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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