[ACNS] The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has written to church leaders in Israel and Palestine to “express the concern and solidarity of the global ecumenical fellowship” in light of increasing violence in and around Jerusalem.
In recent days, there have been deaths on both sides as Israeli security forces respond to attacks by Palestinians – the UK’s Guardian newspaper puts the total number of dead at 51.
The latest victim was a 50-year-old Israeli who was killed when he was hit by a car during a stone-throwing incident near Hebron. Earlier, an Israeli soldier was stabbed by a Palestinian man near Hebron. The attacker was shot dead.
“We are following with increasing dismay events throughout the region and especially in the Holy City of Jerusalem, which we hold in our hearts and prayers as an open city of two peoples (Israelis and Palestinians) and three faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam),” the WCC General Secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said in his letter.
“We continue to work and pray for a just peace for both Palestinians and Israelis, promoting respect for the status quo of the holy sites of Jerusalem as an important contribution to reducing current tensions.
“As Christians, we must all seek an end to violence against any of God’s children, just as we seek an end to occupation and the injustices that present such formidable obstacles to peace in Israel/Palestine. Violent attacks are an unacceptable and counter-productive means of seeking justice. Proportional security measures and the rule of law are the appropriate instruments for responding to such attacks, not extra-judicial killings.”
In his letter, he commended “the witness of our Christian sisters and brothers in Palestine and Israel” and said that “the WCC stands firmly with Christians in the Holy Land in our conviction that the illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories must be brought to an end – not as a pre-condition for an end to violence, but as an essential foundation for any long-term, sustainable and just peace in the region.
“We lament the abject failure to provide any real political horizon for the realization of Palestinian national aspirations and for the implementation of the widely-affirmed two-state solution.
“The international community has stood by as successive restrictions, impositions, acquisitions, settlements and prevarications by the government of Israel have forced the prospect of a viable two-state solution to vanishing point. We lament the obvious lack of effective focus and commitment, either in Israeli domestic politics or in the international community, for addressing the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Palestinian people.
“Though frustration and disillusionment are consequently at a critical level within the Palestinian community, I appeal for political and religious leadership for the reduction of violence. And I affirm and commend Palestinian Christians in their commitment to nonviolent resistance, as they participate in the struggle for justice and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“I am calling on our global fellowship to strengthen Christians in the Holy Land as they seek justice, dignity and peace for all communities. The Christian voice is more essential now than ever, to help counter the increased risk of portraying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in religious rather than political terms.
“While some may gain strategic advantage from framing the issue in this way, we know it to be a terrible threat to the future of the Middle East, the Holy Land, and its many diverse communities. I call on all political and religious leaders to resist instrumentalizing holy sites in the political struggle between the Palestinian people and the Israeli occupation.”
Much of the current violence stems from rumours that Israel intends to change the “status quo” agreement over the Temple Mount site. The disputed land is the holiest site in Judaism, being the location of the two former Temples; and the third-holiest site in Islam, containing the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Under the Status Quo agreement, the King of Jordan acts as custodian of the site which is administered by the Waqf – as Islamic religious authority. Christians and Jews are allowed to visit the site but are prohibited from praying in the compound.
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has sought to assuage Muslim concerns, describing the rumours as “a huge lie” and saying that Israel “has not and will not change the Status Quo.”
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is making an emergency visit to the area and will meet Israeli PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday night ahead of talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday.
The international diplomatic efforts to ease the tensions will continue later this week when the US Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Germany to meet Netanyahu in Berlin on Thursday; ahead of a meeting with Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Saturday.