In anticipation of the 50th year of the state of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, more than 60 representatives of a dozen churches and human rights organizations from around the world — including the United Church of Christ — gathered in Washington, D.C., this week. At a National and World Council of Churches consultation, participants assessed the role that churches have played in the struggle for peace the Middle East, and repeated their call to the Israeli government to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, calling for the United States to adopt a neutral position in hopes that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace as equals.
Peter Makari, area executive for Global Ministries to the Middle East and Europe, believes that the connections made at the consultation among the participating churches were both historical and significant.
"As we anticipate the 50th year of Israeli occupation, the need to draw attention to it, mobilize our members to advocate for change — consistent with our General Synod policies and statements — and to support our partners there who live the reality of occupation daily are all urgent," said Makari. "We are in a position to make our voices heard, and must continue to do so, in solidarity and accompaniment with partners."
Specifically, the consultation has asked the U.S. government to cease arming various state and non-state actors in the Middle East (such as foreign militaries, or rebel groups) and reconsider increasing military aid to Israel, and to end the effort by states to penalize the use of non-violent measures, including economic leverage, to influence policy in Israel.
"We call for an end to the occupation and to settlements on occupied land, with all its grave and deteriorating dimensions for the Palestinian people, but also for Israel and the whole region beyond. 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," the Rev. Olav Fykse-Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches (USA), said in a joint statement.
"We are deeply concerned about Israeli legislative and other measures to curtail the work of Palestinian and Israeli development and human rights organizations, as well as 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," they said. "[C]hurches 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."
The UCC is among a handful of churches that has called for divestment and boycott of companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, with the General Synod adopting a resolution in 2015 that highlights education, non-violent action and interfaith dialogue as strategies that the denomination can pursue toward a just peace in the conflict. The UCC national officers also recently issued a statement, and cooperated on an ecumenical effort in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Additionally, Makari said that the consultation emphasized other actions that churches can consider, from supporting the WCC Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, in which volunteers walk the streets to witness and document any harassment, to participating in the World Week of Prayer for Peace in Palestine and Israel next week. During the World Week of Prayer, from Sept. 18 to 24, churches, faith-based communities and civil society organizations around the world commit to a week of advocacy and action in support of an end of the occupation and a lasting peace for all people in Israel-Palestine.