Geneva, 16 September 2016
“He . . . has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
— Ephesians 2.14
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I write to you on the occasion of the upcoming World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel (WWPPI). This has been an annual event for several years. Beginning on 18 September, churches throughout the world will join in prayer for the sake of peace based on justice for the peoples of Israel and Palestine. We need to continue our work together and our prayers together for a just peace. Israel and Palestine should be two states living in peace with justice as neighbors. We know this is not the reality. The region is still marked by lack of peace, by occupation, violence in many forms, violations of human rights and lack of trust and confidence between the two peoples and the three religions.
The theme for this year’s WWPPI is “Dismantling Barriers.” In the Israeli-Palestinian context, references to barriers bring up images of the separation barrier dividing Israelis from Palestinians and many Palestinians from their families, farms, and communities. This barrier continues to be blight on the landscape. It is a tragic monument of failures to establish a just peace. It was built as a means to bring security for the population on one side, but not for the people on the other side, rather to the contrary. It is a monument of a policy of occupation that seems to be leading to annexation of land, by including illegal settlements on occupied land into Israel. It brings direct harm to many Palestinians. It is built on occupied territories, not on internationally recognized borders, and therefore defined as illegal where it is now.
But it is not the only barrier standing in the way of peace. In this week of prayer, we will focus on many barriers that stand in the way of flourishing for all in Israel and Palestine: barriers of mistrust and hostility, barriers of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, barriers of self-centeredness and entitlement.
Many member churches of the WCC have made peace with justice in Israel and Palestine a matter of our highest concern and of our prayers. The global church effort to promote awareness and advocacy informed by the perspectives of Christians in Palestine and Israel is growing. Many have visited our brothers and sisters there and saw and heard themselves what the reality is. The voice of the churches is being received in many national and international arenas.
As a global fellowship of churches, we know of the many problems plaguing our world. The Israeli-Palestinian context is not the only place where injustice and fear reign. Even in the Middle East, Israel and Palestine do not constitute the only acute sites of human suffering. It is, however, one of the few places in the world where injustice is directly supported or at least accepted by a broad coalition of worldly power. For their own interests and reasons, today’s most powerful countries choose to allow this situation to continue and intensify.
What then shall we do? Now is the time for Christians around the world to stand with all who are seeking peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. Our witness cannot be compromised or muted. The vulnerable communities of the Middle East—and Christians are unfortunately counted among these—must not be left alone.
It is time for our global fellowship of churches to challenge all of the barriers that perpetuate injustice in Israel and Palestine. The WWPPI provides us with an opportunity to focus our efforts in order to amplify our voices for justice and peace, in global solidarity with all who are suffering from these barriers and the unsolved conflict they bear witness to.
I therefore invite you to participate in the WWPPI. You have to find your own ways to participate in this significant week of witness and peacebuilding. The material and proposed activities are for your use or to be amended in a way that is suitable for you and your church. I hope that you will be strengthened in your solidarity and commitment to justice and peace in Palestine and Israel.
In order to prepare for your participation in this global collective prayer, I commend to you this segment of the proposed WWPPI liturgy:
O God of mercy,
Free humanity from our sinful ways.
Where walls have been built up
Teach us to build bridges of understanding.
When hearts are hardened
Open them to the sufferings of the neighbor.
When we are oppressed
Preserve our dignity and give us courage to resist.
When we are the oppressor
Change our hearts and reform our ways.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit