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8 August 2001

Consultation on Israeli-Palestinian conflict decides on coordinated ecumenical action

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-26, 0f 6 August 2001

Painfully aware of the urgent need for the churches to move from affirmation to action in solidarity with the Palestinian people at this critical time, 50 participants at an international ecumenical consultation on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have identified seven potential areas for coordinated action as a beginning of a joint process of ecumenical planning and strategizing for a concerted international response.

The 6-7 August 2001 consultation on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva. The moderator of the WCC Central Committee co-chaired the sessions. Building on long-standing WCC attention to the Palestinian question, the consultation's aim was to strengthen broad international ecumenical support for a comprehensive peace, based on justice and security for the Palestinian and Israeli people.

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser noted at the conclusion of the meeting that the exchange of ideas was important in "beginning to identify where the particular dynamics, urge and competence for action lie among us". He drew particular attention to the recommendations contained in a report released on 6 August of an end-June WCC delegation visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), saying that they would also help guide decisions on appropriate action.

Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the preacher at the consultation's opening worship, declared: "Thank God Jesus said 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' He did not say 'Blessed are the peace-talkers.'... Peace, as all of you know, is not the absence of war nor the cessation of hostilities. Peace is that relationship between the so-called enemies, from which all the causes that made for war are no more. Making peace requires greater courage than going to war." Following this injunction, consultation participants declined to draft a concluding communiqué in the form of a public statement. "Action is not another statement, no matter how dramatic," Raiser affirmed. "We need to map out a way for us to actually work together."

The main outcome of the consultation was the decision to form a small consultative group to develop realistic proposals for action with local and international partners in seven areas:

  • coordinating advocacy with governments
  • boycotting goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories
  • strengthening the "chain of solidarity" through prayer vigils
  • resisting the destruction of property and uprooting of people from their homes and land
  • encouraging and enabling the presence of ecumenical monitoring teams
  • improving communication, interpretation and media reporting on the conflict and its causes
  • increasing church, ecumenical, and interreligious delegations to and from Israel and the OPT.

    It was also agreed that, together with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and local churches, the WCC will develop a coordination point for ecumenical action in Jerusalem, and explore the possibility of linking it with an international coordination centre.

    Picking up on a recommendation of the visiting delegation, it was agreed to propose to the WCC Executive Committee meeting 11-14 September that it consider a special focus on "ending the violence of occupation in Palestine" in the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence, and possibly to call for an international conference on the subject. As Jean Zaru of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem noted, "Occupation is violence, and in the Decade to Overcome Violence, we have to expose the structural violence of occupation."

    The specific contribution to peace and reconciliation of churches and religious communities was emphasized throughout the consultation. "Being members and representatives of faith communities entails a commitment to a basic moral, ethical stance, to an integrity of the rights approach... that we hope will rescue the conflict from becoming totally embroiled in a pure power struggle," Raiser noted in his concluding remarks.

    Participants shared news on local and international initiatives being planned or underway related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They also heard from a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Darka Topali, who reported on actions and mechanisms in relation to human rights in Israel and the OPT.

    In addition, Professor John Dugard, chairperson of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission and newly-appointed Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, reviewed his mandate and emphasized the unique legal environment in which human rights violations in the context of military occupation are addressed.

    Professor Richard Falk, a member of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, summarized the findings and recommendations of the Commission. Respect for existing human rights and humanitarian legal norms, he said, needs to be part of and not an outcome of the peace process.

    Consultation participants included moderators and members of the WCC governing and advisory bodies, Jerusalem church leaders, representatives of WCC member churches and ecumenical partners from around the world, and a selected number of partners working on peace initiatives in Israel and the OPT. The permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN office in Geneva also participated in the session. Several Palestinian participants were unable to attend due to travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli government.

    Summing up the value of the meeting, WCC Central Committee member Bishop Aldo Etchegoyen of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina said: "Many people have lost hope in this moment. Many people think peace is impossible. Hope is necessary because this is more than a programme, this is our commitment in favour of life, justice, peace and people."

    Photos are available on Photo Oikumene

    International Ecumenical Consultion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
    Convened by the World Council of Churches

    6-7 August, 2001, Geneva, Switzerland


    Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East
    Mr Erik Ackerman, ICCO, The Netherlands
    Mr Ian Alexander, Church of Scotland
    Monsignor Maroun Al-Laham, Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem
    Mr George Awad, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan
    Rev. Canon Trond Bakkevig, Church of Norway, member of WCC Central Committee
    Ms Clarissa Balan/ Ms Ghada Haddad, World YWCA
    Mr Marwan Bishara, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, member of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
    Ms Judy Blanc, Bat Shalom
    Mr Jaap Breetvelt, Uniting Churches in the Netherlands
    Rev. Mark Brown, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Churches for Middle East Peace USA, member of ecumenical delegation to Israel and the OPT in June
    Very Rev. Emmanuel Clapsis, Ecumenical Patriarchate, member of the Decade to Overcome Violence reference group, member of ecumenical delegation to Israel and the OPT in June
    Rev. Jean Arnold de Clermont, president, French Protestant Federation
    Bishop Aldo M. Etchegoyen, Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina, member of the WCC Central Committee
    Prof. Richard Falk, Princeton University, member of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission
    Mr Uffe Gjerding, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, DanchurchAid, member of ecumenical delegation to Israel and the OPT in June
    Dr Christa Grengel, Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Germany
    Ms Katia Delay Groulx, Swiss Interchurch Aid (EPER)
    Mrs Claudette Habesch, Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees/Middle East Council of Churches
    Mr Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
    Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, United Church of Christ, member of the WCC Central Committee and a member of the ecumenical delegation to Israel and the OPT in June
    Rev. Dr Riad Jarjour, general secretary, Middle East Council of Churches
    Ms Jorunn Kapstad, Norwegian Church Aid
    Mr Adam Keller, Gush Shalom
    Amb. Bethuel Kiplagat, Anglican Church of Kenya, moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
    Fr Paul Lansu, Pax Christi International
    Dr Victor Makari, Presbyterian Church, USA
    Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN Office in Geneva
    Rev. Dr Maake Masango, University of Pretoria, South Africa; member of the WCC Executive and Central Committees and a member of the ecumenical delegation to Israel and the OPT in June
    Ms Sumaya Naser, Birzeit University
    Mrs Fadwa Abla Nasir, general secretary, YWCA Palestine Mr Daniel Ntoni-Nzinga, Inter-Ecclesial Committee for Peace in Angola
    Dr Judo Poerwowidagado, rector, Krida Wacana Christian University, Indonesia
    Mr Peter Prove, Lutheran World Federation
    Dr Audeh Quawas, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, member of the WCC Central Committee
    Mr Goran Rask, Church of Sweden Aid/Mission
    Fr George Tsetsis, Ecumenical Patriarchate, member of the WCC Executive and Central Committees
    Ms Sue Turrell, Christian Aid
    Mr Rob van Drimmelen, general secretary, APRODEV (Association of WCC-related development organizations in Europe)
    Mr David Weaver, Church World Service/National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
    Mr Peter Weiderud, Church of Sweden, member of ecumenical delegation to Israel and the OPT in June
    Mr David Wildman, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church
    Ms Glenda Wildschut, Anglican Church, South Africa; member of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
    Ms Jean Zaru, presiding clerk, Society of Friends; Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, Jerusalem

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    The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.