World Week for Peace in Palestine, Israel Begins

Beginning on Saturday, churches around the world will be dedicating themselves to seven days of peaceful demonstration, activism, and prayer in an effort to end conflict and injustice between Palestinians and Israelis.

The World Week for Peace in Palestine - Israel, an initiative of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), will take place from May 29 to June 4 in support of a "just peace" between the two Middle Eastern countries.

"At a time when both Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer from the occupation of Palestinian territory, the World Council of Churches has designated this week as a time to pray for a lasting peace that would secure the legitimate rights and justice for both peoples," says Rev. John Calhoun, the convener of World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel. "In addition, the World Council of Churches also welcomes acts of education and advocacy that would help bring an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine in accordance with United Nations resolutions."

The WCC has been a steadfast supporter of Palestine regarding Israeli settlement building on the West Bank and the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

A statement from the group in September 2009 noted that the U.N.'s decision to establish two states in the land of Palestine was only "partially achieved with the creation of the state of Israel," and the second part of the resolution, the establishment of a Palestinian state, is "still waiting for realization."

"The ongoing settlement policy of the state of Israel in the territories which have been occupied since 1967 is an obstacle to the fulfillment of that promise and decision of the community of nations for a viable Palestinian state," the statement reads.

For the World Week of Peace, which marks its fourth consecutive year this weekend, organizers have emphasized that the initiative is a non-violent one, although demonstrations will be held in volatile places such as in front of West Bank settlements and at the separation wall in Bethlehem.

Other scheduled activities include worship services, seminars, public discussions, and open forums about the "urgent need to bring to an end to the inherent injustices" in the conflict, according to a statement from the group.

The World Week for Peace initiative comes as a nine ship flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Palestine is set to land at the Gaza Strip.

The "Freedom Flotilla," which is comprised of vessels from Britain, Ireland, Greece, and Turkey, and is not directly related to the WCC initiative, is carrying some 600 activists on board along with medical supplies and other living essentials.

Israeli authorities, however, have threatened to intercept the fleet "with force if necessary" before its scheduled arrival on Sunday.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday that Israel should end its three-year naval blockade of Gaza and allow the flotilla to go through.

"The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive," Ashton said.

"We would like to reiterate the EU's call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza," she added.

On Saturday, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called the flotilla a "victory" for Gaza against the Israeli blockade whether the ships reach their destination or not.

"If the ships reach Gaza, it's a victory for Gaza," Haniyeh said, according to the Jerusalem Post. "If they are intercepted and terrorized by the Zionists, it will be a victory for Gaza, too, and they will move again in new ships to break the siege of Gaza."

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