In an Aug. 7 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and 17 other U.S. religious leaders expressed “grave concern about the eviction of 50 Palestinians from their homes.” They also urged the U.S. Department of State to insist on the “immediate reversal of this ill-considered eviction and on the restoration of these houses to their former residents.”

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported that the homes in question were Jewish-owned for more than 80 years, and the courts ordered an eviction because the Palestinian tenants violated the terms of their rental contracts. The Palestinians were removed from their homes Aug. 2 in the Sheikh Jarrah section of East Jerusalem near the 1949 Armistice Line or Green Line.

The religious leaders wrote, “While the legal issues in the case are disputed, it is clear that carrying out this eviction order at this time is provocative.” They also wrote that the order “at this time and in this place” raises significant international political issues.

The religious leaders said the action also diminishes U.S. efforts for advancing talks for a peace agreement. They noted that the action contradicts terms of the Road Map brokered by the U.S. and agreed to by both Israeli and Palestinian representatives. “For these reasons a U.S.

response that is limited to official protests is not sufficient,” the religious leaders wrote.

The Rev. Susan P. Wilder, director for Middle East policy, ELCA Washington Office, said, “As I understand it, the Palestinian families had not been paying rent because they contested the validity of the Israeli landlord’s ownership claim. Their legal battles are part of a larger, ongoing situation in East Jerusalem where Palestinians are pushed out, for example through evictions and home demolitions. These cases would be more appropriately decided in the context of an overall peace agreement that would resolve the status of Jerusalem.”

“The letter to Secretary Clinton comes at a critical time politically, when every new ‘fact on the ground’ — such as the removal of Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem and the repopulation of the neighborhood with Jewish settlers — can complicate the Obama administration’s efforts toward peace,” said Wilder.

“Beyond the politics, it is deeply troubling to think of dozens of people, including children, being made homeless through this eviction,”

she said.