Nine synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) expressed concern about new Israeli military orders regarding the “prevention of infiltration” in the West Bank in an April 30 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The bishops asked that the U.S. government exert its influence to ensure that “the orders in question are immediately frozen and ultimately rescinded,” they wrote in their letter to Clinton.
The bishops, members of the ELCA Conference of Bishops’ Middle East caucus, said the new Israeli orders “would seem to work against prospects for peace.”   The orders, which became effective April 13, broaden the definition of infiltrator in a way that could put thousands of Palestinians whose homes are in the West Bank at risk for deportation, the bishops wrote. The bishops also wrote that foreign nationals working, volunteering or visiting the West Bank could be affected by the new orders.
“While the previous orders from 1969 were focused on persons entering the West Bank unlawfully from Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon, the new orders appear to redefine ‘infiltrator’ as anyone present in the West Bank without an Israeli permit.  It is unclear what sort of permit is needed, and this vagueness is of great concern.  The lack of clarity leaves room for both arbitrary and sweeping implementation,” the bishops wrote to Clinton.
The ELCA bishops wrote that, regardless of how the orders are carried out, “they are likely to have the immediate effect of increasing insecurity among West Bank residents.”  Many may fear that regular travel for work, education, medical care or visits to relatives could result in their being detained by the Israeli military, beyond “existing onerous restrictions on movement and access,” the bishops wrote.
The bishops said they recognize Israel’s need to provide for its own security, but they said that it’s unclear how the orders contribute to that goal.  “The orders do, however, have the potential to further disrupt normal life for thousands of West Bank residents, and in this regard we are concerned that their implementation could be an additional violation of international law, including the fourth Geneva Convention, which requires Israel, as the occupying power, to safeguard the welfare of those living under occupation,” the bishops wrote in their letter to Clinton.
The bishops also pointed out that the ELCA has a long history of ministry in the region, working in partnership with Palestinian Christians, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and others within the interfaith community.  Most members of the ELCA Conference of Bishops visited the Middle East, including Israel and the West Bank, during one of two conference trips there in 2009.
“We are devoted to seeking a just peace for all people in the land.  It is out of these relationships and commitments that our current concern arises,” the bishops wrote.
Bishops who signed the letter were:
+ The Rev. Bruce H. Burnside, ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, Madison, and caucus chair
+ The Rev. Murray D. Finck, ELCA Pacifica Synod, Santa Ana, Calif.
+ The Rev. Gerald L. Mansholt, ELCA Central States Synod, Kansas City, Kan.
+ The Rev. Dean W. Nelson, ELCA Southwest California Synod, Glendale The
+ Rev. Margaret G. Payne, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass.
+ The Rev. Duane C. Pederson, ELCA Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, Chetek
+ The Rev. Floyd M. Schoenhals, ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod, Tulsa, Okla.
+ The Rev. Harold L. Usgaard, ELCA Southeastern Minnesota Synod,
+ Rochester The Rev. David B. Zellmer, ELCA South Dakota Synod, Sioux Falls
Read the complete letter here.