Churches act globally to secure Israel-Palestine peace

By staff writers
7 Jun 2007

Praying with Jerusalem's Christians, marching to the White House or sponsoring one of 14,609 olive trees are among the activities taking place in the International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel tight now.

The initiative is organized by member churches and related organizations of the World Council of Churches to mark 40 years of the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. It involves public activities and messages to governments in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Among events still to come are a candlelight march at a Bethelehem refugee camp and a Palestinian bishop addressing a rally organized by trade unions and Muslim, Jewish and Christian organizations in London, both on 9 June 2007.

On 10-11 June, in the US, members of various denominations, ecumenical groups and inter-faith bodies are participating in demonstrations in Washington, DC, Chicago and New York. At the DC event, a church contingent will be part of a march to the White House.

The YWCA and YMCA of Palestine are inviting people to sponsor 14,609 new olive trees, one for each day of the occupation. The Thailand-based Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism is calling for solidarity visits to Palestine. In Minnesota, USA, there are vigils, panels, cultural events and performances of the musical "West Bank Story".

In Johannesburg, South Africa, there was a candlelight vigil outside the Israeli Consulate on June 5 organized by the South Africa Council of Churches and volunteers with a WCC-led monitoring programme in Palestine and Israel. The week also includes media events and presentations with academics, politicians and religious leaders at schools in Cape Town and Durban.

WCC-related development agencies in Europe have sent a statement to officials of the European Union to mark 40 years of occupation. It calls the EU and the Middle East Quartet to "send a clear signal to Palestinians and Israelis alike that the international community does have values and those values are laid down" in international humanitarian and human rights law.

A joint statement from Roman Catholic humanitarian agencies and the peace group, Pax Christi, is going to top EU leaders. The Pax Christi section in Germany, in cooperation with the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, has an advertisement in a major newspaper saying "40 years of occupation and 18,000 destroyed houses is enough".

Church members in Switzerland and veterans of the WCC Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel are part of a peace caravan to the capital city from Geneva. A church-related group in the Netherlands, Keerpunt, is holding a debate on the need for a change in church policies and investments after 40 years of the conflict.

At an ecumenical service in Jerusalem to start the week, Catholic Archbishop Fuad Twal emphasized the church's commitment to non-violence in the service of peace. Referring to Palestinian Christians, Twal said, "Our land needs you", because steady emigration during the decades of occupation has greatly diminished this historic community in the birthplace of the church.

The same service was used by churches around the world, at the Geneva headquarters of the World Council of Churches and in Rome at a meeting of religious congregations in the Vatican.

The goal of the week is to raise public and church awareness and call governments to make new efforts to end the conflict through equitable negotiations.

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