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U.S. Church Leaders Just Back from the Middle East
Urge Israelis, Palestinians to Take "Bold Steps" for Peace
Request Full Israeli Cooperation with U.N. Jenin Investigation

More Stories, Photos About the Delegation's Visit
Full Text of the Delegation's April 30 Statement

April 30, 2002, NEW YORK CITY -- A delegation of 13 U.S. church leaders just back from the Middle East is calling for bold steps to be taken by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in order to end violence in the region and to achieve peace with justice.

The delegation was assembled by the (U.S.) National Council of Churches and its general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar. The leaders traveled in the region April 16-27 at the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches.

In a statement released today (April 30), the church leaders focus on steps they see as necessary for attainment of a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among others, they "urge the Government of Israel to cooperate fully with the United Nations investigation of events that took place in Jenin" and express "grave concern" at the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and "objection to the withholding of food, water and medical supplies to those inside the church."

Four delegation members accompanied humanitarian aid to Jenin April 25; the others went with aid to Bethlehem April 26.

Of the violence currently taking place in the region, the delegation says in part, "We condemn equally and unequivocally both the suicide bombings and Palestinian violence against Israeli society and the violence of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. All are counterproductive to achieving peace with justice….Both societies are caught in a cycle of violence and revenge."

The delegation expresses sympathy for all "Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members and friends to the senseless violence over the past months." It also speaks of its particular concern for the plight and future of Arab Christians in the Middle East, noting that "[t]he Arab Christian population has declined precipitously in recent decades."

The delegation identified eight specific components for a just resolution to the conflict. Included in these were "the establishment of an international peacekeeping force, agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to oversee the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and maintain order until a peace agreement can be fully implemented."

Before arriving in Palestine and Israel, the delegation visited Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to speak with church and political leaders. Among others, the delegation met with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

"Our delegation leaves the Middle East convinced that an enduring peace can be achieved if the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories ends and if the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure State of Israel follows soon." The group was equally strong in assessing the need for Israel to have its peace and security guaranteed: "It [Israel] is entitled to full recognition of its legitimacy within the international community, including by the Arab states…"

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