As U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the United Church of Christ and 14 fellow Christian organizations are calling on the White House and all 535 members of Congress to support and adopt U.S. policies that promote peace, justice and equality between Israelis and Palestinians.
Peter Makari, Global Ministries executive for the Middle East and Europe said, "Israel-Palestine is an issue of high priority and urgency, which begs for honest and vigorous engagement. There is much our Congress and Administration can do to promote peace, justice, and equality with and for the people there, just as there are significant ways to undermine such efforts."
2017 marks the 50th year since Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — a seizure of land deemed illegal according to international law — and 24 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords. But the Christian leaders point out, since then there have been significant changes on the occupied territories that have negatively impacted peace efforts.
In their message to elected officials, the 15 signing faith groups cite changes from the amount of West Bank land now controlled by Israeli settlements, the increased number of Israeli settlers, and the demolition of Palestinian homes. "These changes, among others, have caused analysts, scholars, diplomats, and politicians to assert that the window of opportunity for a viable two-state solution is closing or may have closed," they wrote. "As that reexamination is occurring, the underlying need for equality of rights remains." The UCC, its communion partner the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Global Ministries — their shared international ministry — are signatories to the letter.
The churches call on U.S. policymakers to "make clear their commitment to ensuring fundamental human rights,” highlighting several approaches including "urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to uphold the values of peace, justice, and equal rights for all peoples; and urging both to refrain from actions that lead to violence while encouraging efforts to work for peace, justice, and reconciliation.”
This is Netanyahu's first state visit since a new administration moved into the White House and a new Congress was sworn in. The faith group's timely message serves as a reminder of their long-held position for brokering a peace with a two-state solution. On Feb. 15, Netanyahu and Trump discussed settlement-expansion, relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the prospects of a peace deal — which have crumbled since 2014. Trump hinted at tilting the U.S. in favor of increased Israeli control over the West Bank and said he isn't committed to a two-state approach, turning sharply away from two decades of American policy.
"Our hope is to ensure that members of Congress and the new Administration hear our voices and concerns as they take up this issue, which is urgent for Israelis and Palestinians, and has implications for our own country's national security," Makari said. "We look forward to follow-up conversations with them as well.”
In addition to the UCC, Disciples of Christ and Global Ministries, the other signatories include: the American Friends Service Committee; Church of the Brethren; Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; Pax Christi International; Presbyterian Church (USA); Reformed Church in America; United Methodist Church. Read the full letter here.
UCC members can join the denomination's call telling elected officials not to move the U.S. embassy and opposing the expansion of settlements.