Report of the consultation convened by the WCC
August 6-7, 2001 - Geneva, Switzerland
In pursuance of the WCC Central Committee statement of February 2001 "On the situation in the Holy Land after the Outbreak of the Second Palestinian Uprising", which urged the WCC General Secretary to "accompany the churches of the Holy Land and their members, and advocate their rights; (to) support local Israeli and Palestinian grassroots peace-building efforts and (to) promote and /or cooperate with church, ecumenical and other initiatives, to strengthen broad ecumenical international support for a comprehensive peace based on justice and security for all peoples of the region", Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser sent an ecumenical delegation to Jerusalem and the West Bank from 27 June to 1 July and convened an International Ecumenical Consultation on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, on August 6-7, the first ever of its nature. (Ref. Framework Paper for an International Ecumenical Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - 22 June 2001).
During its visit, the WCC delegation met with the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem as well as key local clergy and laity, church-related and ecumenical organisations, including Israeli and Palestinian human rights and peace activists. Apart from bringing back an eye-witness account of the situation on the ground, as well as expressing solidarity with the churches of Jerusalem, the delegation was on an exploratory and consultative mission as part of a preparatory process for the international ecumenical meeting. (Ref. Report of the WCC Delegation to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel - released on August 6, 2001)
In response to the calls of member churches and to the recommendations of the WCC delegation to the region, the International Ecumenical Consultation on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict addressed the core issues of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Urgently convened by the WCC General Secretary and organised by the WCC International Affairs, Peace & Human Security team at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, it brought together heads of churches, WCC Executive and Central committee members, including its moderator, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, the moderator and members of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (WCC/CCIA), high-level representatives of WCC member churches and ecumenical partners from Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Jerusalem, including all members of the WCC delegation. Also invited to the consultation were the permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva, the General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and the Chairperson of the MECC - Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR), a select number of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists as well as a number of Palestinian church related and ecumenical institutions.
The consultation began after an ecumenical prayer service for peace in Israel and Palestine, led by the (then) Coordinator of the WCC International Relations team, Rev. Dwain Epps, where the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Rt Rev. Bishop Riah Abu El Assal preached. The sessions were co-chaired by the WCC General Secretary and Moderator of the WCC Executive/Central Committees. Unfortunately, several Palestinian participants were unable to attend due to travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli government.
Building on long-standing WCC attention to the Palestinian question, the consultation, which included fifty participants, provided an ecumenical space, facilitated by the WCC to develop a platform for common reflection and action. Apart from initiating sharing, joint planning and strategizing, the consultation aimed to facilitate better coordination and cooperation of the ecumenical fellowship. Its key objectives were to:
- respond to the requests of WCC member churches to facilitate an international presence and non-violent resistance, advocacy/campaigns/ vigils to end the occupation;
- consider practical ways of following up on the recommendations of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission; develop an international ecumenical Plan of Action and Strategy, which operates on all levels, including international, regional and national;
- consider the creation of an International Ecumenical Platform to end violence, occupation and all forms of discrimination in Palestine, coordinated by the WCC in the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence
Keynote speakers invited to address the consultation included Prof. Richard Falk, a member of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, Prof. John Dugard, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission and newly-appointed Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Occupied Territories since 1967 and a representative of Mrs. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Prof. Falk summarized the background, findings and recommendations of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, which he stated were still relevant and gave a powerful account of the facts on the ground. He highlighted that there are moral and legal issues at stake in this whole conflict. He called on all to recognise that the present Israeli practices are calculated and clear policies of military occupation and oppression and that there is no time for moral ambivalence. Churches like others in the international community, should have the courage to be uncompromising in their statements and develop their responses to counter the policies of occupation and oppression. With regard to the breakdown of the Oslo peace process, he reiterated that respect for existing human rights and humanitarian legal norms need to be part of and not an outcome of the peace process. As for the question of an international presence, he stressed that the international community should ensure that it not simply provides a cosmetic response but is independent in its reporting capacity. Other key issues he highlighted were the existence of settlements, extra-judicial political assassinations, denial of fundamental economic and social rights and the terrible suffering of the most vulnerable group from a legal perspective: the Palestinian refugees. He urged the participants to appreciate the refugee issue as a matter of urgency that needs to be addressed in a genuine and substantive way. He welcomed the WCC initiative and the response by the different WCC member churches and partners, calling the ecumenical movement to recognize that it has the responsibility to summon a religious and spiritual response to fill the vacuum of the secular world.
Prof. J. Dugard, in his turn, reiterated that when dealing with human rights it is imperative that we do not do so in isolation, but in the context of military occupation and denial of all rights. In addition, he reviewed his mandate, which covers civilians under occupation, hence falling in the realm of humanitarian law and the IV Geneva Convention. Among others he highlighted the issue of settlements and the destruction of Palestinian houses and trees near settlements, which have also been emphasized by the Mitchell Commission. He also reiterated the need for an international presence as a matter of urgency and the importance to remain in the realm of human rights discourse and use uncompromising language always within the context of military occupation. He stressed the importance of the European Union to be actively involved and called the civil society and the churches in Europe to encourage their governments in this regard.
Ms. Darka Topali, Senior Human Rights Officer representing the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, elaborated on the resolutions adopted during the 5th Special Session and the 57th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. She highlighted the salient points of the High Commissioner's report after her urgent visit to the region which was presented at the 57th Session of the Commission in March. She welcomed the role of the WCC and its member churches in this conflict and affirmed the continuing cooperation of the High Commissioner's Office.
Participants shared their different views, ideas, experiences and planned activities (Ref. Church and Ecumenical Statements, Letters and Appeals since the Outbreak of the Second Palestinian Uprising - June 2000 ). The consultation was not able to spend quality time for joint strategizing. Therefore suggestions of the churches of Jerusalem and those of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists that were shared with the consultation in writing are attached (Annex III).
The consultation participants concluded their deliberations by affirming their commitment to work with the WCC to address all human rights violations and all forms of discrimination against the Palestinian people as a result of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories. The consultation participants reiterated the WCC delegation report's suggestion that this is a "kairos moment" for the church community in Palestine and world-wide: deep despair resulting from the recent escalation of violence has also deepened the desire of both Palestinians and Israelis for a "just and durable peace". All agreed that statements by churches world-wide have been important but the "time for statements seems to be over".
The full delegation report and its recommendations, which support those of the Human Rights Inquiry commission, were endorsed by the participants of the consultation. Among them are the call for the WCC to "designate 2002 as the year to focus attention of all member churches on Ending the Violence of Occupation in Palestine under the Decade to Overcome Violence", the development of a comprehensive accompaniment programme, a cooperative response to the humanitarian crisis, coordinated advocacy at all levels and support for international law and particularly UN resolutions as the basis for peace negotiations, assistance to local churches, and lifting up "alternatives and moderate voices on both sides of civil society who are struggling to find common vision and future."
In particular the consultation identified seven potential areas for coordinated action as the beginning of a joint process of ecumenical planning and strategizing for a concerted international response. These were:
- coordinating advocacy with governments
- boycotting goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories
- strengthening the "chain of solidarity" through prayer vigils
- resisting the destruction of property and uprooting of people from their homes and land
- encouraging and enabling the presence of ecumenical monitoring teams
- improving communication, interpretation and media reporting on the conflict and its causes
- increasing church, ecumenical, and interreligious delegations to and from Israel and the OPT.
The WCC General Secretary has requested the International Affairs, Peace & Human Security team, in consultation with other relevant teams of the WCC, to continue the lead in ensuring the implementation of all recommendations and facilitate cooperation and coordination. With the MECC General Secretary and the heads and representatives of the churches of Jerusalem present, Rev. Raiser agreed to consider the development of a coordination point for ecumenical action in Jerusalem and explore the possibility of linking it with an international coordination point. It was decided that the WCC Director of the Relations Cluster and MECC General Secretary and a representative of the churches in Jerusalem would be part of a tripartite committee to explore these possibilities and present different proposals to the WCC, MECC and local churches for their consideration and further action in the next six months. Bishop Abu El-Assal agreed to share this with all heads of churches in Jerusalem and asked them to decide on a third member of the committee to represent the local churches and inform the WCC and MECC by September.
In his concluding remarks, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, moderator of the WCC Executive and Central Committee, reiterated that this consultation was only a step in the process of strengthened ecumenical action. In his turn, Rev. Raiser summarized the WCC's role as one of coordination and facilitation of an ecumenical space for sharing, joint planning and action, in addition providing conceptual clarity and coherence in policy and terminology for the churches' use. Rev. Raiser emphasized the need to focus on the ethical, moral and legal discourse rather than the language of power. The specific contribution to peace and reconciliation of churches and religious communities was emphasized throughout the consultation; "Being members and representatives of faith communities entails a commitment to a basic moral, ethical stance, to an integrity of the rights approach that we hope will rescue the conflict from becoming totally embroiled in a pure power struggle," Rev. Raiser added. He assured participants that all recommendations of the WCC delegation as well as the consultation would be presented to the WCC Executive Committee meeting in the beginning of September for its consideration and appropriate action.