Statement on the Middle East (WCC 1967)
WCC Central Committee | Heraklion, Crete (Greece)

The Central Committee upon the recommendation of Reference Committee II ADOPTED the following statement:

The deep conflict which for over twenty years had divided the Middle East and troubled the whole world and which this year has broken out in new and bitter fighting, must be of profound concern to all Christians. The countries involved in it have been the birthplace of some of the earliest developed human civilisations and of three of the world’s greatest religions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

The present crisis has developed in part because the rest of the world has been insensitive to the fears of people in the Middle East; the fears of the people of the Arab nations because of the dynamism and possible expansion of Israel, and the fears of the people of Israel who have escaped from persecution on other continents only to be threatened, at least by word, with expulsion from their new home.

We recognise the urgency of seeking creative solutions to this problem lest the acceptance of a cease-fire without a just political settlement result in a fait accompli which can only increase antagonism and encourage preparation for the next attempt at a solution by armed force.

Since the beginning of the present crisis the World Council of Churches has called for a peaceful and just solution. After the outbreak of war, it urged a speedy cessation of hostilities and insisted that both the peoples directly involved in the conflict and the great powers were responsible for the establishment of a just and durable peace.

We believe there are strong spiritual and moral forces that exist below the surface and can be released to end the cycle of enmity and suspicion. The situation now emphasises the necessity and presents an opportunity to move towards a brighter future for all people concerned. We do not consider it our task to enter into all the details of a political settlement. We do hold, however, that the following elements are essential to any peace founded upon justice and recognition of the equality of all peoples in the region.

  1. No nation should be allowed to keep or annexe the territory of another by armed force. This applies to the present situation. National boundaries should rest upon international agreements freely reached between or accepted by the people directly concerned.
  1. Effective international guarantees should be given for the political independence and territorial integrity of all nations in the area, including both Israel and the Arab nations.
  1. There can be neither reconciliation nor significant development in the area unless, in the general settlement, a proper and permanent solution is found to the problem of Arab refugees, both old and new. We therefore urge:

3.1 That all persons who have been displace in recent months should be permitted to exercise their right to return to their former places of residence. In the case of those from the West Bank of Jordan this will involve action:

3.1.1 To extend substantially the period for application to return, and

3.1.2 To provide a form of application that carries no political implications

We are glad to learn that on both these points some progress has been made.

3.2 That the United Nations should be increasingly involved in the short and long-term aspects of the problem of all displaced persons. The expanding services of UNRWA are essential and urgently need the generous support of all governments. The World Council of Churches should continue in its search for a satisfactory solution to the whole refugee problem. The current operations of the churches and the Near East Council of Churches should be reinforced.

  1. In the meantime until a just and peaceful settlement is reached, we are particularly concerned about the religious aspect of the situation. In a region where communities of three religions met and lived together for long centuries, full religious freedom must be assured to all persons and communities. The continued presence and witness of these faiths and their respective communities must be guaranteed by international agreement including free access to the holy places in a land of unique importance for every one of them.
  1. While the needs of national security in each case must be adequately met, a new armament race must be avoided by the agreed limitation of national armaments to the lowest level consistent with a balanced security in the area.
  1. The great powers have played a role in shaping the political and economic structure of the Middle East. For this reason and because peace in this most sensitive and central area affects the peace of the world, these nations must be prepared to cooperate with leadership in the Middle East, in the stabilisation of the region and refrain from selfishly pursuing their own political, economic and commercial interests.
  1. The legitimate hopes of all the people of the Middle East for development should be encouraged based upon the talents and resources of all the nations involved. This assumes international and financial support by all possible sources including the commitment already made by the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies.