Written by Connie Larkman
As Israel launches airstrikes to avenge the deaths of three teenagers at the hands of their kidnappers, United Church of Christ leaders join the voices of interfaith leaders around the world mourning the boys and praying for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the funeral of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frankel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, on July 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised his nation will avenge their deaths at "the hands of evil men" and show its strength in the process.
The bodies of Yifrach, Shaar and Frankel were found June 30, nearly three weeks after they were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from school in the West Bank.
On July 2, Israeli leaders appealed for calm after what has been characterized as an apparent retaliation to that tragedy. The body of a kidnapped Palestinian teenager, 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair, was discovered Wednesday shortly after he was seen being forced into a car in the early morning hours.
"We lament the spiral of death following the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. Their murders deeply sadden us even as we long for peace and justice through non-violence," said Peter Makari, executive for the Middle East and Europe, Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "We are also alarmed by the intensive sweep of Palestinian homes, towns, and refugee camps, including the killing of 5 Palestinians and detention of more than 400 Palestinians during the search these past three weeks. The additional death of a Palestinian teen today furthers the spiral. We pray urgently for an end to the cycle of violence and retaliation."
Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, issued the following statement in response to news of the deaths of three Israeli teenagers:
"It is with a sense of deep sadness and loss that the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCC) receives the tragic news that the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped on June 12 have been found just north of Hebron.
"We grieve with their families, with the nation of Israel, and with people around the world upon learning Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel are no longer with us. We pray for their families and all of their loved ones who even now are surely weeping.
"The National Council of Churches of Christ remains steadfastly committed to working for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We pray no one else, not a single Israeli or Palestinian, will die in this struggle."
The World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit has expressed deep sorrow over the killing of three Israeli teens. "We pray for their families, all their friends and the extended community that grieves their loss," he said in a pastoral letter issued July 1.
On behalf of the WCC, Tveit said, "I again express the sorrow we feel, a sorrow felt across national borders and differences in religion and culture, at the suffering and loss of life in Israel and Palestine. No parent, of any creed or country, be it in Israel or Palestine, or in the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq, should have to experience such anguish. And yet the violence continues, with inadequate steps toward the resolution of conflict and the prevention of needless death."
"Our heartfelt prayers are with all who are affected by the tragedy that has got the attention of the whole world, and we continue to pray for the establishment of peace with justice for all," he added.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah party based in the West Bank, has condemned the abductions, even as the Palestinian Cabinet criticized what it calls "Israel's illegal measures" in response.
U.S. President Barack Obama similarly condemned what he called a "senseless act of terror against innocent youth." He promised "our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice."
"And I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort," Obama said. "I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation."
Makari also urges peace. "We know that overwhelming numbers of Israelis and Palestinians want the conflict to end in a way that allows them to lead lives of dignity, free of fear and restrictions, and we continue to work for such a resolution to the conflict, including an end to the occupation."