The World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee called on the Israeli government to freeze and begin to dismantle settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. It also encouraged a commitment to non-violence and peace negotiations, and reiterated the need for an international boycott of products and services from settlements.

In a public “Statement on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” passed today in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of its 26 August – 2 September meeting, the WCC central committee called “upon the government of Israel to urgently implement an open-ended freeze in good-faith on all settlement construction and expansion as a first step towards the dismantlement of all settlements”.

The committee considered some 200 settlements with more than 450,000 settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories to be “illegal, unjust, incompatible with peace and antithetical to the legitimate interests of the state of Israel”.

Even as “Israel’s own right to exist in security evokes sympathy and solidarity around the world”, the committee states, “its policies of expansion and annexation generate dismay or hostility”. For the committee there is a clear distinction to be made “between the legitimate interests of the state of Israel and its illegal settlements”.

The central committee reiterated its call to WCC member churches “to accompany and encourage the commitment to non-violence and active engagement in peace negotiations”. It also invited “member churches and faithful to give moral and practical support to non-violent acts of resistance to the confiscation of land, the destruction of Palestinian properties and the eviction of people from their homes and lands”.

The statement “reiterates the need for an international boycott of settlement products and services”. WCC member churches “must not be complicit in illegal activities on occupied territory” and therefore should “practice morally responsible investment in order to influence businesses linked to the Israeli occupation and its illegal settlements”, the statement says.

The illegal settlements “and their corresponding infrastructure including the separation wall” have dire consequences on the life and dignity of Palestinian people, the WCC statement says.

Settlements deny Palestinians access to “land and water resources”, “restrict their freedom of movement, diminish their basic human dignity and, in many cases, their right to life”, impede their “right to education and access to health care”, and “destroy the Palestinian economy”. In these ways they increase “the sense of dispossession and despair”.

In addition to that, “illegal settlements in and around Jerusalem endanger the future of the holy city”, which “should be open to all and shared by the two peoples and the three religions”.

The WCC central committee calls on member churches to “pray for and assist people who are suffering” as a result of settlement activity and “hear the call of the churches of Jerusalem for concrete actions by the international ecumenical community toward a just peace for both Palestinians and Israelis”.