Sunday, November 30, 2008
November 13, 2008
ELCA, ELCIC Bishops Prepare for Middle East Visit January 6-13
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Sixty of the 66 bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the ELCA secretary, and five of the six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), Winnipeg, plus spouses and staff will visit the Middle East, Jan. 6-13, 2009. Participants will meet with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian religious, community and political
leaders, visit congregations and schools, and sites of religious significance.
The visit is the 2009 Bishops' Academy, an annual event in which leaders from both churches engage in theological reflection and study. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and its bishop, the Rev. Munib A. Younan, plus staff of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are partners with the ELCA and ELCIC in planning the visit.
A small delegation, including the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, and the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop, will travel first to Jordan, Jan. 3-6. They will meet Jordanian religious and political leaders, plus ambassadors from Canada and the United States, before traveling to Jerusalem to meet their colleagues.
The Lutheran bishops' visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine is a part of the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," Bishops and spouses provided synod and personal funds for the visit.
The Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, bishop, ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, Denver, and chair, ELCA Conference of Bishops, said the bishops' visit is "unprecedented."
"I am proud of the commitment of our bishops, and those of the ELCIC, to visit this fascinating and troubled region of the world to learn, to support Christian sisters and brothers, and to
advocate for peace and justice for all people," he said. "As we prepare for this historic visit, members of the Conference of Bishops are working diligently for a successful and meaningful
journey. We thank members throughout the ELCA for their support of this visit. We pray that our journey will bring many blessings to the ELCA."
The bishops discussed holding their annual academy in Israel and Palestine for years, said the Rev. Dean W. Nelson, bishop, ELCA Southwest California Synod, Glendale, and chair of the
bishops' academy committee. In 2005 the LWF Council met in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, making such a visit seem possible, he said. Adoption of the ELCA Middle East strategy was an important catalyst, Nelson said.
"That action provided the framework for us to move forward in planning this trip," he said. "We expect this trip will enable us to grow in our awareness of the reality of life in Israel and Palestine, accompany our brothers and sisters in the ELCJHL in their witness and service, and become better advocates in our own countries for an end to the ongoing hostilities in the Holy
Land." Nelson added he hopes that the presence of such a significant number of North American church leaders will have a positive impact on those working for peace in the region.
"The decision of the ELCA and ELCIC bishops to meet for their annual time of theological study and discussion in Israel-Palestine cannot be overestimated in its significance for the people of the ELCJHL," said the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass. The synod has a companion synod relationship with the ELCJHL.
Lutherans there are eager for the bishops' visit to see the reality of their lives and communities, she said. "By this trip we hope to accomplish first the keeping of a promise: we will embody our commitment to accompany the ELCJHL," she said. "But also, we seek to be advocates for peace in the Middle East. I believe that it is only by the power of God, through the commitment and relationship of people from all the faith traditions in this region, that the hope for peace can be
realized, and both Israel and Palestine can benefit from the freedom and security that a shared life of peace would bring."
A related note on this blog is at http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html - scroll down to Sept. 15 and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's announcement on video.
Information about the ELCA Conference of Bishops is at http://www.ELCA.org/cob on the ELCA Web site. The "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," is at
http://www.ELCA.org/peacenotwalls on the ELCA Web site.
For information see www.elca.org/news or the ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog
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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/
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted a new position as the US coordinator for the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) – www.eappi.org
The job actually began Nov. 1, with a transition process underway. Outgoing coordinator Eric Fistler has been a tremendous asset to the EAPPI and to me.
The half-time job involves recruiting and supporting volunteers who make a commitment to spend three months walking with Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions. Accompaniers (known as EAs) also undertake advocacy efforts to end the occupation. They monitor and report human rights violations and offer protection through non-violent presence. They support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists.
Since 2002 the program has sent accompaniers from around the world to communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I have published a number of reports and newsletters from EAPPI since getting this blog started, and I will keep you informed about this exciting work.
I will continue to share a wide variety of news, especially that which highlights the life and work of the churches in the Holy Land and beyond. Thanks to all my readers for your prayers and encouragement.
I have much to be thankful for - Thanksgiving blessings to all!
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Sabeel Conference took place in Jerusalem and Nazareth Nov. 12-19, 2008, under the theme "The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond." I urge you to go to this link for pictures and a great deal more from the conference: http://youngfriendsofsabeel.blogspot.com/
If you are a member of Facebook - www.facebook.com - make friends with "Sabeel Palestine" and find a lot more pictures at the wall there.
The statement (below) is also available at the Sabeel home page: http://www.sabeel.org/
SEVENTH INTERNATIONAL SABEEL CONFERENCE
NAZARETH AND JERUSALEM
NOVEMBER 12-19, 2008
THE NAKBA: MEMORY, REALITY AND BEYOND
We are more than 200 Christians from five continents who have come together to commemorate the tragic events that occurred , observing 60 years ago in the lives of the people of Palestine. While we have come to hear from and to offer our solidarity and support to the indigenous Palestinian community in both Palestine and Israel, we have also heard from brothers and sisters in the Muslim and Jewish communities as they too have borne witness to the injustices visited upon the Palestinian population of this land. They have seen more than 531 villages depopulated and destroyed, and the creation of more than 750,000 refugees who have not been allowed to return to their homes since 1948.
We recognize the irony in the coincidence that this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The establishment of peace with justice requires that the full truth be told about the events of 1948 and the subsequent displacement of hundreds of thousands more Palestinian citizens in 1967, a process which has continued to the present day. The human rights of the Palestinian people continue to be crushed under a military occupation that dehumanizes both oppressed and oppressor. We share our conviction that it is only an acknowledgement of the full truth behind and within this current state of oppression that will lead to true freedom for all parties in the conflict.
Truth is essential for peacemaking. We acknowledge the truth that our silence about the status of the Palestinian people equals complicity in this ongoing tragedy. The status quo is a crime against humanity. As Christians, we can no longer be silent. Things worsen as each day passes. The so-called peace process is rather a consistent and persistent process of death and destruction, both physically and spiritually. The Nakba - the catastrophe - that has been imposed and is still being imposed on the people of Palestine--continues unabated and unrestrained. The truth of it is silenced or ignored both in our churches and in our media. This must change if we are to be true to Jesus' call to be peacemakers.
We have been encouraged by the thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who have practiced methods of nonviolent resistance in seeking to bring an end to the current conflict. We lift up the practice of nonviolence as the most practical means of achieving peace in this situation where the balance of military power is so overwhelmingly one-sided and where the reliance upon violence only continues to make matters worse. We are concerned by the use of the Bible as an instrument of colonialism and exploitation by those who would enlarge the conflict. We reject the exclusivism presupposed in such an interpretive approach to biblical truth. We seek the reconciliation of all peoples throughout the world, and therefore call on our brothers and sisters in the worldwide church to speak out and act out the ministry of reconciliation.
We have been touched by the faces of children wherever we have gone. We have come to realize that an entire generation of children is being crippled because they have no access to the nutrition needed for normal growth and development, and thus endure spiritual and social alienation, violence and lack of opportunities which none of us would tolerate even for a day in our own communities. We remember the call of the Nobel peace laureates that the first decade of this new century be devoted to nonviolence. We hear anew the call of Jesus to "let the little children come unto me," to let them be placed in the center of the current picture of marginalization, thus challenging the international community with their vulnerability and their need for protection. Therefore, we call upon all our churches and governments:
▪ to work with renewed energy for an end to this endlessly spreading military occupation;
▪ to insist on full implementation of all United Nations resolutions and all human rights requirements in international law which pertain to Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the right of return for Palestinian refugees;
▪ to insist on greater freedom of movement and more humane conditions in the occupied territories;▪ to insist that Israel accord equal rights to all its citizens, Jewish and Palestinian alike;
▪ to divest themselves from investments in companies that enable the occupation;
▪ to insist that Israel lift its ongoing siege and collective punishments which prevent the free movement of people, goods and humanitarian aid in and out of Gaza; and finally,
▪ to support the work of Sabeel in its efforts to build bridges of nonviolence between people in all the monotheistic religions represented in the region.
We have heard the call of urgency from our fellow Christians in this holy land. As in Jesus' own day, so Bethlehem lies under military occupation today surrounded by a prison wall. Our memories of the birth of The Child of Bethlehem 2000 years ago are contrasted and challenged by the reality of the children and the parents and the grandparents of Bethlehem today. As followers of that holy child, may our spirits meet in Bethlehem's streets as we join in prayers and actions for light and life! May we seek creatively to disturb the status quo with acts born of the Spirit of courage, love and truth.
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Samia Khoury sent a reflection to her network of friends. More of Khoury's writing is available at her blog: http://samiakhoury.wordpress.com - and more about her is at this link: http://samiakhoury.wordpress.com/about/
"Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
A short and small man physically, Josef Ben Eliezar stood tall as he asked for forgiveness from the Palestinians at the Sabeel 7th international conference on the Nakba: Memory Reality and Beyond which took place in Nazareth and Jerusalem (November 12-19, 2008). He shared with the participants his testimony for taking part in the expulsion of the Palestinian population from Lydda and robbing them of their money and personal possessions when he was an Israeli soldier in 1948.
Josef could not live with the reality of that day in July 1948. He realized then that what he was doing to the Palestinians was what the Nazis had done to his family and people before he had immigrated to Palestine after the holocaust. He did not find a listening ear in the newly established state of Israel, and the inhumanity of that war which as a Jew he thought was a war of liberation continued to pursue him until he eventually left the country and settled in England.
I wonder how many Israelis would have the courage and the magnanimity of Josef to admit that they have done the Palestinians wrong, let alone ask for forgiveness. Although his testimony was mostly in front of an international audience, yet there were a number of Palestinians from Jerusalem and Nazareth who heard him loud and clear. I was so moved that I felt I needed to get up and recognize his courage and thank him for his testimony assuring him that we do forgive him. (check out his book The Search - http://www.plough.com/ebooks/mysearch.html)
As people came up to thank me later on for my words, I could not help but wonder how meaningful for the Palestinian people it would have been and how much suffering could have been spared had the Israelis since day one of the establishment of the state in 1948 admitted the wrong and grave injustice that they had inflicted upon the Palestinians, asked for forgiveness, and allowed all who were evicted to return to their homes. A dream that could still be realized if the Jewish people can ponder and act in accordance with the words of their great prophet Micah (6:8) " What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."
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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/
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The reports are online; this one, Report Two, is at http://www.interfaithpeacebuilders.org/del29/report2.html
Report Two: “From my inside I find there is hope, because occupation can't stay forever”
Experiences of Occupation: Palestinian and Israeli Students and the Situation in Gaza
Photos are at http://www.interfaithpeacebuilders.org/photos/del29/default.html
It is hard for me to give a travelogue of yesterday. I am, after two days, feeling what C.S. Lewis called “foot sore weariness.” It has little to do with the condition of my feet (or my aching knees); but it is a deep weariness for the people of this land. I can make easy conclusions and offer vague recommendations, but I would show my foolishness in doing so. The anger and frustration of the voices I heard cannot be taken lightly. It is interesting that our day began with students and ended with students.
We began by travelling to Birzeit University near Ramallah. There are 8,000 students who study at Birzeit. In spite of being closed for periods of up to several years during each Intifada (uprising of Palestinians in 1987 and 2000) the school has continued to educate Palestinian young people.
The students we met with were Palestinians, and although it is not pertinent to the issues, both were Christians. They were both from the Bethlehem area, which is no more than 40 minutes away. But that distance and time is stretched into hours winding around a wall that blocks direct roads, and checkpoints that offer harassment and delay. One of the students said, “I am dead. When I get here I have nothing left to give of myself.” I cannot presume to understand her struggle, nor can I judge her anger. I think she was expressing as she best could the internal work she does each day. She and her fellow student gave us a tour of the campus and classrooms at Birzeit.
In the evening we were joined by 3 students from Hebrew University here in Jerusalem. These three wonderfully spirited students represented a variety of Israeli positions. They described themselves as holding positions to the "right", "left", and "leaning left." All three of these young people had served in the IDF (Israel Defense Force). They felt it was their privilege to serve. One of them said, "Being in the army was a national mission." They were genuinely troubled by the struggle in their homeland. Their views and concerns were about their own security and the struggle and pain of the Palestinians. It was an open and honest conversation which at times was painful for all of us. Click (the link above) for photos of the students we met.
It is hard for me to find my way through the feelings I am experiencing here. Yesterday afternoon after visiting the Friends (Quaker) School in Ramallah we had some free time to wander the streets of this bustling Palestinian city in the West Bank. I felt quite obvious in the midst of the beautiful dark hair and eyes. Most of the women wore long dresses with long sleeves and head scarves. They were beautiful in the variety of colors and embroidery. I sat for a long time at a coffee shop trying to find words to express to express what I am experiencing. In the middle of the night I woke up with the following words in my heart:
Arab and Jew
There are layers of hurt and hate
as deep as the soil.
Blood runs; mingling as it enters
the trough of history.
Righteousness is not right;
it builds barriers, solid as stone.
Angry defiance fails to heal
the miasma of misery.
This ancient battle born of
common parents, a sort of
sibling rivalry gone bad;
seeps through the centuries,
leaving a wake of prisoners.
It breaks open the heart
of the land; a cardiac incident
on the edge of fatality.
The fuel of this dissonance
is rich with mutual interference.
Fights within soar until they are
flights into futility and sorrow.
The pursuit continues,
down winding roads;
and deepening tunnels
seeking the soil of reconciliation.
The People Who Speak in Poetry
Today we visited a Palestinian place of study, Birzeit University, in the West Bank. Here we met Ghassan Andoni, a Christian Palestinian who is Professor of Physics at the university and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. We also met two students, and a member of the administration staff.
I felt at home in the university. The inside of the buildings felt similar to British Universities - long corridors kept cool by their marble floors, administration offices bustling with secretaries making phone calls, classrooms with the last lesson's diagram still on the blackboard.
Students here are committed. Many of the students live in Bethlehem - a 30 minute drive away. Yet the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel means students have to go the long way round, a journey that takes at least an hour. If students are stopped at one of the 93 checkpoints in the West Bank at the whim of a moody Israeli soldier, the journey can take 3-4 hours. One American professor at the university was forcibly held at a checkpoint for 3 hours whilst an Israeli soldier read the sports section of the newspaper that the professor was carrying.
Given the harassment and violation of dignity that Palestinians are subject to on a daily basis, it is an amazement that they are able to stand at all. Yet not only do they stand, but they stand tall, they stand on the soldiers of giants. According to UN statistics, Palestinians are the most educated people in the world.
Still, it is not easy for them to sustain this upright pose. Asked what hope she has for the future, the female student replied: "What future?"
Then, speaking in English, her second language, poetry flows from her lips. She speaks from her heart:
"I can't feel anything here. I can't give anything. I can't give feelings. We are dying everyday. We are dead. That's it."
Every paragraph she speaks is punctuated with "That's it." That's it, there's nothing more, we have searched so far for peace, how can we continue searching, where can we find hope for ourselves, let alone hope to share?
"It's like we are pushing a wall," she says. "Everyone is depressed. Everyone is down. How can we give?"
The administrator, though, speaks up to disagree. He has hope. It took him 11 years to complete his studies for an MA in sociology because of the difficulty of getting to university. Somehow, he still manages to believe that a better future is possible. Like the female student, he speaks in poetry:
"From my inside I find there is hope, because occupation can't stay forever." He pauses a moment, allowing his words to permeate the room. "Occupation can't stay forever. No way."
Palestinians are dying inside with the pain of oppression, yet their hands are open for peace. What can I do to fill these open hands with the peace they so deserve?
This originally appeared on the FoR-UK blog: http://storiesofpeace.blogspot.com/
Sderot & Erez
We left the hotel this morning at 8am for a journey south to Gaza and surrounding Israeli communities. As you go south from Jerusalem the land grows more and more arid. Orange trees were in abundance and, although we could not see it until later in the day, the Mediterranean Sea was just off to the right of our bus. We are travelling in a small bus with just about enough seats for our 20 person delegation plus our bus driver, Assam, and our guide Said . These two Palestinians are wonderful men, generous and PATIENT! We are forever asking for bathroom stops! Assam has performed some maneuvers with the bus that I would have never thought possible. Last night coming home from Ramallah Said decided it would be quicker to get to Jerusalem if we did not have to stop at a checkpoint where we would have to get out and have our documents checked as well as pass all our belongings through a metal detectors. So Assam turned around and took us on a wild ride along the barrier wall. We passed through the next checkpoint with smiles and a wave.
When we arrived at Gaza today (not knowing that 4 Palestinians had been killed on Wednesday in a clash with IDF) we visited the Erez Checkpoint. This is a huge complex. In the past, Erez was the major crossing point for people going into and out of Gaza. The wall is prominent with guard towers at intervals. We knew the checkpoint was closed but wanted to take some pictures.
Overhead hung a huge Israeli drone. It looked like a big white fish hanging in the sky. It monitors activity in Gaza and allows the residents of the nearby cities and Kibbutzim to have a warning about the rockets. As I stepped out into the sunlight to take a picture a man with a huge camera stepped in front of me and took my picture. I said (without thinking), “Who the heck are you?” It turns out that he is a reporter with the BBC. He and his fellow reporters had been at the checkpoint for 6 days trying to get into Gaza to report. These guys were so glad for some action that they immediately jumped to action. Basically we took pictures of each other taking pictures! Click here for a photo http://www.interfaithpeacebuilders.org/photos/del29/07.html
Israel has pulled out of Gaza but closed the borders. It has created a humanitarian issue within the Gaza. People and especially children are malnourished from lack of food. Medications and other medical supplies are almost non-existent. The UN has been taking food and medicine into Gaza but the relief is not enough and anger and frustration is rising within.
After leaving Erez, we visited two kibbutzim (one urban and one rural) which are very close to the border with Gaza. There we heard about residents’ work, their hopes for the future of Israel and their work to reach out to residents of Gaza. For me it was an example of the work of reconciliation. These Israeli Jews were involved in small ways of making peace. Some might think that their concern for the people of Gaza was superficial or “too little, too late.” I thought they were incredibly honest about the struggle to reach out while under the anxiety of rocket attacks. It seems to me that in this conflicted land, any attempt for reconciliation needs to be appreciated and honored. While we were at the kibbutzim Israeli military jets flew low over the area. I kept wondering how it would feel to be a citizen of Gaza with the jets flying low over them. The anxiety among the people of this area, both Israelis and Palestinians, has to be debilitating over a long period. We heard about how it affects both children and adults and it is, no doubt, a contributing factor to the overall conflict.
I felt drained when we got back. Usually a cup of tea and dinner settle and relax me but I am having a hard time sorting myself out. We have very little time to process the events we are exposed to. I am a slow processor for sure and group processing in a group as large as ours is not effective for me. I feel like I need a day of silence to “begin” the work – overall it will take months for me to really make sense of what I am experiencing
Both of Martha's pieces originally appeared on her blog at www.createandreconcile.blogspot.com/
The Mission Statement of Interfaith Peace-Builders is as follows:
Interfaith Peace-Builders fosters a network of informed and active individuals who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ political, military, and economic role in it. To build and nurture such a network, we lead delegations of people from diverse backgrounds to Israel/Palestine. These delegations emphasize listening to and learning from those immersed in the reality of the conflict, and advancing the work of Israelis and Palestinians committed to nonviolent struggle and peace with justice. We seek to empower delegates to educate their local communities and the media, counter unfair or inaccurate stereotypes, and advocate for a more just US foreign policy that:
• actively promotes civil, political and human rights
• affirms political self-determination for Palestinians and Israelis
• fosters economic and environmental sustainability in the region
• and supports a diplomatic resolution to the conflict rather than one imposed by force of arms.
To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog, A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace - http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
November 6, 2008
Churches for Middle East Peace - http://www.cmep.org - congratulates President-elect Barack Obama on his historic victory and looks forward to working with his foreign policy team to advance U.S. policies conducive to Israeli-Arab peace. His election has created a new opportunity to achieve a just and lasting two-state solution and finally end the tragic conflict in the Holy Land.
While many issues both domestic and international in nature will compete for President Obama’s immediate attention, priorities in the Middle East will need to be quickly established and acted upon. During the campaign, we were heartened that Obama pledged to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, “starting from the minute I'm sworn into office.” He has also called for U.S. support of the Israel-Syria proximity talks and has urged diplomacy in resolving the impasse with Iran. David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote today that "Obama wants to make an early push on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, despite political turmoil in Israel."
Churches for Middle East Peace has prepared the backgrounder below with excerpts of key statements from Obama’s tenure as Senator and as a Presidential candidate that detail his positions on U.S. relations with Israel and the Palestinians and the role of U.S. diplomacy in regard to the peace process, Israel-Syria relations and Iran.
CMEP is already beginning outreach to the new Obama Administration. Following up on our July 21st letter to the Presidential candidates and subsequent communication with the two campaigns, CMEP is planning a meeting with the Obama transition team to ensure that the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace is made a top agenda item as was promised on the campaign trail.
In the weeks and months ahead CMEP also will be working to mobilize American Christian leaders and grassroots advocates to build support for the new President and in the 111th Congress for robust U.S. diplomacy to secure Middle East peace. In the meantime, we will continue to support the ongoing Annapolis process.
Obama and Middle East Peace Issues: A Backgrounder
View this Backgrounder in PDF Format - http://www.cmep.org/Obama_MiddleEastPeaceIssues_Backgrounder.pdf
U.S. Diplomacy and a Two-State Peace
“Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority. They will make a sustained push – working with Israelis and Palestinians – to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.” – Obama/Biden Campaign Website: http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/foreign_policy/
"My goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I'm sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs," – Commenting on how he would approach working for peace between Israel and the Palestinians – Press Conference, July 22, Amman, Jordan - http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSL292712723220080722
“…It's time to deepen our engagement to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, so that we help our ally Israel achieve true and lasting security, while helping Palestinians achieve their legitimate aspirations for statehood…” – Remarks in Washington, DC, July 15, 2008 - http://www.barackobama.com/2008/07/15/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_96.php
“…[A] secure, lasting peace is in Israel's national interest. It is in America's national interest. And it is in the interest of the Palestinian people and the Arab world. As President, I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security. And I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role, and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my Administration…The United States must be a strong and consistent partner in this process - not to force concessions, but to help committed partners avoid stalemate and the kind of vacuums that are filled by violence. That's what I commit to do as President of the United States.” – Speech to American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), June 4, 2008 - http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByPolicymakers/PC_08_Obama.pdf
“On a trip to the Middle East, I met Israelis and Palestinians who told me that peace remains a distant hope without the promise of American leadership.” – Remarks to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, April 23, 2007 - http://www.barackobama.com/2007/04/23/the_american_moment_remarks_to.php
"Diplomacy in the Middle East cannot be done on the cheap. Diplomacy is measured by patience and by effort. We cannot continue to have trips consisting of little more than photo ops with little movement in between. Neither Israel nor the United States is served by this approach.” – Speech to AIPAC, March 2, 2007 - http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByPolicymakers/Barack_Obama_-_AIPAC_Policy_Forum_2007.pdf
“…[my policy] is the same policy that Bill Clinton has put forward, and that says that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, that we shouldn't divide it by barbed wire, but that, ultimately that is … a final status issue that has to be resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” – Interview with Katie Couric, CBS News, Amman, Jordan, July 22, 2008 - http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/22/eveningnews/main4283623.shtml
“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided…” – Speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008 - http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByPolicymakers/PC_08_Obama.pdf
"[I]t's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations…As a practical matter, it [division] would be very difficult to execute. And I think that it is smart for us to -- to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city." – CNN Interview, June 5, 2008 - http://thepage.time.com/full-transcript-of-obamas-interview-with-cnn/
U.S. Relations with Israel
“Barack Obama and Joe Biden strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the Middle East. They support this closeness, stating that that the United States would never distance itself from Israel…He and Joe Biden believe strongly in Israel's right to protect its citizens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel…” – Israel Fact Sheet, Foreign Policy, Obama/Biden Campaign Website - http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/foreign_policy/#onisrael
“[W]e – as friends of Israel- must resolved to do all we can to help Israel and its neighbors to achieve [peace]. Because a secure lasting peace is in Israel’s national interest…I pledge to make every effort to help Israel achieve that peace. I will strengthen Israel's security and strengthen Palestinian partners who support that vision and personally work for two states that can live side by side in peace and security with Israel's status as a Jewish state ensured so that Israelis and Palestinians can pursue their dreams. I also expect to work on behalf of peace with the full knowledge that Israel still has bitter enemies who are intent on its destruction…As president, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade - investments to Israel’s security that will not be tied to any other nation…”– Speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008 - http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByPolicymakers/PC_08_Obama.pdf
“…I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress…” – Speech to Jewish Community in Cleveland, OH, February, 2008 - http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1203847465591&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull
“…But in the end we also know that we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israel prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States. That's not what friends do. We must be partners; we must be active partners…” – Speech to AIPAC, March 2, 2007 - http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByPolicymakers/Barack_Obama_-_AIPAC_Policy_Forum_2007.pdf
U.S. Relations with the Palestinians
“Barack Obama supports U.S. efforts to provide aid directly to the Palestinian people by bypassing any Hamas-led government that refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Obama believes that a better life for Palestinian families is good for both Israelis and Palestinians.” – Israel Fact Sheet, Obama/Biden Campaign Website - http://origin.barackobama.com/pdf/IsraelFactSheet.pdf
“The United States and the international community must stand by Palestinians who are committed to cracking down on terror and carrying the burden of peacemaking. I will strongly urge Arab governments to take steps to normalize relations with Israel, and to fulfill their responsibility to pressure extremists and provide real support for President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Israel can also advance the cause of peace by taking appropriate steps - consistent with its security - to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank, and to refrain from building new settlements - as it agreed to with the Bush Administration at Annapolis.” – Speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008 - http://origin.barackobama.com/pdf/IsraelFactSheet.pdf
“…[T]he Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It's going to have to be contiguous, it’s going to have to work, it’s going to have to function in some way. That's in Israel's interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat...” – Speech to Jewish Community in Cleveland, OH, February, 2008 -
“…The biggest impediment that we've got right now is that in the Palestinian territories you have on the one hand some moderates…who would like to move forward on peace process but they don't have the capacity…On the other hand you've got Hamas, which is a better organization -- is better organized, and in some ways closer to the ground, but won't acknowledge Israel's right to exist, won't renounce violence and abide by previous agreements. So what you need is a partner on the Palestinian side that is willing to, both willing to enter into peace talks and is able to execute. Now, once we have that partner, Israel's going to have…some stones to carry in the road to peace. In particular, they are going to have to look at some of the settlements in the West Bank, which it's going to be very painful for them politically to do. But they're not going to take that extraordinarily difficult political step until they feel that they've got a partner on the other side. Now, in the interim, nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people from this whole process. And I would like to see -- if we could get some movement from Palestinian leadership -- what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people. I was in the West Bank and Ramallah, and it's very challenging. And I think you can get a sympathetic perspective both within Israel and from the U.S. and the Europeans if you have Hamas acknowledge that the road to peace is not going go through -- it's not going to go through terrorism and other violence.” – From remarks at a campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa on March 11, 2007, as published by The Des Moines Register in a May 3, 2007, article - http://www.nysun.com/national/in-cleveland-obama-speaks-on-jewish-issues/71813/
Hamas and Gaza
“[Meeting with adversaries] does not include Hamas. They are not heads of state and they don't recognize Israel. You can't negotiate with somebody who doesn't recognize the right of the country to exist. So I understand why Israel doesn't meet with Hamas…I think that it is entirely legitimate to make distinctions between those who are heads of state, heads of established countries and those who have advocated terrorism…I think that is a perfectly appropriate distinction to draw." – Interview with ABC News, April 10, 2008 - http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/04/obama-contrary.html
“…All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this. Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, and Israeli civilians are being bombarded by rockets on an almost daily basis. This is unacceptable and Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians. The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel, and should make clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against such actions. If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.” – Letter to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N Zalmay Khalilzad, January 22, 2008
“…the recent announcement that Israel and Syria have resumed their own peace negotiations is encouraging news, and it should spur the United States to support the parties’ efforts to achieve their goal of a negotiated settlement, Turkey deserves praise for its role in arranging these talks, and the success of these negotiations could, among other things, be a setback for Iran’s influence and Hizbollah’s ability to acquire advanced weaponry...” – Letter to President George W. Bush, June, 2008
“…Iran has sought nuclear weapons, supports militias inside Iraq and terror across the region, and its leaders threaten Israel and deny the Holocaust. But Obama and Biden believe that we have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting this threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them….Obama supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior. Obama and Biden would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress.” – Iran, The Obama/Biden Plan, Obama/Biden Campaign Website - http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/foreign_policy/#iran
“We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists…It is important, though, for us to use all the tools at our disposal…if we can work more effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions on Iran…that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them. Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have direct talks -- not just with our friends, but also with our enemies -- to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences. If you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to re-join the community of nations…We've got to try to have talks, understanding that we're not taking military options off the table.” – Response to Question from Tom Brokaw during Second Presidential Debate, October 7, 2008 - http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/debates/transcripts/second-presidential-debate.html
Churches for Middle East Peace
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Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond - Nov. 12-19, 2008
The Seventh International Sabeel Conference is underway in Nazareth and Jerusalem. Just take a look at the tremendous lineup of speakers!
The conference is focusing on the commemoration of 60 years since the Nakba, under the theme, "The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond - A Time to Remember, A Time for Truth." Participants are examining the 60 years since the Nakba and the complex issues of memory, narrative, and identity raised by the events of 1948. To view the entire conference program, see this link: http://www.sabeel.org/pdfs/Program%20Nov.%207%20FINAL.doc
TROUBLED PAST COMPLEX FUTURE
Among those who struggle for justice and peace in Palestine, our focus has been the fight to end the illegal Occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, in order to truly understand the complexities of memory, narrative, and identity faced by the Palestinian community, it is vital to examine the events of 1948-what the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or Catastrophe. For 60 years, the Nakba has cast its shadow over the struggles of identity and narrative undertaken both by Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel and those in the Occupied Territories. As the nonviolent resistance to Occupation continues, the question of what it means to be a Palestinian remains.
*What truly happened in 1948, and what did the Nakba mean for Palestinians?
*How have the events of 1948 shaped the complex identities of modern Palestinians and Israelis, and especially Christians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel?
*Why has the refugee crisis remained unresolved for 60 years, and what can churches and the international community do to promote a just resolution of this situation?
*How will the events of 1948 continue to effect the quest for a just peace in Palestine and Israel? *What do the events of 1948 reveal about injustice within Israel in addition to the injustice of the Occupation?
*How can those who seek justice for Palestinians as well as Israelis face the truth of 1948 while moving beyond memory to justice and reconciliation?
A roster of respected theologians, academics and activists from around the world has gathered in Nazareth and Jerusalem to lead panel discussions, lectures, workshops, bible study and worship. Participants from many countries and a variety of faith denominations are learning, sharing insights, and working together. They include:
Mgr Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Catholic Auxillary Bishop and Vicar of Nazareth
The Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
Samia Khoury, regular contributor to The Witness online with a monthly column “Justice & Liberation”
Dr. Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Chair of Middle Eastern Studies, Columbia University
Dr. Ahmad Sa'di, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel)
Dr. Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze’ev, an anthropologist who teaches at the Ruppin Academic Centre, a Fellow of the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Northern Ireland
Abir Kopty, spokeswoman for the Mossawa Center (the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel)
Dr. Nadim Rouhana, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Conflict Analysis at George Mason University, head of Haifa-based Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Center for Applied Social Research
Dr. Basil Ghattas, general director of The Galilee Society
Tamar Gozansky, economist and former member of the Israeli Knesset
Dr. Uri Davis, member of the Middle East Regional Committee of the international Journal Citizenship Studies; Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies (IAIS), University of Exeter, Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (IMEIS), University of Durham
Dr. Raef Zreik, Palestinian-Israeli civil rights lawyer and political activist
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director Rabbis For Human Rights
Eitan Bronstein, founder of Zochrot, an organization that raises awareness among Israelis about the Nakba
Mohammad Zeidan, Arab Association for Human Rights
Faisal Sawalha, Regional Council for the Arab Unrecognized Villages in the Negev
Dr. Mustafa Kabha, Mada al-Carmel—Arab Center for Applied Social Research
Noga Kadman, researcher and member of Zochrot
Hibat Mahroum and Jimmy Johnson, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Ronny Perlman, Machsom Watch
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom
Salwa Duaibis, MATTIN Group, human rights and development organization addressing the deficient implementation of human rights protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Sam Bahour, My Right to Enter Campaign
Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, author and public health advocate
Mohammad Kaial, Association for the Defense of the Rights of Displaced Persons
Mohammad Zeidan, Arab Association for Human Rights
Nasrat Dakwar, Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Jafar Farah, Director of the Mossawa Centre in Haifa
Nadim Rouhana, Mada al-Carmel—Arab Center for Applied Social Research
Dr. Diana Dolev, New Profile
Josef Ben-Eliezer, author of The Search
Muhammad Ali Taha, contemporary Palestinian poet
Wisam Jubran, musician
Rev. Simon Kortjass, World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel
Dr. Adel Manna former director of the Center for the Study of Arab Society in Israel, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Allegra Pacheco, OCHA
Sami Mshasha, UNRWA
Rifat Kassis Special Advisor to the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches on the Middle East, consultant at Dar Annadwa, the International Centre of Bethlehem (ICB); Badayl/Alternatives” consulting agency
Muhammad Jaradat, Coordinator of the Campaign Unit of Badil, Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Constantine S. Dabbagh, director of the Middle East Council of Churches' committee for refugee work in the Gaza Strip
Tarek Abuata, Christian Peacemakers Team
Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi is head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, PASSIA.
Elias Daoud Khoury, Arab-Israeli and Jerusalem-based lawyer
Sarah Kreimer, former head of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), pioneer in Jewish-Arab economic development
Sam Bahour, Palestinian-American businessman and commentator living in Al-Bireh in the West Bank
Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, senior research associate at the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management.
Andreas van Agt, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island
Lily Habash, Founder and Head of the Board of Directors, PARTNERS - Women and Men for the empowerment of Palestinian women.
About Sabeel - http://www.sabeel.org/
Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, promote unity among them, and lead them to act for justice and love. Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, non-violence, liberation, and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities. The word "Sabeel" is Arabic for "the way" and also a "channel" or "spring" of life-giving water.
Sabeel also works to promote a more accurate international awareness regarding the identity, presence, and witness of Palestinian Christians as well as their contemporary concerns. It encourages individuals and groups from around the world to work for a just, comprehensive, and enduring peace informed by truth and empowered by prayer and action.
Friends of Sabeel--North America [http://www.fosna.org/] is a member of Sabeel International, working in the U.S. and Canada to support the vision of Sabeel by cultivating the support of American Christians and their church leaders through regional educational conferenes, alternative pilgrimage, witness trips, and international gatherings in the Holy Land.
The Friends of Sabeel photo exhibit "Commemorating 60 years of Dispossession" is available for exhibit in your community. See this link for ordering information: http://www.sabeel.org/pdfs/Photo%20Exhibit%20Flyer.%202008.pdf
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Sunday, November 9, 2008
GAZA — From far away, this is how it looks: There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth — call it America — where such a thing happens.The entire article by Ethan Bronner in the New York Times is at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/05/us/politics/05global.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=&st=nyt&oref=slogin
Saturday, November 8, 2008
-- Bishop John Bryson Chane's message come to us courtesy of Friends of Sabeel - North America - www.fosna.org
The Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC, The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, delivered a powerful sermon Sunday, October 5, at St. Columba Church, the largest Episcopal church in DC, on the topic of his recent trip to Palestine/Israel.
Use the link below to listen to his sermon online. (This is an online audio that may take a few minutes to load.)
Below is the text of Bishop Chane's sermon:
Karen and I recently returned from a 10 day journey to Palestine, Jordan and Israel. This trip was not your usual pilgrimage to the Holy Land but rather an opportunity to spend time with the new Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Duwani whose diocese has jurisdiction in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria and Palestine. Some of you may have spent time visiting sites in the Holy Land but I can assure you that what I saw, heard and experienced has brought me to a place where I can no longer sit back and assume that in time all will be well in that troubled part of the world.
Looking backwards for a moment to 2003, Jim Wallis of Sojourners and I, along with two Anglican Primates, five Church of England bishops and leaders from four mainline US Christian denominations met with Prime Minister Tony Blair at #10 Downing Street urging him not to support the United States effort to undertake a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq. We urged patience, the use of soft power and the further support of high level diplomatic talks. We were not successful. But the Prime Minister begged us to return to the United States and urge President Bush to aggressively move forward with leadership in engaging the Road Map for Peace, an effort to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict. All of us agreed that without solving this conflict, the Middle East would forever be a seething caldron of war, discontent and would also be a breeding ground for the growing forces of indiscriminant, global terrorism. Upon our return to the US, the President refused to meet with this broad, representative religious community to discuss the Road Map and the rest is a history that we are living with today.
We as a nation pride ourselves on being a great democracy, a "city built on a hill." And we generally focus on several key ingredients that define a democracy; living by the rule of law, respecting and upholding human rights, and the freedom to worship as one chooses. My trip to the Diocese of Jerusalem and the current condition of Palestinian Christians in particular makes me deeply concerned about the universal understanding of basic democratic principles that our nation holds as sacred and that we as a democracy should hold Israel accountable to as our trusted, democratic ally in the Middle East.
The West Bank, as occupied Palestinian territory continues to experience the illegal building of Israeli settler housing. Almost 1000 new units are being built in Maale Adumim. In Givat Zeev which is a settlement that rings Jerusalem, a new 750 unit building project has been approved. Requests are on the table with the Israeli government to build 350 new homes in Beitar Illit very near Jerusalem. Literally hundreds of new homes are being added to already existing settlements in the West Bank; all illegal, all on occupied, Palestinian land, and all built while the Israeli Government casts a blind eye. These settler houses are visible by their handsome construction, their stout, red tiled roofs, their manicured lawns and their suburban feel that resembles a California housing sprawl. Driving between Jerusalem and Jericho, huge apartment complexes can be seen, rising high on a hill in occupied Palestinian land; again a painful reminder of broken promises. These settler houses and apartment buildings, constructed by Israel on occupied land are a violation of international law. The 1907 Hague Convention clearly states that; an occupying power may expropriate land only for the public use of the occupied population. Taking West Bank land indiscriminately as Israel has done is a clear violation of international law. I ask the question; "is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by and cherishes the rule of law?"
Karen and I visited the land owned by Daoud Nassar and his family; over 100 acres that have been in his family since 1916 when purchased by deed from the Ottoman Empire. The Nassar family has legal right and claim to the property located about 6 miles southeast of Bethlehem in Palestinian occupied territory. It is now in the middle of an area that in 1991 was declared by the Israeli Government as State Property. A large illegal Israeli settlement less than 1000 yards away has emboldened Israeli settlers to come onto the Nassar's property brandishing rifles and shotguns, firing them and threatening the owners with death if they do not move out. Settler bulldozers have plowed a road through a portion of the Nassar's olive grove, and have blocked the only road entrance to their house and property with huge boulders. And with the support from the Israeli authorities the settlers have prevented the Nassars from being able to drill wells for water, or connect to available electricity. The settlers say the land is theirs because God gave it to them, and not to the Palestinians. Known as The Tent of Nations, the Nassar's small farm is a now a center where pilgrims gather to support the Nassar family in their quest to end Israeli harassment and the daily threat of a land grab. Having spent an afternoon at the Tent of Nations and hearing the story of abuse and constant harassment over property that is legally owned and deeded, I ask the question; "is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by and cherishes the rule of law?"
While visiting Gaza, on an Israeli permit issued to the Bishop of Jerusalem, I was exposed to a Palestinian territory cordoned off like a prison for those who live there. I have visited many countries in Africa and Latin America steeped in poverty. Gaza is equal to them all. Donkey carts now are beginning to outnumber motor vehicles, as gasoline and diesel fuel is rationed by the Israeli's through the Hammas government to ten liters by permit every two weeks. Our Episcopal Hospital in Gaza is short of medicines because of Israeli prohibitions, and the hospital can only operate on electricity for 8 hours a day because of shortages. I celebrated the Eucharist in a church next to the hospital that still has a gaping hole in the roof left by an Israeli rocket that exploded in front of the altar and left the interior strewn with lathing and plaster. In my protest to the Israeli embassy I was informed it was an unfortunate accident of war. There would be no compensation for damages. The hospital administrator informed me that last year 8 patients from the hospital waiting to cross from Hammas controlled Gaza into Israel for emergency medical care died while waiting hours for clearance from Israeli immigration to cross the border for treatment. I ask the question; "is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by upholding and cherishing human rights?"
If you are a non Jerusalemite Palestinian Christian wishing to enter into East Jerusalem for religious worship or pilgrimage you must have a permit and those permits are difficult to get. Because of prohibitions against Muslims as well to visit the TempleDome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque, three million Christians and Muslim Palestinians are being denied rightful access to their holy sites in Jerusalem even during religious high holidays. Because of restrictions and the obscenity of the building of the wall, Bethlehem has become a ghost town, with shops and businesses shuttering their doors and with religious pilgrims from other countries the majority of those who walk the streets and eat in the restaurants. I ask the question; "is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by protecting and upholding religious freedom and the right to worship as one pleases?"
I am appalled that the Palestinian Political movements of Fata and Hammas play off against each other at the expense of Palestinians and their welfare. And their power struggle to control so much of so little is short sighted and certainly not the way to raise up and strengthen Palestinian political leadership in order for Palestine to be an active player in negotiating a fair, two state peace settlement with Israel. The fracturing of Palestinian political leadership and the failure of the United States to work with Israel in brokering a two state solution, claiming Jerusalem as a shared holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims and supporting land swaps for the Palestinians in places where illegal settlers have moved is a moral failure of the human heart and will.
Jews, Christians and Muslims have the moral obligation to denounce violence as a solution to any and all disputes between Israel and Palestine. No one has the right to take the life of another in the name of God, and no one has the right to take another persons land in the name of God. Palestine must have the right to be established as an independent state that is in possession of territory that is contiguous with Israel. And Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state contiguous with Palestine. Israel must return to the 1967 land borders established by the United Nations with appropriate compensational territory granted to Palestine for land not returned to Palestine in the peace agreement for reasons acceptable to both parties. The holy city of Jerusalem must be a shared holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Anything less violates the ancient traditions of these three Abrahamic faiths and violates their histories as contained in their holy books.
Politicians seeking the highest office in the land who wait on the results of the November 4th Presidential election must have the courage to not just speak out in their unequivocal support of Israel but must also speak out and condemn violations of human rights and religious freedom denied to Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
I support with conviction the right of Israel to exist as a free state, unencumbered by indiscriminant violence and the threat of attack engendered by those who would wish to do her harm. But I am appalled that there has been little or no discussion by politicians seeking the highest office in the land about the devastation of the Palestinian economy as a result of the construction of the security Wall by the Israeli government. I am as a Christian unwilling to remain silent as Palestinians are humiliated, their human rights are violated, their lands taken from them and are too often forced to immigrate to other countries because they feel that they and their children have no future in their ancient homeland. For faithful Jews, Christians and Muslims and our politicians not to speak out on these unacceptable conditions is to find them guilty--guilty of the greatest crime of all--the crime of silence!
There is contained in the Gospel lesson for this morning an ominous reflection. The parabolic teaching of Jesus about the landowner and the vineyard contains not only a message about the stone that the builders rejected but calls us all to remember the following; Matthew 21:43-44. "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom. The one who falls on the stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane D.D.
Bishop of Washington
October 5, 2008
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