A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 65-66
Christianity in the Middle East
Church Leaders Speak Out Over Middle East Crisis
By Fred Strickert
Leaders of several main-line churches have spoken out in the last several weeks in response to the Middle East crisis precipitated by Gen. Ariel Sharon’s provocative Sept. 28 visit to Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif. In the form of official statements and public letters to the U.S. President Bill Clinton, these clergy have used their positions of leadership to express concern over a difficult situation.
The views expressed may well surprise the general public, since they are at odds with popular opinion as well as with that of much of the news media and many governmental officials. The religious leaders do not claim to speak for all their members, nor do they claim to represent all of Christianity. Rather, theirs is a prophetic voice speaking out on the basis of biblical concerns for justice.
These statements have been uniform in treating the personal side of the tragedy in an even-handed way. “We are saddened by the deaths and injuries of so many people, both Palestinian and Israeli, in clashes prompted largely by the dispute over the future status of Jerusalem,” wrote Bishop H. George Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “All the victims and their families, Palestinian and Israeli alike, need our prayers,” wrote the United Catholic Conference’s Bernard Cardinal Law.
Church leaders also have expressed dismay at the attacks on religious symbols in the current crisis. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), points directly to Israeli Knesset member Sharon’s visit to the Haram al-Sharif/ Temple Mount as provoking the conflict—a concern repeated by other church leaders. Bernard Cardinal Law notes also how subsequent attacks on religious shrines have escalated on both sides, to include the Jericho synagogue, the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, mosques in Tiberias and Jaffa, and a Catholic church in Beit Hanina—stories treated inconsistently in the press. “Religious leaders bear a special obligation to work unceasingly for peace,” the cardinal says, because religion has played a special role in the conflict, and religious symbols have been under attack and used to provoke and incite, he says. Likewise, he adds, support must be given “for those who, in the midst of conflict, stand against violence and for the peace which the Holy Land should symbolize.”
Augusta Victoria Hospital
Many of the early concerns centered around the misuse of medical facilities and a seeming disregard for the lives of agents of mercy. On Oct. 3, Bishop H. George Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) protested the misuse of the Lutheran Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem—the area where most of the early demonstrations took place. ELCA representatives happened to be present for a board meeting at the time, which facilitated communication back to the U.S. Not only were the wounded prohibited from entering the hospital grounds for treatment, but soldiers were using the high position of the hospital grounds to shoot at demonstrators.
Anderson expressed “strongest objection to the use of Augusta Victoria’s Hospital premises by Israeli forces...and demand[ed] that Israeli troops not use...the property...for military activity.”
His statement coincided with a formal protest delivered to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak by the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, representing 131 Lutheran churches worldwide. Leaders of the Methodist Church likewise have spoken out concerning the role Israeli soldiers have played in impeding the work of medical personnel and in denying the wounded access to hospitals. They point out that medical rescue teams and ambulances frequently have been fired upon, resulting even in the death of three paramedics.
Church leaders have been especially concerned by the escalation of violence—described as the worst since 1967—and have not refrained from pointing the finger at Israel. On Oct. 9, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold of the Episcopal Church wrote to President Clinton asking him to “call upon Israel to refrain from the use of a disproportional military response to the violence, especially the use of heavy military equipment. Teenagers and children armed with sling shots and rocks do not deserve to be shot dead in cold blood.”
The killing of Israeli soldiers also is singled out for condemnation. The Presbyterian Church’s Kirkpatrick writes, “We deplore hostage taking and the brutalization and murder of Israeli soldiers.” Nevertheless, he notes, even this does not justify “the unconscionable, massive retaliation of the Israeli military, including indiscriminate shooting of children and adults on the streets.”
Anderson, along with the entire ELCA conference of bishops, also singled out the Israeli army for “the disproportionate and excessive use of force.” The bishops were specific: “We oppose Israel’s use of U.S.-supplied Apache and Cobra helicopters against Palestinian civilians.” They went on to ask the U.S. government to suspend the sale of such weaponry to Israel. Likewise a statement from the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church calls on the U.S. government “to halt the sale of new armaments to Israel.”
The various church leaders all affirm the basic rights of the Palestinian people and express their understanding of the current rage as frustration over years of injustice. “Surely you can understand the frustrations of Palestinian Christians and Muslims,” Kirkpatrick wrote, “forced to live under a clear form of apartheid, in which their land has been expropriated and turned into hostile illegal settlements, their workers denied access to their jobs, their homes destroyed and their basic human rights denied.”
The dead and wounded, said Bishop Griswold of the Episcopal church, are “at the end of the day, the victims of the failure to find a true peace rooted in justice.”
While recognizing the cause of the Palestinian people, church leaders also addressed their concern for the growing violence and hatred on both sides. Methodist leaders called for nonviolent forms of protest and demonstration to be considered in the future.
Calls for a Just Peace
Church leaders offered clear support and encouragement for President Clinton in organizing the Sharm el-Sheikh summit and in calling for a cease-fire. However, Clinton and the U.S. government were likewise chastised for taking sides by representatives of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “While the U.S. has taken a lead role in convening the summit,” they wrote, “it has done little so far to pressure the Israeli government to acknowledge responsibility for the continuation and perpetration of unjustified control over the Palestinian people and occupation of Palestinian lands.”
The church leaders all called for a greater role for the international community, and especially the United Nations, in working for a solution to the problem, including “a full, impartial, investigation of the recent violence” and a body to help both sides to work for peace.
Leaders reminded President Clinton of a joint Sept. 6 letter in which they already had called upon him to continue the peace process based on principles of justice. This included a call for a return of lands rightfully Palestinian and for a vision of a Jerusalem shared by two peoples (Arab and Israeli) and by three faiths (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian).
These statements are available through the individual church offices, or collectively on the Web through the Washington-based organization Churches for Middle East Peace at <www.cmep.org>.
Dr. Fred Strickert is professor of religion at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
Excerpts from a Letter From the Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem, Oct. 25, 2000
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,,
Salaam and grace to you from a troubled Jerusalem/Palestine in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Through your good persons, I want to greet all your churches/constituencies with God’s blessings. Please do share this letter with them in order that you all together can act upon it.
I herewith would like to update you about the recent occurrences/developments as regards to the difficult crisis we are currently passing through.
1. The recent Arab leaders’ summit came up with moderate decisions for the continuation of the peace process, but, at the same time, warning the Israeli government for its excessive use of force against the Palestinian civilians. In this regard, some practical measures have been taken as regards to the relationship of some Arab states with the state of Israel. These measures, however, might escalate, if the Israeli government continues to escalate the situation. They have also mentioned that peace must have substance, and must be built on justice. They reiterated the U.N. resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
2. In fact, the Israeli government opposed these measures and answered with harsher measures against the Palestinian areas:
a. The closure is still clamped over the Palestinian areas. The Israeli authorities closed off the Gaza International Airport, and the borders to Jordan and Egypt.
b. The freedom of movement of people and goods is still restricted between the Palestinian cities. Many kinds of foodstuff are becoming rare on the markets. At the same time, the Israeli authorities are allowing only Israeli products to be sold in the Palestinian market.
c. Palestinian industrial and agricultural products are not allowed to be transported anywhere.
d. Palestinian farmers are not allowed to reach their fields (mostly located in areas B and C, which are under full Israeli security sovereignty) in order to pick their olive trees, where we have the best harvest in many years.
e. In the Bethlehem region, as well as in other Palestinian areas, the hotels are totally empty—no tourists or pilgrims....Factories are also working at 15 percent capacity.
f. Hospitals are lacking medical materials and equipment.
g. High unemployment is prevalent now.
h. Christian schools are dependent on tuition fees, which they cannot collect at the moment. Consequently, they will not be able to pay the salaries of the teachers for some months.
3. During the past days, Israeli army forces shelled with tanks, helicopters and automatic weapons residential areas in the town of Beit Jala, a Christian town west of Bethlehem, from Gilo, an Israeli settlement built on the lands belonging to Beit Jala inhabitants, causing injuries and huge damage to properties. Just yesterday, Israel’s Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert stated on the Voice of Israel’s morning radio-news journal that the nighttime raid was a “proportional Israeli response” to Palestinian shooting. It was, according to Olmert, an insufficient response, because only a “disproportional Israeli response” could achieve the goal of silencing the Palestinian uprising.
4. The shelling of the Bethlehem area, especially Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, is paralyzing the life of Palestinian Christian towns. It is creating horror and terror in the hearts of the families....Our fear is that all these undue measures will force the Christians to emigrate due to the lack of vision for the future.
5. It seems that the present Israeli government is becoming more rightist and radical than anybody could have imagined. Or, I should say, it is dealing with the present situation from a military security perspective rather than a political security perspective. This is a frightful issue that leads our region to undue war, and to a growth of religious and political extremists, fanaticism and fundamentalism.
6. It seems that in these measures, Israel will be in isolation and the Palestinians under siege. Will just peace ever be possible through such a formula???
7. This situation is causing psychological traumas affecting Palestinian children....On Monday, after the shelling of Beit Jala, the children suffered from headaches, diarrhea, dizziness, bed wetting and other disturbed psychological behavior. For this reason we need now to start special psychological treatment for our traumatized children.
We are crying as the Macedonian did: “come and help us.” For this reason, I appeal to you:
• To use your good offices to seek protection for us unarmed people. We call for international protection for the Palestinian people.
• To use your offices that all this spiraling violence may immediately cease, and that negotiations between the two parties will soon start to find substantial solutions and implementation of the agreement signed and, according to international legitimacy, based on the U.N. resolutions.
• To intensively pray for the Christian churches in Jerusalem and their prophetic role for a lasting, comprehensive, just peace and reconciliation in our area.
• To work with all the churches around the world so that the rights of the Christian churches in the Holy Land will be secured and legislated in the constitutions of both Palestine and Israel.
• To support the mission of the Church in education, diaconia, dialogue and reconciliation. Our Christian schools are the haven to mold the Christian Palestinian identity, to teach equitable coexistence with the world’s religions and nations and to promote peace education.
• To do your utmost so that neither the church’s schools nor its institutions can be stopped or closed for any political situation or financial deficiencies, because the witness and the mission of the Church are very much needed, especially at this stage of history.
• To form a delegation that will come and visit us and be in solidarity with us during this terrible crisis, such as we have never witnessed before.
As the Lutheran bishop in Jerusalem, I appeal to you, as sisters and brothers in Christ: DO NOT LEAVE US ALONE. I call upon you to move from writing statements to incarnate your good ideas on the ground. The Christian Church in Jerusalem needs you, your solidarity and immediate actions at this special time for the continuation of God’s mission in the land of resurrection.
Please continue to pray for us.
May God bless you and your efforts
Your Brother in Christ,
Bishop Munib A. Younan
The Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem