, here we are today, in a time of great distress and fear, when we feel that everything is on the brink of collapsing. Maybe these economic, political and ecological upheavals are signs that God is disturbed by our greed and injustice. Maybe the Lord is trying to tell us that we have trusted our own might and our own post-modern idols. Maybe the hidden God is calling us to repentance – to turn from trusting ourselves to once again trusting God, as the first commandment says. As Luther explains it, a God is one in which you put all your trust. Maybe – no, definitely – we are to stop trusting in the idols of the Nikkei and the Nasdaq and instead trust Christ. We are to “fear not” – to turn from nursing our fears to seeking the living Lord in all that is happening.

Today, the body of Christ is incarnate among us as the church. To trust God does not mean that we – particularly we in the church – have no responsibilities. Indeed, in the midst of all this fear, it is the church’s role to act as a light to dispel the fear. It must fulfill its call to be prophetic, speaking truth to power about the injustice and greed that led to the current situation. It must call for economics with ethics and politics with integrity. It must renew the dignity with which God endowed all humanity. It must seek the equality and acceptance of all. It must work to eradicate poverty and enact justice. It must lead the way to real peace on earth.

Here in Palestine and Israel, fear is no stranger to us. In the very place where the God of peace and justice was incarnate, there is still no peace and justice. Despite the good intentions of the innkeeper, there is still no room for peace and justice at the inn. And still, the angel says, “Fear not.”

We pray that all people in this land hear the angel and do not succumb to fear. In the shadow of a wall, we continue to ignite candles of hope and compassion, friendship and hospitality, for a secure Israel and a free Palestine. Within hearing of house demolitions, we continue in our steadfastness and resilience, to sing praises to the one God. Among religious divisions, we continue to yearn for a united Jerusalem, shared peacefully among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Despite headlines that announce ethnic tensions, Israelis and Palestinians forge cross-cultural friendships and work courageously together toward a shared future. In the face of forces that divide Palestinians, we continue to call for the unity of the nation. And in spite of all indications, we continue to hope that this will be the last Christmas of fear and injustice; that one day all our small candles together will overcome fear and darkness. In this, once again, you can hear the angel say, "Fear not. For unto you a Savior is born.

No one captured the hope of the Palestinian people better than our poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who passed away last August. He wrote the following poem.

We are here near there

We are here near there, thirty doors to a tent.
We are here between pebbles and shadows,
a place for a sound, a place for freedom or
any place that has rolled off a mare or scattered
out of a calling or a bell.

We are here, soon we will puncture this siege,
soon we will liberate a cloud and depart in
ourselves. We are here near there, thirty
doors to a wind, thirty has-beens.

We teach you to see us, know us, hear us,
touch our blood in peace. We teach you our
salaam. We may or may not love the road
to Damascus, Mecca or Kairouan.

We are here in us. A sky for August, a sea for
May, a freedom for a horse, and we ask of
the sea that it haul out the blue circles
around the smoke.

We are here near there, thirty shapes and
thirty shadows to a star.

And that star is a glittering one, which shows us, politicians and populous, religious and secular: A Savior is born. Peace and justice are born. Freedom is coming. Fear not: He will be born quicker than expected.

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

+Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan

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For more about Bishop Younan, see this link:

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

ELCA Middle East Network Newsletter, December 2008

The Middle East Network Newsletter from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is now available on the "Peace Not Walls" web page -

Here are a few highlights:

ELCA E-Advocacy NetworkMiddle East/International Action Alert

Middle East Network Newsletter
Middle East Peace News
Advent 2008

2009 Conference of Bishops Academy in the Holy Land:
Fifty-nine bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and five bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) will visit the Middle East January 6-13, 2009. This trip will be a major way in which the ELCA lives out its commitment to accompany our brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) as outlined in our Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine - []. Please keep the bishops and their fellow travelers in your prayers. To follow the trip through first-hand accounts, check the ELCA home page - - for a link to the trip blog in early January.

NILI calls for vigorous engagement for Middle East peace by Obama Administration:
Declaring that they won't give in to cynicism or despair and that they are "people of hope," 31 U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, including the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), called for members of their communities to pray for peace in Jerusalem. They also urged U.S. political leaders to advance a two-state solution "with vigor both now and in the early months of the new (Obama) Administration." See the latest statement of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East [].

Christian Grassroots Advocacy and Solidarity: Leadership for Serious Engagement,” a panel discussion at this year’s Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation Conference, included a presentation by the Rev. Robert Smith, ELCA Global Mission Director for Europe and the Middle East for the ELCA. For conference highlights, go to

There is a lot more news in the newsletter. Please check it out:
To signup to receive ELCA newsletters via email, go to the bottom of that page, lower left, and enter your contact information.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

U.S. Religious Leaders Call for Priority on Middle East Peace

U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders called for their communities to pray for peace in Jerusalem and urged U.S. political leaders to advance a two-state solution "with vigor both now and in the early months of the new (Obama) Administration."

The web link to the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative is -

Here is the news put out by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


December 5, 2008

ELCA Presiding Bishop, Other Leaders Call for Priority on Middle East Peace

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Declaring that they won't give in to cynicism or despair and that they are "people of hope," 31 U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, including the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), called for members of their communities to pray for peace in Jerusalem. They also urged U.S. political leaders to advance a two-state solution "with vigor both now and in the early months of the new (Obama) Administration."

In a Dec. 4 public statement issued through the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, the religious leaders restated their belief that the United States has a special responsibility to pursue peace in the region. "Israeli-Palestinian peace must be an urgent priority for President-elect Obama from the day he takes office," the religious leaders wrote. "Achieving Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace will have positive reverberations in the region and around the world. Our nation and the world will be much safer with the achievement of the peace of Jerusalem."

Despite tragic acts of violence and other developments, the leaders wrote that there are signs of hope in the Middle East. For example, they noted that a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians still support separate states for each, that Arab states declared their commitment to peace in the Arab Peace Initiative and that the United States convened the international community in Annapolis, Md., to support a renewed peace process. The religious leaders said they are encouraged also by the work of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

The religious leaders pointed out that there have been serious setbacks in the Middle East. They cited such things as Palestinian rocket attacks and threats by Iran against Israel, a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the political split between Gaza and the West Bank, political weakness in the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, plus a transition to a new U.S. administration.

"There is a real danger that cynicism will replace hope and that people will give up on peace," the religious leaders wrote. "This dangerous time demands clarity. So let us be clear. As religious leaders, we remain firmly committed to a two-state solution to the conflict as the only viable way forward. We believe that concerted, sustained U.S. leadership for peace is essential. And we know that time is not on the side of peace, that delay is not an option."

"The path to peace shuns violence and embraces dialogue. This path demands reciprocal steps that build confidence. This path can lead to a future of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace with security and dignity for both peoples and stability in the region," the statement said.

Since 2003 the U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have worked together for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, based on U.N. Security Council resolutions and the peace of Jerusalem. The leaders said they have prayed for peace, made public statements, met with public officials and stood in solidarity with religious leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region.

The religious leaders sent their statement to President-elect Barack Obama.

--- The text of the U.S. religious leaders' statement is at on the Web.

The text of the letter to President-elect Barack Obama is at on the Web.

For this news on the web see:
ELCA News Blog:

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christians Call for Holy Land Peace Priority in Letter to Obama

Christians Call for Holy Land Peace Priority: Sign Letter to President-Elect Obama

Churches for Middle East Peace issued this Petition Dec. 2, 2008 -

Check out the list of people who have already signed; they include:
Richard J. Mouw, President, Fuller Theological Seminary;
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church;
Ronald J. Sider, President, Evangelicals for Social Action;
The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ);
Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners
The Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ.
The complete list to date is at this link:

Churches for Middle East Peace message:
As we await the coming of Christ into our lives and our world during this Advent season, we renew our hopes for the day when all God’s children can live at peace in the land called Holy.

With the Obama Administration, there is a new opportunity for the United States to help achieve a just and lasting two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Join major American Christian leaders – Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant – in sending a letter to President-elect Obama urging him to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during his first year in office:

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians from the beginning of his Administration, but he faces many competing priorities and pressing global challenges. He needs to hear from American Christians now that Holy Land peace cannot be postponed and that we will support Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts by him and his foreign policy team.

Sign the ecumenical letter, along with Christians around the country, and help ensure that Obama fulfills his campaign promise to engage in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking as soon as he takes office.

The work for a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace will not be easy, but the risk of inaction is far greater. Without active U.S. engagement, achievement of a two-state solution will become even more difficult. A further delay of peace will also mean continued emigration of the Christian community in the Holy Land.

Urge President-elect Obama to provide diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final status agreement that establishes a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. The opportunity for achieving a two-state solution – supported by majorities of Israelis and Palestinians as the best way to end this tragic conflict – is narrowing and must be seized.

Especially at this time of year, when we anticipate the miracle of Christmas, we know that nothing is impossible with God. Jerusalem can become a powerful symbol of hope and coexistence for the region and the world.

The ecumenical Christian letter to President-elect Obama is included in full below. To view the full list of signers and add your name to the letter, click here:

We also hope you will share the letter with your friends, family and church community. Click here for church organizing resources and a tell-a-friend feature to help spread the word:

Heads of CMEP churches have signed the letter and CMEP is now working with its member churches and additional Catholic and Evangelical partners in coordinating this grassroots campaign. The deadline for signatures is January 16, 2009. The leaders’ letter was sent to the Obama transition team and newly unveiled national security team on December, 1, 2008. The final letter signed by Christian leaders and church members will be delivered to President Obama during the time of inauguration.

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Here's the text of the letter:

Ecumenical Christian Letter to President-elect Obama

Dear President-elect Obama,

As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a Biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace. As Americans, we urge you, Mr. President, to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during your first year in office.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long. It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists.

As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible. Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support a negotiated solution based on two secure and sovereign states as the best way to end this tragic conflict.

In order to achieve a durable peace, your Administration must provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final status agreement. Building on past discussions, we ask you to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace.

Your commitment to working for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel can help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. We believe that Jerusalem – home to two peoples and three religions – has the potential to become a powerful symbol of hope and coexistence for people across the region and the world.

We know the work for a just peace will not be easy. It will require great courage and resolve, but the risk of inaction is even greater. Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult.

Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline.

We call on all Christians and people of goodwill to join us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and in supporting vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure Middle East peace. Mr. President, as you take up the many challenges facing the United States and the global community, we urge you to work for a better future for all the children of Abraham in the land that is holy to us all.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Naim Ateek: The Ongoing Nakba

The Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel, writes about "The Ongoing Nakba" in The Cornerstone. Sabeel is the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem - - and The Cornerstone is Sabeel's quarterly newsletter -

The Ongoing Nakba

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, makingthe most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish,but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5: 15-17)

When reviewing the history of the Israel-Palestineconflict from the 19th century to the establishmentof the state of Israel in the mid 20th century, it is possible to point out at least seven major historical developments thatdirectly or indirectly contributed eventually to the Palestinian Nakba.

To help the reader understand this background, it is necessaryto outline these developments briefly:

First: Since the beginnings of the 19th century, one can point to the development of what became known as pre-millennial dispensationalism among certain Evangelical and Protestant groups in Western Europe, especially in Britain and later in the United States. This teaching emphasized the centrality of the Jewish people in God’s plan of history, their essential return to Palestine in fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and the re-establishment of their ancient kingdom as a prelude to the Second Coming of Christ, the great battle of Armageddon, the final defeat of evil, the end of the world, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

Second, the emergence of the Zionist Movement in Europe at the end of the 19th century seeking a safe haven for Jews who have suffered long as minorities living among eastern and western European Christians. The Zionist Movement visualized the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and its vicinity in the spirit of colonialism and imperialism of the time.

Third, the next significant development was the acceptance of the British government to adopt and sponsor the Zionist project in what we know as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 just before the end of WWI. After the war, Britain assumed the mandate over Palestine and began to help the Zionists realize their dream in Palestine.

Fourth, the Balfour Declaration gave a great boost to the Zionist Movement. The latter intensified its activities among Jewish communities everywhere and cultivated important links among influential people including high level state officials and top government leaders in various countries especially in Europe and the United States.

Fifth, the tragedy of the Holocaust during WWII and the suffering of millions of Jews under the Nazis sharpened the Jewish problem and called attention to the plight of European Jewry. It won them tremendous sympathy, and the urgency of finding a viable solution.

Sixth, the success of the Zionist Movement through its influential friends around the world and especially those in the United States in passing the Partition Plan of Palestine in November 1947 through the United Nations General Assembly that gave over 55% of the land of Palestine to the Jewish state when Jews, legally, owned less than 7% of it.

Seventh, the Zionists executed their plan of establishing the state of Israel, and through military force were able to ethnically cleanse 78% of the land of Palestine of its Palestinian people and to demolish over 500 of their villages and towns.

These seven factors are crucial to understanding the background to the Palestinian Nakba. One cannot, however, gloss over the weakness of Arab and Palestinian leaders at the time, their ineffective diplomacy (even collusion with Zionist leaders), their lack of sound planning, and their deficient organization. By and large, they underestimated the military training and power of the Zionists as well as their influential contacts abroad that protected and supported the actions of the nascent state.

When we look at the last 60 years, it is clear to many people that neither the Palestinians nor the Arab countries, nor the international community through the UN have been able to bring an end to the tragedy of Palestine. No just resolution of the conflict has been implemented. In fact, the political situation has deteriorated since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in June 1967. Since then, the state of Israel has grown economically and militarily in leaps and bounds and its military grip over the remaining Palestinian land and population has become firmer and harsher. In other words, the Palestinian Nakba has not only continued, it has worsened.

While the government of Israel has successfully linked itself with the United States, the strongest military and economic power in the world today, the Palestinians have not enjoyed such powerful allies to protect them and plead their just case. Instead of realizing that no real justice will ever come from the US because of its unwavering commitment to Israel, the Palestinian Authority in its desperation and frustration, has continued to cling solely to the US administration.

In a unipolar world, justice is not always defined in accordance with the principles of international law but according to the interests of the major power and its allies. In such a context, Israel has enjoyed a free rein. To a large extent, it has been free to do what it wants against the Palestinians and to dictate what it wills to them all in contravention of the decisions of the international community and with no power to restrain it.

It is important to remember that when the United Nations partitioned Palestine and legitimized the creation of Israel in 1947, the Zionist forces immediately began to ethnically cleanse their designated area of Palestine. In fact, in their cleansing sweep, they were de-populating the area of the Palestinian state as well. The UN ordered the Zionists to re-track and allow the repatriation of the refugees. Israel, even when still in its infancy, flouted UN resolutions. It never allowed the return of the refugees nor did it pull back to its own designated area of Palestine.

The failure of the international community to be firm in the face of Israel’s intransigence has become a repeated scenario. The United States and its allies have glossed over Israeli unjust practices and expansionist policies. To this, one can add the weakness of Palestinian and Arab leaders, their lack of vision and unity, and their inability to use their powerful resources to pressure the United States to put a stop to Israeli violations of the human and political rights of the Palestinians.

In such a situation, the Palestinian Nakba is doomed to continue and worsen. Chris Hedges has aptly written, “Extremists never begin as extremists. They become extremists gradually. They move gingerly forward in an open society. They advance only so far as they fail to meet resistance. And no society is immune from this moral catastrophe” (Hedges: 2006,152). Since 1948, Israel has been able to get by with its injustice because of the weakness of the international community (UN) that was unable or unwilling to contain its (Israel) ravenous appetite for Palestinian land and the domination of its people.

There are other factors that have contributed to the on-going Nakba. A simple outline would include the following:

1. In addition to the above mentioned factors that include the misuse of the Bible in support of Israeli claims, and the misuse of the Holocaust to instill guilt and sympathy in people, fear is a strong factor that prevents many goodhearted and knowledgeable people within the country as well as outside it, from taking a brave prophetic stand against Israeli injustice. Fear leads to silence and this allows Israel to persist in and intensify its oppression.

2. Israel has developed into a strong economic and military power and enjoys a wide business network with many countries that are unwilling to relinquish their interests for the sake of a Palestinian solution that they are not sure about.

3. The insistence on the Jewishness of the state of Israel, the demographic obsession to maintain a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority, and the expansionist policies through settlement building are three interconnected factors that have contributed to the perpetuation of the Nakba.

4. The futility of the frustrating, tedious, and protracted negotiations between the PA and the governmentof Israel has led some Palestinians to opt for the use of violence as away to achieve liberation. This vicious cycle of violence has also contributed to the ongoing Nakba.

5. The internecine strife within the Palestinian community and especially between Fatah and Hamas and the continued internal violence has not only added to the continuing Nakba, it has created a new Nakba.

The continuing Nakba can be described by some of the words from the book of Lamentations:
“Remember, O Lord,what has befallen us; Look, and see ourdisgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest ... The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.” (Chapter 5, selected verses).

Yet in the midst of such calamity and despair, the writer of Lamentations concludes with an affirmation about the sovereignty of God, “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations... Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old....”(5:19-21).

There are dark times in the history of a nation when people of faith must reaffirm their trust and hope in the living God. Such a trust and hope in God has a way of rejuvenating and energizing the community as it continues its struggle for liberation.

Many Palestinians today, Christians and Muslims, are affirming their trust and hope in the sovereignty of God who would lead them to justice and freedom.

[The Rev. Naim Ateek - director of Sabeel, Jerusalem]

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

U.S. Lutheran Bishops are getting ready for January Academy in the Middle East

November 13, 2008

ELCA, ELCIC Bishops Prepare for Middle East Visit January 6-13

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Sixty of the 66 bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the ELCA secretary, and five of the six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), Winnipeg, plus spouses and staff will visit the Middle East, Jan. 6-13, 2009. Participants will meet with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian religious, community and political
leaders, visit congregations and schools, and sites of religious significance.

The visit is the 2009 Bishops' Academy, an annual event in which leaders from both churches engage in theological reflection and study. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and its bishop, the Rev. Munib A. Younan, plus staff of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are partners with the ELCA and ELCIC in planning the visit.

A small delegation, including the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, and the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop, will travel first to Jordan, Jan. 3-6. They will meet Jordanian religious and political leaders, plus ambassadors from Canada and the United States, before traveling to Jerusalem to meet their colleagues.

The Lutheran bishops' visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine is a part of the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," Bishops and spouses provided synod and personal funds for the visit.

The Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, bishop, ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, Denver, and chair, ELCA Conference of Bishops, said the bishops' visit is "unprecedented."

"I am proud of the commitment of our bishops, and those of the ELCIC, to visit this fascinating and troubled region of the world to learn, to support Christian sisters and brothers, and to
advocate for peace and justice for all people," he said. "As we prepare for this historic visit, members of the Conference of Bishops are working diligently for a successful and meaningful
journey. We thank members throughout the ELCA for their support of this visit. We pray that our journey will bring many blessings to the ELCA."

The bishops discussed holding their annual academy in Israel and Palestine for years, said the Rev. Dean W. Nelson, bishop, ELCA Southwest California Synod, Glendale, and chair of the
bishops' academy committee. In 2005 the LWF Council met in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, making such a visit seem possible, he said. Adoption of the ELCA Middle East strategy was an important catalyst, Nelson said.

"That action provided the framework for us to move forward in planning this trip," he said. "We expect this trip will enable us to grow in our awareness of the reality of life in Israel and Palestine, accompany our brothers and sisters in the ELCJHL in their witness and service, and become better advocates in our own countries for an end to the ongoing hostilities in the Holy
Land." Nelson added he hopes that the presence of such a significant number of North American church leaders will have a positive impact on those working for peace in the region.

"The decision of the ELCA and ELCIC bishops to meet for their annual time of theological study and discussion in Israel-Palestine cannot be overestimated in its significance for the people of the ELCJHL," said the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass. The synod has a companion synod relationship with the ELCJHL.

Lutherans there are eager for the bishops' visit to see the reality of their lives and communities, she said. "By this trip we hope to accomplish first the keeping of a promise: we will embody our commitment to accompany the ELCJHL," she said. "But also, we seek to be advocates for peace in the Middle East. I believe that it is only by the power of God, through the commitment and relationship of people from all the faith traditions in this region, that the hope for peace can be
realized, and both Israel and Palestine can benefit from the freedom and security that a shared life of peace would bring."


A related note on this blog is at - scroll down to Sept. 15 and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's announcement on video.

Information about the ELCA Conference of Bishops is at on the ELCA Web site. The "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," is at on the ELCA Web site.

For information see or the ELCA News Blog:

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Texas Lutheran starts a new job with EAPPI-US

I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted a new position as the US coordinator for the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) –

The job actually began Nov. 1, with a transition process underway. Outgoing coordinator Eric Fistler has been a tremendous asset to the EAPPI and to me.

The half-time job involves recruiting and supporting volunteers who make a commitment to spend three months walking with Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions. Accompaniers (known as EAs) also undertake advocacy efforts to end the occupation. They monitor and report human rights violations and offer protection through non-violent presence. They support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists.

Since 2002 the program has sent accompaniers from around the world to communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I have published a number of reports and newsletters from EAPPI since getting this blog started, and I will keep you informed about this exciting work.

I will continue to share a wide variety of news, especially that which highlights the life and work of the churches in the Holy Land and beyond. Thanks to all my readers for your prayers and encouragement.

I have much to be thankful for - Thanksgiving blessings to all!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond - 2008 Sabeel International Conference

The Seventh International Sabeel Conference issued a statement at its conclusion. Samia Khoury, a Sabeel board member, shares a reflection. Both pieces are provided here with some links.

The Sabeel Conference took place in Jerusalem and Nazareth Nov. 12-19, 2008, under the theme "The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond." I urge you to go to this link for pictures and a great deal more from the conference:

If you are a member of Facebook - - make friends with "Sabeel Palestine" and find a lot more pictures at the wall there.

The statement (below) is also available at the Sabeel home page:

NOVEMBER 12-19, 2008


We are more than 200 Christians from five continents who have come together to commemorate the tragic events that occurred , observing 60 years ago in the lives of the people of Palestine. While we have come to hear from and to offer our solidarity and support to the indigenous Palestinian community in both Palestine and Israel, we have also heard from brothers and sisters in the Muslim and Jewish communities as they too have borne witness to the injustices visited upon the Palestinian population of this land. They have seen more than 531 villages depopulated and destroyed, and the creation of more than 750,000 refugees who have not been allowed to return to their homes since 1948.

We recognize the irony in the coincidence that this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The establishment of peace with justice requires that the full truth be told about the events of 1948 and the subsequent displacement of hundreds of thousands more Palestinian citizens in 1967, a process which has continued to the present day. The human rights of the Palestinian people continue to be crushed under a military occupation that dehumanizes both oppressed and oppressor. We share our conviction that it is only an acknowledgement of the full truth behind and within this current state of oppression that will lead to true freedom for all parties in the conflict.

Truth is essential for peacemaking. We acknowledge the truth that our silence about the status of the Palestinian people equals complicity in this ongoing tragedy. The status quo is a crime against humanity. As Christians, we can no longer be silent. Things worsen as each day passes. The so-called peace process is rather a consistent and persistent process of death and destruction, both physically and spiritually. The Nakba - the catastrophe - that has been imposed and is still being imposed on the people of Palestine--continues unabated and unrestrained. The truth of it is silenced or ignored both in our churches and in our media. This must change if we are to be true to Jesus' call to be peacemakers.

We have been encouraged by the thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who have practiced methods of nonviolent resistance in seeking to bring an end to the current conflict. We lift up the practice of nonviolence as the most practical means of achieving peace in this situation where the balance of military power is so overwhelmingly one-sided and where the reliance upon violence only continues to make matters worse. We are concerned by the use of the Bible as an instrument of colonialism and exploitation by those who would enlarge the conflict. We reject the exclusivism presupposed in such an interpretive approach to biblical truth. We seek the reconciliation of all peoples throughout the world, and therefore call on our brothers and sisters in the worldwide church to speak out and act out the ministry of reconciliation.

We have been touched by the faces of children wherever we have gone. We have come to realize that an entire generation of children is being crippled because they have no access to the nutrition needed for normal growth and development, and thus endure spiritual and social alienation, violence and lack of opportunities which none of us would tolerate even for a day in our own communities. We remember the call of the Nobel peace laureates that the first decade of this new century be devoted to nonviolence. We hear anew the call of Jesus to "let the little children come unto me," to let them be placed in the center of the current picture of marginalization, thus challenging the international community with their vulnerability and their need for protection. Therefore, we call upon all our churches and governments:

▪ to work with renewed energy for an end to this endlessly spreading military occupation;
▪ to insist on full implementation of all United Nations resolutions and all human rights requirements in international law which pertain to Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the right of return for Palestinian refugees;
▪ to insist on greater freedom of movement and more humane conditions in the occupied territories;▪ to insist that Israel accord equal rights to all its citizens, Jewish and Palestinian alike;
▪ to divest themselves from investments in companies that enable the occupation;
▪ to insist that Israel lift its ongoing siege and collective punishments which prevent the free movement of people, goods and humanitarian aid in and out of Gaza; and finally,
▪ to support the work of Sabeel in its efforts to build bridges of nonviolence between people in all the monotheistic religions represented in the region.

We have heard the call of urgency from our fellow Christians in this holy land. As in Jesus' own day, so Bethlehem lies under military occupation today surrounded by a prison wall. Our memories of the birth of The Child of Bethlehem 2000 years ago are contrasted and challenged by the reality of the children and the parents and the grandparents of Bethlehem today. As followers of that holy child, may our spirits meet in Bethlehem's streets as we join in prayers and actions for light and life! May we seek creatively to disturb the status quo with acts born of the Spirit of courage, love and truth.

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Samia Khoury sent a reflection to her network of friends. More of Khoury's writing is available at her blog: - and more about her is at this link:

"Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

A short and small man physically, Josef Ben Eliezar stood tall as he asked for forgiveness from the Palestinians at the Sabeel 7th international conference on the Nakba: Memory Reality and Beyond which took place in Nazareth and Jerusalem (November 12-19, 2008). He shared with the participants his testimony for taking part in the expulsion of the Palestinian population from Lydda and robbing them of their money and personal possessions when he was an Israeli soldier in 1948.

Josef could not live with the reality of that day in July 1948. He realized then that what he was doing to the Palestinians was what the Nazis had done to his family and people before he had immigrated to Palestine after the holocaust. He did not find a listening ear in the newly established state of Israel, and the inhumanity of that war which as a Jew he thought was a war of liberation continued to pursue him until he eventually left the country and settled in England.

I wonder how many Israelis would have the courage and the magnanimity of Josef to admit that they have done the Palestinians wrong, let alone ask for forgiveness. Although his testimony was mostly in front of an international audience, yet there were a number of Palestinians from Jerusalem and Nazareth who heard him loud and clear. I was so moved that I felt I needed to get up and recognize his courage and thank him for his testimony assuring him that we do forgive him. (check out his book The Search -

As people came up to thank me later on for my words, I could not help but wonder how meaningful for the Palestinian people it would have been and how much suffering could have been spared had the Israelis since day one of the establishment of the state in 1948 admitted the wrong and grave injustice that they had inflicted upon the Palestinians, asked for forgiveness, and allowed all who were evicted to return to their homes. A dream that could still be realized if the Jewish people can ponder and act in accordance with the words of their great prophet Micah (6:8) " What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Samia Khoury

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reports are coming in from the "Trees of Peace" olive harvest delegation

Reports are coming in from the 2008 Olive Harvest Delegation, Trees of Peace - - sponsored by Interfaith Peace-Builders & the American Friends Service Committee. Theirs is one of many organized efforts to use the olive harvest as an opportunity for solidarity and education.

The reports are online; this one, Report Two, is at

Report Two: “From my inside I find there is hope, because occupation can't stay forever”

Experiences of Occupation: Palestinian and Israeli Students and the Situation in Gaza

Photos are at


It is hard for me to give a travelogue of yesterday. I am, after two days, feeling what C.S. Lewis called “foot sore weariness.” It has little to do with the condition of my feet (or my aching knees); but it is a deep weariness for the people of this land. I can make easy conclusions and offer vague recommendations, but I would show my foolishness in doing so. The anger and frustration of the voices I heard cannot be taken lightly. It is interesting that our day began with students and ended with students.

We began by travelling to Birzeit University near Ramallah. There are 8,000 students who study at Birzeit. In spite of being closed for periods of up to several years during each Intifada (uprising of Palestinians in 1987 and 2000) the school has continued to educate Palestinian young people.

The students we met with were Palestinians, and although it is not pertinent to the issues, both were Christians. They were both from the Bethlehem area, which is no more than 40 minutes away. But that distance and time is stretched into hours winding around a wall that blocks direct roads, and checkpoints that offer harassment and delay. One of the students said, “I am dead. When I get here I have nothing left to give of myself.” I cannot presume to understand her struggle, nor can I judge her anger. I think she was expressing as she best could the internal work she does each day. She and her fellow student gave us a tour of the campus and classrooms at Birzeit.

In the evening we were joined by 3 students from Hebrew University here in Jerusalem. These three wonderfully spirited students represented a variety of Israeli positions. They described themselves as holding positions to the "right", "left", and "leaning left." All three of these young people had served in the IDF (Israel Defense Force). They felt it was their privilege to serve. One of them said, "Being in the army was a national mission." They were genuinely troubled by the struggle in their homeland. Their views and concerns were about their own security and the struggle and pain of the Palestinians. It was an open and honest conversation which at times was painful for all of us. Click (the link above) for photos of the students we met.

It is hard for me to find my way through the feelings I am experiencing here. Yesterday afternoon after visiting the Friends (Quaker) School in Ramallah we had some free time to wander the streets of this bustling Palestinian city in the West Bank. I felt quite obvious in the midst of the beautiful dark hair and eyes. Most of the women wore long dresses with long sleeves and head scarves. They were beautiful in the variety of colors and embroidery. I sat for a long time at a coffee shop trying to find words to express to express what I am experiencing. In the middle of the night I woke up with the following words in my heart:

Arab and Jew

There are layers of hurt and hate
as deep as the soil.
Blood runs; mingling as it enters
the trough of history.
Righteousness is not right;
it builds barriers, solid as stone.
Angry defiance fails to heal
the miasma of misery.
This ancient battle born of
common parents, a sort of
sibling rivalry gone bad;
seeps through the centuries,
leaving a wake of prisoners.
It breaks open the heart
of the land; a cardiac incident
on the edge of fatality.

The fuel of this dissonance
is rich with mutual interference.
Fights within soar until they are
flights into futility and sorrow.
The pursuit continues,
down winding roads;
and deepening tunnels
seeking the soil of reconciliation.

--Martha Honaker

The People Who Speak in Poetry

Today we visited a Palestinian place of study, Birzeit University, in the West Bank. Here we met Ghassan Andoni, a Christian Palestinian who is Professor of Physics at the university and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. We also met two students, and a member of the administration staff.

I felt at home in the university. The inside of the buildings felt similar to British Universities - long corridors kept cool by their marble floors, administration offices bustling with secretaries making phone calls, classrooms with the last lesson's diagram still on the blackboard.

Students here are committed. Many of the students live in Bethlehem - a 30 minute drive away. Yet the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel means students have to go the long way round, a journey that takes at least an hour. If students are stopped at one of the 93 checkpoints in the West Bank at the whim of a moody Israeli soldier, the journey can take 3-4 hours. One American professor at the university was forcibly held at a checkpoint for 3 hours whilst an Israeli soldier read the sports section of the newspaper that the professor was carrying.

Given the harassment and violation of dignity that Palestinians are subject to on a daily basis, it is an amazement that they are able to stand at all. Yet not only do they stand, but they stand tall, they stand on the soldiers of giants. According to UN statistics, Palestinians are the most educated people in the world.

Still, it is not easy for them to sustain this upright pose. Asked what hope she has for the future, the female student replied: "What future?"

Then, speaking in English, her second language, poetry flows from her lips. She speaks from her heart:
"I can't feel anything here. I can't give anything. I can't give feelings. We are dying everyday. We are dead. That's it."

Every paragraph she speaks is punctuated with "That's it." That's it, there's nothing more, we have searched so far for peace, how can we continue searching, where can we find hope for ourselves, let alone hope to share?

"It's like we are pushing a wall," she says. "Everyone is depressed. Everyone is down. How can we give?"

The administrator, though, speaks up to disagree. He has hope. It took him 11 years to complete his studies for an MA in sociology because of the difficulty of getting to university. Somehow, he still manages to believe that a better future is possible. Like the female student, he speaks in poetry:

"From my inside I find there is hope, because occupation can't stay forever." He pauses a moment, allowing his words to permeate the room. "Occupation can't stay forever. No way."

Palestinians are dying inside with the pain of oppression, yet their hands are open for peace. What can I do to fill these open hands with the peace they so deserve?

--David Masters

This originally appeared on the FoR-UK blog:

Sderot & Erez

We left the hotel this morning at 8am for a journey south to Gaza and surrounding Israeli communities. As you go south from Jerusalem the land grows more and more arid. Orange trees were in abundance and, although we could not see it until later in the day, the Mediterranean Sea was just off to the right of our bus. We are travelling in a small bus with just about enough seats for our 20 person delegation plus our bus driver, Assam, and our guide Said . These two Palestinians are wonderful men, generous and PATIENT! We are forever asking for bathroom stops! Assam has performed some maneuvers with the bus that I would have never thought possible. Last night coming home from Ramallah Said decided it would be quicker to get to Jerusalem if we did not have to stop at a checkpoint where we would have to get out and have our documents checked as well as pass all our belongings through a metal detectors. So Assam turned around and took us on a wild ride along the barrier wall. We passed through the next checkpoint with smiles and a wave.

When we arrived at Gaza today (not knowing that 4 Palestinians had been killed on Wednesday in a clash with IDF) we visited the Erez Checkpoint. This is a huge complex. In the past, Erez was the major crossing point for people going into and out of Gaza. The wall is prominent with guard towers at intervals. We knew the checkpoint was closed but wanted to take some pictures.

Overhead hung a huge Israeli drone. It looked like a big white fish hanging in the sky. It monitors activity in Gaza and allows the residents of the nearby cities and Kibbutzim to have a warning about the rockets. As I stepped out into the sunlight to take a picture a man with a huge camera stepped in front of me and took my picture. I said (without thinking), “Who the heck are you?” It turns out that he is a reporter with the BBC. He and his fellow reporters had been at the checkpoint for 6 days trying to get into Gaza to report. These guys were so glad for some action that they immediately jumped to action. Basically we took pictures of each other taking pictures! Click here for a photo

Israel has pulled out of Gaza but closed the borders. It has created a humanitarian issue within the Gaza. People and especially children are malnourished from lack of food. Medications and other medical supplies are almost non-existent. The UN has been taking food and medicine into Gaza but the relief is not enough and anger and frustration is rising within.

After leaving Erez, we visited two kibbutzim (one urban and one rural) which are very close to the border with Gaza. There we heard about residents’ work, their hopes for the future of Israel and their work to reach out to residents of Gaza. For me it was an example of the work of reconciliation. These Israeli Jews were involved in small ways of making peace. Some might think that their concern for the people of Gaza was superficial or “too little, too late.” I thought they were incredibly honest about the struggle to reach out while under the anxiety of rocket attacks. It seems to me that in this conflicted land, any attempt for reconciliation needs to be appreciated and honored. While we were at the kibbutzim Israeli military jets flew low over the area. I kept wondering how it would feel to be a citizen of Gaza with the jets flying low over them. The anxiety among the people of this area, both Israelis and Palestinians, has to be debilitating over a long period. We heard about how it affects both children and adults and it is, no doubt, a contributing factor to the overall conflict.

I felt drained when we got back. Usually a cup of tea and dinner settle and relax me but I am having a hard time sorting myself out. We have very little time to process the events we are exposed to. I am a slow processor for sure and group processing in a group as large as ours is not effective for me. I feel like I need a day of silence to “begin” the work – overall it will take months for me to really make sense of what I am experiencing

---Martha Honaker

Both of Martha's pieces originally appeared on her blog at

The Mission Statement of Interfaith Peace-Builders is as follows:

Interfaith Peace-Builders fosters a network of informed and active individuals who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ political, military, and economic role in it. To build and nurture such a network, we lead delegations of people from diverse backgrounds to Israel/Palestine. These delegations emphasize listening to and learning from those immersed in the reality of the conflict, and advancing the work of Israelis and Palestinians committed to nonviolent struggle and peace with justice. We seek to empower delegates to educate their local communities and the media, counter unfair or inaccurate stereotypes, and advocate for a more just US foreign policy that:
• actively promotes civil, political and human rights
• affirms political self-determination for Palestinians and Israelis
• fosters economic and environmental sustainability in the region
• and supports a diplomatic resolution to the conflict rather than one imposed by force of arms.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CMEP Congratulates President-elect Obama

CMEP Congratulates President-elect Obama; Renews Call for Israeli-Arab Peace
November 6, 2008
Churches for Middle East Peace - - congratulates President-elect Barack Obama on his historic victory and looks forward to working with his foreign policy team to advance U.S. policies conducive to Israeli-Arab peace. His election has created a new opportunity to achieve a just and lasting two-state solution and finally end the tragic conflict in the Holy Land.

While many issues both domestic and international in nature will compete for President Obama’s immediate attention, priorities in the Middle East will need to be quickly established and acted upon. During the campaign, we were heartened that Obama pledged to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, “starting from the minute I'm sworn into office.” He has also called for U.S. support of the Israel-Syria proximity talks and has urged diplomacy in resolving the impasse with Iran. David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote today that "Obama wants to make an early push on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, despite political turmoil in Israel."

Churches for Middle East Peace has prepared the backgrounder below with excerpts of key statements from Obama’s tenure as Senator and as a Presidential candidate that detail his positions on U.S. relations with Israel and the Palestinians and the role of U.S. diplomacy in regard to the peace process, Israel-Syria relations and Iran.

CMEP is already beginning outreach to the new Obama Administration. Following up on our July 21st letter to the Presidential candidates and subsequent communication with the two campaigns, CMEP is planning a meeting with the Obama transition team to ensure that the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace is made a top agenda item as was promised on the campaign trail.

In the weeks and months ahead CMEP also will be working to mobilize American Christian leaders and grassroots advocates to build support for the new President and in the 111th Congress for robust U.S. diplomacy to secure Middle East peace. In the meantime, we will continue to support the ongoing Annapolis process.


Obama and Middle East Peace Issues: A Backgrounder

View this Backgrounder in PDF Format -

U.S. Diplomacy and a Two-State Peace
“Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority. They will make a sustained push – working with Israelis and Palestinians – to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.” – Obama/Biden Campaign Website:

"My goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I'm sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs," – Commenting on how he would approach working for peace between Israel and the Palestinians – Press Conference, July 22, Amman, Jordan -

“…It's time to deepen our engagement to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, so that we help our ally Israel achieve true and lasting security, while helping Palestinians achieve their legitimate aspirations for statehood…” – Remarks in Washington, DC, July 15, 2008 -

“…[A] secure, lasting peace is in Israel's national interest. It is in America's national interest. And it is in the interest of the Palestinian people and the Arab world. As President, I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security. And I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role, and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my Administration…The United States must be a strong and consistent partner in this process - not to force concessions, but to help committed partners avoid stalemate and the kind of vacuums that are filled by violence. That's what I commit to do as President of the United States.” – Speech to American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), June 4, 2008 -

“On a trip to the Middle East, I met Israelis and Palestinians who told me that peace remains a distant hope without the promise of American leadership.” – Remarks to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, April 23, 2007 -

"Diplomacy in the Middle East cannot be done on the cheap. Diplomacy is measured by patience and by effort. We cannot continue to have trips consisting of little more than photo ops with little movement in between. Neither Israel nor the United States is served by this approach.” – Speech to AIPAC, March 2, 2007 -


“…[my policy] is the same policy that Bill Clinton has put forward, and that says that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, that we shouldn't divide it by barbed wire, but that, ultimately that is … a final status issue that has to be resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” – Interview with Katie Couric, CBS News, Amman, Jordan, July 22, 2008 -

“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided…” – Speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008 -

"[I]t's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations…As a practical matter, it [division] would be very difficult to execute. And I think that it is smart for us to -- to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city." – CNN Interview, June 5, 2008 -

U.S. Relations with Israel

“Barack Obama and Joe Biden strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the Middle East. They support this closeness, stating that that the United States would never distance itself from Israel…He and Joe Biden believe strongly in Israel's right to protect its citizens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel…” – Israel Fact Sheet, Foreign Policy, Obama/Biden Campaign Website -

“[W]e – as friends of Israel- must resolved to do all we can to help Israel and its neighbors to achieve [peace]. Because a secure lasting peace is in Israel’s national interest…I pledge to make every effort to help Israel achieve that peace. I will strengthen Israel's security and strengthen Palestinian partners who support that vision and personally work for two states that can live side by side in peace and security with Israel's status as a Jewish state ensured so that Israelis and Palestinians can pursue their dreams. I also expect to work on behalf of peace with the full knowledge that Israel still has bitter enemies who are intent on its destruction…As president, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade - investments to Israel’s security that will not be tied to any other nation…”– Speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008 -

“…I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress…” – Speech to Jewish Community in Cleveland, OH, February, 2008 -

“…But in the end we also know that we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israel prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States. That's not what friends do. We must be partners; we must be active partners…” – Speech to AIPAC, March 2, 2007 -

U.S. Relations with the Palestinians

“Barack Obama supports U.S. efforts to provide aid directly to the Palestinian people by bypassing any Hamas-led government that refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Obama believes that a better life for Palestinian families is good for both Israelis and Palestinians.” – Israel Fact Sheet, Obama/Biden Campaign Website -

“The United States and the international community must stand by Palestinians who are committed to cracking down on terror and carrying the burden of peacemaking. I will strongly urge Arab governments to take steps to normalize relations with Israel, and to fulfill their responsibility to pressure extremists and provide real support for President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Israel can also advance the cause of peace by taking appropriate steps - consistent with its security - to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank, and to refrain from building new settlements - as it agreed to with the Bush Administration at Annapolis.” – Speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008 -

“…[T]he Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It's going to have to be contiguous, it’s going to have to work, it’s going to have to function in some way. That's in Israel's interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat...” – Speech to Jewish Community in Cleveland, OH, February, 2008 -

“…The biggest impediment that we've got right now is that in the Palestinian territories you have on the one hand some moderates…who would like to move forward on peace process but they don't have the capacity…On the other hand you've got Hamas, which is a better organization -- is better organized, and in some ways closer to the ground, but won't acknowledge Israel's right to exist, won't renounce violence and abide by previous agreements. So what you need is a partner on the Palestinian side that is willing to, both willing to enter into peace talks and is able to execute. Now, once we have that partner, Israel's going to have…some stones to carry in the road to peace. In particular, they are going to have to look at some of the settlements in the West Bank, which it's going to be very painful for them politically to do. But they're not going to take that extraordinarily difficult political step until they feel that they've got a partner on the other side. Now, in the interim, nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people from this whole process. And I would like to see -- if we could get some movement from Palestinian leadership -- what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people. I was in the West Bank and Ramallah, and it's very challenging. And I think you can get a sympathetic perspective both within Israel and from the U.S. and the Europeans if you have Hamas acknowledge that the road to peace is not going go through -- it's not going to go through terrorism and other violence.” – From remarks at a campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa on March 11, 2007, as published by The Des Moines Register in a May 3, 2007, article -

Hamas and Gaza

“[Meeting with adversaries] does not include Hamas. They are not heads of state and they don't recognize Israel. You can't negotiate with somebody who doesn't recognize the right of the country to exist. So I understand why Israel doesn't meet with Hamas…I think that it is entirely legitimate to make distinctions between those who are heads of state, heads of established countries and those who have advocated terrorism…I think that is a perfectly appropriate distinction to draw." – Interview with ABC News, April 10, 2008 -

“…All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this. Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, and Israeli civilians are being bombarded by rockets on an almost daily basis. This is unacceptable and Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians. The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel, and should make clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against such actions. If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.” – Letter to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N Zalmay Khalilzad, January 22, 2008


“…the recent announcement that Israel and Syria have resumed their own peace negotiations is encouraging news, and it should spur the United States to support the parties’ efforts to achieve their goal of a negotiated settlement, Turkey deserves praise for its role in arranging these talks, and the success of these negotiations could, among other things, be a setback for Iran’s influence and Hizbollah’s ability to acquire advanced weaponry...” – Letter to President George W. Bush, June, 2008


“…Iran has sought nuclear weapons, supports militias inside Iraq and terror across the region, and its leaders threaten Israel and deny the Holocaust. But Obama and Biden believe that we have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting this threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them….Obama supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior. Obama and Biden would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress.” – Iran, The Obama/Biden Plan, Obama/Biden Campaign Website -

“We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists…It is important, though, for us to use all the tools at our disposal…if we can work more effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions on Iran…that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them. Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks -- not just with our friends, but also with our enemies -- to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences. If you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to re-join the community of nations…We've got to try to have talks, understanding that we're not taking military options off the table.” – Response to Question from Tom Brokaw during Second Presidential Debate, October 7, 2008 -

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

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sabeel Conference underway - The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond

The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond - Nov. 12-19, 2008

The Seventh International Sabeel Conference is underway in Nazareth and Jerusalem. Just take a look at the tremendous lineup of speakers!

The conference is focusing on the commemoration of 60 years since the Nakba, under the theme, "The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond - A Time to Remember, A Time for Truth." Participants are examining the 60 years since the Nakba and the complex issues of memory, narrative, and identity raised by the events of 1948. To view the entire conference program, see this link:

Among those who struggle for justice and peace in Palestine, our focus has been the fight to end the illegal Occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, in order to truly understand the complexities of memory, narrative, and identity faced by the Palestinian community, it is vital to examine the events of 1948-what the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or Catastrophe. For 60 years, the Nakba has cast its shadow over the struggles of identity and narrative undertaken both by Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel and those in the Occupied Territories. As the nonviolent resistance to Occupation continues, the question of what it means to be a Palestinian remains.

*What truly happened in 1948, and what did the Nakba mean for Palestinians?
*How have the events of 1948 shaped the complex identities of modern Palestinians and Israelis, and especially Christians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel?
*Why has the refugee crisis remained unresolved for 60 years, and what can churches and the international community do to promote a just resolution of this situation?
*How will the events of 1948 continue to effect the quest for a just peace in Palestine and Israel? *What do the events of 1948 reveal about injustice within Israel in addition to the injustice of the Occupation?
*How can those who seek justice for Palestinians as well as Israelis face the truth of 1948 while moving beyond memory to justice and reconciliation?

A roster of respected theologians, academics and activists from around the world has gathered in Nazareth and Jerusalem to lead panel discussions, lectures, workshops, bible study and worship. Participants from many countries and a variety of faith denominations are learning, sharing insights, and working together. They include:

Mgr Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Catholic Auxillary Bishop and Vicar of Nazareth

The Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

Samia Khoury, regular contributor to The Witness online with a monthly column “Justice & Liberation”

Dr. Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Chair of Middle Eastern Studies, Columbia University

Dr. Ahmad Sa'di, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel)

Dr. Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze’ev, an anthropologist who teaches at the Ruppin Academic Centre, a Fellow of the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Northern Ireland

Abir Kopty, spokeswoman for the Mossawa Center (the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel)

Dr. Nadim Rouhana, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Conflict Analysis at George Mason University, head of Haifa-based Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Center for Applied Social Research

Dr. Basil Ghattas, general director of The Galilee Society

Tamar Gozansky, economist and former member of the Israeli Knesset

Dr. Uri Davis, member of the Middle East Regional Committee of the international Journal Citizenship Studies; Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies (IAIS), University of Exeter, Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (IMEIS), University of Durham

Dr. Raef Zreik, Palestinian-Israeli civil rights lawyer and political activist

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director Rabbis For Human Rights

Eitan Bronstein, founder of Zochrot, an organization that raises awareness among Israelis about the Nakba

Mohammad Zeidan, Arab Association for Human Rights

Faisal Sawalha, Regional Council for the Arab Unrecognized Villages in the Negev

Dr. Mustafa Kabha, Mada al-Carmel—Arab Center for Applied Social Research

Noga Kadman, researcher and member of Zochrot

Hibat Mahroum and Jimmy Johnson, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Ronny Perlman, Machsom Watch

Adam Keller, Gush Shalom

Salwa Duaibis, MATTIN Group, human rights and development organization addressing the deficient implementation of human rights protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Sam Bahour, My Right to Enter Campaign

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, author and public health advocate

Mohammad Kaial, Association for the Defense of the Rights of Displaced Persons

Mohammad Zeidan, Arab Association for Human Rights

Nasrat Dakwar, Association for Civil Rights in Israel

Jafar Farah, Director of the Mossawa Centre in Haifa

Nadim Rouhana, Mada al-Carmel—Arab Center for Applied Social Research

Dr. Diana Dolev, New Profile

Josef Ben-Eliezer, author of The Search

Muhammad Ali Taha, contemporary Palestinian poet

Wisam Jubran, musician

Rev. Simon Kortjass, World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

Dr. Adel Manna former director of the Center for the Study of Arab Society in Israel, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

Allegra Pacheco, OCHA

Sami Mshasha, UNRWA

Rifat Kassis Special Advisor to the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches on the Middle East, consultant at Dar Annadwa, the International Centre of Bethlehem (ICB); Badayl/Alternatives” consulting agency

Muhammad Jaradat, Coordinator of the Campaign Unit of Badil, Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Constantine S. Dabbagh, director of the Middle East Council of Churches' committee for refugee work in the Gaza Strip

Tarek Abuata, Christian Peacemakers Team

Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi is head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, PASSIA.

Elias Daoud Khoury, Arab-Israeli and Jerusalem-based lawyer

Sarah Kreimer, former head of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), pioneer in Jewish-Arab economic development

Sam Bahour, Palestinian-American businessman and commentator living in Al-Bireh in the West Bank

Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, senior research associate at the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management.

Andreas van Agt, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island

Lily Habash, Founder and Head of the Board of Directors, PARTNERS - Women and Men for the empowerment of Palestinian women.

About Sabeel -
Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, promote unity among them, and lead them to act for justice and love. Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, non-violence, liberation, and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities. The word "Sabeel" is Arabic for "the way" and also a "channel" or "spring" of life-giving water.

Sabeel also works to promote a more accurate international awareness regarding the identity, presence, and witness of Palestinian Christians as well as their contemporary concerns. It encourages individuals and groups from around the world to work for a just, comprehensive, and enduring peace informed by truth and empowered by prayer and action.

Friends of Sabeel--North America [] is a member of Sabeel International, working in the U.S. and Canada to support the vision of Sabeel by cultivating the support of American Christians and their church leaders through regional educational conferenes, alternative pilgrimage, witness trips, and international gatherings in the Holy Land.

The Friends of Sabeel photo exhibit "Commemorating 60 years of Dispossession" is available for exhibit in your community. See this link for ordering information:

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