Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lutheran bishops have returned from the Holy Land and issued a report

I have been away from this blog for ten days while seeing two new ecumenical accompaniers off to Jerusalem. After two good days in Washington, D.C., and meetings with members of Congress, they were commissioned at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation and sent forth. See the web page of the EAPPI-US for ongoing reports:

I remained in Washington for the inauguration festivities, and it was a thrill to be among a community of such hope and joy.

During those busy days, the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada returned from their historic visit to Palestine and Israel.

At this link and below find the report issued by the leaders of the two churches:

The blog page at the ELCA provides all the news releases, reports, photos, video and news clippings from the tour:

For one of many news sightings, see the Star Tribune, newspaper of the Twin Cities:

Report and Reflections from the Bishops' Academy Visit to the Holy Land

January 2009

After two years of planning, bishops, their spouses, and staff members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) traveled to the Holy Land for the Bishops’ Academy, an annual gathering for study and worship. The trip was planned as a witness to God’s will for a just peace for all people and as an expression of accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and ministries of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

The violence that broke out in Gaza shortly before the trip raised concerns about safety, but after prayerful consideration and communication with people who live and work in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the trip continued as planned. Throughout our time in the Holy Land, the situation in Gaza was a dramatic backdrop to our travels and for our conversations with people from different faiths and viewpoints who endure fear and bear oppression in ways that we have never known. Traveling in the season of Epiphany, we looked for the light, the manifestations of Jesus Christ in the land of his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection and we listened to stories sanctified by suffering. We visited holy places that are steeped in faith history and poignantly bear witness to God’s will for an end to the waves of violence that batter this land and people.

Daily Scripture reading and worship framed our journey. Bibles and Evangelical Lutheran Worship were in use in hotels, buses, hillsides, and sanctuaries; we were a worshipping congregation on the move. God’s Word comes alive in a startling and powerful way in the Holy Land and it spoke to us and shaped our days and our learning. We worshipped with brothers and sisters in congregations of the ELCJHL: at Jesus’ baptismal site in Jordan; in a huge, historic sanctuary on the Mount of Olives; at the Separation Wall in a service of lament and longing for all barriers to fall; in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Lutherans were invited to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time ever in a small stone chapel marked with the stations of the cross. Our presence as we traveled throughout the week was heard as well as seen; “Dona Nobis Pacem” in Lutheran four-part harmony was often raised, sometimes spontaneously, binding our journey and our spirits to a prayer for peace.

The goals of this pilgrimage were: accompaniment, awareness, and advocacy. The trip was planned as a way to embody accompaniment of our Lutheran brothers and sisters in the ELCJHL, whose leader, Bishop Munib Younan, has been a tireless worker for peace in the Middle East. The awareness we sought was a fuller knowledge of the “facts on the ground”—the cruel details of the burden of occupation for the Palestinian people that go unreported in our countries and a deeper understanding of Israeli reactions to hateful rhetoric and killing rockets. Advocacy arises from awareness. We see the calling to advocate for justice and peace as being central in our Christian discipleship, so we sought to gain knowledge and strength for that ministry in relation to this particular setting.

There was darkness: the strangulation of occupation, the diminishing Christian population, the remembrance of the Holocaust, the fear of war. But we saw light: the contagious joy of Palestinian children at the School of Hope, the shared witness of an Israeli and a Palestinian who both lost loved ones and now work together to end the killing cycle of revenge, sharing Shabbat worship in synagogues where congregations prayed for peace in both Hebrew and Arabic, the powerful healing ministry of Augusta Victoria Hospital, the determined presence in Bethlehem and Jerusalem of Lutheran ministries that transform lives and keep hope alive. We tried to plant hope—with our presence, with new olive trees, with words of encouragement. As we traveled, we were greeted with hospitality beyond imagining from our brothers and sisters in faith.

Reflecting on what we saw and what we heard in the context of God’s longing for justice and peace as recorded in sacred texts, we could begin to catch a glimpse of a shared land where all those who seek righteousness can work together for reconciliation. We hear God’s words from Isaiah:

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
You that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And the quarry from which you were dug. (Isaiah 51:1)

The Holy Land is a land of rocks—they were hewn for ancient structures and still today are used for most buildings. They fill the fields, competing with crops for limited space, and they declare strength and permanence. As Christians, we find in them a reminder of the rock that is our salvation, Jesus, the cornerstone. We look to that rock as the foundation of our faith and the guide to lead us to deeper understanding of the situation we are discovering in this land.

But silent stones cannot tell the whole story. We listened to the “living stones”—the people of faith, who are embedded in this land and who are weary of murderous extremism and the costs of war. They are the holy rocks, hewn from different religious traditions, bearing witness to the possibility of a new way of life based on a shared commitment to peace.

The most precious living stones for us were the people of the congregations and ministries of the ELCJHL and LWF. We saw their faithful and remarkable witness in worship and in their commitment to be the body of Christ now in the places where he once taught and healed. Without discrimination, the ELCJHL welcomes all children into schools, providing excellent education and the spirit of dignity and bridge-building that respects all traditions. The International Center in Bethlehem has risen as a unique witness for support of the Palestinian people by programs that encourage peace and transform lives through art, cultural exchange, and all levels of education. The Abraham House in Beit Jala is a significant site for local and global interfaith dialogue. The living stones at Augusta Victoria Hospital, whose ministry of healing fills a crucial gap in medical services, as well as other projects of LWF, which maintain a strong Lutheran presence on the Mount of Olives and in the West Bank. The pastors, leaders, and members of these ministries are powerful “living stones” that speak loudly of God’s will for the love of neighbor and the realization of justice and peace.

During our travels, we heard many variations of the words: "You came at just the right time to uphold our spirits," and we were glad we came. In this kairos time together, God opened our hearts to one another. We began to understand more fully the details of the relentless persecution and cruel effect of the Israeli occupation of Palestine on the lives and spirits of the Palestinian people—the daily humiliations, separation from family, work, and medical care, and the endless frustration in seeking justice. It is impossible to comprehend the daily and increasing limitation of human rights without traveling here and talking with people about their experiences and hopes and fears.

But we also saw partnerships among Christians, Jews, and Muslims that offered hope that our shared Abrahamic tradition can lead to a shared land and a shared Jerusalem. As leaders of the journey, through our visits and conversations with national religious leaders and governmental leaders, we witnessed to the growing commitment of both church bodies to the resolution of tensions in the Middle East. It became increasingly obvious during this journey that a commitment to the growth of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is an important basis for building trust and ending mutual recriminations that fracture fragile efforts in peace-making. The deepening of relationships among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, beginning at local levels and continuing into a global context is crucially important to build a coalition that develops the strength to stand against the violence of extremists who regularly destroy hopes for peace.

The awareness of the attacks on Gaza and the unimaginable suffering that they have caused was just beneath the surface of every encounter and every conversation. The strife continued throughout our journey and we heard new reports each day of death and destruction. We experienced a shift away from initial concern for our own safety toward a sharing of the despairing pain, hopelessness, and anger that Palestinians were feeling as they learned the details of the invasion, powerless to save or even comfort those hundreds of people who were killed and injured. We heard the anguish of the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem who mourned the loss of life. We prayed for an end to the attacks from both sides. As we finished our journey, prayers for a cease-fire were answered, and a temporary unilateral truce was declared by Israel, and then joined by Hamas. We pray that negotiation can continue so that the attacks can be halted from both sides and humanitarian aid can be provided for those who are need food, medical attention, and housing.

If you remove the yoke from among you
The pointing of the finger
The speaking of evil
If you offer your food to the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
Then your light shall rise in the darkness
And your gloom be like the noonday. (Isaiah 58: 9a.-10)

The joint yokes of fear and occupation still are firmly in place in the Holy Land. God calls us, as people of faith, to remove them, to tend to the needs of those who are suffering, and in that way to be a light in the darkness. We pray for the strength to continue our accompaniment, to grow in awareness of the situation and the ways we can help to change it, and to advocate in every possible way for the justice that will lead to the security and shared homeland that is the only foundation for lasting peace. We will be faithful in ongoing visitation to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, determined in our call to be a public church, and communicate with our governments for their intervention in the Middle East, persistent in our efforts to build bridges with inter-religious partners, and courageous in telling the truth of the “facts on the ground” in the Holy Land.

Our brothers and sisters in the ELCJHL pleaded, "Please do not get tired of us." We are committed to hold fast to all that we have seen and heard and not to grow weary of telling their story in our church bodies and country and to the world. As we continue to live in this season of Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of God in the world in Jesus Christ and welcoming the Light that overcomes every darkness, we invite many more people to "come and see.”

Gracious God, grant peace among nations. Cleanse from our own hearts the seeds of strife: greed and envy, harsh misunderstandings and ill will, fear and desire for revenge. Make us quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war. In the time of opportunity, make us diligent; and in the time of peril, let not our courage fail; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 76)

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Susan C. Johnson
National Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, go the the blog: A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace,

Monday, January 12, 2009

Congress Passes Gaza Resolutions: Tell Them Now Implement Cease-Fire & Pursue Durable Peace!

This important lobbying directive comes from Churches for Middle East Peace. Among other points, this action alert details the background behind some members of Congress' choice to vote in favor or "present" at the Gaza resolution this week. I'm still learning.

Below that I will post a theological analysis from Sabeel that I have been holding until I had enough space.

Churches for Middle East Peace
Congress Passes Gaza Resolutions: Tell Them Now Implement Cease-Fire & Pursue Durable Peace!

Thanks to all of you who flooded Congress these past two weeks with thousands of calls and letters in support of an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire in Gaza and southern Israel.

Your advocacy made a difference! The concerns of Churches for Middle East Peace were heard by many of your elected officials, through constructive floor statements and in key improvements made to Congressional resolutions on the Gaza crisis that passed quickly late last week. Twenty-four Members of Congress, lead by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), also wrote a letter to President Bush on Friday to express their "deep concern for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that threatens the lives of countless innocent Palestinians". The letter included issues raised by two Israeli NGO's who were the featured speakers at a Thursday Congressional briefing on the Gaza humanitarian situation, co-hosted by CMEP and Jewish and Arab-American collegial groups.

Now we must keep the pressure on! Please take action today and ask Congress to immediately move forward on helping to achieve a cease-fire, address the pressing humanitarian situation and pursue a long-term political solution.

The Congressional Gaza resolutions, S. Res. 10 and H. Res. 34, passed unanimously in the Senate and by a vote of 390 in favor, 5 against, 22 present and 16 non-voting in the House. The resolutions expressed unwavering support for Israel and placed exclusive blame on Hamas for the current crisis, while including key positive elements in the important action-oriented "resolved" clauses: urging protection of civilians on both sides; recognizing the humanitarian needs of the residents of Gaza and calling for long-term improvement in daily living conditions; and expressing support for achieving a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolutions also encouragingly called for a "durable" and "sustainable" cease-fire "as soon as possible", which though falling short of urging an immediate end to hostilities, was a significant development, especially given that earlier in the week Congressional leaders had said a "cease-fire" would not be demanded at all.

While aspects of these resolutions failed to adequately communicate a balanced assessment of the current situation, we know advocacy by CMEP and collegial groups prompted key constructive elements and bolstered several Representatives and Senators who spoke in support of urgent diplomacy. CMEP has compiled positive Congressional statements here and you can view the texts of the resolutions, details on the vote and further analysis here.

It is important that your Representative and Senators hear from you this week. Those that expressed CMEP concerns either in floor statements, by voting no or present on the House resolution, or by signing the Gaza humanitarian letter should be thanked.

The many that supported S. Res. 10 and H. Res. 34 must be asked to urgently implement the resolutions' call for a cease-fire and concretely support progress on humanitarian concerns, including a secure re-opening of the border crossings, if civilians on both sides are going to be protected and if hopes for peace are going to be restored. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860, though rejected by both Hamas and Israel, did receive the tacit support of the Bush Administration and can serve as a solid foundation by which to achieve an end to the hostilities.

Ultimately though, this crisis shows that the status quo of violence and stalemate cannot continue. The House and Senate resolutions voiced strong support for a negotiated resolution of the conflict, but now those words must be put into action. Congress must work with the incoming Obama Administration to help bring about a fair and lasting peace agreement that can provide Israel with security and Palestinians with an independent and viable state.


Please use on online action system to send a message to Members of Congress who supported the resolutions. Tell them to urgently implement the resolutions' encouraging call for a cease-fire and concretely support the progress on humanitarian concerns and efforts to resolve the conflict. Click here to send an email. (Our system will automatically pull out the Members who should receive personalized thank-you messages.)

If your Representative or Senator made a statement in support of urgent diplomacy, voted no or present on the House resolution (the Senate resolution passed by unanimous consent), or signed the Gaza humanitarian letter, please thank him or her. Please check here to see if your Rep. or Sens. took positive action. If so, please send him or her a manual, personalized email. This background page has a list of the Members, Congressional contact information, and sample messages.

Positive Congressional Statements
House and Senate Resolutions, Voting Record and Further Analysis
List of Members Who Took Positive Action
CMEP General Gaza Backgrounder Page

--- ---

The Narrow Gate of Justice

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

On Saturday, December 27, 2008, as the children of Gaza were about to leave their schools to return home, the Israeli air force carried out a massive air attack against the people of Gaza. In less than 4 hours, over 150 people were killed and 200 injured - men, women, and children. By the end of the fourth day, over 390 Palestinians were killed and almost 2,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 4 were killed and no statistics are available on the number of injured.

Population: 1.5 million. 75% of them are refugees. 45% of them are under 14 years.Area: 360 sq km, 139 sq miles. Population density: 4,167 people/sq mile (The highest in the world.)80% of Gazan households live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than $3 per person a day. 80% of all Gazan families would literally starve without food aid from international agencies.

The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, similar to that of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, started with the 1967 June war. In September 2005, the Israeli army pulled out of Gaza and removed its illegal settlements. However, the illegal Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip did not come to an end. Israel maintained its tight control over Gaza's borders (air, land, and sea). To make things even worse, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza in June 2007, thus tightening its border restrictions and causing the humanitarian conditions to deteriorate further. Under the brutal siege, every aspect of the lives of the people of Gaza was controlled. They were totally dependent on Israel for fuel, electricity, cooking gas, medical supplies, food supplies (even flour), building material, etc. Israel made sure that the Palestinians would remain alive at barely the survival and basic subsistence level.

On November 14, 2008, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon issued a statement that said, "The Secretary-General is concerned that food and other life saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately."


FIRST: A word about tahdi'a (the period of calm or truce). It is important to note that among the terms of tahdi'a was the understanding that Israel would lift the siege of the Gaza Strip, and gradually extend the truce to the West Bank. This Israel did not do. It only partially lifted the siege and allowed a trickle of vital commodities into Gaza which kept the people at the level of mere survival. Israel's raids into the West Bank continued on a daily basis and scores of Palestinians were arrested or assassinated.

The International Herald Tribune reported on December 19, 2008 that it was Hamas' understanding that after the tahdi'a Israel would open the crossings and allow the transfer of goods that have been banned since the siege was imposed. There was never a return to the 500 - 600 truckloads of goods shipments that used to go into the Gaza Strip before the siege. "The number of trucks increased to around 90 from around 70." The facts and figures tell the real story. Sadly, however, many western leaders have shut their ears, eyes, and mouths against the cry of the oppressed and they fell into the deceptive snares of Israel. Most of the world judges Israel by what it says and not by what it does; while they close their ears to the comprehensive and workable 2002 Peace Initiative adopted by all the Arab leaders including the Palestinians. Even Hamas has agreed to a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders as expressed to President Carter on his latest visit to Syria.

SECOND: So long as Israel holds the Palestinians in general and the Gazans in particular under occupation, they (the Palestinians) have the right, according to international law, to resist the "seemingly never ending" belligerent occupation and struggle for their liberation. Israel, therefore, cannot demand from the international community sympathy and political support and from the Palestinians calm and security, while it maintains its inhuman and illegal occupation. It is only when Israel ends its occupation that it can have a legitimate right to defend its borders. Israel stands in violation of international law and is the aggressor due to its belligerent occupation.

THIRD: The Arab leaders and governments can do more for peace. Many people accuse them of a conspiracy of silence. Most of the Arab people are ashamed of the positions of their governments because they have not used their resources collectively to end the occupation. Sabeel is not talking about the use of force although many of our Arab people do. We believe that the Arab governments could have contributed much more towards a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict through nonviolent means. Tragically, this did not happen.

FOURTH: Although Sabeel wishes that Hamas and other Palestinian factions had chosen a nonviolent way to resist the Israeli siege, we feel that the disproportionate use of military force against the Gaza Strip and the number of casualties that it produced must be strongly condemned. It is a shame that once again many western leaders have failed to see the deeper issues that are involved. They chose to stand with the occupier rather than with the occupied, with the oppressor rather than the oppressed, and with the powerful rather than with the weak. It is important to continue the resistance against the belligerent occupation. But we call on our Palestinian people to abandon the armed struggle and to choose a more potent and effective way - the way of nonviolence. We can do it and we can win. The Palestinians are capable of setting an example for the rest of the world. This is what we must do; and this is what can restore to us our human pride and dignity.

In fact, we must look to a world where wars, and weapons of violence and destruction would be banned and where oppressed nations would choose the higher moral ground and resist the evil of belligerent occupations by nonviolent means. We hope for a world where a reformed United Nations would never be held hostage by powerful nations, but would enjoy the freedom to establish justice for the oppressed of the world.

FIFTH: We believe that the real message of the Palestinians to the world is a genuine cry for freedom and liberation. The Palestinians did not initiate the violence. The prolonged illegal Israeli occupation is the real cause for the violence in our area. Israel has shut the door on justice. The only way that can guarantee a lasting resolution of the conflict is for the United States' new administration to dare and open the door of justice. We believe that it is the narrow gate of which Jesus Christ spoke. It is the gate that leads to a life of peace and security. "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." This is the narrow gate of justice. This is the basis of international law. The way of military domination, occupation, violence, and wars is the wide gate that leads to destruction; while the gate that seems narrow and hard is the one that leads to justice, peace and security for both sides. We have tried the wide gate and it has only brought us destruction. It is high time to try the narrow gate of justice so that we might find life.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Jerusalem December 31, 2008

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog - A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace -

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lutheran bishops and various expressions of outrage and faith

I want to return my focus to the ELCA bishops visiting in Palestine and Israel, as well as other expressions of faith and concern from world Lutherans and a meditation by Jewish theologian Yehezkel Landau.

1. Tough Streets of the City, by Dan Lehman, from the ELCA blog page:

2. North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials, ELCA News,

3. Christians mobilize for ending violence in and around Gaza, WCC News.

. LWF Reiterates Support for Holy Land Vision of Peace, Urges Ceasefire in Gaza,

5. "If Only" - Meditation by Yehezkel Landau.

--- ---

1. Tough Streets of the City by Daniel J. Lehmann

Lutheran bishops walked the crowded, littered and graffiti-strewn streets of the West Bank city of Hebron Saturday, seeing firsthand the impact of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city.

The modern, sleek mid-rise building in the heart of the old city of Hebron stands ringed by Israeli Defense Forces personnel and lookout posts. In the ancient streets below, shops become sparse the closer they are to the settlement of some 500 people.

Camped in the middle of 170,000 Palestinians, the complex highlights one of the biggest problems confronting the two sides: the expanding presence of Israelis in the occupied territory of the West Bank.

The trip by bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.

On Saturday, shoppers jammed the streets just a few blocks for the heart of the old city. In the older section, the few shopkeepers open for business leaped from their chairs to offer scarves, jewelry, Palestinian memorabilia and handicrafts to the conspicuous out-of-towners, some of the few pedestrians on the narrow streets.

The visit to Hebron was arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel [] . A unit of the World Council of Churches [], the group keeps track of how Israel deals with Palestinians in territories it controls.

Just past the shops the bishops toured the Abraham Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It houses the purported remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and other Old Testament figures.

On Sunday, the group was to split up to attend worship in the various churches of the ELCJHL and spend time with members afterward.


2. North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials -

January 9, 2009
North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Israeli Officials

JERUSALEM (ELCA) -- Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) met Jan. 8 with Israeli government and religious officials as part of a pilgrimage to the Middle East. The bishops also toured the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and laid a wreath.

Forty-five bishops representing both churches are participating in a series of meetings Jan. 6-13 with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank. The visit, focused on supporting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, is the North American Lutheran bishops' annual academy for theological reflection and study.

The Lutheran bishops met with the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger and Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who spoke about the current fighting in Gaza.

For nearly eight years Israelis living near Gaza have been subject to periodic rocket attacks on their homes, launched by Hamas from Gaza, Metzger said. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but it has the right to self-defense if Israeli lives are threatened, he said.

"When you return to your countries, please be ambassadors to our feelings," Metzger said to the Lutheran bishops. "We don't want war. We don't want to kill innocent people. We want only to defend ourselves."

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the rabbis that the bishops opposed the escalating violence. "I hope you hear -- it didn't sound like you have -- our rejection of any violence perpetrated upon the people of Israel -- the violence of suicide bombers, Hamas rockets, or rockets from the north today," Hanson said.

The rabbis feel "deep distress" for the loss of innocent lives in the Gaza conflict, Amar said. To help explain the large number of civilian casualties, the rabbis said authorities showed them maps and photos of where they believe rockets have been fired from Gaza. Earlier in the day, a rocket launched from Lebanon into Israel was determined to be an isolated incident.

As of Jan. 9 nearly 800 Palestinians have been killed in the recent conflict in Gaza, according to news reports. Governments, churches and relief organizations have expressed concern for the high number of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian crisis for residents of Gaza lacking food, water and basic necessities. Gaza is the most densely populated area in the world, with 1.5 million people living on a strip of land 28 miles long.

Hanson said Lutherans and Jews have strengthened the foundation given to them from shared spiritual history and sacred texts during the past 25 years. He referred to the actions of the ELCA and ELCIC in the 1990s repudiating Martin Luther's anti-Jewish writings. Lutherans and Jews are work together in the Middle East in the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, he said. In the United States they join together in the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative [].

He told the rabbis that "as a Christian leader, on the basis of the Christian tradition of just war-unjust war principles, it is impossible for me to see that the response of Israel to the Hamas rockets meets the ethical test of proportionality or concern for noncombatants."

Hanson said it was his prayer that Lutherans and Jews could have honest conversations. "If we can't have honest conversations, who is going to win this encounter with religious extremists and fanatics who thrive on violence begetting violence?" Hanson asked the rabbis.

The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop, told the rabbis, "I must confess to you that we struggle with this (Gaza conflict), but I want to say to you that we are committed to staying at the table. The cracks that Bishop Hanson has alluded to -- about how our relationship may be strained at this time because of our struggle to understand all perspectives -- are there, and we need to acknowledge them. But our commitment is to stay at the table with you."

The bishops also met Bahij Mansour, director, Department for Religious Affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A small group from both churches held private meetings with Israel's Minister of the Interior, Meir Sheetrit, in Tel Aviv, and Minister of Tourism, Ruhama Avraham, in Jerusalem. Meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni earlier in the day were canceled, following the rocket attack on Israel.

--- Information about the 2009 Bishops' Academy is at on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

This story is at
ELCA News Blog:

--- ---

3. Christians mobilize for ending violence in and around Gaza -

09.01.09 14:19
Christians mobilize for ending violence in and around Gaza

Individuals, groups, churches and councils of churches from Kenya to Sweden to the United States to Australia are carrying out hundreds of advocacy actions involving Christians concerned about the Gaza crisis, especially the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and the need for a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

The WCC has received reports of church-related advocacy in some 20 countries, including statements, public demonstrations and letter campaigns addressed to government officials and parliament members []. They are usually accompanied by vigils and prayer services and collection of funds to support humanitarian relief work.

Their goals include an immediate cease-fire that ends violence against civilians on both sides of the border, free access for humanitarian aid, lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and internationally sponsored negotiations under the framework of international law as the basis for peace.

Two weeks after the Israeli army launched the current attack on Gaza, an estimated 770 Palestinians have been killed, several thousands have been wounded and many have been made homeless. Four Israelis have been killed by cross-border rocket attacks and seven members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have died in the fighting, four of them killed by friendly fire.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the IDF is failing to fulfill its obligation under international law to help wounded civilians in Gaza. A United Nations relief agency suspended aid operations in Gaza after some of their facilities were targeted and two of their local staff killed by the IDF. Church-related facilities are not spared, as three DanChurchAid-supported mobile clinics bombed by the IDF show.

--- ---

4. LWF Reiterates Support for Holy Land Vision of Peace, Urges Ceasefire in Gaza
Noko Calls for Prayers, Advocacy, as North American Lutheran Bishops Visit Middle East -

GENEVA, 6 January 2009 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) reiterates its commitment to a vision of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, urging an immediate cessation of both Israeli military operations on Gaza and Hamas missile attacks on southern Israel, and the swift establishment of a workable ceasefire agreement.

In a statement released today, LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko says, “The present bloodshed and destruction will not secure peace for either Israelis or Palestinians. It will only plant the seeds for more conflict, marginalizing the peacemakers, breeding despair, promoting radicalization and strengthening the appeal of violence.”

Reports citing local medical sources put the Palestinian death toll at more than 550 and nearly 3,000 civilian injuries, since Israel launched its 27 December operation on Gaza, including ground assaults since 3 January, aimed at stopping Hamas militants from firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel. Hamas says it has killed five Israelis by rocket fire and in combat.

Pointing to the impact of the Israeli siege on the entire civilian population of Gaza during the six-month ceasefire, Noko notes the blockade “imposed severe suffering on the entire civilian population of Gaza, fostering despair and rage rather than promoting an atmosphere for negotiations and peace.” He adds however, that attacks by Hamas and other militant organizations “are condemned by the LWF as an unacceptable response threatening the lives
of another civilian population.” Equally, while Israel has an obligation to protect its people and territory, its current military operations “are disproportionate to the actual threat and have resulted in an intolerable number of civilian deaths and injuries.”

The general secretary expresses grave concern for the critical humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, urging the Israeli government to ensure full humanitarian access to the people compelled to survive this conflict “without electricity, medical supplies, or sufficient food or water.”

Citing the LWF’s long-standing support to its member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) in various activities fostering the establishment of peace with justice in the Holy Land, Noko insists the root cause of the Middle East conflict must be addressed. “The interpretation of God’s promise to Abraham and differing understandings of who may rightfully claim his legacy, which lie at the very heart of this conflict, can only be resolved by dialogue and reconciliation among all his children,” he says.

He criticizes both parties’ short-sighted focus on political gains through “displays of armed power,” rather than on the “difficult search for peace,” saying this approach was a betrayal of the Israeli and Palestinian “peoples’ hopes for a peaceful future.”

Noko released his statement as a delegation of bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, led by LWF President Bishop Mark S. Hanson, proceeded with their visits with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian religious, community and political leaders under an annual event hosted by the ELCJHL. (See separate story at:

He appeals to all LWF member churches to pray for peace, advocate for justice, and convey these concerns to political leaders. “Without a just peace in the Holy Land, there can be no true or sustainable peace for any of us,” Noko concludes.

The full text of the general secretary’s statement is available on the LWF web site at: --- ---

--- ----

5. "If Only" - Prof. Yehezkel Landau wrote,

Dear brothers and sisters, after struggling for days to find a way to express my thoughts and feelings about the ongoing horrors in Gaza and Israel, in a way that might be meaningful and hopeful, I composed the prayerful appeal that is attached. Share it with others as you see fit.

May God help us rise above our partisan perceptions and widen our constricted hearts, so we can let the light of Divine compassion in to guide us to a truer and safer path.

What helps to get me through dark and distressing times like these is the verse from tomorrow's Torah portion, Genesis 50:20: Joseph says to his brothers, "What you meant to do unto me for evil God used [transformed] for good." To me this is the most challenging and consoling verse in the whole Hebrew Bible.

An appeal addressed to Jews, Arabs, and concerned people everywhere in response to the war between Israel and Hamas by Yehezkel Landau

If only our empathy and compassion were as strong as our capacity for self-justification;

If only we could protect ourselves in ways that do not inflict harm on others;

If only we could see ourselves as interdependent, rather than isolated and threatened;

If only we could see the Image of God in one another, rather than projecting mythic images of Arab Nazis or Jewish Crusaders;

If only our leaders were committed to transforming conflict nonviolently rather than too often using military means to achieve political aims;

If only peace education were a part of school curricula throughout Palestine and Israel;

If only political agreements outlawed incitement and demonization in public speeches;

If only the Israeli and Arab media conveyed multiple perspectives, along with humanizing stories and images, rather than reinforcing prejudices;

If only we could address the core issues and grievances, rather than reacting to the latest round of violence or the fear of further violence;

If only the Arab perception of the state of Israel (in its pre-1967 borders, with mutually accepted adjustments) was of a people coming home and exercising the right of self-determination, rather than of a colonial conquest by outsiders;

If only Arab and Muslim leaders could acknowledge the existential fears of the Jewish people following the Holocaust and reinforced by subsequent wars, bellicose rhetoric, and the prospect of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Israel’s adversaries;

If only the Jewish people, in Israel and elsewhere, could acknowledge the deep, unhealed wound of the Palestinian people, displaced and dispossessed in large numbers in the war of 1948 and under prolonged occupation following the 1967 war;

If only Israel would join the Palestinian people in developing democratic institutions rather than destroying their civic infrastructure in the name of self-defense;

If only we could see the problem as a regional crisis, with multiple, interrelated challenges, rather than a bilateral conflict between Israelis and Palestinians;

If only the new American administration would engage wholeheartedly in Middle East peacemaking, deploying a full-time envoy to the region with negotiating skills comparable to those exhibited by George Mitchell in Northern Ireland;

If only a spiritual dimension to peacebuilding—drawing on the practical resources in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—were included in Middle East diplomacy, so that religious extremists would be countered in their own terms and political arrangements would be grounded in mutual repentance, the healing of trauma, and sustained hope for the future;

If only we could envision a future of cooperation and shared blessing, rather than a no-win war lasting generations;

If only the children on “the other side” were as precious to us as our neighbors’ children;

If only our young people were exposed to their peers on “the other side” early on, so that they could build friendships that transcend the “us-vs.-them” dichotomy;

If only we could build Shalom/Salaam together, with a Jewish-Arab peace corps constructing homes, schools, and hospitals in a state of Palestine alongside Israel, and with expanded cross-border initiatives in the areas of health, education, culture, the environment, and sports;

…then perhaps, with God’s help and courageous leadership on all sides, both Israelis and Palestinians could experience genuine peace and security, with fear transformed to trust, anger to forgiveness, grief to compassion, and narrow self-interest to mutual solidarity.

[The writer is a dual American-Israeli citizen who co-founded the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle, Israel, and now teaches Judaism and interfaith relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.]

(Prof.) Yehezkel Landau
Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations;
Director, Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program
Hartford Seminary
77 Sherman Street·
Hartford, CT 06105 USA
Phone: 860.509.9538 ∙ Fax: 860.509.9509

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog - A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace -

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Five columns and articles about Gaza

Friends, here are a few selected items relevant to the Gaza situation. I don't want to send bulletin after bulletin, so I've assembled some articles here. Most are not presented in their entirety, so I urge you to go to the indicated links for the full article or column. Ann

1. Chris Hedges' Column - Party to Murder -
2. UN: Israel admits rocket fire was not from within school -,extra-un-israel-admits-rocket-fire-was-not-from-within-school.html
3. Rashid Khalidi writes in the New York Times, "What You Don’t Know About Gaza" -
4. Eboo Patel in the "On Faith" section of, "Status Quo vs. Solution for Middle East" -
5. Abed Z. Bhuyan writes "A Letter To My Students About Gaza" -

1. Chris Hedges' Column - "Party to Murder" - published at Truthdig

Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza—the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering—wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. “Expose thyself to what wretches feel,” King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, “and show the heavens more just.”

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.” [Hedges covered the Mideast for The New York Times for seven years. [The remainder of this article is at the website:]


2. UN: Israel admits rocket fire was not from within school

Jerusalem - Israel told foreign diplomats Wednesday that Palestinian militants had not fired rockets from within a United Nations' school, a UN official said. Israeli military officials said on Tuesday that militants had fired rockets from within the school, and that attack provoked Israeli artillery fire which landed near the school and killed more than 40 Palestinians in the Jabalia refugee camp, many of whom were seeking refuge from fighting.

"The Israeli army is briefing diplomats privately that the militant fire from Jablia yesterday did not come from inside the UNRWA school compound, but from the outside," said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief Works Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees.

Gunness said the claim was a "major allegation against a neutral UN development agency" which "within a day turns out to be completely baseless."

UNRWA's Gaza director, John Ging, had said earlier that to the best of his knowledge no rockets were fired from within the school. An Israeli military spokesman declined comment. [,extra-un-israel-admits-rocket-fire-was-not-from-within-school.html]


3. Rashid Khalidi: "What You Don’t Know About Gaza." Khalidi is a professor of Arab studies at Columbia.

NEARLY everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip.

THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.

The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”


4. Eboo Patel: "Status Quo vs. Solution for Middle East." Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation.

I spent much of the weekend communicating with Muslim and Jewish leaders on the recent crisis in Gaza. Here was my basic question: "Have you reached out to leaders in the other community to find a solution to the conflict?"

Here was the most common answer: "I'd love to talk to people in the other community. Can you give me the phone numbers of folks who agree with our position? If they'll appear with us at a media event, or put their name on our press release, that's even better."

That's a perfectly understandable instinct, but it doesn't lead to a solution. It's just a continuation of the logic that has led us here.

As I stated in my previous post, the rules of rhetorical engagement for Muslim and Jewish organizations regarding the Middle East were set long ago. I'm starting to think of these as the Status Quo Rules for Middle East Engagement. If you like the status quo, these rules are for you.

Rule No. 1 is use the current crisis to advance your narrative. If you're Jewish, that story involves words like "security", "terrorism", and "right to exist". If you're Muslim, it includes terms like, "humanitarian crisis", "occupation" and "disproportionate violence".

Rule No. 2 is talk about how bad it is where your people live. If you're Jewish, that means highlighting the number of Hamas rockets fired into Israel and the number of lives lost and disrupted in cities like Sderot. If you're Muslim, it involves talking about the prison that is Gaza and the disaster that is the West Bank.

Rule No. 3 is blame it on the other side. If you're Jewish, that means pointing at the violent and belligerent defiance of Hamas. If you're Muslim, it means talking about the suffocation of the blockade in Gaza and the occupation in the West Bank. [For the full column, go to the website:]


5. Abed Z. Bhuyan writes for "Faithbook - College students talk about religion" at the On Faith website. Here is an excerpt from "A Letter To My Students About Gaza." Abed Z. Bhuyan is a recent graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he studied International Politics and Muslim-Christian Understanding.

(...) When it comes to the current crisis in Gaza, you MUST above all understand that when Israel is killing innocent Palestinians it is not because their religion tells them to do this and when Hamas indiscriminately casts rockets into Israel it is not because their religion tells them to do that.

We must de-religionize this conflict because it isn't about religion (in fact, Muslims and Jews aren't the only ones often caught in the crossfire; Palestinian Christians are as well). Remember that phrase we talked about at the beginning of the year, this notion of a clash of civilizations? Well it isn't about that either.

Despite the differences among Muslims and Muslim nations, Muslims are dangerously cast as a monolith. You all know that I am Muslim. You also know that Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Ali are Muslim. Needless to say, the three of us are very different. Viewing Muslims as a monolith makes it easy to assume that we all lend our support to Hamas in the ongoing conflict because they are Muslim.

Understanding these types of conflicts is not easy. It is imperative to note that neither Israel nor Hamas is the good guy in this; both are guilty of stupid, senseless violence. But to blame the deaths of over 600 Palestinians on Hamas rockets into Israel that have caused so little relative damage is tragically unsound and serves as a distraction to the root of the problem, which is Israel's occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has generated a vicious cycle of violence affecting both sides. The media and our government are placing the responsibility for deaths squarely on Hamas and its rockets, despite the fact that Israel set up blockades to restrict the passage of essential goods like food and medicines into Gaza.

It is also important to recognize that not all members and supporters of Hamas fundamentally believe in the fight to end Israel. To cast Hamas and its members as a monolith is to misunderstand the organization and its supporters. Many members of Hamas support the organization because it actively maintains elements of civil society and provides basic necessities for the people, thereby serving an important functional and non-political role. Of course, now, given the overwhelming and disproportionate Israeli response, Hamas is likely to have more supporters than ever. [For the full column please go to the website:]

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog - A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace -

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gaza reports and views: OCHA, FOSNA, Amnesty, Brit Tzedek

I have a few items pertinent to Gaza which you may not have seen.

1. Statement of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory
2. Friends of Sabeel-North America joins international cry for end to Israeli attacks on Gaza
3. Amnesty International: Humanitarian implosion in Gaza.
4. Brit Tzedek v'Shalom: Podcast, Transcript, & More with Rabbi Marc Gopin


Statement of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory
Mr. Maxwell Gaylard
6th January 2009

Three members of the same Palestinian family were killed last night whilst taking shelter in an UNRWA school designated as a temporary refuge from the violence. Well before the current fighting, the UN had given to the Israeli authorities the GPS co-ordinates of all its installations in Gaza, including the UNRWA school which was struck. In addition yesterday, an entire family of five children and their parents were killed when the Israeli army shelled their home.

These deaths highlight the tragic reality of the situation in Gaza that for civilians, neither homes nor UN shelters are safe. Nearly one and a half million civilians are dangerously exposed to the fighting around them. There are no safe places to flee. We call on all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians.

More than 500 people have been killed and more than 2400 injured in just ten days. As one of the most densely populated places in the world, it is clear that more civilians will be killed; more homes, buildings and civilian infrastructure will be destroyed, if the conflict continues.

These tragic incidents need to be investigated, and if international humanitarian law has been contravened, those responsible must held accountable.

I reiterate the Secretary General’s call for an immediate cessation to this violence. Human beings have the right to life, liberty, and security no matter who they are and where they live.

Gaza Crisis Center:

--- ---

December 31, 2008
Friends of Sabeel-North America joins international cry for end to Israeli attacks on Gaza

Friends of Sabeel-North America calls on Christian leaders in the U.S to speak out in a strong, concerted voice to condemn Israel's excessive violence against the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza. President George Bush, president-elect Barack Obama and his transition team, and all members of Congress, need to hear from church leaders urging immediate and decisive political action to end Israel's attacks.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sabeel's international patron, said in a statement on Sunday that "the attacks would not bring Israel security or peace", adding, "It is a blight not only on the Middle East, but on the entire world - and particularly world leaders who have consistently failed the people of Palestine and Israel over the past 60 years."

Sabeel in Jerusalem and its Friends in the U.S. promote nonviolent solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recognize the great disparity of power and Israel's misuse of its massive military power against a people long oppressed by its illegal military occupation. With the world's fourth most powerful military, Israel is guilty of excessive violence that far exceeds that of the occupied Palestinian people.

Sabeel's peace partners in Israel also condemn their government's violence. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, for example, stated: "Let's be crystal clear. Israel's massive attacks on Gaza today have one overarching goal: conflict management. How to end rocket attacks on Israel from a besieged and starving Gaza without ending the impetus for those attacks, 41 years of increasingly oppressive Israeli Occupation without a hint that a sovereign and viable Palestinian state will ever emerge."

Sabeel asks Christian leaders to stand for the poor and oppressed and to speak and act on their behalf. Leaders should demand that: Israel immediately end the bombing of Gaza, as well as its 15-month long blockade of food, fuel, electricity and medicines into Gaza, and its collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazan men, women and children. In addition, Hamas should immediately end rocket fire into Israel.

The Rev. Canon Richard Toll, Chairman
Friends of Sabeel-North America
PO Box 9186, Portland, Oregon 97207

--- ---

Amnesty International: Check out the home page for a series of good reports:

Gaza civilians endangered by the military tactics of both sides -

Amnesty International: Humanitarian implosion in Gaza.
Urge Secretary Rice to help end the civilian bloodshed!

It may be a new year, but the bloodshed in Gaza this past week is a clear reminder that there's no time to wait to protect human rights in 2009.

Since December 27, these horrific attacks on Gaza have caused over 400 Palestinian deaths and 2000 injuries. Rocket fire by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, has taken the lives of 4 Israelis and caused several dozen injuries. Amnesty International condemns the violence on both sides and calls on both parties to abide by international law and policies.

The U.S. government cannot continue this lop-sided blame on Hamas for the crisis.

Ask Secretary Rice to urgently express deep concern about Israel's disproportional response and its policies which have brought the Gaza Strip to the brink of humanitarian disaster.

Civilians in Gaza, already trapped in disgraceful humanitarian conditions, are victims of Israeli air strikes and intensified attacks. Israeli blockades of humanitarian supplies continue to deny Palestinians the food and medical supplies they desperately need.

Join Amnesty International in calling for Secretary Rice to:
- Pressure Israel and Palestinian armed groups to cease attacks on civilians
- Demand an end to Israel's disproportional response
- Urge Israel to open the crossings to let humanitarian aid in

Together we can help lift Gaza out of this crisis.

Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director
Amnesty International USA


Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Podcast, Transcript, & More with Rabbi Marc Gopin

The Crisis in Gaza: An on-the ground Report from Jerusalem

Dr. Marc Gopin, rabbi, author, lecturer and conflict-resolution expert, spoke with Brit Tzedek from Jerusalem on December 31, 2008 where he has been meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and activists of every stripe. In this conference call, he provides his on-the-ground perspective of the recent upsurge in violence in Gaza and southern Israel and the need for U.S. leadership.

To listen to the podcast:

To read the transcript:

To read Rabbi Gopin on the U.S. role in creating and resolving the crisis:

Recommended Reading: – Rabbi Gopin’s personal blog -
What Exactly is Pro-Israel? by Marc Gopin. Common Ground News Service. June 12, 2008
Mideast Peace Talks After Bush’s Visit: Analysis by Marc Gopin. Canadian Television. May 18, 2008

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog - A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace -

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gaza reports and "Life Must Go On"

Gaza Humanitarian Situation Reports

So many reports are coming from Gaza. I appreciate the straightforward reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Our visits to the OCHA office in Jerusalem have been profoundly inspiring as well as informative. A full report from Jan. 4 is below. There are lots more, and you can subscribe to regular e-mails from OCHA.

This is the link to OCHA reports:

This link goes to the Gaza Crisis Center -

Life Must Go on in Gaza and Sderot

I want to introduce two bloggers, Hope Man and Peace Man. One lives in Gaza, the other in Sderot. The link to Life Must Go on in Gaza and Sderot is -

"This blog is written by two friends. One lives in Sajaia refugee camp in Gaza and the other lives in Sderot, a small town near Gaza on the Israeli side. There is ongoing violence between Israel and Gaza which has intensified greatly since October 2000. Many have been killed and many have been injured."

--- ----

4 January 2009 as of 17:00

The Israeli military operation and heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip has entered its ninth day, with an Israeli military ground operation commencing as of approximately 20:00 on 3 January. The ground incursion was preceded by intensive shelling along the entire length of the border inside Gaza. Israeli forces are now deployed in several areas of the Gaza Strip with clashes taking place between Israeli forces and militants. Damage and destruction of roads, infrastructure and buildings has been reported, including to a large gas storage facility.

The military incursion compounds the humanitarian crisis following more th an a week of shelling and an 18-month long blockade of the territory. There is an increased threat to civilians due to combat in densely populated urban areas. Hospitals continue to be overstretched because of the large number of casualties that have accumulated since the beginning of Israeli attacks, and ambulances and medical personnel face difficulties in accessing casualties. Electricity and telecommunications are down over much of the Strip. Food distributions have been suspended and all crossing points remain closed.

Since the beginning of the ground operation itself, at least 25 people (mostly civilians including women and children) have been killed throughout the Gaza Strip. The number is expected to be higher to include those people who did not make it to a hospital. This morning, an ambulance of Al Awda hospital in the north was shelled, seriously injuring 4 medical staff. Palestine Square in central Gaza City was also hit, reportedly killing 5 civilians and injuring another 40 persons. Prior to the ground incursion, 15 Palestinians were killedand more than 25 injured when the Israeli Air Force bombarded the Ibrahim Al Makadima Mosque in Beit Lahiya.

As of this evening, the MoH reports casualty figures since the beginning of the Israeli military operation on 27 December of 491 dead and approximately 2,400 injured, out of which figures, at least 20 percent of the fatalities and 40 percent of the injuries are women and children. Palestinian militants have continued to fire missiles towards Israeli cities, towns and advancing ground troops. As of the morning of 3 January, the Israeli Magen David Adom reported 46 light injuries (5 moderate, 4 severe) and 4 fatalities over the past week.

There is an almost total blackout in the governorates of Gaza, North Gaza, Middle Area, and Khan Yunis. Most of the telephone network (both land lines and cell phones) in Gaza is also not functioning since it now depends on back-up generators with dwindling fuel stocks.

All of Gaza City hospitals have been without mains electricity for 48 consecutive hours, depending entirely on back-up generators. The hospitals warn that the generators are close to collapse. At the Shifa hospital, collapse would have immediate consequences for 70 intensive care unit (ICU) patients including 30 in the neonatal care who are connected to machines. ICUs throughout the Gaza Strip are overloaded. The security situation is also preventing medical staff from reaching hospitals. Ambulances are experiencing difficulty in reaching the injured because of continuous fire. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society continues to work around the clock in order to assist the population. From Friday to Saturday midday, its ambulances transported 78 wounded to hospitals. Fifteen fatalities were also transported.

Today, UNRWA has had to close four out of its 18 health centers because of hostilities in the vicinity. For the second consecutive day, Israeli authorities have refused to allow an ICRC emergency medical team into Gaza to help the staff of Shifa.

An Emergency Operational Room was set up by the PA Ministry of Health (Ramallah) in collaboration with WHO to follow up the health situation in Gaza. The operation room will provide assessments of requirements (pharmaceuticals, consumables, equipments and spare parts), follow up on the response of international community, and address referrals of injured and other patients.

PRCS estimates that thousands of homes have been damaged and it has become increasingly difficult fortheir residents to stay in them given the cold weather. Prior to the onset of the IDF ground operation, the Save the Children Alliance and Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights had estimated that more than 13,000 people (2,000 families) have been displaced in the Gaza Strip during the course of the Israeli military operation. This figure is expected to increase following the ground incursion. The majority of these families have sought shelter with relatives and neighbors while an estimated 1,200 people currently staying in five emergency shelters run by UNRWA.

UNRWA food distribution was cancelled today due to Israeli military activity, except in southern Gaza where the situation is calmer. UNRWA reports that it is facing significant difficulties obtaining food for their emergency distributions since most bakeries are closed and movement is too dangerous. WFP was able to distribute bread to 13 hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip today. CHF, one of WFP’s main implementing partners, distributed food yesterday in North Gaza but have not been able to distribute today in Khan Yunis due to security reasons and movement restrictions. Due to the lack of cooking gas in Gaza, 23 bakeries are no longer operating. The number of operational bakeries is down to 10. The remaining 14 are partially operating, depending on the availability of electricity.

According to CMWU, Gaza’s water utility, approximately 70% of the Gaza Strip population has no accessto water, in particular Gaza City and northern Gaza due to the electricity cuts and lack of fuel for back-up generators. CMWU fears that continued shelling near the Beit Lahiya waste water treatment plant may hit the west side of the sewage lagoon which contains 3 million cubic metres of waste water. If this happens, a large part of Beit Lahiya will be flooded by sewage. UNRWA has donated 75,000 liters of fuel to CMWU, though only 35,000 liters has so far been distributed due to the fear of moving fuel tanks in the current security situation. The situation remains critical: in northern Gaza, for example, the water and sewage networks have enough fuel to continue operations for 2-3 days only.

All Gaza goods crossings with Israel are closed today. No fuel, aid supplies or other commodities will be allowed entry to Gaza today 1 . Both Erez and Rafah crossings are closed today meaning that no medical supplies or medical evacuations will be permitted entry/exit to or from Gaza. The World Health Organization reports that 105 patients have been transported through Rafah for treatment outside of Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s military operation on 27 December.

A number of donor partners have pledged contributions to the Humanitarian Emergency Response Fund (HRF) in recent days. Funds are already being disbursed for urgent projects in the Gaza Strip, including $250,000 to WHO for the procurement of surgical kits, $200,000 to Islamic Relief to provide food and blankets to eight hospitals, and $130,000 to a PARC project to provide Gazans with torches, batteries and dry food.


Fuel: Industrial fuel is needed to power the Gaza Power Plant, which has been shut down since 30 December. Replacement of ten transformers which were completely damaged is also urgently needed to restore electricity supply to 250,000 people in central and northern Gaza. All water, sanitation and other utilities, which provide basic services to the population, as well as hospitals and the general population are affected by the outages; some areas have now experienced power outages more than 48 hours. Nahal Oz crossing is the only crossing which can facilitate the transfer of sufficient amounts of fuel to restart and maintainoperations of the power plant, and restock other types of fuel needed in the Strip. This crossing remains closed.

Wheat grain: Essential to provide flour for local bakeries and humanitarian food distribution to the populationof Gaza. Karni Crossing conveyor belt is the only mechanism which can facilitate the import of the amountof grain required in the Strip at this time. This crossing remains closed.

Cash: Has still not entered the Gaza Strip and is urgently needed, including for the UNRWA cash distribution program to some 94,000 dependent beneficiaries, as well as its “cash for work” program.

Internal movement within the Gaza Strip: It is essential that patients and ambulances are able to reach hospitals, that agencies are able to access warehouses in order to conduct distributions. Currently movement within the Strip is severely challenged.

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Mac House
P.O.Box 38712
Tel:++ 972-2-5829962/5853

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace:

Friday, January 2, 2009

ELCA's Presiding Bishop Hanson calls for ceasefire, affirms plans for bishops' trip

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ELCA), issued a letter yesterday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and southern Israel and asking ELCA members to to make Sunday, Jan. 4, "a day for justice and peace in the land of peace." The letter affirmed plans for the Conference of ELCA Bishops and their Canadiana counterparts to visit religious, government and community leaders, congregations and schools in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank Jan 6-13. Bishop Hanson's letter is at this link - - and at the end of this bulletin.

Here's is the ELCA's new release:

January 1, 2009

ELCA Presiding Bishop Calls for Gaza Ceasefire; Bishops Prep for Visit 09-001-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said the ELCA joins with all people calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and southern Israel. Hanson also asked ELCA members to join Middle East religious leaders who requested that Sunday, Jan. 4, be "a day for justice and peace in the land of peace," he wrote in a Dec. 31 pastoral letter.

Hanson issued the letter as the ELCA Conference of Bishops and bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCiC) prepare to visit religious, government and community leaders, congregations and schools in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. They scheduled the visit months ago as part of their annual academy, a time of theological reflection and study.

At least 39 ELCA bishops, plus 5 ELCIC bishops, 27 spouses and 14 ELCA churchwide staff are expected to make the Jan. 6-13 visit. A smaller delegation will visit Jordan beginning Jan. 3. The visit is intended to show support for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land (ELCJHL), led by its bishop, the Rev. Munib A. Younan, and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The bishops also want to learn more about the complexities in the region, and to promote just and peaceful solutions to the conflict.

"This is a tragic yet opportune time for North American Lutherans to visit their partners in Palestine," said Younan, also an LWF vice president, in a news release. "They will have a unique opportunity to witness the challenges of living in this disputed land."

Leading the delegations from the North American Lutheran churches are Hanson and the Rev. Susan C. Johnson, ELCIC national bishop. The visit is being coordinated with staff and leaders from both churches, the ELCJHL and the LWF. Hanson is also LWF president.

The ELCA and the ELCIC are monitoring events as the bishops prepare for their visit, Hanson wrote. This week bishops and staff of both churches met several times by conference call "and are united in their assessment that the trip is timelier than ever and should proceed," he said in the letter.

"In this very difficult time, the bishops hope that their presence can be a source of comfort to these partners and manifest support for these ministries," Hanson wrote.

"The continuing loss of life, infliction of serious injury and devastation of property will only deepen hatred and divisions, and will serve no good end. Only negotiations, leading to a two-state solution, will bring about a durable peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians," the presiding bishop wrote.

The ELCA and ELCIC bishops invited prayers from members. "On behalf of their churches, the bishops offer to their Christian sisters and brothers and to all people affected by the conflict, their steadfast support, and their efforts and prayers for peace to prevail and healing to begin," Hanson's letter concluded.

Financial gifts sent to the ELCA in response to the conflict in Gaza will support relief efforts of Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), an LWF facility on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and relief efforts of ELCA International Disaster Response, said Megan E. Bradfield, associate director for international development, ELCA Global Mission. AVH is responding to the medical needs of cancer and dialysis patients from Gaza, she said.


The full text of Presiding Bishop Hanson's statement is at on the ELCA Web site.

Information about the bishops' Middle East visit is at on the ELCA Web site.


Here is the full text of Bishop Hanson's letter:

December 31, 2008

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

"For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." (Isaiah 9:5-7)

In this New Year, we turn again to the Lord of hosts -- praying urgently for the justice, righteousness and peace hailed by the birth of the newborn babe in the manger, the humble child, the Prince of Peace.

In these days of terrible violence, death and destruction in Gaza and southern Israel, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joins its voice with all in the region and around the world who call for an immediate ceasefire. The continuing loss of life, infliction of serious injury and devastation of property will only deepen hatred and divisions, and will serve no good end. Lamenting the recent escalation of violence, only negotiations, leading to a two-state solution, will bring about a durable peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) are carefully monitoring events in the region as their bishops prepare for their upcoming Academy visit, the planning for which began two years ago. Bishops of both churches have met several times this week by phone, and are united in their assessment that the trip is timelier than ever and should proceed. In keeping with the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine," the trip emphasizes accompaniment with its Lutheran partners in the region, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). In this very difficult time, the bishops hope that their presence can be a source of comfort to these partners and manifest support for these ministries.

ELCA congregations are invited to join with the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, including Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL, who have called for this Sunday, January 4, to be "a day for justice and peace in the land of peace." The ELCA joins them in calling upon, "officials of both parties to the conflict to ... refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and non-violent means." And the ELCA joins them in praying, "for the victims, the wounded and the broken-hearted. May the Lord God Almighty grant all those who have lost loved ones consolation and patience. We pray for all those living in panic and fear, that God may bless them with calm, tranquility and true peace."

The ELCA and ELCIC bishops invite the continuing prayers of their church members for building peace among Christians, Jews and Muslims and all of the region's peoples. On behalf of their churches, the bishops offer to their Christian sisters and brothers and to all people affected by the conflict, their steadfast support and their efforts and prayers for peace to prevail and healing to begin.

The Rev. Mark S. HansonPresiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Obama's team: Open for Questions

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs [] shared this message from the Obama-Biden Transition Team. It looks like a real opportunity to make a case for intense efforts toward peace in Palestine and Israel.

Transition Team -

Open for Questions: Round two

During this brief transition period, we’ve rolled out important new tools to let users interact with our team in a transparent and meaningful way.

Our first run of Open for Questions was one such feature, with nearly 1,000,000 votes cast on questions from the community.

In this round, you can still view all of the questions that have been submitted—or you can break down the questions by category for easier navigation. For instance, you can read the top-ranking question regarding Energy and the Environment and browse through other questions on the same topic by clicking on that issue.

We think this change is valuable. It serves the other key purpose of features like Open for Questions: making your input easy to pass on to the members of our Transition team that are crafting solutions to these vital issues right now.

Check out the Open for Questions feature here -
We’ll close this round of questions and put together our responses in the new year.

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, subscribe at the blog - A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace -