Statement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Peace Process
WCC Central Committee - Trondheim (Norway)

He has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2.14)

During this year – 2016 – the ecumenical Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace focuses on the Middle East – the birthplace of some of the earliest human civilizations and of three world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and especially on Israel and Palestine, the land of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. Our living faith has its roots in this land, nourished and nurtured by the unbroken witness of the local churches who have their own roots in apostolic times.

We are called during this year to reflect together on the situation of the churches and societies of this region, the threatened presence and witness of Christians throughout the Middle East, and on the long and unfulfilled search for peace with justice for Israelis and Palestinians, noting that next year – 2017 – will mark a painful anniversary: 50 years since Israel began its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

Throughout this period, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has sought to promote a durable solution out of a conviction that churches are duty bound to pray and work for an outcome as just as may be in the midst of our human disorder, recognizing that so long as underlying injustice persists there can be neither peace nor security for either Israelis or Palestinians.

Norms of international law and practice that bear upon this situation – relating to the conduct of armed conflict, protection of civilians, responsibilities and constraints upon an occupying power, the peaceful resolution of conflict, self-determination and human rights – have been so routinely ignored in the past decades that international law and international multilateral organizations have been undermined and weakened.

In the midst of violence and division, the ecumenical movement seeks to offer a word of hope, faith and love, encouraging and supporting actions for peace with justice. The WCC has maintained a consistent hope-filled objective and prayer – for equal justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Such hopes have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the intermittent ‘peace process’ in the region since at least the mid-1970s. They were raised high with the 1993/1995 Oslo Accords, which set in motion a process of negotiating a “two-state solution.” The WCC sought to encourage those hopes and the vision of two states coexisting side-by-side in peace, security and prosperity, so Israelis and Palestinians alike might enjoy the human dignity and rights to which all are equally entitled.

The WCC supports joint peace projects and dialogue between the peoples of Israel and Palestine and between their governments. We acknowledge with sadness the renewed bouts of conflict and violence in the region. The continuous and reinforced matrix of occupation, the building of the separation wall in many parts of occupied Palestine, the continued establishment of Israeli settlements, and the role of both Israeli and Palestinian extremists have repeatedly thwarted and frustrated hopes for a just and sustainable peace.

The WCC has been deeply involved in efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace since 1948 when the State of Israel was created and the WCC formally established. Even before 1948, the nascent WCC sought to help European Jews immigrate to safe havens, away from Nazi-occupied territories in Europe and assisted Palestinian refugees forced to leave their ancestral lands.

The WCC has consistently denounced the use of violence and acts of terror, whether by the State of Israel or by Palestinian groups and individuals. A just and sustainable peace cannot be secured by violence, which only begets more violence. In word and action, the WCC has consistently promoted dialogue and negotiation as providing the only viable path for a shared pilgrimage of justice and peace, in Israel-Palestine and throughout the world.

In response to the reality of unimplemented peace plans and UN resolutions, the WCC has produced many statements and suggested several concrete actions. In 2002, the WCC established the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) to provide a concrete manifestation of Christian solidarity through active presence in the occupied Palestinian Territories. In 2007, the ‘Amman Call’ (issued by an international conference “Churches Together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East” convened by the WCC) launched the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) as an instrument to “catalyze and coordinate new and existing church advocacy… for peace and justice that serves all people of the region.”

Against all the pressures of desperation, provocation and incitement to violence, the WCC has sought to encourage and accompany Palestinian people and communities, and member churches and partners throughout the world, in their efforts to resist occupation, including through economic measures such as divestment from companies profiting from the occupation and boycotting goods produced in illegal settlements on occupied territory. Such actions seek to advance the cause of peace with justice in Israel and Palestine through active non-violent means, using criteria rooted in faith.

With the breakdown of US-led peace efforts in 2014, the peace process established through the 1993/1995 Oslo Accords is widely regarded as having ended in failure. The international community’s political will and commitment to efforts to revive the implementation of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine have waned in the face of facts on the ground that render it unviable. Meanwhile, the political environment in Israel seems less and less conducive to the necessary compromises for a just peace. New initiatives have been proposed to restart the moribund peace process, including an international conference before the end of 2016. But hopes and expectations of such political initiatives are very low.

The WCC itself has encountered aggressive attitudes and actions by the authorities of the State of Israel, with several WCC staff and representatives of member churches and partners seeking to enter Israel having recently been subjected to exceptionally aggressive, intimidating and abusive interrogation and treatment, including detention for up to three days and deportation.

Hope’s end is not a foundation for peace, least of all a just peace. Rather, it is dangerous and fertile terrain for desperate and violent acts, fuelling the extremism now plaguing the entire Middle East. Continued and expanded occupation is corrosive and destructive for the moral and political capacities of both Israelis and Palestinians. If the conflict is not transformed through a just, durable solution, people will continue to die and suffer, their human dignity be diminished, and international law and institutions be further delegitimized.

In this context, and with these concerns, the WCC central committee, meeting in Trondheim, Norway, 22-28 June 2016:

  1. Calls on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to actively and immediately pursue the implementation of a just, viable and sustainable solution to the conflict, by providing a political horizon for an end to occupation and for a just and sustainable peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.
  1. Urges all members of the international community – in particular the Quartet (United Nations, European Union, USA and Russian Federation) – to resume active, determined and consistent efforts to help build such a political horizon for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians.
  1. Calls on WCC member churches, specialized ministries and ecumenical partners to be louder voices and more active agents in countering despair and rebuilding hope, in particular through supporting and sustaining the presence and witness of local Christians and member churches in Israel and Palestine, by

a)      listening to and responding to the voices of Palestinian Christians (including those expressed through the ‘Kairos Palestine’ document);

b)      taking active steps to encourage a continued robust indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land;

c)      promoting and supporting all non-violent efforts to end the occupation (including considering appropriate economic and other measures); and

d)      intensifying inter-faith dialogue and cooperation with Jewish and Muslim partners on the pilgrimage of justice and peace.

  1. Invites renewed and redoubled engagement with the vision of a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis where all live with justice, equal rights, dignity and inclusive security, strong church participation in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) – the leading common ecumenical ministry of accompaniment and witness for justice in the region, and through the member churches of the WCC and the Palestine and Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF).
  1. Calls on WCC member churches, specialized ministries and ecumenical partners to recognize the danger of using scripture to in any way justify occupation, and to recognize Christian Zionism as a form of Christian fundamentalism endangering especially indigenous Palestinian Christian communities.
  1. Expresses its concern regarding efforts in legislative bodies throughout the world to silence and penalize calls for non-violent measures to resist illegal occupation, but rather reiterates its support for freedom of expression in all contexts and non-violent means for transforming conflicts.
  1. Recommends that the WCC convene an international ecumenical conference in 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, and the 10th anniversary of the ‘Amman Call’, in order to reaffirm and strengthen ecumenical witness for peace with justice for Israelis and Palestinians.
  1. Supports church leaders in their difficult role to maintain and strengthen the christian presence in the middle east, cradle of christianity.

APPROVED

Recent Events in Gaza and Jerusalem
WCC Central Committee – Geneva (Switzerland)

  1. The central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15-21 June 2018, is deeply concerned by recent developments in Gaza and Jerusalem, and the on-going struggle of the Christians of the Holy Land. The central committee wishes to express its grave concern about the recent killings and unacceptable use of violence in Gaza, and the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Gaza.
  2. The central committee expresses its dismay and sadness at the violence and bloodshed resulting from the recent military live-fire response to the demonstrations in Gaza. More than a hundred people, including children, have been killed and more than 13,000 injured. The use of live ammunition on unarmed civilians cannot be defended legally or morally as an expression of the right to self-defence of a state. It is our firm belief that all actors – Israeli and Palestinian – must strive for a just peace, act with utmost respect for the sanctity of life, and exercise restraint from all forms of violence, which can only further escalate the on-going tensions.
  3. In addition, the recent decision by the government of the United States of America to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, caused great concern in the region and the wider international community and violated UN resolutions recognising East Jerusalem as occupied territory and the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem remains to be settled and negotiated in any final peace agreement, which must be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
  4. The member churches of the WCC look to the Holy City of Jerusalem as the location of the foundational event at the origins of our faith. We reiterate our position that Jerusalem is a shared city of three faiths and two peoples. The WCC re-affirms the right of the State of Israel to exist, and to protect its people and territorial integrity under international law. We also re-affirm our support for the two state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and consequently for the right of the State of Palestine to exist, and to protect its people and their human rights. The WCC and the ecumenical movement have consistently advocated and worked for a just peace between the peoples of the region, based on international law and equal human rights. We believe that the two state solution is the most viable means of ensuring peaceful co-existence in the region.
  5. The WCC central committee, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 15-21 June 2018:

Urges the State of Israel to cease all military – especially live-fire – responses to non-violent unarmed civilian demonstrations;

Affirms the international community’s decision to condemn the disproportionate use of armed force against unarmed civilians as a clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights law;1

Calls for an international inquiry into the events in Gaza, and for those responsible for crimes under international law to be held accountable;

Appeals for the longstanding blockade of Gaza to be lifted, in order to ameliorate the desperate conditions under which the people of Gaza have been forced to live for years;

Calls on the US Administration to reverse its position regarding the status of Jerusalem;

Urges the State of Israel to stop the construction or expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, and to desist from formal and informal confiscation of land belonging to churches and to Palestinian families and organizations;

Urges the members of the international community to exert their maximum efforts to promote renewed negotiations among Israelis and Palestinians for a genuine, just and sustainable peace;

Implores all actors in the region to refrain from violence, from incitement to violence, from exposing children to violence and confrontation, from oppression, occupation and injustice, and to invest instead in dialogue and negotiations as the only path to a just and sustainable peace for all people in the region;

Urges WCC member churches to support the heads of churches in Jerusalem in their efforts to preserve the Christian presence in the City of Jerusalem and the region, to safeguard the holy sites and church properties and the Status Quo, and for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation for peace.

1 – http://undocs.org/A/ES-10/L.23

Christian Presence in the Middle East
WCC Central Committee – Geneva (Switzerland)

  1. The central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in Geneva from 15-21 June 2018 reiterates its grave concern regarding the alarming and rapidly deteriorating situation of Christians in the Middle East.
  2. The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity, from the Holy Land to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Cyprus where the apostles of Christ proclaimed the Good News to the world. Since the time of Jesus Christ Christians have lived in the Middle East and their significance cannot be reduced to mere minorities. The contribution of Christians to civilization, society and culture in the Middle East exceeds by far any effort of quantification. However, conflict, violence, discrimination, demolition of churches and forced displacement put the presence and witness of Christianity in the region of its birth at great risk. We hold all the churches of the region – especially those in Israel and Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus – in our hearts and prayers as they confront the crisis facing their future presence and witness in the region.
  3. The military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is not enough to secure a safe and sustainable return of Christians to their homes. Although the main physical centres of this extremist group have been destroyed, this does not mean that their ideology is defeated. After ensuring the safe return of the displaced people, and the reconstruction of their homes, communities and places of worship, the next challenge is to confront the drivers of radicalization and extremism through education for peace, human rights and respect for diversity, through strengthening the existing dialogue and mutual acceptance between Christians and Muslims, through cooperation in addressing the common challenges to social cohesion in the region, through equal citizenship rights, and through freedom from occupation and foreign interference.
  4. In Iraq, the presence of Christians is drastically diminished. Identifying opportunities and addressing challenges for social cohesion in Iraq remain a priority in order for members of the remaining Christian community displaced from the Nineveh Plain to return and to envisage a sustainable future in their homeland. The central committee calls for the religious, governmental and political leaders of Iraq to lay the basis for common actions, to promote a shared narrative for peace and reconciliation in the country, and to work together for equal human rights and citizenship, peace, justice and democracy in the country. The WCC calls for continuing dialogue among the different sectors of Iraqi society to be accompanied by governmental action to reform the educational curriculum and for equality of citizenship and rights among all Iraqis so that not only physical security is provided but also legal, economic and social security to assure the sustainable return of displaced people and communities.
  5. In Syria, the tragically continuing conflict negates the human dignity and rights of all Syrians. This conflict must end. All those involved in perpetuating it must stop. The people of Syria need peace, and liberation from the geopolitical competition and confrontation that has destroyed their country. With peace and the reconstruction of their country, Syrians need and deserve democracy, equal citizenship, and respect for their human rights. Efforts for healing and reconciliation can still provide a basis for peaceful multi-religious and multicultural communities in Syria, in which Christians can continue to contribute as an essential component of society. The central committee stands in solidarity with all the suffering people of Syria and pray that progress towards realization of their aspirations for peace, freedom and human dignity and rights will be achieved through putting an end to this tragic war and engaging in the political process led by the UN in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
  6. The central committee recalls with heavy hearts the abduction five years ago of the archbishops of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi. We continue to pray for their safe return to their churches, their communities and their families, as a sign of hope for all the Christians of Syria and the region.
  7. The central committee is also deeply concerned about the situation of the churches and people of Cyprus, still suffering from the division of their island by occupation, and with recent hopes for peace together as one island nation still unfulfilled. We call for an end to the occupation, and for the restoration of Cyprus as one nation for two communities. We call for the resumption of negotiations towards this objective, and for the preservation of the religious and cultural heritage of Christian community of the island. We commend and encourage the work of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Process in their inter-religious dialogue and cooperation for peace.
  8. The central committee affirms that a new social pact is needed throughout the Middle East region – a common narrative that is developed and shared by all communities of the countries of the region based on an inclusive understanding of citizenship and human rights, constitutionally guaranteed, and under which all churches and faith communities, with their diverse ethnic, religious and cultural identities, can live and prosper in the love and grace given to all by God.
  9. The central committee requests the general secretary to undertake further reflection on the diverse situations of the countries of the region, in particular as they impact upon the Christian communities and presence in those countries, and to present the results of this reflection to the WCC executive committee at its meeting in November 2018.