To members of our church, our communities, and our government,
We are Episcopalians who have just spent two weeks in Palestine/Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. Our 17-person interfaith peace-builders delegation was coordinated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (www.forusa.org), and co-sponsored by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (www.episcopalpeacefellowship.org) and "The Witness" magazine (www.thewitness.org). We have listened to representatives from dozens of Palestinian and Israeli organizations working nonviolently for a just peace in the Middle East, and have heard the stories and opinions of countless individuals whose views on the conflict span the political spectrum.
We arrive in the U.S. deeply sobered by what we have heard and seen.
In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees with no rights -- political or civil -- have entered a second half-century of existence as a forgotten people. Crowded refugee camps, bursting at two to three times their intended capacities, house refugees whose rights to work, own property, and travel are severely restricted, and whose access to education and health care are minimal. We visited and laid flowers at the mass gravesite of those who died in the Shatila massacre of 1982, and heard testimony from survivors. We learned that our U.S. government refuses to permit its diplomats to enter these refugee camps.
In Jordan, we were told that the nation's economic, environmental and political indices have suffered critically over the past two years, and it was stated that the U.S. government has isolated Jordan for not having "secured" its borders with Iraq. An arid region, Jordan has relied on contracts with Israel to obtain its necessary water -- it was stated that Israel has not always honored those agreements.
Our time in Palestine/Israel was deeply troubling. On our first night in the region, the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, Bishop in Jerusalem, detailed the devastating missile attack that had struck St. Philip's Anglican church and Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza just days before our arrival. Estimating the financial loss at $500,000, Bishop Riah declared, "No one who is sane could claim that this was a mistake; it was a huge, guided missile." Calling the U.S. administration hypocritical for targeting Iraq through the UN while failing to address UN resolutions that focus on Israel, the bishop stated a phrase we heard throughout the coming days: "The root of this problem is the occupation."
We walked through empty streets in Hebron -- a city of 150,000 Palestinians where the only humans seen downtown are Israeli soldiers and settlers. We visited Ephrata, an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, where residents told us that Palestinian parents are encouraging their children to be suicide bombers. We stayed overnight in the homes of Palestinian and Israeli Jewish families, ordinary people who yearn for peace and security in this land, many of whom have given up hope of living alongside former neighbors. We met with Israeli Jews who pointed to the militarization of Israeli society, supported by the U.S., as causing the senseless loss of life and vitality in their communities -- such as the father of a suicide bombing victim and a woman who supports young Israelis refusing military service. We listened to doctors and psychologists detail the traumatic effects on young and old alike, and heard concerns expressed that the current state of violence will grow much worse if war begins in Iraq. We met with a representative of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and were told that our government is committed to the creation of a "sovereign and viable" Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. We saw the first stages of the "apartheid wall," a new project to physically divide Israel and the West Bank, which confiscates thousands of acres of land from Palestinian villages each month.
We clearly heard that the U.S. has a critical role to play in the region. So we have committed ourselves to working at home, in our own nation, to press for an end to the stream of money and armaments that fuel the violence in the Middle East. We call on our president and congressional representatives to work more forcefully to help facilitate a just peace in Palestine/Israel, primarily by calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And we invite our fellow church members to join us in this effort by:
calling on the State of Israel to cease its efforts to build and expand
settlements, demolish homes, humiliate Palestinians, put communities under
Closure, and indefinitely detain & assassinate alleged militants
calling on the Palestinian Authority to use its influence to demand an end to suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians
traveling to Palestine/Israel to be a visible witness in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis working nonviolently to end the occupation (especially through organizations like FOR, Sabeel (www.sabeel.org), Christian Peacemaker Teams, and other faith-based groups) -- we were thanked endlessly for being there at this critical time
pressuring and considering the boycott of companies whose products help entrench the military occupation
Finally, amidst great despair, we affirm both our commitment to nonviolence and to standing with Israelis and Palestinians who hope for and work towards the day when they will live side by side in peace and justice.
In peace – Michael Battle, Peter Churchill, Ethan
Flad, Elisha Harig-Blaine, Christopher Pottle, Terry Rogers, Winnie Varghese.
Interfaith supporters of the Episcopal statement and witness include Abdul
Rauf Campos-Marquetti, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Ric Rosow, and other delegates.
(online at www.forusa.org).