Christian leaders press presidential candidates on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

September 9, 2016


[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