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Executive Committee May 2006 Statement on the Conflict in Israel/Palestine: The Time Is Ripe To Do What

19 May 2006

WCC Executive Committee, Geneva, 16-19 May, 2006



With the responsible powers and authorities providing little prospect of a viable
future for both Israelis and Palestinians, with concern rising around the world at
the recent course of events in the conflict, and with various peace plans and numerous
UN resolutions languishing unimplemented, the World Council of Churches
Executive Committee, meeting in Geneva, 16-19 May, 2006, comes to a sober conclusion:

Peace must come soon or it may not come to either people for a long time.
Failure to comply with international law and consequences thereof has pushed
the situation on the ground up to a point of no return. The disparities are appalling.

One side is positioning itself to establish unilaterally final borders on territory
that belongs to the other side; the other side is increasingly confined to the scattered
enclaves that remain. On one side there is control of more and more land
and water; on the other there are more and more families deprived of land and
livelihoods. On one side as many people as possible are being housed on occupied
land; on the other side the toll mounts of refugees without homes or land. One
side controls Jerusalem, a city shared by two peoples and three world religions;
the other - Muslim and Christian - watches its demographic, commercial and
religious presence wither in Jerusalem. From both sides, military forces or armed
groups strike across the 1967 borders and kill innocent civilians. On both sides,
authorities countenance such attacks.

Finally, the side set to keep its unlawful gains is garnering support from part of
the international community. The side that, despairing at those unlawful gains,
used legitimate elections to choose new leaders is being isolated and punished.
All parties to the conflict and the foreign powers implicated in it now face a world
dangerously divided over this conflict, a world increasingly convinced that the
goal of peace for all has been traded away for gains by one side.

At this critical juncture the contribution of churches can be to speak from the
perspective of ethics. The actions noted above and others like them cannot be justified
morally, legally or even politically.

Late in the long civil rights struggle in the US, Dr Martin Luther King wrote:

"[T]ime…can be used destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the
people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions
of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. … We must use time
creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right." [‘Letter from
Birmingham Jail' 1965]

The same hard diagnosis applies to the struggle for a just and durable peace
between Israelis and Palestinians. Impunity towards international law, the United
Nations Charter, resolutions of the UN Security Council and rulings of the
International Court of Justice has long characterized actions on the ground. Now
the same phenomenon is apparent in international policies towards the conflict
as well. Legal norms that bear so heavily on this conflict - territorial integrity,
the peaceful resolution of conflict, the right to self-determination and the right
to self-defence, among others - are being more widely ignored.

Calls for the application of these norms anchor six decades of church policy towards
the conflict, including WCC Statements on ‘The Wall in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories and Israel's Annexation of Palestinian Territory' (2004), ‘The Ecumenical
Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict' (2002 and 2001), ‘Jerusalem Final
Status Negotiations' (2000), ‘The Status of Jerusalem' (1998), ‘The Middle East'
(1993, 1983, 1974, 1969, 1968 and 1967), ‘Jerusalem' (1980, 1975 and 1974),
and ‘The Emergence of Israel as a State' (1948). One theme stands out: "What
we desire is equal justice for both Palestinian people and Jewish people in the
Middle East" (WCC Executive Committee, Bad Saarow, GDR, 1974), but international
law has not been conclusively applied for the collective good.

Most recently, the WCC has requested the Middle East Quartet to give the new
Palestine authorities time to develop and demonstrate their policies. The WCC
also called Quartet members - the United States, the European Union, Russia
and the United Nations - to exercise even-handedness when dealing with the
conflict and be the determined and objective third party needed to bring Israeli
and Palestinian authorities into equitable negotiations.

Respect for existing agreements is required of both sides. Democracy must be
protected where it is taking root. The use of violence pre-empts normal bilateral
relations for Israeli as well as Palestinian authorities.

Ending double standards is a prerequisite for peace. The current impasse must be
broken. All parties must see the necessity and human benefit in re-aligning current
political decisions with long-standing legal commitments and undeniable
moral obligations. The precious, life-saving opportunity is now.

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in
Bossey, Switzerland, 16-19 May, 2006:

Urges the international community to establish contact and engage with all the
legitimately elected leaders of the Palestinian people for the resolution of differences,
and not to isolate them or cause additional suffering among their people;

Strongly supports, and calls the international community to support, two-way
and equitable negotiations as the path to mutual recognition between Israel and
Palestine and to the resolution of other contentious and substantive obstacles to
peace as noted in the succession of United Nations Security Council and General
Assembly resolutions;

Recommends that, in the interests of equitable treatment and as a new foundation
for peace, both parties to the conflict be held to one and the same standard
for ending violence, meeting their existing agreements and recognizing each
other's existence, including the 1967 borders;

Insists that all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention (including
Israel, the US, States of the European Union, Russia, and the repository state,
Switzerland) ensure the well-being of the occupied population. Urgent actions
include ending the punitive measures imposed on the Palestinian people in violation
of the Fourth Geneva Convention and its prohibition of collective punishment
- including the tax, aid and travel restrictions imposed after their recent democratic
elections - and requiring the occupying power to fulfill its responsibilities for
the well-being of the population in all areas it controls, including the Gaza Strip;

Reminds the United Nations and its member states of UN responsibility to make
Jerusalem an open and inclusive city for the two peoples and three religions, shared
in terms of sovereignty and citizenship;

Encourages the Government of Israel to base its security on peace with all its
neighbours, including the equitable negotiation of final borders with those neighbours
and excluding the unilateral imposition of borders on those neighbours;

Encourages the Palestinian Authority to include parties across the political spectrum
in the processes of democracy and of non-violent conflict resolution, to protect
the democratic rights of its people from external pressures as legitimate rights
under international law, to maintain the existing one-party cease-fire towards
Israel and extend it to cover all parties, and to demonstrate that all forms of violence
and attacks across the 1967 borders between Israel and the Occupied
Palestinian Territories against innocent civilians on either side must stop;

Calls member churches and the WCC to share solidarity with people on both
sides of the conflict as a witness for peace:

• Advocate for the measures indicated above, reflecting world-wide church concern
at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the implications of the conflict in different
regions, and the ever more urgent need for remedial actions by the responsible
authorities; use legitimate forms of pressure to promote a just peace and
to end unlawful activities by Israelis or Palestinians.

• Find constructive ways to address threats experienced among the Jewish people,
including the nature, prevalence and impact of racism in local, national and
international contexts.

• Heed calls for help from the churches of Jerusalem at this time of trial, assist
them in their service to society and support church aid work with people in
need; seek help from churches in the Middle East to educate churches elsewhere
about the conflict, the region and the path to peace; pray for peace.

• Send church members to Israel and Palestine as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment
Programme in Palestine and Israel until the occupation ends.

• Engage in dialogue with churches that link current events in the Middle East with
certain biblical prophecies. Such dialogue would include concrete and legitimate
political perspectives on justice, the impact of such linkages on the presence
and witness of the Christian churches of the region, and discussions about
the nature of Christian witness for peace in the Middle East.

• Work to enhance the security of all people in the region, in accordance with the
WCC Ninth Assembly Minute, by urging relevant governments to support
the establishment in the Middle East of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone to include
Israel and Iran.