The Middle East Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly released its report “with recommendations that focused on Israel/Palestine within the complex context of the Middle East.” The document addressed to Presbyterians and the U.S. government is “an invitation to a respectful and frank conversation addressed to other Christians, to Jews, and to Muslims both here and abroad, and to persons of every nation who seriously seek peace.”
It declares “we deeply value our relationships with Jews and Muslims… yet the bonds of friendship must neither prevent us from speaking nor limit our empathy for the suffering of others.” It affirms the legitimacy of Israel as a state, but consider[s] the continuing occupation of Palestine to be illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region.” It expresses “alarm and dismay: both over the increasingly rapid exodus of Christians from Israel/Palestine caused by anti-Palestinian discrimination and oppression, the growth of Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism…” diminishing the Christian presence in the Middle East.
The document affirms the human rights and moral principles as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It calls for prohibition of specific violations of the rules of warfare, assassination of political opponents, collective punishment, and abusive detention policies. It recognizes the moral principle that all refugees have an individual right to return or to adjudicate their loss.
It affirms the declarations of previous Presbyterian General Assemblies calling for an immediate cessation of all violence on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and diversion of water resources, a freeze of Israeli settlement expansions on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and an immediate resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution.
It urges “the US government to exercise strategically its international influence including the possible withholding of military aid as a means of bringing Israel to compliance with international law and peace making efforts.” It calls for withholding US government aid to the state of Israel as long it persists in the creation of new West Bank settlements and on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.
It supports “the establishment of an international council for Jerusalem to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of all Jerusalemites, including fair allocation of housing and family unification permits, free movement of religious workers of all faiths…” It encourages participation of Palestinian and Israeli religious leaders to participate in the peace process.
Importantly, it calls “for Bethlehem to be a free and open city accessible to all people.”
The document calls “on the Israeli government to end immediately its blockade of Gaza and on the US government to end any support it is giving to the blockage…and the Egyptian government to facilitate the passage of humanitarian supplies into Gaza…” It urges “the main Palestinian political parties (Fatah and Hamas) to set aside their differences…to work for peace with each other and with their neighbor Israel.”
Among the actions the document recommends for witness of the Presbyterian Church is the creation of a Monitoring Group on the Middle East. It urges a high-level joint delegation of Presbyterians to visit Israel/Palestine and encourages that Presbyterians travel to the Holy Land to worship with fellow Christians and support their enterprises. It strongly endorses the Kairos Palestine (A Moment of Truth”) document released earlier by the churches in the Middle East and urges its wide dissemination and study.
It commends “as a model to all nations in the region the joint efforts of Bethlehem, Syracuse and Tel Aviv universities to examine current Israeli and Palestinian government textbooks for existing biases… encourages same examination to textbooks used in private religious schools.”
For the entire report of the Middle East Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA), including its recommendations, please visit www.pcusa.org/middleeastpeace.