World Council of Churches, US churches urge end to Israeli occupation and settlement expansion

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / Ecumenical News)Israeli settlements expand in sight of Bethlehem on the West Bank photographed in February 2016.

The World Council of Churches and its U.S. counterpart, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA have call for an end Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and a halt to settlements on occupied land.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the WCC and his counterpart in the NCCUSA, Jim Winkler released a statement Sept. 14 after a meeting in Arlington, Virginia.

They called for the United States to "cease its practice of arming various state and non-state actors in the Middle East and, in particular, to reconsider its proposed $38 billion military aid package to Israel, for the last thing needed at this time is more weapons."

They also said the U.S. should "end the current wave of legislative efforts to penalize the use of non-violent economic measures to influence policy in Israel."

They said the "crisis in Israel and Palestine" had brought together representatives of the WCC and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA for a consultation in Arlington, Virginia from Sept. 12-14.

"We ask for full respect and protection of human rights defenders, for the rights to tell the truth, to express concern, and to take democratic, non-violent actions for justice and peace," they said.


"We are deeply concerned by Israeli legislative and other measures to curtail the work of Palestinian and Israeli development and human rights organizations," Tveit and Winkler said.

They said, "the lack of transparency concerning investigations into international humanitarian (including faith-based) organizations in the Gaza Strip and the possible negative consequences to delivering critically needed aid to this besieged area."

The church leaders said that no people should be denied their rights for generations.

"The unresolved conflict in Israel and Palestine is primarily about justice, and until the requirement of justice is met, peace cannot be established.

"As Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza nears the 50-year mark, generations have been suffering under this reality. The possibilities of a viable two-state solution, for which we have long advocated, are more elusive and, seemingly, more unrealistic than ever."

More than 60 representatives of churches and church-related organizations from around the world gathered for the Arlington meeting.

"We have particularly valued the participation of Palestinian, Native American, South African, and Israeli participants who have shared their insights and lived experience," they said.

They said that although the consultation had focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it took place in the context of a region beset by war and violence.

Churches had used such strategies to advance the rights of people and further the cause of justice both domestically and internationally for many years, they said.

This included the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in the United States, apartheid South Africa and, currently, on behalf of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group fighting against severe exploitation in Florida.

"We have met in the United States and have met with U.S. government representatives here because the United States holds enormous power to support the status quo or to take bold steps to peace," the church leaders said.

"Similarly, the churches in the United States have tremendous potential, which must be mobilized, to call on the American government to do much more to secure a just and lasting peace for Israel and Palestine."

Earlier this year WCC staff members were detained at Ben Gurion Airport while trying to enter Israel.

The U.S.-based Gatestone Institute which is strongly supportive of Israel has frequently attacked the WCC for basing its crticism of Israeli actions and policies on incorrect assumptions and it says it is not Israel that is making life hard for Palestinian Christians, but the Palestinian authorties.

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