Christian leaders press presidential candidates on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has joined 20 other Christian leaders in writing to the four U.S. presidential candidates urging them to speak forcefully and provide leadership on ending the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The leaders, organized as Churches for Middle East Peace and representing most of the mainline Christian denominations in the United States, expressed their “deep concern about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, now in its 50th year.” They asked the presidential candidates — Secretary Hillary Clinton, Governor Gary Johnson, Dr. Jill Stein, and Mr. Donald Trump — to pledge, “if elected, to take urgent and vigorous new steps to seek creative political solutions that will foster a just and lasting peace and help each party to realize self-determination with necessary confidence building measures to build mutual security.”

Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has largely controlled East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights in what are collectively identified as the Israeli-occupied territories.

Last April, Curry joined more than 100 church leaders from the Middle East and the United States at the Carter Center in Atlanta for an unprecedented summit focused on seeking a lasting two-state solution for peace in the Holy Land and ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

The Episcopal Church has long supported a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized state of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people, with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both.

The Episcopal Church’s most recent action on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking was taken at General Convention in June 2015. Resolution B013 “reaffirms the vocation of the church as an agent of reconciliation and restorative justice,” and recognizes that “meaningful reconciliation can help to engender sustainable, long-lasting peace and that such reconciliation must incorporate both political action and locally driven grassroots efforts.”

Resolution C018 expresses solidarity with and support for Christians in Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories; affirms the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in healing, education, and pastoral care; and affirms the work of Christians engaged in relationship building, interfaith dialogue, nonviolence training, and advocacy for the rights of Palestinians.

The resolution also urges Episcopalians to demonstrate their solidarity by making pilgrimage to Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories and learning from fellow Christians in the region.

In addition to official Episcopal Church policy, several dioceses and networks also are engaged in Holy Land partnerships and advocacy, particularly in supporting the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. These institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities.

The diocese and the institutions also are supported by the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a nonpolitical, nonprofit organization established in 1985.

The Palestine Israel Network, part of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, has campaigned for more vigorous church policy to end the occupation, but the Episcopal Church has not supported its calls for boycotts and divestment against Israeli companies that profit from the occupation. Instead, the Episcopal Church supports a policy of positive investment.

“Almost 50 years of occupation have and will continue to erode the soul of both the occupied and the occupier,” the Christian leaders said in their September letter to the presidential candidates. “To ease tensions, we urge you to support people-to-people exchanges and the end of practices under the occupation that result in major human rights abuses, such as home demolitions, systematic land seizures, travel restrictions, the blockade of Gaza, and indefinite administrative detention, including detention of persons under eighteen.

“We pray that, as you look forward to the heavy burdens of leadership, you will find the wisdom, strength and persistence to seek new avenues toward a just and durable peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Churches for Middle East Peace is encouraging all people of faith to join the Christian leaders of in calling upon the 2016 presidential candidates to pledge, if elected, to take urgent and vigorous new steps to seek creative political solutions that will foster a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine.

The full text of the letter and its signatories follows.


Letter from Christian Leaders to the Presidential Candidates (September, 2016)

Dear Secretary Hillary Clinton, Governor Gary Johnson, Dr. Jill Stein, and Mr. Donald Trump:

As American church leaders, we are writing to you and other candidates for President of the United States in the upcoming November election to express our deep concern about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, now in its 50th year. We ask that during the coming political campaign that you pledge, if elected, to take urgent and vigorous new steps to seek creative political solutions that will foster a just and lasting peace and help each party to realize self-determination with necessary confidence building measures to build mutual security.

We lament the violence perpetrated by both Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides have engaged in incitement. Both sides live in mutual fear. Ongoing settlement expansion that has led to 570,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is eroding the viability of the two-state solution.   The blockade of Gaza has led to immense human suffering. This status quo is clearly contrary to global security interests, including those of the U.S., and a source of violent extremism throughout the region. In addition, the daily indignities and stresses of the occupation foster human suffering and have led to emigration from the small but vital Palestinian Christian community.

Only Israelis and Palestinians themselves can decide upon the details of a lasting and just peace agreement. However, given the imbalance of power and history of deep mutual distrust, there will not be progress toward an agreement unless other steps also are taken. Because of its power and influence, the U.S. has a special responsibility for leadership, in cooperation with Europeans and interested Arab states, to move the two sides toward an agreement which will remove this source of conflict once and for all.

As an urgent first step, we hope you will speak forcefully and provide the leadership of your office, if elected, to call openly for an end of violence and settlement expansion. Almost 50 years of occupation have and will continue to erode the soul of both the occupied and the occupier. To ease tensions, we urge you to support people-to-people exchanges and the end of practices under the occupation that result in major human rights abuses, such as home demolitions, systematic land seizures, travel restrictions, the blockade of Gaza, and indefinite administrative detention, including detention of persons under eighteen.

We pray that, as you look forward to the heavy burdens of leadership, you will find the wisdom, strength and persistence to seek new avenues toward a just and durable peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Very respectfully,

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian
Armenian Orthodox Church of North America

Bishop Oscar Cantú
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Archbishop of Oklahoma City Paul S. Coakley
Chairman of the Board
Catholic Relief Services

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Rev. Jim Greenfield, OSFS
President
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
Co-Executive
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ

Reverend John L. McCullough
President and CEO
Church World Service

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth D. Miller
President
Moravian Church Northern Province

Rev. Dr. James A Moos
Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries, Co-Executive Global Ministries
United Church of Christ

Very Reverend Kevin Mullen, OFM
Vice-Chair
English Speaking Conference, Franciscan Friars (OFM)

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Bishop Bruce R. Ough
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Sr. Joan Marie Steadman, CSC
Executive Director
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Rev. Dr. Ervin R. Stutzman
Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA

Dr. Steven Timmermans
Executive Director
Christian Reformed Church in North America

Dr. Leanne Van Dyk
President
Columbia Theological Seminary

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Comments

  1. Brian Grieves says:

    The Presiding Bishop is to be commended for joining in this important initiative on behalf of a just peace in Israel and Palestine. As chair of Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, I note that this article refers to a policy of positive investment by our Church. That policy emerged from a report from the CCSR committee in October 2005 (then called Social Responsibility in Investments). In response, the Church indeed has made a 500K investment in the Bank of Palestine. The Council’s resolution reads:

    Resolved, That the Executive Council recommends that bodies of the Episcopal Church with investment assets join with other religious organizations, denominations and institutions in investing in the economic infrastructure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    But the article stops short of pointing out that our Church also supports corporate engagement with companies in its investment portfolio that “contribute to the infrastructure that supports and sustains the Occupation.” The lead Resolved actually raises up corporate engagement as its first concern:

    Resolved, That the Executive Council, meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 7-10, 2005, receives and commends the October 3rd report of the Committee on Social Responsibility in Investments on corporate engagement and positive investment.

    In fact, the Church has filed resolutions dating back to 1994 with Caterpillar and Motorola, among others, two of the worst offenders that support the Occupation. The subject of further action and recommendations on corporate engagement to Council will be discussed at the upcoming meeting of the CCSR later this month.

    • Donna Hicks says:

      Thanks to Brian Grieves for raising up the 2005 policy on socially responsible investment. I was honored to brief the 2005 CCSR and standing commission delegation to Palestine/Israel on their visit to Hebron when I was a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine. Given the worsening situation on the ground there now I am pleased to see the Episcopal Church looking at taking up action through the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility.
      And thanks to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for signing on to the letter organized by CMEP.

  2. Alex Stevens says:

    Thank you for sharing this important news! I hope everyone will join me in endorsing this letter: http://go.cmep.org/PrioritizePeace

  3. J Harry Gunkel says:

    I also wish to commend the Presiding Bishop for joining in this initiative toward just action by the US government. I am also grateful that Brian Grieves has reminded us of past church actions that addressed corporate engagement.

    The hardships endured by the people and institutions of the Diocese of Jerusalem have but one root cause: the occupation. Until that root cause is addressed and removed, all the investment in the world will not ultimately alleviate the suffering of Christian and other Palestinians. In 1991 and 1994, resolutions of the church acknowledged the illegality of West Bank settlements and urged that US financial assistance to Israel be legally compliant. I commend the actions of the Presiding Bishop and the Committee on Corporate Responsibility and hope that they point to a new day for the church in its responses to the dreadful injustices in Israel and Palestine.

  4. Linda Gaither says:

    Presiding Bishop Curry has joined with leaders of other major denominations to urge government action toward a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis … thank you, Bp. Curry! The ENS news article is encouraging in its coverage. However, I question the ENS statement that TEC only supports a policy of positive investment. As far back as 1991, in Resolution A149, the General Convention called on the President of the United Stated and the Members of Congress, in light of de facto annexation of Palestinian land, to develop a policy which requires the State of Israel to account to the Government of the United States for the use of all aid in whatever form that the United States grants to the State of Israel and its instrumentalities, in full compliance with all sections of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961; and, further, to ensure that no assistance provided the State of Israel shall be used to cause the relocation of Palestinian people from their homes, nor for new settlements to be located in the occupied areas of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; with further relocations and new settlements to result in the immediate curtailment of aid from the United States. This was reaffirmed in 1994 in D065, and, more recently in A015 in 2012, a resolution introduced by the Standing Commission for Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, of which I was a member. This weeks signing of a U.S. military aid bill for Israel to the tune of 38 billion dollars over the next decade suggests that TEC has work to do if we would be true to our history of legislation and our concern for the erosion of Palestinian human rights.

  5. Dr. Erna Lund says:

    Indeed it is encouraging that our Presiding Bishop Curry(with other church leaders) is voicing concern for justice and peace for Palestinians. We long-time Episcopalians have been sadly reminded that we have not had any truly spiritual leaders since the ’80s-90s when the late great Bishop Edmond Browning met w/President Bush(Episcopalian) on settlement building=No U.S.Israeli aid. Let us wake up to Reality thusly: Root cause=Corrupt U.S.Congress financed/influenced by monied pro-Israel AIPAC,Jewish organizations and dual Israeli-U.S.state department officials… Throughout these years since 1986 and despite local (Seattle area) grass-roots work/meetings w/senate,congressional members and with interfaith coalitions No impact has changed this shameful devotion to zionist Israel. Yes, as a life-long Episcopalian, and notably witness for peace and justice(true to our Baptismal Covenant) it has been apparent that our Episcopal leadership is highly compromised leadership. Regrettably there has been no U.S.governmental administration demonstrating strong moral,ethical working values. This has now been so blatantly declared with the $38+Billion aid package noted by President Obama’s appointee Susan Rice that this is the greatest foreign aid package in U.S. history! As for the presidential candidates one must be reminded that the Democratic Party Platform Comittee rejected any plank for/referencing Palestine despite the fact it was submitted upon initial agreement by Sen.Sanders,Prof.Cornell West … And the other presidential contenders have strongly voiced their pro-Israel positions. We must face the reality that our country devastated by longtime crisis situations of Homelessness, unemployment, immigration/refugees, education and healthcare disparities among other critical domestic issues are secondary to “our closest ally in the Middle East”–quote from Susan Rice during State Dept.signing U.S.-Israel Memorandum Of Understanding, culmination of years of shared priorities with our closest ally in the Middle East–September 14, 2016. Shamefully, our country is focused on Power-building, Weaponry and War.

  6. Chris Barghout says:

    More of an interesting read in who has not signed on who are also members of Churches of Middle East Peace. Those are the churches such as Greek Orthodox, Coptic and Antioch Orthodox Church which comprise the overwhelming majority of Christians in the middle East. This is another pro-Israel pro normalization letter signed by Christian American Zionist churches. If the goal is peace and understanding, the non-signing of the Christians most affected by Israeli policies is quite the indicator of what’s going on.

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