altTwo years after peace talks between Israel and Palestine broke down, Arab Christians are pushing for UN recognition of the PLO.

One hundred Christian leaders in the Holy Land issued an open letter Nov. 14 asking western governments to support the Palestinian people in their struggle for independence and freedom.

The letter from the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation described the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as “a sin against God and humanity because it deprives Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.”

Specifically, the leaders endorsed an initiative by the Palestine Liberation Organization seeking “observer state status” at the United Nations, non-member recognition that would give Palestinians the same status as the Vatican.

“This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region,” the letter said. “We fully endorse this bid, just as we supported Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations a year ago. That is why we call upon European governments to fully endorse the just Palestinian plight for freedom and independence.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas moved ahead recently with the proposal despite objections from President Obama, who supports direct negotiations between the two parties and opposes unilateral action by the U.N.

Last year the Palestinians withdrew a petition for full membership in the U.N. after Obama indicated the U.S. would use its veto to block it.

altSigners of the letter include Alex Awad, pastor of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church and dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College in occupied Jerusalem/Bethlehem. In March the college, founded in 1979 by local Arabs, was host to more than 600 international and local Christians at a conference titled “Christ at the Checkpoint.”

The conference, featuring speakers including Tony Campolo, Lynne Hybels, Shane Claiborne, Joel Hunter and Ron Sider, countered Christian Zionism, a view popular among U.S. evangelicals who believe that God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament apply to the modern state of Israel, and that God will bless or punish other nations based on their support for Israel. Attendees included a contingent of students from Wheaton College and Eastern University.

“We want evangelical Christians to come and see the reality on the ground,” Awad said earlier this year in a Skype interview on the website “It’s easy to be in Alabama or Pennsylvania or Indiana and look at your Bible and speculate about theology or eschatology without knowing what’s going on in the land. We wanted people to come to the land, open their Bible and see the reality of the occupation, of the oppression, of the segregation, of all of these issues that we struggle with on a daily basis, and then ask ourselves the question, ‘What does the Bible say about these things?’”

Awad, a United Methodist missionary, has been pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church, an English-speaking international and interdenominational congregation, since 1994. He is the author of books including Through the Eyes of the Victims: The Story of The Arab-Israeli Conflict and Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and her People.

The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation is a nonprofit formed 14 years ago by an ecumenical group of American Christians to preserve a Christian presence in the Holy Land. The group says most Arab Christians believe they do not have a future in the Middle East without resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and without Palestinian statehood that conflict cannot end.

President Obama brokered direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but those talks broke down over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israel’s demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney pledged support for Israel in their third and final presidential debate Oct. 22.