I'm a little behind in providing updates on news from the World Council of Churches. Here are two recent news stories related to Palestine and Israel. One deals with water rights, the other the WCC's statement on settlement expansion.
Israel Should Revoke Decision to Expand Settlement, says WCC
Churches and other ecumenical partners of the World Council of Churches (WCC) have received an appeal to "mobilize their members and the public" in resistance to Israel's approval for the construction of 900 new housing units in the Gilo settlement on traditionally Palestinian land in East Jerusalem. The WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, called on organizations related to the Council "to act with resolve, in concert," with the intention "to reverse this decision of the Israeli government and the settlement programme it represents." In a public statement, Kobia expressed "great disappointment" at this development and emphasized that the WCC "strongly condemns the decision of the government of Israel to expand the illegal Gilo settlement as we believe that this decision will hinder attempts now in process to restart the peace negotiations."
Quoting a position adopted by the WCC Central Committee at its meeting in September 2009, Kobia warned that, "if settlements continue to expand and proliferate, they will further complicate negotiations and may destroy any chance for peace". He continued: "People of conscience and good faith around the world are looking to the government of Israel now to move toward the resolution of an interminable conflict rather than continue with decades-old policies that have driven it toward the point of no return."
Full text of the WCC general secretary's statement:http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=7366
WCC solidarity with churches in the Middle East:http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3113
World Council of Churches - Feature
No Water for the Neighbours
By Miranda and Paul (*)
Rows of neat suburban houses stand on the parched, barren hillside. A water tower looms over them, irrigating lush greenery in the gardens. But outside this West Bank settlement's perimeter fence sits the tiny Bedouin community of Umm Al Kher, whose residents are desperate for water.
Here in the South Hebron Hills, there has been scarce rainfall for many months. Grey rock and dry, rugged earth spread off in every direction. But locals who met observers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel said the effects of the recent drought are exacerbating a man-made water crisis.
The community is not connected to any water supply network and the Israeli army will not issue permits to dig wells. The community is forced to buy tanked water from Mekorot, the Israeli national water company, which charges 5 shekels (around $1.30) per cubic meter. That cost prohibits the shepherds of Umm Al Kher from irrigating crops. Umm Al Kher's only other water supply is a pipe no bigger than a garden hose that trails across from the pump in the settlement.
"Sometimes they turn the water off for days at a time," one resident of Umm Al Kher told Miranda, an Ecumenical Accompanier from Britain. "We have enough water for drinking and washing but no water for agriculture."
Ecumenical Accompaniers, who are sent by the World Council of Churches to provide protective presence and human rights monitoring throughout the West Bank, regularly visit the villages of the South Hebron hills. These isolated communities struggle with the combined challenges of land confiscation and violence by Israeli settlers on the one hand and movement and building restrictions imposed by the Israeli military on the other.
Amnesty International recently completed an investigation into Israel's water policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It revealed a host of measures that prevent Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza from obtaining adequate water. Demolitions of storage facilities and denial of access to aquifers, along with bans on digging wells, mean that up to 200,000 Palestinians in rural communities have no access to running water at all.
Israeli settlers, meanwhile, face no such challenges. With their intensive irrigation farms, lush gardens and swimming pools, they consume on average around 300 litres each per day. Average Palestinian consumption is around a quarter of that, and well short of the 100 litres minimum recommended by the World Health Organization. In some cases Palestinians survive on as little as 20 litres a day, usually brought in by tanker. For communities that rely on agriculture for a living, the lack of water is critical.
No water for farms, no passage for shepherds
These problems are exacerbating the impact of a long-running drought. Bedouins coping with dry spells in the past would have moved around in search of good pasture. But these days, much of the best grazing land is off limits, confiscated by the Israeli settlements that are spreading inexorably across the landscape.
Palestinian shepherds are tied down by movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli army and the threat of violence from Israeli settlers which bars them from grazing in certain areas. Armed youths from the settlement regularly threaten the village itself. Recently, they broke through the barrier fence to steal the Bedouins' few scrawny chickens. There is also frequent abuse and stone throwing.
Salim, a shepherd from Umm Al Kher, says that complaining about water problems ignores the root cause. In order to improve the water situation, Umm Al Kher needs to build pipes, but the village is in an area where the Israeli authorities refuse to grant building permits to Palestinians.
As recently as October, the Israeli authorities told international non-governmental development organizations that they are breaking the law if they build in the village. The Oslo Accords of 1994 placed the village in "Area C," meaning it is under full Israeli military and civilian control. The Israeli authorities do not grant permits to Palestinians in Area C, so although the residents have papers proving they own the land, they cannot build on it.
The frustration this creates is palpable within the village. The residents live underneath electricity wires that run from the settlement to a nearby chicken factory also belonging to the settlers. But Umm Al Kher's residents are not connected to the electricity network. And even though they have papers proving they own this patch of land, every structure the Bedouins have built here since 1967 has a demolition order hanging over it, including the tents. Several buildings have already been destroyed - including a toilet block.
Eid, the son of a village elder, was defiant. "Every time they destroy our buildings, we will build them again. This is our land," he said.
His determination does not hide the fact that Umm Al Kher is in a precarious spot. Winter rains may make these hills green pastures for a few months, but the long term future of Bedouin communities like Umm Al Kher hangs in the balance.
(*) Miranda and Paul are members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel - http://www.eappi.org/
Sign up to instant updates from EAPPI at www.twitter.com/eappi and join the EAPPI Facebook Group at http://bit.ly/eappi-facebook or by searching for "EAPPI".
Churches in the Middle East: solidarity and witness for peacehttp://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3113
WCC member churches in Palestine and Israel:http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=4746
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was launched in August 2002. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. The programme is coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Opinions expressed in WCC Features do not necessarily reflect WCC policy. This material may be reprinted freely, providing credit is given to the author.
Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 firstname.lastname@example.org
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.
World Council of Churches - News Release
Contact: +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 email@example.com
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