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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Appeal for urgent action

15 March 2002

Open letter to the member churches, regional and national councils of churches and ecumenical partner organizations, 15 March 2002.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We have all been watching with growing alarm as hour by hour the violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis intensifies. The killings, bombings and destruction continue to escalate in defiance of the repeated admonitions and appeals of the United Nations, of governments and of people around the world. Israel is rapidly re-occupying Palestinian lands by military force, raiding Palestinian refugee camps and engaging in mass indiscriminate detentions of civilian inhabitants under the most degrading circumstances. Attacks on medical and rescue staff, coupled with the severe new restrictions on access to hospitals and other medical facilities, add to the systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In his address to the United Nations Security Council on March 12, Secretary General Kofi Annan emphasized the critical need to end the illegal occupation and the violence.

The WCC is receiving regularly eye-witness reports from Palestinian church workers about invasions, occupation and major physical damage or destruction of church-related and internationally supported schools and other facilities. A number of statements and appeals have also come to us from the Middle East Council of Churches Department for Service to Palestinian Refugees (MECC/DSPR) and from other Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious groups and secular Palestinian and Israeli organizations pleading for determined international action, including the deployment of UN monitors, to put a stop to the escalating violence and to address dire humanitarian needs.

The thirteen Patriarchs and Heads of Churches and Christian Communities in Jerusalem issued a statement on March 9 (attached) expressing their deep distress at the increasing bloodshed, joining their voices with every Palestinian and Israeli seeking a just peace. Saying that "Israeli security is dependant on Palestinian freedom and justice", they call upon Israeli citizens and the Israeli government to "stop all kinds of destruction and death caused by the heavy Israeli weaponry [for the] way the present Israeli government is dealing with the situation makes neither for security nor for a just peace". The church leaders also urge the Palestinian people to put "an end to every kind of violent response", reiterating that the way to peace is through negotiations. They appeal too, and in particular, to the churches around the world to contact their respective governments to seek their active involvement in the quest for peace.

The WCC, Action by Churches Together (ACT), APRODEV (WCC-related development organizations in Europe) and the MECC/DSPR are all seeking to respond to the humanitarian crisis, and all need your help and support. Above all, however, an immediate common effort is required to break through the stagnation of the international community and to encourage action that corresponds to words. More than ever we must hear and respond to the cries of the churches and bring them to the urgent attention of Christians, our communities, our media and our governments.

Our united message is clearly stated by the WCC Executive and Central Committees: the violence of the illegal occupation of Palestine must come to an end. The occupation is at the root of the violence. Unless this is addressed, there can be little hope for a just and lasting peace. We therefore urge you to strengthen your efforts related to the 2002 focus of the Decade to Overcome Violence: "End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine".

The WCC has also initiated the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Through this the Council is organizing a continuing international ecumenical presence in Palestine to monitor and report on human rights violations, offer protection of individuals and communities and accompany local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in their efforts of non-violent resistance to occupation, closures, and destruction of Palestinian homes and sources of livelihood. Some Christians and others are already present and have remained through the current violence. It is hoped that others will join soon. We urge you to contact your own national organizing bodies to offer participation or other forms of support.

In the present circumstances, however, this is not enough to provide the immediate protection needed. Thus we urge you to apply pressure on your governments to support proposals that have been brought to the UN Security Council, and encourage the rapid deployment of an intergovernmental monitoring body in Palestine.

The churches of Jerusalem have also asked for prayers for peace. The global fellowship of churches can join together in special prayer vigils and services of worship with the Christians of Palestine. A collection of prayers from the local churches has been published by the WCC for use on such occasions. These prayers and other materials related to the WCC initiatives are available at www.wcc-coe.org or by mail upon request.

We are not alone in our faith commitments to the peoples caught up in this tragic conflict. Thus wherever possible, we encourage you to engage in dialogue and common actions with your Jewish, Muslim and other neighbors who share a common longing for peace and justice.

This terrible tragedy of violence and injustice must end. To be silent now can only be seen as complicity with the violence, the systematic abuses of human rights and the refusal, especially by the State of Israel, to abide by its obligations under international law. Now is the time for each one of us to speak out and act, fulfilling our Christian vocation as peacemakers.

                                                                                                                                                            Dwain C. Epps
                                                                                                                                                            Director
                                                                                                                                                            Commission of the Churches on International Affairs