The head of the World Council of Churches has expressed dismay at a recent Israeli military order redefining the notion of 'infiltrator' in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit says he is "worried the new measures will be a severe obstacle toward the process for a just peace."
Since 1969 the Israeli military defined an 'infiltrator' as a person who unlawfully entered the occupied area. But in a recent amendment, the definition of 'infiltrator' is "a person who entered the area unlawfully following the effective date, or a person who is present in the area and does not lawfully hold a permit".
"This amendment will affect tens of thousands of Palestinians and potentially confine them to their villages and towns creating an atmosphere of fear in the occupied territories," observed Tveit.
He continued: "This worsens the situation. Nobody, including the Palestinians, should be denied their basic human rights, that is, to be able to move and have a normal life."
It is a question of principle, the WCC chief explained.
"The Israeli government should immediately rescind this order because it is in contravention of the fourth Geneva Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a signatory to these international instruments Israel has a legal and moral responsibility to work within their frameworks," he said.
Tveit warned that "if the definition of 'infiltrator' is applied to Palestinians born in Gaza and living in the West Bank, the military will be removing people who are 'protected residents' from one part of the occupied territory to the other, in a clear contravention of the Article 49 of the Geneva Convention".
In a letter dated 11 April 2010, addressed to the Israeli defence minister, nine Israeli human rights organisations also protested against this amended order, arguing that it is ambiguous about what Israel considers a valid permit and say that it gives the military provisions to prosecute and/or deport thousands of Palestinians who could now be defined as 'infiltrators'.
In an alert released yesterday (20 April 2010), the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) called the order "a flagrant display of military arrogance" and one which will sever the Palestinians from vital economic, health, education, and social centres".
Tveit also expressed solidarity with the Christian group Kairos Palestine which emphasised that the order will "wrongly criminalise thousands of people".
Kairos Palestine has called upon "churches worldwide to publically demand the revocation of the order" issued by the Israeli military authorities and "work to restore the justice that is both our calling and our right".
Addressing the assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia last week on the theme "Called to prophesy, reconcile and heal: an ecumenical perspective" Tveit said the December 2009 Kairos Document crafted by Palestinian Christians calls the church to stand against injustice, violence and occupation.
The General Secretaray of the World Council of Churches underlined how "our prophetic witness needs to be expressed through our love for the Palestinians as well as for the Israelis, as all parties need healing and reconciliation".
Tveit urged all churches to be aware of how severe actions in the region can disrupt the peace process.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]