Mr. Colin Powell
The Secretary of State of the United States of America
“Justice and peace must kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10)
We, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem,
representing the four families of churches:
- Greek Orthodox.
- Oriental Orthodox (Copts, Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians)
- Catholics (Roman Catholic, Custody of the Holy Land, Greek Catholic, Maronites, Syrians, Armenians)
- Evangelicals (Anglicans, Lutherans) –
are very concerned about the present situation in Palestine and Israel, and about this very difficult time in our history. We write you this letter expressing our appreciation for the American administration and for its role in trying to solve the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict along with the European Union, Norway and Russia.
At the same time we plead with you as Christian leaders, who are concerned about both Palestinians and Israelis and with the future of their children, to help both sides equally implement peace and justice.
As we meet you in Jerusalem, we would like to share with you our vision in which we want both nations to live in their own state, equally, equitably, justly and peacefully, so that both nations will be a blessing for the Middle East and for the world. The peace of the world is dependent upon the peace of Jerusalem.
1. The Conflict between Israel and Palestine
We want to express the symbiotic relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians in this land. We want security for the Israelis and justice and freedom for the Palestinians. We see that security of Israel is dependent upon justice for the Palestinians.
A. The Arab population in the region and elsewhere are now-a-days hostile to Israel because of the Palestinian cause. Since the Palestinian cause is the core problem of the Middle East conflict, the Arab world will become friendly with Israel once it is solved in a just way, accepting Israel’s existence in the Middle East. But in order to get to that point, justice must be implemented according to international legitimacy as represented by UN resolutions 242, 338, and 1397 which call for a political solution. This means that the principle of land for peace ought to be implemented. The Israeli occupation in all its forms must end and Arab land must be returned so the State of Palestine can exist within the 1967 borders. The Israeli settlements must be dismantled, the Palestinian right of return must be fairly addressed and there must be a shared Jerusalem for the two peoples. All forms of violence and counter-violence will end when a political solution is implemented and guaranteed by the United States and the European countries.
B. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not a mere question of violence. Violence is only a symptom of the root cause of the Middle East conflict, namely, the Israeli occupation of 1967 territories. The Palestinians today are satisfied to have their own state within the 1967 borders, which amounts to 5000 square kilometers of the historic Palestine. Continuing to address only the question of violence will keep us all, Palestinians and Israelis, in an indefinite circle of violence. Enough blood has been shed from both sides. It is time now to start a new era of just peace and mutual recognition of each other’s human, civil, religious and political rights.
C. The Interfaith Dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims will continue to be a tool for peace education and a catalyst for reconciliation. This process has started in the Alexandria Declaration in January 2002, and was supported by the local, regional and international religious and political leadership.
2. The Present Situation of Conflict, Suffering and Death
We believe that all kinds of military attacks and operations and spiral violence ought to be stopped immediately. The Israeli military forces have not spared churches and mosques. A total ceasefire must be immediately declared on both sides to understand what Prophet Zechariah said: “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”
This means there must be a total withdrawal of the Israeli army without any delay from the re-occupied Palestinian territories, as President Bush said, easing the life of Palestinians in their daily lives and work, and at the Israeli checkpoints. At the same time a parallel political negotiation must take place immediately.
We still see that Mr. Arafat is the elected president and the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and he is the only one who can deliver the peace agreement in this period of history.
At this time we strongly believe that international protection must be imposed in order to secure the lives of the people.
3. The Issue of the Basilica of the Nativity
We believe this situation must be handled in two ways:
A. Humanitarian aid, which includes water, food and electricity, must be given to the 250 people who have taken refuge in the church. As we know, not all of them are fighters, but there are many civilians in the church, including women and children. Also, the body of the man who was shot and killed on April 8 must be allowed to be removed and buried according to his own tradition.
B. A possible solution for the Palestinians inside is to have a three-day truce declared in which the Israeli army will withdraw from Bethlehem, including the area of the basilica. Then the Palestinian Authority will be asked to collect the weapons and allow the people to go outside the basilica and go safely home.
Mr. Secretary, we have represented Christianity in this part of the world for the last two thousand years. We believe that the future of Palestinian Christianity is also in peace and not in war. We believe that the Christian Church can be an instrument of peace, justice and reconciliation. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I have a dream.” Our dream is that these two peoples who represent the three monotheistic religions may live in just peace and freedom, in security and reconciliation.
May God bless you