Thursday, September 23, 2010

CMEP: Peace Talks Face Rising Pressure and Uncertainty

CMEP Bulletin
September 17, 2010


Peace Talks Face Rising Pressure and Uncertainty

Political pressures on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are rising rapidly in the midst of renewed peace negotiations. As the September 26 expiration date of the 10-month Israeli freeze on new construction activity in the West Bank rapidly approaches, Palestinian negotiators have said repeatedly that they will break off the talks if Israeli construction is renewed.

A chorus of voices have called on the Israeli government to extend the moratorium in order to preserve the peace process. In a press conference on September 10, President Barack Obama called on Israel to extend the freeze on new activity in the Palestinian territories.

The president told reporters:

"What I've said to Prime Minister Netanyahu is that, given, so far, the talks are moving forward in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend that moratorium … Because ultimately, the way to solve these probles is for the two sides to agree what's going to be Israel, what's going to be the state of Palestine. And if you can get that agreement, then you can start constructing anything that the people of Israel see fit in undisputed areas."

His called was echoed September 13 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Their call on Israel to extend the moratorium demonstrates that both the president and the secretary of state are deeply invested in the effort to keep negotiations going as long as there is forward momentum. The U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Senator George Mitchell has added his own positive comments about the progress of the talks and how the leaders are dealing with matters of real substance rather than mere procedure.

This is the first of what may be many do or die moments in the renewed direct negotiations,the outcome is not at all clear. The Israeli Prime Minister faces the very difficult choice of either resuming construction and risking an end to the talks, or continuing the construction suspension and risking a crisis within his own government.

On possible outcome is that the construction freeze would end, but in effect there would be no new or significant construction. In some ways that is the current situation in East Jerusalem; the Israeli government has said it will not freeze new construction in the Palestinian section of the city, but in fact little building has been initiated since the confrontation between the Israeli and U.S. administrations last March during the visit of Vice President Biden. Palestinians have said they will walk away from the talks if there is any new construction, but they have not insisted on a declaration of no new construction.

President Obama has also suggested that the two parties could seek an agreement on final borders between Israel and the Palestinian state. Land swaps on either side of the 1967 border are generally expected. Then Israel could build in the areas that by agreement would become part of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that even if the moratorium ends, he would be willing to slow construction to some extent. President Abbas too has softened his stance somewhat, saying Thursday, "We all know there is no
alternative to peace through negotiations, so we have no alternative other than to continue these efforts."

Amidst the political wrangling, violence continues on the streets. As the meetings continued September 15 in Jerusalem, Israeli aircraft bombed suspected smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border following rocket and mortar attacks launched from Gaza. The strikes killed one Palestinian. Hamas pledged to derail the talks and prior to the opening round in Washington at the beginning of September. The group claimed responsibility for the killing of four Jewish settlers in the West Bank at the end of August. On Friday, Israeli forces killed a local Hamas commander in the West Bank.

In spite of these problems, both sides remain engaged at this point. [] Special Envoy Senator Mitchell stated that both sides still believe that the negotiations can be completed within a year and are "commited to a solution to the conflict that resolves all issues for the state of Israel and a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security." With the end of the moratorium fast approaching, we will soon find out how strong this commitment is.

Additional Resources:
"Israeli aircraft strike Gaza as leaders convene." Matti Friedman, Associated Press, September 15, 2010.
"Briefing by Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Mitchell on Meetings with Israeli, Palestian, and Egyptian Leaders." U.S. Department of State, September 14, 2010.

"Squaring the Circle: Palestinian Security Reform under Occupation." International Crisis Group, September 7, 2010.

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Letter to President Gains Momentum

The CMEP-organized letter from heads of church denominations and organizations urging Prsident Obama to continue efforts work for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians has garnered increasing attention. Bishop Larry Goodpaster, President of the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops, is the latest leader to endorse the letter. A broad spectrum of media has also covered the letter, including articles in Catholic, Lutheran, African-American, and Presbyterian publications. Most recently, the letter was analyzed in the "On Faith" blog of the Washington Post.

Additional Resources:

Text of the letter -

"Bishop Hubbard, Christian leaders welcome new Middle East peace talks," Catholic News Service -

"Christian leaders laud Obama's Middle East peace talks," Presbyterian News Service" -

Over two dozen church leaders encourage Obama to do the right thing regarding Israel," -

"ELCA Presiding Bishop joins Christian leaders in letter on Mideast talks," ELCA News Service" -

Christian leaders press Obama on Mideast peace talks," Christian Post -

"Christian leaders pray for peace," Robert Parham, On Faith Blog, -
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For more information about Churches for Middle East Peace:

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

School graduations, women's ministries of the ELCJHL

News from the ELCJHL

Allison Schmitt sent out the summer newsletter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), and I'm including an article in this post. I wish the whole newsletter was on the church's website, but that takes time. To find out more about the ELCJHL, go to this link:

I want to take this opportunity to thank Allison for two years of outstanding service as communication assistant to the ELJHL bishop, the Rev. Munib Younan. She sent some words of closing as she turned over her responsibilities to Elizabeth “Elly” McHan, a recent graduate of Wartburg Seminary.

Allison writes:
"It is difficult for me to put into words what this last two years has meant for me. I think it will be only after I have some distance in time and space that I will fully realize the impact of this experience. What I do know is that I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I have had to live and work among the courageous Palestinian Christians for these 24 months. Their resilience, flexibility, persistence and faith will inspire me for the rest of my life. Somehow they manage to hope for a better day, in spite of conditions that most of us in the West would find hopeless.

"There have been highs and lows for me here. But whatever my mood, I have always been keenly aware of what an honor it has been to learn from, live with and work for justice alongside the Palestinians. It is my prayer that this two years is just the beginning of a lifetime of speaking and acting in support of their liberation."

Thank you, Allison! Now for a news story about high school graduation, and I want to point out that the students of the Lutheran schools in Palestine are not all Christian; almost half of these young graduates are Muslim. Please pray for these young people and for the Lutheran women of the ELCJHL. An article about women's ministries follows.

ELCJHL schools celebrated tawjihi graduations in May,
Graduates performed poems, rap songs, give speeches to celebrate

Large crowds and local dignitaries were on hand to celebrate graduation at the Lutheran high schools. A total of 127 students, including 59 girls and 68 boys, received certificates at the four ceremonies.

Graduate Majdi Habash called the Ramallah School of Hope a candle to light the graduates’ paths as they set out to contribute to society. They are armed not with guns or stones but with education, he said, quoting Palestinian-American academician Edward Said. He encouraged his 39 classmates to imitate a child learning to walk – to laugh when they fall down and get up to try again, he said at the May 27 ceremony at the Ramallah Cultural Palace in Beitunya.

ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan encouraged the graduates to dream, even if it seems impossible, of a bright future for themselves and the Palestinian people. Improbable things – like having an African-American president in the U.S. White House – do happen, he said.

Amidst Palestinian and German flags at the TalithaKumi School in Beit Jala, school principal Dr. Georg Dürr encouraged graduates to use the kairos (opportune) time wisely. Although they have hoped since childhood for their own state, “now is the time for resolution,” he said at the May 28 event.

In his English speech, Jameel Sarras said that parents and teachers were the “wind beneath our wings” for him and his 41 classmates. He encouraged them to work to ‘bring freedom and peace back to our beloved Palestine.” He offered special thanks to Dr. Dürr, who was completing his last year at the school.

At their May 29 graduation ceremony, Nataly and Tania Hannoneh thanked their teachers for “putting up with us for 15 years” at the Lutheran school in Beit Sahour. Their school years are like a harbor closing behind them, with the world an ocean before them, they said to the audience and their 37 classmates.

ELCJHL Director of Schools Dr. Charlie Haddad referenced Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela in encouraging the students to be the kind of leaders Palestine needs.

Gandhi’s name was invoked at the Dar al-Kalima graduation as well. Delivering the English speech at the May 31 ceremony, Yousef Al- Ramahi, quoted the Indian leader: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” He thanked instructors for teaching them to be “good, sensible people” and exhorted his seven classmates to contribute to Palestine’s development.

Al-Ramahi joined his fellow graduate Mohammed Teilakh in performing a rap song, to the delight of the audience gathered in the auditorium of the International Center of Bethlehem.

After graduation, the students were scheduled to join their Palestinian peers in taking the tawjihi exams – a set of exams administered over three weeks in as many as 10 subjects to determine college eligibility.

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ELCJHL women focus on family at workshop

The fast pace of societal change has led to a crisis of the family, said Bishop Munib A. Younan at a recent ELCJHL women’s conference on the family from a Palestinian Christian perspective.

About 48 women from ELCJHL congregations in Israel-Palestine attended the June 17-18, 2010, conference, according to ELCJHL Women’s desk facilitator Bassima Jaraiseh. Women from the Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan, planned to attend the conference, which was held in Jericho, but they were unable to do so.

In his opening lecture, Younan said Palestinian society must find ways to cope with changes to the family, which have more to do with cultural pressures than with the Israeli occupation or difficult economic conditions. Once “family” meant father, mother and children, but societal changes make it a difficult word to define.

In the face of societal pressures, Christians must maintain traditional values of mutual commitment, compromise, planning for the future, equality and firm parental guidance of children, he said. The church can help by giving its youth a healthy, positive view of married life and offering pre-marital counseling.

Also addressing the group was Dr. Yahya Hijazi, professor at Naqab University and educational counselor and lecturer for the Palestinian Counseling Center.

Hijazi told the group that 40 percent of Palestinian children are subject to harassment – much of which occurs inside the family. What makes this verbal, physical and sexual violence worse is that it is seen as a family secret, he said, which prevents victims from seeking help.

Families should focus on building good communication skills and providing for good psychological health for its members, he said. Parents need to exercise their authority appropriately, provide clear rules and spend time with their children.

Conference participants broke into groups to discuss the roles of families and schools in this work. They said families should help members develop skills in communicating, accepting constructive criticism and bearing life’s frustrations. They said schools should communicate with families, provide an accepting atmosphere and offer sex education.

Jaraiseh said she felt participants gained new skills at the workshop, including strategies for raising children “in a more positive way.” She said participants commented positively on the program organized by Minerva Khayyat and asked that more effort be made in the future to encourage ELCJHL women ages 18-25 to attend. They also suggested that the ELCJHL have a marriage counselor on staff.

Jaraiseh is at work on the next women’s event, a two-part workshop, “The psychological differences between the two sexes and the challenges of marital life,” scheduled to begin in September.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

WCC message stresses concerns of Palestinian Christians

Concern over the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian Christians was voiced by World Council of Churches leader Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.

The news release is here and the full text below.

02 September 2010

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has sent a message to the Middle East negotiators in Washington to stress the concerns of Palestinian Christians.

The message conveys concern over the final status of Jerusalem, the future of the Christians there and the need for a just peace in the region.

"Now is the time for a just peace," Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit says in the message from Jerusalem, where he is visiting this week with a WCC delegation. "The Christians here pray for that; all peoples here need it desperately. The time of occupation and violence must end."

The message also talks about the need for the final negotiations on the status of Jerusalem to involve the heads of the local churches. "Palestinian Christians are also concerned about their future here and about their status in Jerusalem," his message said.

In the message Tveit also says the Christians in Jerusalem are "very much concerned by the discourse about religious identity of states in this region, which they fear will marginalize not only their presence and witness but also that of all Christians elsewhere in the region."

The message came as discussions between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams were about to resume. At a meeting between US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, 1 September, each of the leaders pledged to work diligently toward peace.

Full text of the message -

More information on the visit of the WCC delegation -


The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches (...) representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries (...)


Full text of the message -

Document date: 2.09.2010

A message to Middle East negotiators in Washington, D.C.

From the blessed city of Jerusalem I bring you greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

When I visit the Palestine and Israel region I carefully listen to the WCC member churches here and to our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers.

During this visit, the Palestinian Christian cry of faith, hope and love expressed through the Kairos Document has been particularly significant. This document now stands as their proclamation for a just peace in Palestine and Israel, and a call to Christians around the world to join them in solidarity. Now is the time for a just peace. The Christians here pray for that; all peoples here need it desperately. The time of occupation and violence must end.

Equally important on this visit has been listening to the concerns of the local churches here that already has been expressed in their historic statement of 2006 on the final status of Jerusalem. Final negotiations on the status of Jerusalem should involve the heads of the local churches. Palestinian Christians are also concerned about their future here and about their status in Jerusalem. Their residency rights, as is the case with all Palestinians living in Jerusalem, including the basic human right to family life and family reunification, are threatened by severe restrictions currently imposed by the Israeli authorities. This must come to an end so husbands, wives and children may be together as one family.

They are also very much concerned by the discourse about religious identity of states in this region, which they fear will marginalize not only their presence and witness but also that of all Christians elsewhere in the region.

Any debate over the religious composition of a given state is an internal one. However, it should guarantee the principle of equality of all citizens in their rights and duties as human beings.

As the representative of the World Council of Churches and a brother to our fellow Christians in Jerusalem and throughout the Middle East, I pray that there is enough will to make the negotiations successful so that they lead to a just peace. Throughout the region the dignity and integrity of all people will be the highest aspiration of civil society and government.

May the Lord bless your deliberations starting today.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary, World Council of Churches

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

EAPPI news: Promoting a just peace in Israel and Palestine

The August 2010 newsletter from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is now available.

Go to this link: for news from EAPPI. Please pass this on to your networks!

Here is a sample from the lead story:

Promoting a just peace in Israel and Palestine

Greetings from Jerusalem. The Middle East is experiencing an intense heat wave and as the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins, West Bankers are preparing for a tough period.

The heat adds an additional burden to Palestinian communities coping with the multiple impacts of the occupation. July saw a sharp rise in the frequency and scale of house demolitions by Israeli forces. Several families have also been evicted from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers, especially in Jerusalem

In one case, the army demolished 70 tents, making over 100 people homeless on a single day in a Bedouin village in the Jordan Valley. Soldiers later returned to demolish emergency tents donated by humanitarian agencies. Israel often demolishes Palestinian homes on the grounds that they are built "illegally," but makes it near impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits in Area C, the 60 percent or so of the West Bank in which the Oslo Accords granted Israel full military and civil control. It is also extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain building permits in East Jerusalem.
For the rest of the article, go to -

Another highlight is a photo report from events in Hebron -

To support shopkeepers in Palestine's biggest city outside
Jerusalem, please visit

In solidarity and peace,
EAPPI Jerusalem

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