Churches Express Solidarity with Palestinians

JERUSALEM,  April 3, 2001--As warning shots were fired from a nearby army
post, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt. Rev. Michael Langrish, was one of four
representatives of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) who last
week stood among uprooted, ancient olive trees and destroyed homes and
factories from which the Palestinian owners had been evicted.

The group watched as a bulldozer destroyed fields of crop as part of measures
to clear the area 500 metres on both sides of a road commandeered for the use
of a small number of settler families near the Netzarim crossing.

Bishop Langrish said, "Here we were brought face to face with the daily
suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

The group of twelve included representatives of the Orthodox and Roman
Catholic churches, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the
Church of Scotland, Past Presidents of the Congregational Federation
and Baptist Union and the Deputy General Secretary of the United
Reformed Church.

This is the first high-level visit to the Middle East for twenty years, said
Mr. Paul Renshaw, CTBI Coordinating Secretary for International Affairs. He
added that, though the visit had been a long time in the planning stage in
consultation with the Middle East Council of Churches, it was especially
timely in view of the death of the Middle East Peace Process initiated in
Oslo in 1993.

By working as a whole group, but at times splitting into smaller units, the
delegation was able to visit, in an intensive two-week programme,  Egypt,
Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel-Palestine. Within the latter, work was done
in Jerusalem, Gaza, Galilee and the West Bank.

It had been hoped to send a small group to Iraq but this had to be
cancelled at the last minute when visas, though approved, were not

Ms. Gillian Kingston, Methodist Church in Ireland (Moderator of the
CTBI Church Representatives' Meeting), said the visit had included
conversations with a very wide range of people from government
ministers to Hizbollah activists, from Muslim Grand Muftis and
Patriarchs of the ancient churches of the Middle East to refugees in
Beirut and Amman and development workers among the urban poor in

"We walked through the squalor of refugee camps and sat in the
elegance of bishops' palaces."  She added, however, that there were
voices which the delegation had not heard and the delegation made no
claim to understand fully the life of the region or offer solutions to
its serious and urgent problems.

"We pray for the peace of Jerusalem" said Gillian Kingston, "and the
future of Jerusalem as an open city for two peoples and three faiths
is a key issue.  However, our prayers now go much wider than Jerusalem:
to Damascus and Beirut, to Cairo and Beni Suef, to Gaza and Galilee,
Bethlehem and Hebron.  Our prayers need to be matched by the most
creative thinking and compassionate acting.  We cannot see the Middle
East as someone else's problem."

Both she and Paul Renshaw emphasised that the group felt compelled by
its experiences, and a deep sense of solidarity with the region and
its people, to note down some immediate reflections on what it had
heard and seen,  particularly with reference to Israel-Palestine.

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Ecumenical Visit to the Middle East

Preliminary reflections

1)    The Intifada began among deprived Palestinians in despair at the
failure of the seven-year "Oslo Peace Process" to deliver either peace
or prospects of prosperity.  The weight of the Israeli response has
subsequently created a situation of indescribable suffering among
Palestinians within the Occupied Territories and deep anxiety and
uncertainty throughout the Middle East, which is in danger of fanning
the flames of extremism.

2)    Violence, whether from stick or stone, or lethally from tank and
helicopter-gunship, has not and will not solve the Palestine-Israel
crisis; nor will simplistic calls from the Israeli Government to
Yasser Arafat to "stop the violence".

3)    The Israeli claim to have acted with restraint in response to the
Intifada does not bear examination.  A senior Israeli Government
official told the delegation that "if there is one building standing
in Beit Jala after they fired at Jerusalem, it means that we have not
responded at all…if there are more Palestinians dead it is because we
shoot better."

4)    Given the asymmetries of power between Israel and the Palestinians,
it is incumbent on the Israeli Government not to act with grossly
disproportionate force.

5)    Deep questions of the meaning of "non-racism" and "security" face
Israeli society in the wake of 33 years' illegal occupation which were
summed up by one Palestinian saying, "Everything conspires to tell us
that we don't count.  In the name of security they get away with

6)    The generally accepted "two-state" solution to satisfy competing
claims between Israelis and Palestinians must allow independence to
both states and must also be implemented in a way which recognises the
need for interdependence between the two nations.  The devastation of
Palestinian lives- economically, financially, socially and culturally
- - by repeated "closures" will not provide the trust upon which such a
relationship could develop.

7)    Questions of identity, whether of Arab, Jew, Israeli, Palestinian,
Christian or Muslim, need to be respected within frameworks of
peaceful cooperation and co-existence.

8)    The crucial issue of a "Right to Return" for refugees is one marked
by conflicting perceptions.  From Israelis we heard of the need to
preserve the integrity of the Jewish State.  From Palestinians we heard
of the need to recognise not only a past injustice but a present
right, even though that right may not be capable of being fully

9)    The acute human need resulting from the severe political, economic
and social problems of the last six months in Israel-Palestine
urgently require more international aid from both governments and non
governmental organisations.

10)    In the region which is the cradle of the three great Abrahamic
faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - religion is not itself a
cause of conflict, and in many instances is a source of
reconciliation.  A pluralistically-minded Zionist Jew told the
delegation that "the land does not belong to us -  we belong to the
land - and the same can be said of Christians and Muslims".  The same
speaker also averred that "there can be no peace without truth and

11)    Inter faith contact and dialogue in the Middle East (as also in
Britain and Ireland) must assume ever higher priority in a shrinking

12)    The Palestinian struggle for independence will not cease, partly
because of the strengths within Palestinian civil society which
compensate for some of the failings of the Palestinian Authority.

13)    The concern of the early Christian communities for the church in
Jerusalem needs today to be translated into an active support of the
churches throughout the Middle East.  Churches are fast declining in
numbers because of the intense pressure of violence, injustice and
emigration.   Additionally, they feel invisible to and neglected by
their fellow Christians in the West.

14)    The Churches of the West need to recognize and try to help reverse
the drastic reduction in pilgrimages which, in recent months, has had
catastrophic consequences in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other

15)    The British and American Governments, in particular, need to
re-examine their Middle East policies so as to support the emergence
of solutions to the region's problems that primarily serve the best
interests of the people who live there.  All over the region the cry of
"double standards" is loudly heard, contrasting Western policy on
Israel with that on Iraq and other countries which defy UN

16)    The British Government and people need to recognise their
particular contribution to the history of the region and hence
responsibility for some of its problems.  There is a belief that
Britain, with its European partners, could and should play a stronger
political and economic role so that it be no longer said that Britain
betrayed its Mandate and has since failed to live up to its

-End -

For further information:

Anne van Staveren Press Officer, CTBI,
020 7523 2137 or mobile 07939139 881

Paul Renshaw,CTBI Secretary International Affairs,
020 7523 2112 or 7939 139 879

Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia
P.O.Box 14152  Jerusalem  91141
Tel.  (972 2) 628.2323 / 627.2280
Fax  (972 2) 627.1652
Personal E-mail:
Latin Patriarchate E-mail:
Latin Patriarchate's Homepage:
"Nonviolence Homepage":

1. Churches Together in Britain and Ireland co-ordinates the work of
its 31 member churches and liaises with ecumenical bodies in Britain
and Ireland as well as ecumenical organisations at European and world
levels.  Its work includes Church Life, Church and Society, Mission,
Inter Faith Relations, International Affairs and Racial Justice.  It
provides a forum for joint decision-making and enables the churches to
take action together.