August 14, 2000

        PEACE IN PALESTINE/ISRAEL: A VISION AND A LAMENT

    As Christians working and living in the Holy Land, believing
God wills justice and peace for all of God's children, both
Palestinian and Israeli, we feel compelled to lift our voices in
lamentation. The time has come for people of faith to declare that
the Oslo process has tarnished what should be a sacred word --
"peace".  As Israel and the PLO conduct negotiations over a
permanent status agreement, we present a vision of the things that
would make for peace in Palestine/Israel; a vision betrayed by the
Oslo "peace process".

    A Vision
    Our hope as Christians is rooted in the coming of God's
kingdom. Through Jesus Christ, God breaks down dividing walls of
hostility (Eph. 2:15), incorporating different peoples into a new
creation (Gal. 6:15). It is our vision that the Holy Land might
prefigure God's boundary-breaking kingdom, serving as a place
where people who were once enemies might be reconciled with one
another and live together in peace. The foundations for such
reconciliation and peace are justice and righteousness (Isaiah
32:16-17). God wills the joy of jubilee for His creatures, a jubilee
which allows God's children to live together on the basis of justice
(Luke 4:16-22, Isaiah 61:1-2, Lev. 25). God delights not in might,
but in justice (Jer. 9:23-24), and calls all to do justly, love mercy,
and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). It is our hope and prayer that
Palestinians and Israelis might live together in a peace built on the
foundations of justice, and that Israel/Palestine might truly serve as
a light to the nations.
    We believe that practical ways can be found for
Palestinians and Israelis to share the Holy Land in a just and
equitable manner.  Jerusalem, for example, can and must be a
shared city, open to all. United Nations Resolutions, which
guarantee the right of return to Palestinian refugees and call for an
Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in exchange for
peace, provide a workable framework for a just and lasting accord.
On such foundations of justice and equality lie the hope for a peace
of reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli people.

    A Lament
    We lament that, whether intended or not, the Oslo
negotiations have promoted a peace of coercion rather than a
peace of reconciliation. We lament that the Oslo "peac" process
has proven an instrument with which Israel has increased its
control over Palestinian people and land. Rather than bringing
Palestinians and Israelis together into a new relationship of justice
and equality, the Oslo process has instead resulted in a regime of
separation best characterized as apartheid.  Seven years of the
"peace" process have reinforced this holy land apartheid through
several disturbing trends. These include:
    Territorial Fragmentation, House Demolitions, Land
Confiscation, and Settlement Expansion: The peace process
has not brought about a jubilee for Palestinians, who have become
increasingly less secure in their homes and on their land. The Oslo
agreements have broken up the occupied territories into a
bewildering array of disconnected cantons. These bantustans of
Palestinian autonomy lack territorial contiguity. We fear that while
the ongoing negotiations might alter the percentages of land under
Palestinian control, the basic framework of territorial fragmentation
will remain.
    Israel also seldom grants permits to Palestinians to build
homes on their own land, issuing demolition orders for "illegally"
built houses: hundreds of Palestinian homes have been destroyed
since the signing of the Oslo accords.  House demolitions are
accompanied by land confiscation, which has also continued
unabated since 1993.  In a manner sadly reminiscent of King
Ahab's confiscation of Naboth's vineyard (I Kings 21), the Israeli
military seizes thousands of acres of land from Palestinians, and
then uses this land to expand Israeli settlements in the occupied
territories (illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention).  Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Barak, despite his image as a "peace" leader,
has, according to Peace Now, accelerated settlement growth to
four times its previous level under former Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. These settlements are being connected by a matrix of
by-pass roads whose construction is being financed by U.S.
Government aid, costing American taxpayers millions of dollars.
Together, the settlements and the by-pass roads rob Palestinians
of their land, deprive farmers of income and restrict the growth of
Palestinian population centers.
    Restriction of Freedom of Movement:  Since 1993,
Palestinians have found their freedom of movement increasingly
limited. Palestinian travel between the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip is strictly regulated by a permit system. The opening of the
much-heralded "safe passage" between the West Bank and Gaza
has not, in fact, resulted in free travel, as thousands of Palestinians
have been denied the necessary permits by the Israeli military
authorities.  Israel's control of the land surrounding Palestinian
population centers in the West Bank also means that it can
imprison Palestinians within their respective cantons, trapping
Palestinians in their villages and cities and crippling the Palestinian
economy.  Such artificial separation of the Palestinian people from
one another does not contribute to peace.
    Unilateral Actions Against Jerusalem:  The prophet
Isaiah envisions Jerusalem as a joy, where the sound of weeping
shall be heard no more (65:17-19). Unfortunately, Palestinians of
the holy city have little cause for joy. For seven years Israel has
imposed a closure on Jerusalem, requiring Palestinians from the
occupied territories to obtain permits to visit the city. The Israeli
closure of Jerusalem denies the vast majority of Palestinians
access to Christian and Muslim holy places and prevents access
to Jerusalem's medical, cultural, and academic institutions.
    Palestinian Jerusalemites are continually uncertain of their
right of residence, as the Israeli Ministry of the Interior threatens to
strip them of their Jerusalem identity cards if they cannot prove
their "center of life" is in the city.  Thus, thousands of Palestinians
can no longer reside in the city of their birth. While a shared
Jerusalem might become a beacon of reconciliation for humanity,
the Jerusalem shaped by the Oslo process has become one of the
most poignant examples of Palestinian alienation from their
heritage and their holy places
    Refugees:
The millions of Palestinian refugees living in
Palestine/Israel, the Middle East and beyond carry the burden of
dispossession in their bodies and souls.  While all Jews eligible
under Israel's Law of Return can move to Israel or the occupied
territories, Palestinian refugees remain in exile, denied their
internationally affirmed rights of return and compensation.  Any
agreement between Palestinian and Israeli which does not uphold
the Palestinian right of return will be ephemeral and short-lived.

    Within weeks or months, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators
might well sign some form of agreement. Perhaps it will be a
permanent status agreement, addressing all of the outstanding
issues, including borders, water, settlements, refugees and
Jerusalem. Or perhaps it will be a partial agreement, deferring
some issues, like refugees and Jerusalem, to a later date.  Or
perhaps no agreement will be reached, and the present intolerable
situation will drag on.  Regardless of what transpires, we affirm that
justice is the foundation of peace and reconciliation.  As the
international media and world powers clamor =93peace, peace=94 when
there is no peace, we invite Christians worldwide to join us in
praying and speaking out for a peace built on reconciliation, not
coercion.  May this land called =93holy=94 yet provide Palestinian and
Israeli with a foretaste of God=92s kingdom here on earth.
 

Douglas Dicks -- Presbyterian Church (USA) Liaison - Jerusalem
Thomas Getman -- World Vision - Jerusalem
Reverend Sandra Olewine, United Methodist Liaison, General
Board of Global
    Ministries - Jerusalem
Reverend Alex Awad -- East Jerusalem Baptist Church
Craig Kippels -- Lutheran World Federation, Jerusalem
Sonia and Alain Epp Weaver (Mennonites)