World Council of Churches intensifies efforts to end occupation

Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi argues with an Israeli soldier as he and the Archimandrite of the Christian Orthodox Church Attalla Hanna tour the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank, 28 February 2007. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)


From 18 - 20 June in Amman, Jordan, more than 130 representatives from churches and Christian organizations attended a conference entitled “Churches together for peace and justice the Middle East” organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC unites more than 340 churches in over a hundred countries and territories, representing about 550 million Christians. “Churches have woken up to the issues in the Middle East like never been before. Another time we woke up is when we fought apartheid in Africa; this is another apartheid,” WCC general secretary Reverend Dr. Sam Kobia told The Jordan Times after the conference.

Time for action

The Amman Call, the concluding statement of the WCC conference, opens with a plea of Palestinian Christians from the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel to their brothers and sisters all over the world: “Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action.” The decision of the World Council of Churches central committee to launch the “Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum to catalyze and coordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, aimed at ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions, and demonstrate its commitment to inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all the peoples of the region,” is affirmed in the Amman Call.

The Amman Call for action is based on a set of assumptions, including that UN resolutions are the basis for peace and the Geneva conventions are applicable; that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and the right of return; that a two-state solution must be viable politically, geographically economically and socially; that Jerusalem must be an open, accessible, inclusive and shared city; and that the Israeli settlements and the wall in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and constitute an obstacle to peace.

The Palestine Israel Ecumenic Forum will develop strategies for processes of peace making and peace building, and will include “defining and promoting measures, including economic ones, that could help end the occupation and enhance sustainable growth and development.”

Previous call for economic measures

On 21 February 2005, the Central Committee of the WCC encouraged its member churches to give serious consideration to economic measures as a new way to work for peace, and to explore ways not to participate economically in illegal activities related to the Israeli occupation. In a speech to the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews on 24 July 2005, general secretary Sam Kobia responded to criticism of the WCC’s call for economic pressure as a tool for peace. He noted that the WCC had denounced anti-Semitism as a “sin against God and man.” Not every criticism made of Israel and Israeli policies is anti-Semitic, according to Kobia.

Challenges

The Amman Call for Action also names some of the challenges the churches have to face when they work towards peace in the Middle East. “Raise your voices along with ours as we speak “truth to power” and name with courage the injustices we see and experience. The illegal occupation has stolen two generations of lives in this tortured place, and threatens the next with hopelessness and rage. … Risk the curses and abuse that will be aimed at you and stand in solidarity with us and with our Palestinian brothers and sisters of all faiths as we defiantly reject the possibility that occupation will continue. … Insist with us that all dispossessed peoples, all refugees, have the right of return.”

Inspiration

The Dutch Ecumenical Taskgroup “Turning Point,” working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel, organized a conference on 8 June 2007 around how churches and Christians can respond to forty years of Israeli occupation. The secretary of the Dutch non-governmental organization “A Different Jewish Voice,” Hajo Meijer spoke words, which can be a source of inspiration to the WCC and its membership. According to Meijer there is no balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. Therefore, intervention from outside is needed to put pressure on Israel. Churches have considerable influence and they should use this. Meijer, who survived the horrors of Auschwitz, reminded the audience that Dutch Christians risked their lives trying to protect him during the German occupation of the Netherlands. He added, “To put pressure on Israel carries no personal physical danger, it only requires the moral courage to act.”

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in The Netherlands.

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