Occupation harms Israelis too, says church leader

By staff writers
June 22, 2007

Doing justice to the Palestinian people would bring about security for Israel, while delaying the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories feeds extremism and terrorism. That was the message of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah to participants at a church conference for peace in Middle East earlier this week.

Convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and attended by over 130 participants representing churches and Christian organizations from six continents, the conference 'Churches together for peace and justice in the Middle East' took place from 18-20 June in Amman, Jordan.

Speaking on behalf of the heads of churches in Jerusalem, Sabbah affirmed that "occupation means violence, Israeli and Palestinian, killing and hatred". According to him, while "justice must be done to the Palestinian people," it is "human dignity that must be restored to those who kill and to those who are killed".

Both occupier and occupied, he said, "are in the wrong inhuman position of harming or being harmed". In both cases, they "need to be saved".

At the same session, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III described the features of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as "violence, aggression, hatred and bigotry, which produce unrest and insecurity".

However, "the conflict and hatred can be turned into durable and just peace," he said. With this goal in mind, Theophilos affirmed "the great importance attached to the involvement of the churches of Christ from all over the world".

Those churches "are waking up" WCC general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia said in his opening address of the conference. They "are impatient to see the end of the occupation and eager for real progress toward peace." And so they are called to "mobilize the larger ecumenical family around the imperative of a just peace".

For this to happen, the members of the ecumenical Christian family need to overcome the "luxury of disunity" in which they have lived regarding the "root causes of the conflict" as well as the "kind of solidarity" that is required.

"We must engage each other theologically and ethically," Dr Kobia said, in addressing both the "real concerns about growing anti-Semitism" and the "urgent need to end the occupation".

In a time when bold prophetic witness and action are needed, the specific Christian contribution consists in "bringing spiritual, theological and ethical perspectives to bear on the conflict," Kobia said. While it is necessary to measure "all peace proposals against the precepts of biblical justice," today the "best approximation" to them appears to be "compliance with the relevant international laws".

Beyond "passive concern," churches are called to a "costly solidarity" with the Palestinian Christian community. "If Christians were to disappear as effective witnesses within Arab societies, their unique contribution towards open and democratic states would be lost."

The concern for the diminishing Christian community in Middle East was shared by Middle East Council of Churches general secretary Mr Guirguis Saleh. Christian migration from the region "is a serious issue, as it affects Christian presence in a significant way," Saleh told participants in his address.

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