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NCC/CWS Statement On Middle East Violence

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and Church World Service and Witness have observed with grave concern and deepening dismay the escalating cycles of violence involving Israeli forces and Palestinians, and now Lebanese. 

Since demonstrations began in Jerusalem following Member of Knesset Ariel Sharon's entry into the walled compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif in Arabic) and to Jews as the Temple Mount (Har haBayit in Hebrew), each day has brought new reports of death and injury.  We express our sorrow over the loss of human life and offer our sincere condolences to the grieving families.   

We call on all parties to cease immediately all acts of violence and provocation to violence.  We urge that the international community, acting singly or together, assist the parties in de-escalating their conflict and in finding alternative ways to address their increasingly bitter grievances with each other.  All must pull back from the brink of uncontrollable violent confrontation, where every incident and each life lost only fuels further violence and loss of life. 

At the same time, we decry the severity of the Israeli response, and condemn their disproportionate use of force.  The massive and one-sided loss of life and infliction of injury and property damage belie Israeli claims to legitimate self-defense.  We call upon Mr. Barak to practice restraint, as we urge Mr. Arafat to do all in his power to stop the violence. 

The fundamental source of the present violent confrontation lies in the continued failure to make real the national rights of the Palestinian people to a sovereign independent state in their own homeland and to create just security arrangements in the region.  The Oslo Process has failed thus far to achieve the implementation of the rights of the Palestinian peoples and meet their aspirations, resulting instead in continued human rights violations, the destruction of property and the economic emmiseration of the majority of the population.  Neither has the process provided for the security, acceptance and normalization of relationships so strongly desired by the Israelis.  The goals of both parties can be achieved only through the observance of international law and the implementation of relevant resolutions. 

The present outbreak of violence was provoked by a heavy-handed demonstration of Israeli power and assertion of Israeli claims to exercise exclusive sovereignty of Jerusalem, in an affront to the sensitivities of Muslim believers.   The NCCCUSA's "City of Holiness and Hope: A Message on Jerusalem" stated that Jerusalem realizes its vocation as holy city when there is justice and peace for all its peoples, and that Jerusalem therefore must be shared between the two peoples, Arab and Jew, and among the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, that call it home.   Respect must be shown by adherents of each faith to the other two, and no action should be undertaken that would assault their religious beliefs and sensitivities.   Never should any of them be disturbed at prayer and worship, neither by physical nor emotional assaults, be it the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Let all be at peace within these holy precincts. 

We urge all parties to commit themselves to a negotiating process, resolved: to recognize all human life as being of sacred worth; to establish stable communities, nations, and lasting peace as common goals; and, to call upon all people to respect differing religious traditions, and acknowledge the right for peaceful coexistence as core values of personal and communal faith. 

All three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, rightly can be called religions of peace.  We pray that God will open the eyes that have been blinded by power and privilege, by the passions of fear and anger, pain and rage.   Let all believers now soften their hardening hearts, hearkening again to the voice of the one God Who loves them all as children, and Who will guide all who are willing onto the paths of righteousness and peace. 

Rev. Robert Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA 

Rev. John McCullough
Executive Director
Church World Service and Witness 

October 11, 2000 

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