World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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6 August 2001

What would it mean for the world if there were no Christian Palestinians left in the Holy Land?

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-19, of 25 June 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-12, of 17 April 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-06, of 28 March 2001
cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-09, of 16 March 2001

A WCC delegation which visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories 27 June through 1 July is asking this question in a report made public today at an international ecumenical consultation in Geneva. The consultation is attempting to strengthen broad international ecumenical support for a comprehensive peace, based on justice and security for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

The report emphasizes that the delegation was not on a "fact-finding mission". Its mandate was to help develop an international ecumenical response to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by exploring local ecumenical needs, strategies and plans of action. In particular, it reviewed the feasibility of facilitating an ecumenical "witness for peace" programme that might support non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation and provide an international ecumenical presence for protection, monitoring and reporting.

The report notes with alarm that more and more Palestinian Christians - two to three families per week - are emigrating because of the violence and economic crisis. Palestinian Christians make up only about three percent of the population in the Occupied Territories. "The fear that the holy sites of Christianity become museums is a very real one," the report states.

The report suggests that this is a "kairos moment" for the church community in Palestine and world-wide: deep despair resulting from the recent escalation of violence has also deepened the desire of both Palestinians and Israelis for a "just and durable peace". Statements by churches world-wide have been important it notes, but the "time for statements seems to be over".

The report makes several recommendations that will be considered by the over 40 participants at the international ecumenical consultation. Among them is the development of a comprehensive accompaniment and solidarity programme, a cooperative response to the humanitarian crisis, coordinated advocacy and support for international law and particularly United Nations resolutions as the basis for peace negotiations, assistance to local churches, and lifting up "alternative and moderate voices" on both sides of the conflict.

The consultation, being held today and tomorrow at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, has been convened by the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in response to a February 2001 recommendation of its Central Committee.

The consultation brings together leaders from the churches of Jerusalem, representatives of WCC member churches and ecumenical partners from around the world, including the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations (UN). Among those contributing to the consultation will be a member of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, a representative of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the newly-appointed UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, as well as a selected number of partners working on peace initiatives in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The consultation is being co-chaired by the moderator of the WCC Central Committee, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, and the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser.

By providing a space for sharing, consultation and joint planning and strategizing on ecumenical initiatives, the consultation is expected to develop action strategies and facilitate better coordination and cooperation in the future.

The report can be found on this web site

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, 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.