Faith groups call for new Israeli policies toward Gaza
that include meeting human needs and ending the blockade
New York, June 3, 2010 -- The National
Council of Churches and other faith groups have expressed alarm and concern
over the Israeli action May 31 against an international flotilla on the high
seas that led to the deaths of nine persons and the wounding of many others.
"The National Council of Churches has strongly
supported Israel's right to exist with peace and security, but this attack
on an aid convoy contributes to neither,"
said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary.
"In fact, it undermines Israel's standing in the community of nations."
supported a statement released Wednesday by
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
that said "the incident
highlights the need for the United States to work for new, constructive
Israeli policies toward Gaza that end the blockade and provide for the
humanitarian need of those living there without diminishing Israel’s own
Kinnamon is a member of the
board of CMEP, which is a coalition of 23 public policy offices of national
churches and agencies -- Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. CMEP began its
work in 1984 out of the conviction that the policy perspectives and long
Middle East experience of our member bodies should be more widely known in
the public policy arena. It maintains an on-going dialogue with Congress,
the Administration and the diplomatic community, to advance such concerns,
assessments, and advocacy positions.
three months ago, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and the heads of
many of CMEP’s sponsoring organizations wrote to President Obama urging him
to use America’s unique relationship with Israel to persuade it to open
borders with Gaza now. CMEP said then, “We believe this policy is
strategically unsound, harms Israel’s security, and exacts an unacceptable
toll on innocent Palestinians.”
also said, “The perception of U.S. support for or acquiescence in the
closure challenges our reputation for upholding humanitarian values. It
deprives 1.4 million Palestinians of a decent, minimum standard of welfare.
It restricts the use of the $300 million the United States has committed to
rebuild Gaza, is a serious obstacle to restoring hope and making peace, and
undermines long term Israeli security.” Over 6,000 endorsements of this
letter from CMEP supporters have been received and sent by CMEP to the White
Israeli restrictions on trade and movement of persons in and out of Gaza
have been in place since Hamas took over Gaza by force in 2007. They have
limited trade in food and medicines and led to worsening unemployment and
poverty among Gaza's population of 1.4 million. Restrictions on imports of
building materials have limited reconstruction of housing and utilities
destroyed during the war. Travel restrictions have limited opportunities for
restrictions were aimed in part at ending rocket attacks from Gaza and
securing the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. They also had the political
goal of undermining Hamas' control in Gaza.
blockade has not had the desired results," CMEP said. " Hamas remains in
power. Rocket attacks have not completely stopped. Smuggling of goods
through tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt has become an economy of its
own. Paradoxically this underground trade is controlled and taxed by Hamas.
President Obama has said that "the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza
does not serve Israel's security interests."
flotilla incident also underlines the necessity of pressing without delay
for a comprehensive agreement for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,
beginning with the indirect talks now being brokered by the United States,
and its tragic consequences must not be allowed to undermine peace efforts.
The United States should seize this opportunity to push hard now for an end
to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority
has already said it plans to continue the proximity talks with Israel
brokered by the United States. The United States should help Israel find
better ways to enhance its security through negotiation and a comprehensive
agreement for peace."
organizations and communions also issued statements in response to the
Israeli attack on the flotilla.
Council of Churches:
"It is with
great distress that the World Council of Churches received the news that the
Israeli naval forces stormed a Gaza-bound vessel carrying humanitarian aid
in international waters before dawn on Monday, killing at least 10
civilians and injuring many more. We condemn the assault and killing
of innocent people who were attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance to
the people of Gaza, who have been under a crippling Israeli blockade since
2007. We further condemn the flagrant violation of international law by
Israel in attacking and boarding a humanitarian convoy in
international waters. We pray for all those who are affected by the
attack, especially the bereaved families."
-- Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary
On behalf of
the Episcopal Church, I write to express deep concern for the
circumstances surrounding Israeli forces' interception of a
flotilla of ships bound for the Gaza Strip earlier this week.
The deaths of at least ten persons aboard one of the ships and
the injury of many more, including four Israeli soldiers,
represent a grave tragedy and underscore the urgency of renewed
political leadership toward ending the blockade of Gaza. As we
pray for those killed and wounded, and for their families, I
urge your renewed attention to the status of Gaza as part of
your Administration's leadership toward a two-state solution.
details of this week's incident are not clear. As Secretary
Clinton has noted, we do not yet know the specific sequence of
events that led to the outbreak of violence, and therefore our
responses must be measured and thoughtful. It is clear, however,
that the deaths of civilians working to deliver humanitarian aid
could not have happened absent the counterproductive Israeli
blockade of Gaza. The Episcopal Church strongly supports
American leadership toward ending the blockade. There are far
better ways to protect Israel's security and promote moderate
political leadership in Gaza than a blockade that intensifies
human suffering and perpetuates regional insecurity.
-- The Rt. Rev. Katharine
Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
On behalf of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Lutheran World
Federation, organizations that are deeply engaged with and
committed to the Lutheran Christians and all persons living in
Palestine and Israel, I express my deep sadness regarding events
surrounding the flotilla seeking to deliver humanitarian goods
to Gaza. We deeply regret the deaths and injuries that resulted
when Israeli forces intercepted the boats. Our thoughts and
prayers are with the wounded and the families of those killed or
otherwise harmed during this incident. We note that this tragic
incident occurred on the first day of the World Council of
Churches’ World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel.
This incident raises many questions that must be answered. We
therefore call for a full, international, and independent
investigation into this matter.
While we condemn all violence in the resolution of political
disputes, this incident raises a number of questions related to
the just use of force. It is not clear that, in this incident,
all alternatives were explored prior to the use of military
force. One tenet of the just use of force is proportionality, a
principle I raised during my meeting with the chief rabbis of
the State of Israel during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli
incursion into Gaza which lasted from December 2008 to January
2009. This incident provides an example of how proportionality
is an ongoing concern related to Israeli military action against
civilians, both Palestinians and internationals.
This tragic event demonstrates the urgency of achieving a just
peace. One role of religious leaders, including the churches, is
to strengthen those voices working for peace, rather than
yielding to the clamor of extremism, as we seek a just peace
beneficial for all persons in the region.
We urge that this incident not interrupt the proximity talks now
being conducted through the Obama administration. Instead, we
expect that this incident will intensify on all sides the
commitment to serious negotiations that will lead to a just
resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
-- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America
United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of
As the World
Council of Churches commemorates its World Week for Peace in
Palestine and Israel, the co-executive of Global Ministries, the
joint world mission organization of the UCC and Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ), have asked that their member churches
join in prayer for peace in the region.
Coming on the
heels of an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla headed for Gaza in
which 12 Turkish activists were killed and more than 10,000 tons
of food and medicine seized, the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte,
executive minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries, and the
Rev. David Vargas, president of the Christian Church (Disciples
of Christ) Division of Overseas Ministries, said they "join
those the world over who have responded in indignation" to the
raid and made continued calls for lifting the embargo on Gaza
and the inclusion of Gaza in a two-state Israeli/Palestinian
Calling Gaza a
"virtual prison" due to the air, land and sea embargo imposed by
the Israeli government, the letter expresses compassion for the
humanitarian crisis that has resulted.
Quoting a prayer
from the heads of Jerusalem's Christian churches, the letter
offers solidarity for the words, "In the land you made holy,
free us all from the sin of indifference, contempt and violence
which only brings hatred and killing. Free the souls and hearts
of Israelis and Palestinians.
United Methodist Church
Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) condemns
the deadly interception Monday in international waters by
Israeli troops that led to the deaths of nine persons on a
humanitarian aid mission to Gaza. The nine persons were part
of an international "Freedom Flotilla" of six vessels carrying
nearly 10,000 tons of food and medicine to Gaza, which has
been under an Israeli blockade for three years.
grieve the loss of life and injuries sustained in what became
a tragic confrontation between the forces of peace and those
of armed aggression," said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the
United Methodist social justice agency.
Winkler called the Israeli
troops' boarding of the "Freedom Flotilla" in international
waters more than just an act of high-seas piracy. "It is
symptomatic of a broader, hopelessly flawed policy by Israel
to subjugate the Palestinian people, allegedly to protect its
own security,” he said, adding that the United States has been
“complicit in this flawed policy."
should end the blockade of Gaza, which has created a
humanitarian crisis affecting 1.4 million Palestinians,
according to Winkler. He pointed out that The United Methodist
Church has long advocated for a peaceful settlement of the
Israel-Palestine conflict. "The violence must stop on both
sides," he said. "The time for decisive action to impose a
just, peaceful resolution has never been more evident that in
this tragic assault on persons whose sole purpose was to
achieve peace and bring aid to an oppressed populace."
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of
the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for
ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's
member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican,
Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace
churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local
congregations in communities across the nation.
NCC News contact:
Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell),