"By My Spirit"
What Will Make For Peace in the Middle East?

Statement By Delegation of U.S. Church Leaders
  To the Middle East, April 2002
May 2, 2002

"O sing to the Lord a new song,
sing to the Lord all the earth
Say among the nations, The Lord is king"
Psalm 96:1,10
 

We are a delegation of United States church leaders who visited Turkey,
Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine from April 16 to 27 under the
auspices of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
(NCCCUSA).  Our journey to the Middle East has been a pilgrimage for peace.

In the course of the trip, the delegation met with Jewish, Christian and
Muslim leaders, as well as key political leaders.  In each country we
encountered apprehension and fear, despair, and occasionally, hate.  We also
experienced the resilience of the human spirit, not born from political
optimism but rather through hope in the judgment and mercy of the One God
worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  We were heartened everywhere we
went by the commitment of both religious and political leaders to seek to
build bridges of dialogue and common action.

We emphasize the urgency of the crisis in the region and our sense that the
Middle East and, indeed, the entire world, stands on the brink of a
catastrophe if a comprehensive peace is not achieved soon.  Continually, we
heard pleas for outside intervention and of the urgent need for the United
States to take decisive action to constrain the Government of Israel to
abide by United Nations resolutions and to do so as a matter of the highest
priority.

We are grateful that many local and regional religious bodies are profoundly
engaged in efforts for peace, truth and reconciliation.  In addition, King
Abdullah II of Jordan spoke of his own commitment to interfaith dialogue.
We pledged to him our support for those efforts and articulated our
eagerness to work directly with him and those religious leaders he will soon
bring to the United States.

We expressed our condolences and deepest sympathies to Israelis and
Palestinians who have lost family members and friends to the senseless
violence over the past months.  Members of the delegation visited
hospitalized victims in Jerusalem.  Delegation members also participated in
ecumenical food and medicine aid convoys to Jenin, Bethlehem, and Beit Jala
where we personally witnessed the devastation caused by the Israeli Defense
Forces.  We were alarmed to find that the damage extends beyond fighting
carried out against Palestinian resistance forces to include intentional
destruction of Palestinian civil society.  The impact of the Israeli
invasion and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure has exacerbated the
feeling of broken promises and shattered hopes.  We urge the Government of
Israel to cooperate fully with the United Nations investigation of events
that took place in Jenin.

Throughout our journey the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in
Bethlehem remained of grave concern.  We offered our prayers and services
and expressed our objection to the withholding of food, water and medical
supplies to those inside the church.  We discussed the situation with the
leaders of the churches who are the custodians of this holy site as well as
with Canon Andrew White of Coventry Cathedral in England, the only church
representative directly involved in the negotiations between the Government
of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to bring a peaceful end to the
siege.  We asked Israelis and Palestinians to respect the sacredness of the
Church of the Nativity, and of all religious sites and buildings, Christian,
Muslim and Jewish.

We call upon Israel and the Palestinian Authority to agree to an immediate
ceasefire, to end all attacks upon civilians and civilian institutions, and
to exercise the highest degree of restraint in responding to violations of
the ceasefire.  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.  Repeatedly, we were
asked to understand the context of desperation and hopelessness that has led
Palestinian young people to be willing to kill themselves and Israeli
citizens.  Similarly, we were asked to understand the depth of fear among
the Israeli public that has led to an intense onslaught against Palestinian
refugee camps, towns, and cities.  Both societies are caught in a cycle of
violence and revenge.

The delegation finds that the following are critical components of a just
resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

?    an end to the cycle of violence;

?    the affirmation by Palestinians and by Arab states of the right of the
State of Israel to exist within secure borders;

?    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;

?    the end of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza;

?    the cessation of the building of new Israeli settlements and of the
expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza;

?    abandonment, dismantling, or other disposition of settlements that negate
the geographic integrity of a viable Palestinian state, under the terms of a
negotiated peace agreement;

?    the sharing of Jerusalem by the two peoples and three faiths so that
Jerusalem may truly reflect its name, City of Peace; and

?    the commitment by Israel to address the issue of the right of return for
Palestinian refugees.
 

We state these concerns out of deep love, affection, and respect for
Israelis and Palestinians - and because of our commitment to making real the
vision of a free and independent Palestinian state living alongside a secure
Israel.

Israel is a state like any other state with the same privileges and
responsibilities.  It is entitled to full recognition of its legitimacy
within the international community, including by the Arab
states. It is responsible under international law to end the occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza begun in l967, which holds the Palestinian people
hostage.  At the same time, Palestinians cannot expect to achieve the
dignity, rights and respect they have sought for so long without ceasing
acts of violence against the civilian population of Israel.
 

We are deeply concerned for the future of a viable, indigenous Christian
presence in the Middle East.  The Arab Christian population has declined
precipitously in recent decades.  Christian leaders shared with us their
belief that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is key to
halting and, hopefully, reversing this decline.  This must happen quickly
before Christians are left with only tiny groups of people who serve as
custodians of our most holy places.  Christians provide vital leaven to the
entire region.  Thriving, growing communities of Christians will contribute
to the healing and peace process, thereby providing a bridge to
reconciliation and hope.

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.  In the context of the World Council of Churches (WCC)
"Decade to Overcome Violence," we welcome the WCC's 2002 focus on ending the
illegal occupation of Palestine and supporting a just peace in the Middle
East.  The delegation urges NCCCUSA member churches to support the
development of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and
Israel sponsored by the WCC.  We challenge our member churches and
congregations to take action and become aware of and foster the ends of
peace.  We encourage our members to participate in the ongoing ecumenical
prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East that was initiated on the First
Sunday of Advent 2000.

The prophet Zechariah said, "The angel told me to give Zerubbabel this
message from the Lord: 'You will succeed, not by military might or by your
own strength, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." (Zech. 4:6)  The
word of the Spirit in our day is a call to all people of faith to be
witnesses to the way of peace.  That witness begins with unceasing prayer.
It calls us to be reconcilers, to stand for truth, forgiveness, and justice
in every place.  Only thus may we sing to the Lord a new song.

Issued April 30, 2002 by:

The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Ms. Elenie K. Huszagh, President
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

The Rev. Janet Arbesman, Vice-Moderator
213th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Officer
The Armenian Orthodox Church

The Rev. Mark Byron Brown
Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Washington, DC
Representing the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America

The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister
The Riverside Church, New York, NY

Dr. Joe Hale
United Methodist Church
Former General Secretary of the World Methodist Council

The Rev. Robert S. Jones
National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
St. Paul's Baptist Church, West Chester, PA

Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim
Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the
Eastern United States

The Rev. William Shaw, President
National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
White Rock Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA

The Rt. Rev. Arthur E. Walmsley of Deering, NH
Representing the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

The Rev. James R. Wetekam, Media Director
Churches for Middle East Peace

Mr. James Edward Winkler, General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church