The World Council of Churches has taken steps in support of Palestinian Christian families, which are emigrating from the Holy Land at the rate of two or three a week under threat of ongoing violence and economic pressure.
(Palestinian Christians make up about 3 per cent of the population in Israel’s occupied territories, and there is fear that the holy sites of Christianity will become nothing more than museums if numbers dwindle further.)
In mid-August, churches in Jerusalem held a week of prayers dedicated to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As part of strategy for a concerted international response, 50 international participants to a special meeting in Geneva drew up seven areas of focus aimed at a comprehensive peace based on justice and security for the Palestinian and Israeli people.
A small consultative group will develop proposals for action with local and international partners in coordinating advocacy with government, boycotting goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and strengthening the “chain of solidarity” through prayer vigils.
As well, the group will look at resisting the destruction of property and uprooting of people, ecumenical monitoring teams, and increasing church and ecumenical delegations to Israel and the occupied territories.
Participants included moderators and members of the WCC governing and advisory bodies, Jerusalem church leaders, representatives of the WCC member churches and ecumenical partners from around the world, and partners working on peace initiatives in Israel and the territories.
Summing up the value of the meeting, WCC Central Committee member Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina said that many have lost hope and think peace is impossible. “Hope is necessary because this is more than a program, this is our commitment in favor of life, justice, peace and people.”
A week later churches in Jerusalem mounted a one-week prayer vigil in the face of rising violence in the region. Warning that “hatred and a desire for revenge is rampant on both sides – Israeli and Palestinian,” the church elders issued an appeal to all Christians in the land to intensify prayers for peace, “with justice and reconciliation.”
The elders said that many families are now homeless. They noted that Israeli blockades in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have turned towns and cities into detention camps, causing rising unemployment and hunger.