Monday, September 29, 2008

CMEP's Washington Update, Sept. 29, 2008

From Churches for Middle East Peace, the Washington Update: Israeli-Palestinian & Iran Issues on Congressional Agenda

http://www.cmep.org/Alerts/2008Sept29.htm

The Churches for Middle East Peace Board and Staff extend holiday greetings to our Jewish and Muslim colleagues on the occasions this week of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashana and Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast that marks the completion of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan.

Shana Tova and Eid Mubarak!

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September 29, 2008
By Julie Schumacher Cohen, Legislative Coordinator

Despite the intense focus on the financial crisis, in these final days of Congressional business before a return to the campaign trail, Israeli-Palestinian and Iran issues have been on the agenda. Details are included below. It is still unclear when Congress will adjourn or whether it will go into a “pro-forma” session that will allow it to act quickly should pressing issues arise. At this point it is unlikely, but not impossible, that they would come back for a “lame duck” session after the elections.

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1) House Passes Israeli-Palestinian Peacemakers Resolution, H. Res. 1369
2) Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Peace Process
3) Perennial Jerusalem Embassy Resolution Introduced
4) New Iran Sanctions Bill Passes House: Good and Bad News

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1. House Passes Israeli-Palestinian Peacemakers Resolution, H. Res. 1369

The House of Representatives passed by voice vote last Tuesday, September 23rd a resolution recognizing the important role of nongovernmental organizations working to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. House Resolution 1369, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and dubbed the “Peacemakers Resolution”, had been unanimously approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in July and has the bi-partisan support of 35 co-sponsors.

Passage of H. Res. 1369 sends a positive signal of Congressional support for civil society peace-building efforts at a time when progress on the Israeli-Palestinian political process is uncertain. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) encouraged Members to co-sponsor the resolution (view action alert: http://www.cmep.org/Alerts/2008Sept17.htm) and sent a letter the morning of Sept. 23rd to all House Representatives urging them to support it (see letter here: http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/CMEP_House_Letter_HR1369.pdf ).

Thanks to everyone on the CMEP network who contacted their Representative. In her floor peech on the resolution, Congresswoman Lee cited the strong support of CMEP. The resolution as supported by a broad range of groups, including the Alliance for Middle East Peace ALLMEP), Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and the Middle East Policy Advisory Committee.

Listen to Rep. Lee’s speech by clicking here ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O2Me30UM9k
View the text of H. Res. 1369 here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/gpoxmlc110/hr1369_ih.xml

Excerpt from Rep. Barbara Lee’s Floor Speech on H. Res. 1369 (Sept. 23, 2008):
“…This resolution recognizes the vital role of nongovernmental organizations in peace-building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and it encourages them to remain steadfast in their commitment to nonviolence, in their recognition of Israel's right to exist, in their dedication to achieving a two-state solution, and in their work towards building trust and cooperation between the two peoples.

Mr. Speaker, this bipartisan resolution is strongly endorsed by many organizations and groups that have been long dedicated to the cause of peace, justice and of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. I'd like to mention for a minute the supporters of this resolution:

The Churches for Middle East Peace, which is a coalition of 22 public policy offices of national churches and agencies--Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant--working to realize the vision of a region where two viable states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders; the Alliance for Middle East Peace, which is an alliance of 57 NGOs that are promoting people-to-people coexistence, cooperation and reconciliation between Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews in the Middle East; the Israel Policy Forum, which is an independent, nonpartisan organization advocating for sustained American, diplomatic efforts to end the conflict between Israel and her neighbors and to actively promote the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the Middle East Policy Advisory Committee, which is a coalition of organizations that my congressional district formed to bring a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Mr. Speaker, in a region that has suffered so much loss and seemingly interminable conflict, these efforts are critically important in addressing the daily struggles and challenges faced by Israelis and Palestinians….”

2. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Peace Process

The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs held a hearing last Thursday, Sept. 25th on “The Middle East Peace Process: Progress and Prospects.” This was the first Senate hearing on this topic since March 15, 2006, over two years ago, when they examined “Post-Palestinian Election Challenges in the Middle East” after the election of Hamas to a majority in the Palestinian parliament. The House has held a variety of hearings on Israel and Palestinian related issues, but in the Senate it has been noticeably neglected. The advocacy agenda for CMEP’s April conference included urging Senators to “Support or initiate the convening of hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to monitor progress on the Annapolis process and the implementation of Road Map requirements.”
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch was the only witness at the Sept. 25th hearing. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the subcommittee presided and retiring Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) also offered comments and questions. Secretary Welch presented a progress report on Annapolis, emphasizing that the negotiations underway are “bilateral, confidential and continuous” and the most meaningful in nearly a decade. He offered no promises on what can be expected in the waning months of the Bush Administration, making a distinction between “possibility and probability” and said “to the degree we can make progress toward” the goal of Annapolis, it should be “irreversible, so it can be transferred over.” Senator Kerry pressed Sec. Welch on the disconnect between Israeli settlement activity and U.S. policy, saying, “It’s been the policy of our country for years that [settlement activity’s] quote unacceptable’ but it has never changed what happens.” In responding to Welch’s observation that within their lifetimes “the concept of a Palestinian state was alien”, Sen. Kerry made the point that “this notion that everybody has decided they want two states doesn’t satisfy anybody anymore." He said the question is now, “how Swiss cheesy is this state going to look?”

Senator Hagel and Sec. Welch exchanged views on the current state of affairs in the Middle East and the impact of U.S. policy over the last eight years, with Hagel coming to the conclusion that the region is “more combustible, more unstable than maybe ever” and Welch countering that “if we only look at the trouble spots in the Middle East…we are missing a bigger picture.” Hagel asked Welch how the Administration is addressing the "reality" of Hamas’ power in Gaza and asked him why the U.S. isn’t mediating the Israel-Syria proximity talks. In response to Sen. Hagel’s questions about lessons learned from the last eight years and what advice he would give to the next administration regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sec. Welch said his successors should, “Give it a priority, put some serious effort on the table, and expect and demand results.”

Key excerpts from the hearing can be viewed on CMEP’s website: http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/SFRC_subcom_excerpts_Sept_25_08.html

The full hearing can be listened to by going here: http://foreign.senate.gov/hearing.html
(and clicking on the blue hearing title) and Sec. Welch’s submitted testimony can be viewed
here: http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2008/WelchTestimony080925p.pdf

3. Perennial Jerusalem Embassy Resolution Introduced

On Thursday, September 25th Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and 4 co-sponsors introduced H. Con. Res. 432, a resolution urging the President to “immediately begin to relocate the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” (View the text of H. Con. Res. 432 here: http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/Text_HConRes432.html)

These kinds of resolutions are not unexpected during an election season, despite the widespread recognition that moving the U.S. embassy prior to a final status deal would be a provocative gesture counterproductive to U.S. national security interests (the resolution itself cites the fact that the President regularly waives the requirements of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act). As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now remarked in her Sept. 26th Legislative Roundup, “The Jerusalem embassy issue is a perennial favorite among those trying to score quick points on Israel.”

In the 110th Congress, no less than 5 other Jerusalem related resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate. Notably, the only one to gain traction and actually come up for a vote was H. Con. Res. 152, a commemoration of the “40th anniversary of the Six Day War and the reunification of the city of Jerusalem” which only implicitly mentioned the embassy issue. CMEP opposed the resolution, which passed June 5, 2007, with a message to all House offices entitled, “H. Con. Res. 152: Commemoration of Past Ignores Present and Prejudges Future; For the Sake of Jerusalem Urgent Peacemaking is Needed Today."
[http://www.cmep.org/Legislative_Issues/2007June4_Message_HCon_Res_152.htm]

H. Con. Res. 432 and the many resolutions that have come before it, and can be expected to come in the future, are largely symbolic and have little effect on actual policy. Nonetheless, they send an unhelpful message when Congress should be supporting Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic efforts. In the new year, CMEP will redouble its efforts with Congress to build support for the U.S. policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the two parties and to build awareness of the importance of a shared city to a durable peace agreement.

4. New Iran Sanctions Bill Passes House: Good and Bad News

By the end of last week it seemed like Congress might adjourn without passing any Iran Sanctions measures. There was no movement on H. Con. Res. 362/S. Res. 580 and efforts to include Iran sanctions amendments to the “must-pass” Defense Authorization Bill had failed. However, in a last-ditch effort on Friday, Sept. 26th, Rep. Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced – and the House subsequently passed – the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2008”. A combination of several sanctions measures, the Berman bill is largely focused on further sanctioning business and investment activities with Iran. The text of the legislation was not released until mid-day Friday and because it was considered under “suspension of the rules”, a fast-track generally reserved for non-controversial bills, there was, regrettably, very little debate on a serious piece of sanctions legislation that deserved scrutiny.

According to CQ Today, the Berman bill is “not expected to see action in the Senate”, however the longer Congress stays in session the more time it gives them to bring up various measures. The good news is that the Berman bill does not endorse the provocative measures in H. Con. Res. 362/S. Res. 580, particularly H. Con. Res. 362’s call for “stringent inspection requirements” on goods moving in and out of Iran that could be construed as necessitating a “blockade”, which is an act of war. Moreover, the bill includes a statement that “the United States should use iplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem” and that the United States should continue to “support efforts in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council.” It also states that nothing in the bill shall “be construed as authorizing the use of force.”

While the bill doesn’t support direct U.S. talks with Iran, implying sanctions alone are adequate diplomacy, Chairman Berman said, positively, in a speech on the floor that “Sanctions will never work unless we have buy-in and support from other key countries. And if the process of achieving that buy-in requires us to engage directly with Iran, that is certainly something we should do.”

The bad news is that the Berman bill does not embody the comprehensive diplomatic strategy that is needed to effectively address Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Despite the mention of using diplomatic means, in substance the bill continues the "all sticks and no carrots" approach, relying on sanctions and failing to provide incentives or promote direct, serious and sustained U.S. negotiations with Iran. Churches for Middle East Peace released last week a new policy statement on Iran, outlining how diplomatic engagement with Iran together with substantive progress on Israeli-Arab peace is integral to regional peace, security and stability [http://www.cmep.org/Statements/2008_September_Policy%20Statement%20on%20Iran.htm].

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Naim Ateek: `Does God Care for Labels?'

Many readers know that I am very commited to the work of Sabeel, the ecumenical theology institute in Jerusalem. I am always impressed with Cornerstone, the quarterly publication from Sabeel, and I think it deserves wider distribution. So here is the most recent cover commentary by the Rev. Naim Ateek, Sabeel's founder and director.

Cornerstone
Summer 2008
A Sobering 60 Years
http://www.fosna.org/cornerstone/documents/CornerstoneIssue49.pdf

Does God Care for Labels?

On May 15, 2008, the Palestinians commemorated their Nakba while the Israelis celebrated their independence. The two sides are miles apart from reconciling their divergent history. It was obvious that the Israelis were proud to celebrate 60 years of the establishment of their state while the Palestinians were mourning 60 years of tragedy. This is the enigma of history in the Middle East - the presence of tragedy and triumph, commemoration and celebration, Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) and Atzma’oot (Hebrew for independence).

Those who celebrated paid no attention to those who mourned, and those who mourned are powerless to turn their lamentation into celebration. What exacerbated the pain of the mourners was that those who celebrated totally ignored and denied their Nakba.

We have been living in this paradox for the last 60 years. Let us stop for a moment and ask ourselves a theological question: how does God see the Palestinian Nakba and Israel’s Atzma’oot?

Liberation theology emphasizes that God takes a stand on the side of the poor and oppressed and against the powerful oppressors. In this theology, the only labels that matter are those of oppressor and oppressed. The labels cross over racial and national borders. Does it, therefore, matter to God whether one is a Jew, a Muslim, or a Christian? Does it matter whether one is Israeli and another is a Palestinian? Are such human made labels important to God?

I am sure there are believers in the various religions of the world who would argue vociferously that God started these labels and sees us through them. “This one is special and chosen and that one is not.” For other people, this can pose a dilemma. On the one hand, it is difficult to be emphatic. After all, is it not presumptuous of any of us to claim that he/she can speak for God? On the other hand, is it not our duty to challenge any simplistic answers that come from fanatic religious fundamentalists? I believe it is possible without pretentiousness and egotism to address difficult theological questions. Although God is aware of the many labels we wear, I do not believe that these labels are important to God.

Let me illustrate the absurdity of labels. Here in the Middle East each religious group has its own cemetery. There is one cemetery for Jews, another for Muslims, and another for Christians. In addition, we have one cemetery for each Christian denomination. It is considered scandalous when a person is buried in a different cemetery than his/her own denomination, let alone when the religious boundaries have been crossed. How ridiculous to think that God worries about such petty things?

Does it really matter to God? I believe that God sees us all as human beings who are God’s creation. We are all God’s children. God sees us as members of one human family. God looks at Iraq and says, “I am grieved because my children are at war.” God looks at Palestine and Israel and says, “I am grieved because my children refuse to share the land and cannot live in peace with each other.”

I believe what matters to God is not the labels that we have invented be they the national, ethnic, racial, religious, social, etc. as much as the way we violate our own God-given humanity and the humanity of our fellow brothers and sisters. Labels are useful when they are meant to make a reference to simple facts such as one’s nationality or racial origin. But when they are used to denigrate, separate, and classify people’s worth and discriminate among them, they become a curse and a crime.

It is hard to believe theologically that it really matters to God whether one is Israeli or Palestinian. What matters is whether both live justly and mercifully together. It matters to God when one oppresses the other and fabricates schemes to kill and eliminate them. It matters to God when one side wants to celebrate its independence while forcing the other to live in poverty and deprivation. It matters to God when one side enjoys freedom and then denies it to the other.

What we must aspire for as humans is, therefore, to shed the residual waste of our tribal theology and culture and discover the true potential of our own humanity. When we reach that level, we realize that true celebration takes place whenever good has triumphed over evil in all of us and justice over injustice and truth over falsehood and love over hate.

When this happens our theology of God and our theology of human beings has come of age.

To celebrate one’s independence on the ashes of another people becomes a blasphemy and a sacrilege against God the creator of both and a profanity against our fellow human beings. It is an insult to God and it belittles the worth of man/woman. So long as the Palestinians cannot share in the celebration, it is a shame for Israel to celebrate. We are still enslaved by a theology of a tribal warrior god and a humanity that is limited to vengeance. Such a tribal theology must be rejected and abandoned. The God who attracts our loyalty and love is the God who breaks the labels that separate God’s children from one another, meeting us in the face of the other, even the so-called enemy, and presenting us with the possibility of living in peace together and in freedom and reconciliation.

As we move into the next decade and in anticipation of possible worse scenarios for our region, there are important points to keep in mind:
In the past, some Israeli leaders said regarding the Palestinian Nakba, “the older Palestinians will die and the new generation will forget.” The Nakba memory is deeply embedded in the psyche of the Palestinians, in conscientious Jews, and in the hearts of many friends abroad. Public opinion in the world is growing against Israeli intransigence. Oppressed people will ultimately gain their freedom. Sooner or later, Israel will have to grant liberation to the Palestinians. It is wiser if the Israelis initiate it themselves rather than being compelled to concede it.

Nonviolence movements in Palestine are beginning to take hold. An increasing number of Palestinians are abandoning the armed struggle and showing a commitment to nonviolent resistance. Israel’s violence has helped create not only the violence in Palestinians but equally nonviolence. Israel has pushed the Palestinians into nonviolence. This trend is growing in spite of Israel’s harsh reprisals. What is happening in the West Bank will also happen in the Gaza Strip. It is only a matter of time. The movement towards nonviolence is inevitable. It seems that training in nonviolence which many groups throughout Palestine have had is bearing fruit and it will gain global support. This is a hopeful sign and it will contribute to the emergence of potential leaders.

Exile and return are two phenomena this part of the world is used to. No matter what Israel does, it cannot prevent the return. It can drag it out, it can slow it down, but it cannot prevent it. Israel needs to learn from its own Jewish history. If Jews waited for 2000 years and did not forget the land; who would bet that the Palestinians will forget Palestine? The day will come when a Palestinian“Herzl” would rise and the Palestinians will find a way to return. It is better if Israel works with the international community to find how to achieve a resolution of this issue rather than to plot ominous schemes to expel the Palestinians.

Justice remains the issue. For many years, Israel has created policies that would displace the Palestinians, deny them their rights, humiliate them, and force them to leave. It has invested billions of dollars to make life miserable for them so that they would emigrate. Israel has taken the shortest way to make itself insecure. The shortest way for the resolution of the conflict is the doing of justice in accordance with international law. All other schemes will not work in the long run. Justice is the only true foundation for peace.

Israel needs to listen to its modern-day prophets. They are Jews from Israel as well as from abroad. They care about Israel, its security, and its survival. But they are in agreement that Israel today is on a self-destructive course. It must change. They are asking Israel to stop its injustice against the Palestinians. They are calling for a true sharing of the land with the Palestinians. It is sad to observe that the voices of these prophets are not heard. The true prophets are those who know that true peace can only be built on the foundation of truth and justice.

Israel needs to confront the internal forces that continue the process of the Nakba. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s report “The State of Human Rights in Israel 2007” [http://www.acri.org.il/pdf/state2007.pdf] documents tragic statements and legislation by Jewish Knesset members against Arab Israelis including proposals for population transfer of the Arab citizens of Israel. Israel’s obsession with maintaining a Jewish majority and its fear of its Arab population together are breeding a culture of racism. Many fear that these incitements will lead to additional actions against citizens who already suffered in 1948. This racism and discrimination only perpetuates the sin of the Nakba of 1948.

With other courageous people, we continue to commit ourselves to speak truth to the powerful leaders. Israel must change if it wants peace. I hope we do not have to wait for another decade to see that transformation happen.

Rev. Naim Ateek is the director of Sabeel Jerusalem

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Friday, September 19, 2008

`Promised Land' conference, World Council of Churches event

`Promised Land' conference brings about "constructive confrontation," new views on Israel-Palestine conflict

Full news from the World Council of Churcheds: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1722/quotpromised-landquo.html

A conference on "Promised Land" that aired different theological approaches to this key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has given church leaders and theologians new views to take home to their churches. Some participants said their outlook had been changed by the "constructive confrontation" at the World Council of Churches (WCC) event.

A key result of the conference is a better understanding of the question of land in the Bible, in theology and in the conflict. The conferees said decades of violence in Israel-Palestine challenge Christian theologians to work out "life-affirming" responses to the conflict. The Bible "must not be utilized to justify oppression or supply simplistic commentary on contemporary events", the final document said.

The 10-14 September 2008 conference was hosted by the Swiss Protestant Federation and the Reformed Churches in Bern-Jura-Solothurn. The encounter took place as part of the WCC Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, an inter-church advocacy initiative. The 85 participants came from Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, Africa and Asia.

"Concrete contributions to the discussions from Palestinian Christians helped to significantly change approaches to the issues," the host churches said in a communiqué. "In the controversial and at times passionate debates a constructive sensitivity to the central themes developed."

Scholars from Europe and North America outlined progress made in years of dialogues between Christians and Jews. Recognizing this "Jewish-Christian healing" the conference expressed hope that Christians in Palestine-Israel would be welcomed into such dialogues in future and invited similar dialogues with Muslims as well.

"Let us continue to critically and creatively examine notions of the 'Promised Land', rediscovering in the Bible and in our traditions life-giving metaphors for promoting justice, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness for the fullness of the earth and all its inhabitants", said the final document, the "Bern Perspective."

It is particularly important to differentiate between biblical history and biblical stories, the "Bern Perspective" says, and as well to distinguish between the Israel of the Bible and the modern State of Israel.

Nine panel discussions at the conference gave different perspectives on the concept of the "Promised Land" and related issues. Much follow-up work will be needed on the matters raised, including material for use in parishes.

During the meeting participants visited a House of Religions established in Bern after years of relationship-building between the city's Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious communities. At the ecumenical service to end the meeting, Palestinian theologian Fr Jamal Khader highlighted the central significance for peace of Jerusalem, as the home of two peoples and three religions. “Peace begins in Jerusalem and shines forth into the world from there."

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Full text of the Bern Perspective: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-programmes/public-witness-addressing-power-affirming-peace/middle-east-peace/13-09-08-bern-perspective.html

Photo gallery: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/photo-galleries/palestineisrael-promised-land.html

WCC - Churches in the Middle East: solidarity and witness for peace - http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/public-witness-addressing-power-affirming-peace/churches-in-the-middle-east.html

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Rev. Mark Hanson announces ELCA Bishops Academy to meet in Jerusalem and Bethlehem


The Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), spoke about plans for 65 ELCA bishops to travel to the Holy Land early next year. Hanson addresssed the August 2008 ELCA Communicators Conference - http://archive.elca.org/communication/comcon/


video

[Video courtesy of ELCA Department for Communication Services - http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services.aspx]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bern Conference on Religious Dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The World Council of Churches issued this news release from the international theological conference at Bern.

Sept. 10, 2008

International Conference Addresses Religious Dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The need to "re-frame the religious dimensions" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key goal of a 4-day international theological conference starting today in the Swiss capital, Bern. The conference involves some 65 theologians and church leaders from all over the world who are focusing on the issue of "Promised Land".

The actors involved in the Middle East conflict see their positions as having "a divine mandate and polarized as wholly good versus wholly evil," Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, told conference participants at the opening ceremony.
However, Kobia added, Christians "must challenge and dismantle ideological attempts to attribute specific political projects and systems to God's will".

The conference is being hosted by the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and by the Reformed Churches in Bern-Jura-Solothurn. The event is part of the international inter-church advocacy initiative Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum of the WCC.

Kobia acknowledged that churches "are seriously divided on this issue". There are "differences amongst us in our readings of the biblical texts," he said. However, "those differences must not be an obstacle for common action for a just peace."

Recognizing the "crucial importance" of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, "especially in regards to this situation," the conference amounts to an "intra-Christian theological dialogue where we start amongst ourselves," Kobia said. "We have not spent sufficient time or energy attending to our own perspective and differences within the [Christian] family," he added.
"The churches have a key role in the resolution of this long and bloody tragedy of suffering and struggle," said Kobia, who compared the conflict to "another apartheid situation." They are called "to heal and to bring all sides to reconciliation rooted in the ethical and theological imperative for a just peace."

Also scheduled to speak at the opening ceremony were Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Council of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and chair of the Swiss Council of Religions; Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch, from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs; Rev. Dr Andreas Zeller, president of the Synodal Council of the Reformed Churches Bern-Jura-Solothurn; and Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

More information on the consultation: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1722/an-international-ecumeni.html

Full text of Samuel Kobia's welcome remarks: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=6278

WCC Programme "Churches in the Middle East: solidarity and witness for peace": http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3113

Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches: http://www.sek-feps.ch/

WCC Contact: +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363
media@wcc-coe.org

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

CMEP Policy Analysis & Advocacy Action for September

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has issued its September Policy Analysis & Advocacy Action Newsletter.

This message can also be found online at: http://www.cmep.org/newsletter/2008September.htm

Click here for the newsletter in pdf format: http://www.cmep.org/newsletter/2008September.pdf

The September CMEP newsletter assesses the state of the Annapolis peace process and examines the role of U.S. diplomacy as we anticipate the fall elections and the transition to a new administration. Included with the newsletter are advocacy action guidance and CMEP's Election 2008 Resource, "Questions to Ask the Candidaes about Middle East Peace" -
http://www.cmep.org/elections08/Resources.htm

To help strengthen and expand CMEP's advocacy network and church partner program in preparation for the peacemaking work ahead through "5 easy ways to spread the word," see this link: http://www.cmep.org/Everyday_Advocacy.htm

Here is the text of the newsletter:

Beyond Annapolis: The U.S. Role in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking

By Warren Clark, Executive Director

September, 2008

The political landscape on issues related to Israel and the peace process is changing. The zero sum game of the past has been discredited. The interdependence of the two peoples is indisputable. During this campaign season both Presidential candidates have said they support Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Even their varied comments on Jerusalem have included welcome acknowledgement that its status should be decided through negotiations. J-Street has emerged as a new and unprecedented pro-Israel and pro-peace non-partisan political action committee that is providing support to Congressional candidates who back Israel's security and a negotiated two-state peace.

The work of Churches for Middle East Peace along with its Jewish and Arab-American allies is finding increasing resonance on Capitol Hill.

"Your tireless advocacy for peace with justice in the Holy Land is an inspiration to me and my colleagues. I am grateful for your work. No matter the odds, we must continue our work for a just peace in the Middle East. We must seize every opportunity to make small gains, even in times of overwhelming challenge." [Rep. David Price (NC-4), CMEP Congressional Prayer for Peace Breakfast, April 22, 2008]

Mainstream Israelis and Palestinians are in almost full agreement on what a peace agreement will look like. President Bush has repeatedly endorsed the idea of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

Now it is essential that the Bush Administration hand over a functioning peace process to its successor and that the next President seize boldly this opportunity to bring this tragic conflict to a peaceful conclusion.

It is almost a year since the Annapolis Conference of November 2007 re-launched the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians under American auspices and with worldwide support. It is now possible to get a picture of how far the process has gone, what is holding up progress, the prospects for agreement, and the essential role the United States needs to play now and into 2009.

Peace Talks Continue Despite Obstacles

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have gone on almost continually since late last year. There are reportedly a number of draft agreements and even maps. The announcement in July by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of his intention to resign (he may stay on in a caretaker capacity) was accompanied by his statement that he still intends to reach an agreement with the Palestinians to hand over to the next government. Palestinian leaders said they would keep negotiating, notwithstanding political changes in Israel's government.

In many ways, Israel is now closer to peace with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors than at any time in the past. This year Israel agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza and a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is having proximity talks with Syria mediated by Turkey. There is a relative calm, which may demonstrate a well known phenomenon in the Israel-Palestinian conflict: as long as there is progress, or the appearance of progress, in addressing the conflict, conditions are quiet. However, there is the ever present danger of a repeat of patterns past: once hope is lost, the result is violence or worse.

Recent violence in Jerusalem and hostilities between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza are a warning of the tensions that can explode.

Yet despite the promise of Annapolis and some surprising Israeli-Arab diplomatic developments this year, pessimism remains about the possibility of achieving a negotiated agreement anytime soon, much less its implementation.

Domestic Israeli & Palestinian Political Divides

Deep political divisions on both sides make it difficult for leaders to mobilize their constituencies. Some believe that left to their own devices, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leadership can withstand forces determined to maintain the status quo.

The unsuccessful 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon undermined Olmert's ability to lead his government coalition when he embraced the peace process. The pain of giving up hundreds of settlements; relocating thousands of settlers; ceding control of most of the West Bank; returning the Golan Heights to Syria; and sharing Jerusalem threatens important political, economic and ideological interests and endangers careers. Israel's political cycles have at various times bedeviled the desired timelines of peace efforts, and this fall promises to have its share of commotion in the Knesset.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas and Fatah are deeply divided politically and geographically. Fatah continues to engage in peacemaking with Israel but holds no sway over Gaza and is competing with Hamas in the West Bank, while Hamas has suspended rocket attacks into southern Israel but remains wary of the peace process. There is uncertainty about the degree to which Palestinians will be able to enforce any agreement they may sign.

A Not-so-Honest Broker

The American role in any negotiations is indispensible. However, it has been said that the U.S. has failed at times to heed the Hippocratic injunction to, "First do no harm". In his book published this year, The Much Too Promised Land, Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli issues, including during the 1999-2000 Camp David negotiations, recalled the controversy caused by his 2005 op-ed "Israel's Lawyer" in which he observed that "With the best of motives, we followed Israel's lead without critically examining what that would mean for our own interests, for those of the Arab side and for the overall success of the negotiations...[the Bush Administration] has been exceedingly deferential to Israel's political and security needs without any equivalent sensitivity to the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas..."

Annapolis was from the beginning an attempt at regional dialogue and action, notably including key Arab actors such as Syria. However, a hoped for "honest broker" role for the U.S., which should include monitoring compliance to agreements, setting standards of accountability, reporting violations, or exacting consequences when agreements are broken or not implemented, has scarcely been visible.

Lieutenant General William Frasier, named to monitor "Road Map" obligations, including a freeze on settlement activity by Israel and Palestinian security reforms to end violence, has held meetings with the parties, but issued no public report. In fact, there has been something of a building boom in settlement activity since Annapolis. According to figures from Peace Now, in the first three months of 2008 alone, expansion took place in 101 West Bank settlements, including at least 500 buildings, and tenders for the construction of at least 750 housing units in East Jerusalem were issued, a huge increase compared to 46 housing units in 2007. In July, Israel's Defense Ministry approved the construction of a new West Bank settlement, called Meskiyot, in the Jordan Valley.

A Self-Limiting American Role

A year ago this newsletter posed rhetorical questions about the American role in facilitating negotiations on the so-called final status issues: Would the Bush Administration make progress on ending settlement expansion? Would it make clear there can only be a peace agreement if it includes the sharing of Jerusalem?

The answer to these questions unfortunately is "no". Instead of taking issues head on, the American approach has been mostly low key, seeking to provide time for the two parties to negotiate and come up with solutions themselves. The U.S. has emphasized capacity building efforts with the Palestinian Authority to help it enforce West Bank security, government administration, and economic development. These are laudable and necessary but far from sufficient to bring about an agreement.

Key opportunities to provide peacemaking leadership have also been missed. In a speech to the Knesset in May, President Bush made almost no mention of the need to make progress on the peace process. The President has also chosen not to engage on the issue of Jerusalem, leaving the unfortunate impression it can be solved later or separately from other final status issues. During a visit in January 2008 the President said only that Jerusalem is a "tough" issue.
The reality is that a durable peace agreement will require serious compromises and a great deal of hands-on American advocacy to push and pull the two parties, albeit in different ways. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has observed that one of the key reasons the United States is so essential in Arab-Israeli negotiations is because the "dramatic asymmetries - of power, and of negotiating tactics - demand a robust third-party role."

The Unsustainable Status Quo

The continuation of the status quo is clearly terrible for all sides. Iranian backed Hamas and Hezbollah remain on Israel's borders and reject Israel's legitimacy. The occupation continues with its daily hardships, including countless barriers and checkpoints that restrict Palestinian travel, and economic activity. The blockade of Gaza largely remains in effect with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reporting that over half of the Gazan population is living below the poverty line. Jerusalem's fragile coexistence has been broken with three ominous attacks this year on Israelis by Palestinian East Jerusalemites. Tensions in Jerusalem are being fueled by the failure of the municipality to improve the welfare of Arab residents combined with Israel's policies of revoking residency rights, expanding settlements and demolishing homes deemed to not have legal standing.

Conflict management, rather than resolution, has long been the default position of many American politicians. The failure to improve the status quo can appear risk-less from this side of the Atlantic and there is a perception that it is politically dangerous to question it. Yet support for the prevailing situation of unresolved conflict clearly contributes to Israel's insecurity and undermines American interests in the Middle East.

The more time goes on without visible political progress, the greater the danger hope will be lost and what remains of the peace process will break down. It has almost become a mantra of Middle East policy hands that the deadline for the two-state solution is nearing and that this may in fact be the "last chance". As we know from past administrations, the transition time between election-day and the inauguration provides a unique opening for peacemaking, along with serious risks and challenges. In his inaugural address on January 20, 2009, President McCain or President Obama should make the unprecedented statement that he will make resolution of this conflict a top priority during his first 12 months in office.

CMEP's non-partisan election 2008 resources help guide church advocates in making Holy Land peace a top priority of U.S. political candidates and policymakers. For more, go online to: www.cmep.org/elections08/Resources.htm

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ADVOCACY ACTION

Elected officials and those vying for public office should know that American Christians care deeply about the longstanding conflict in the Holy Land and the welfare of all the peoples in the region, and want U.S. diplomatic leadership to achieve peace.

In the run-up to the elections in November, there will be many opportunities for advocates to engage their candidates locally, including town hall meetings, forums, public appearances at house parties and church socials and radio call-in shows.

The fundamental question for the next President is whether he will make Israeli-Palestinian peace an urgent foreign policy priority. Congressional initiatives can encourage or undermine diplomatic action by the next administration. Congressional candidates should be asked whether they will rally behind the next President, in a bi-partisan manner, to support robust American leadership on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Meanwhile, progress must continue on the Annapolis process and efforts undertaken to ensure continuity into a new administration. For peace to succeed, Israelis and Palestinians must be given hope that one day soon the vision of two states living side by side will be fulfilled.

Tell the Presidential Candidates: Make Holy Land Peace a Top & Immediate Priority
Urge Senators John McCain and Barack Obama to commit to making a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority for a new administration. Peacemaking efforts must not falter and will require the immediate attention of the next President.

Write to President Bush: Achieve Substantive Progress on Annapolis Process; Ensure a Smooth Transition

Encourage President Bush to redouble his efforts to achieve substantive progress on the Annapolis process this year and to ensure a smooth transition to the next administration so that Mideast peace efforts will not falter in 2009.

Ask Congressional Candidates: Support Robust U.S. Diplomacy in the Middle East

Churches for Middle East Peace has created a new resource for use throughout the 2008 campaign season with both Congressional and Presidential candidates. "Questions to Ask the Candidates on Middle East Peace" - http://www.cmep.org/elections08/Mideast_Peace_Questions_Candidates.pdf

It can be found on CMEP's Elections 2008 Resource Page - http://www.cmep.org/elections08/Resources.htm

John McCain 2008
P.O. Box 16118
Arlington, VA 22215
www.johnmccain.com/Contact/

Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680
www.my.barackobama.com/page/s/contact2

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
president@whitehouse.gov


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To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog, A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace - http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jerusalem: The East Side Story

Friends of Sabeel North America is urging activists and groups in the USA to help promote the new film by Mohammed Alatar, "Jerusalem: The East Side Story." Take a look at the film's home page: http://www.eastsidestory.ps/

Alatar will be on a U.S. tour this fall. [See information below on how to bring Mohammed Alatar to your city]. The film, according to film critic Sam Bahour, "squeezes nearly one hundred years of history into an hour or so of cinema. It mainly exposes the past forty years of Israeli military occupation policies in Jerusalem and their devastating impact on the city and its peoples"

See a full review of the film by Sam Bahour at The Electronic Intifada: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9074.shtml

Alatar is also the director of "The Iron Wall," which "depicts the Israeli strategy of creating facts on the ground -- facts that are rapidly precluding a negotiated peace between Palestinians and Israelis."

Alatar is currently on tour in Europe and will be available for showings of "Jerusalem: The East Side Story" in the USA from October 21 through December 15, 2008.

Financial expectations: Groups that want to sponsor a film showing are asked to pay for domestic flights, ground transportation and lodging. [NOTE: The cost of domestic air travel will be evenly divided among all the groups in the U.S. sponsoring a visit-perhaps as low as $250 if enough groups in major cities of the U.S. get involved].

DEADLINE FOR SCHEDULING: Sept. 15, 2008

For lots more information and to schedule a visit by Mohammed Alatar and a film showing in your city: Contact tour manager and distributor Debby Mayer, dmayer1955@yahoo.com
Send a copy of your email to Mohammed Alatar, mohammed@p4pd.org

For ideas on using the films in your city/community, read:Film as Resource by Brenda Bentz - http://fosna.org/resources/FilmsAsResource.htm Find our more about Friends of Sabeel--North America at - www.fosna.org

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To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog, A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace - http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 4, 2008

ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission program comes to Palestine


Young Adults in Global Mission, a program of ELCA Global Mission, has arrived in the Lutheran communities of Palestine.

The York (Pa.) Daily Record ran an article about one Young Adult in Global Mission, Marta Spangler. Read it here: http://ydr.inyork.com/ci_10236546?IADID

Here's the lead:

Gettysburg woman heads to the West Bank

"When 22-year-old Marta Spangler of Gettysburg graduated from the University of Pittsburgh this May, she didn't know if she wanted to go to graduate school or step into the real world.

"The world she decided to step into is very real.

"She packed up everything she coud fit into one bag and headed Saturday to the West Bank.

"Spangler said she learned of global missions with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America while she was still attending Gettysburg Area High School. But she put it out of her mind when she went to college.

"After graduating as a religious studies and English literature major - and with no idea of what to do next - she looked back at the program and decided to sign on for a yearlong program to assist in mission schools."

[complete article at http://ydr.inyork.com/ci_10236546?IADID ]

ELCJHL welcomes six Young Adults in Global Mission

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land has featured the Young Adults in Global Mission on its calendar page. You can download and print the September calendar for posting in your church - http://www.elcjhl.org/resources/calendars/

There's a swell picture of the young volunteers, and here is the text:

There’s sure to be talk about “yaggums” around the ELCJHL these days. But don't worry – they’re not contagious and they won’t infest your house-plants. Instead, “YAGM” stands for Young Adults in Global Mission, a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Global Mission department. For the first time, six YAGMs have been assigned to Jerusalem and the West Bank. For the next year, they will serve in various ELCJHL school and other ministries.

The ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program provides one-year mission service and learning opportunities in inter-national settings. As the young adult volunteers offer themselves in service, they also learn more about themselves, their relationship with God and their place in God’s world. Young adults are transformed by their experiences, equipping them upon return to take on responsibilities within the church and to provide a global perspective on issues facing the church and society.

And here's the prayer for all to share:

God of new beginnings, thank you for bringing these young people into our midst. Bless their service in the Holy Land that all may be blessed by their presence. Give them ears to hear and eyes to see the lives of your peoples in the Holy Land, so that they may tell the story to all who will hear. Grant that they become firmly planted and much beloved in this community. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The home page of the ELCJHL is - http://www.elcjhl.org/

For more information about the YAGM program in Palestine, go to the ELCA web site: http://archive.elca.org/globalserve/youngadults/jerusalem.asp

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To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog - A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace - http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/