Faith Leaders Call for End to Gaza Blockade

Faith leaders across the globe have called for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip after a deadly raid by Israeli soldiers on a humanitarian convoy left nine people dead.

The convoy "incident highlights the need for the United States to work for new, constructive Israeli policies toward Gaza that end the blockade and provide for the humanitarian need of those living there without diminishing Israel's own security," read a statement from the U.S.-based Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) – a coalition of 23 Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant public policy offices.

CMEP further noted that the Gaza blockade, which was aimed "in part at ending rocket attacks from Gaza and securing the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit…[and] had the political goal of undermining Hamas' control in Gaza," has "not had the desired results."

"Hamas remains in power. Rocket attacks have not completely stopped. Smuggling of goods through tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt has become an economy of its own. Paradoxically this underground trade is controlled and taxed by Hamas," the group said, adding that President Obama has said that "the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security interests."

"The Gaza flotilla incident also underlines the necessity of pressing without delay for a comprehensive agreement for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, beginning with the indirect talks now being brokered by the United States," they continued.

The group's position has been supported by the National Council of Churches (NCC), whose general secretary, the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, said on Thursday that, "[t]he National Council of Churches has strongly supported Israel's right to exist with peace and security, but this attack on an aid convoy contributes to neither. In fact, it undermines Israel's standing in the community of nations."

Other faith coalitions have also chided Israel for their alleged disproportionate use of force in the raids.

A group of Protestant, Catholic, Hindu and Islamic leaders in Indonesia spoke out on Wednesday saying that the incident "shows Israel's arrogance and cruelty, which cannot be justified."

"We condemn the Israeli attack on the humanitarian mission in the strongest terms since it was against human values as well as against international norms and ethics," Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said according to

He added that the United Nations Security Council, "must protect people from Israeli attacks and immediately assemble a peacekeeping force."

In Birmingham, England, an interfaith prayer vigil for peace and justice regarding the flotilla incident will be held at lunchtime today.

"Please join us as we remember those killed in the recent attack on the Gaza flotilla and pray for a just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel," a message from the vigil's organizers said, according to

The faith leaders' remarks come just days after skirmishes between Israeli forces and pro-Palestinian activists aboard a ship carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip left nine people dead and sparked international outrage.

The vessel, named the Mavi Mamara, was part of a six ship "Freedom Flotilla" that was carrying 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade of the region.

On Monday morning, Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Mamara where they said they were threatened with deadly weapons, including live ammunition. Videos released by Israeli Defense Forces appear to uphold the claims, as they show the commandos being attacked with metal pipes and chairs the moment they boarded the ship.

Organizers of the flotilla, which include Turkish terrorist organization IHH, have denied the allegations.

A resolution put forward by delegations from Pakistan, Sudan and Palestine for a full, independent investigation into the incident was approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday, but has been refuted by Israel, who say that the delegations' intentions are political.

Israel has instead requested that they conduct their own investigation into the issue, a move that has been backed by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, although some Israelis are mulling whether or not to include select international observers into the probe.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily critical of Israel's reaction to the Mavi Mamara raid and has threatened to break ties with the country.

"Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality," Erdogan said on Thursday, according to the Jerusalem post.

He adding that Turkey "tried to preserve their relationship, but the Israeli government did not understand this, and performed a historical mistake."

"This mistake is not only against Turkey, it is against civilians from 32 different countries," he said.

"Violent policies will not bring about a positive outcome. We will not avert our eyes from violence like this."

Turkish officials are currently probing the Mavi Mamara incident in order to take legal action against Israel.

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