With the responsible powers and authorities providing little prospect of a viable future for both Israelis and Palestinians, with concern rising around the world at the recent course of events in the conflict, and with various peace plans and numerous UN resolutions languishing unimplemented, the World Council of Churches Executive Committee, meeting in Geneva, 16-19 May, 2006, comes to a sober conclusion: Peace must come soon or it may not come to either people for a long time.
Failure to comply with international law and consequences thereof has pushed the situation on the ground up to a point of no return. The disparities are appalling. One side is positioning itself to unilaterally establish final borders on territory that belongs to the other side; the other side is increasingly confined to the scattered enclaves that remain. On one side there is control of more and more land and water; on the other there are more and more families deprived of land and livelihoods. On one side as many people as possible are being housed on occupied land; on the other side the toll mounts of refugees without homes or land. One side controls Jerusalem, a city shared by two peoples and three world religions; the other – Muslim and Christian – watches its demographic, commercial and religious presence wither in Jerusalem. From both sides, military forces or armed groups strike across the 1967 borders and kill innocent civilians. On both sides, authorities countenance such attacks.
Finally, the side set to keep its unlawful gains is garnering support from part of the international community. The side that, despairing at those unlawful gains, used legitimate elections to choose new leaders is being isolated and punished.
All parties to the conflict and the foreign powers implicated in it now face a world dangerously divided over this conflict, a world increasingly convinced that the goal of peace for all has been traded away for gains by one side.
At this critical juncture the contribution of churches can be to speak from the perspective of ethics. The actions noted above and others like them cannot be justified morally, legally or even politically.
Late in the long civil rights struggle in the U.S., Dr. Martin Luther King wrote:
“[T]ime can be used destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. … We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” [‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ 1965]
The same hard diagnosis applies to the struggle for a just and durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Impunity toward international law, the United Nations Charter, resolutions of the UN Security Council and rulings of the International Court of Justice has long characterized actions on the ground. Now the same phenomenon is apparent in international policies toward the conflict as well. Legal norms that bear so heavily on this conflict—territorial integrity, the peaceful resolution of conflict, the right to self-determination and the right to self-defence, among others—are being more widely ignored.
Calls for the application of these norms anchor six decades of church policy toward the conflict, including WCC Statements on ‘The Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel’s Annexation of Palestinian Territory’ (2004), ‘The Ecumenical Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’ (2002 and 2001), ‘Jerusalem Final Status Negotiations’ (2000), ‘The Status of Jerusalem’(1998), ‘The Middle East’ (1993, 1983, 1974, 1969, 1968 and 1967), ‘Jerusalem’ (1980, 1975 and 1974), and ‘The Emergence of Israel as a State’ (1948). One theme stands out: ‘What we desire is equal justice for both Palestinian people and Jewish people in the Middle East.’ (WCC Executive Committee, Bad Saarow, GDR, 1974), but international law has not been conclusively applied for the collective good.
Most recently, the WCC has requested the Middle East ‘Quartet’ to give the new Palestine authorities time to develop and demonstrate their policies. The WCC also called Quartet members – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – to exercise even-handedness when dealing with the conflict and be the determined and objective third party needed to bring Israeli and Palestinian authorities into equitable negotiations.
Respect for existing agreements is required of both sides. Democracy must be protected where it is taking root. The use of violence pre-empts normal bilateral relations for Israeli as well as Palestinian authorities.
Ending double standards is a prerequisite for peace. The current impasse must be broken. All parties must see the necessity and human benefit in re-aligning current political decisions with long-standing legal commitments and undeniable moral obligations. The precious, life-saving opportunity is now.
The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, 16-19 May 2006:
- Urges the international community to establish contact and engage with all the legitimately elected leaders of the Palestinian people for the resolution of differences, and not to isolate them or cause additional suffering among their people;
- Strongly supports, and calls the international community to support, two-way and equitable negotiations as the path to mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine and to the resolution of other contentious and substantive obstacles to peace as noted in the succession of United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.
- Recommends that, in the interests of equitable treatment and as a new foundation for peace, both parties to the conflict be held to one and the same standard for ending violence, meeting their existing agreements and recognizing each other’s existence including the 1967 borders.
- Insists that all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention (including Israel, the U.S., States of the European Union, Russia, and the repository state, Switzerland) ensure the well-being of the occupied population. Urgent actions include ending the punitive measures imposed on the Palestinian people in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and its prohibition of collective punishment – including the tax, aid and travel restrictions imposed after their recent democratic elections – and requiring the occupying power to fulfil its responsibilities for the well-being of the population in all areas it controls, including the Gaza Strip.
- Reminds the United Nations and its member states of UN responsibility to make Jerusalem an open and inclusive city for the two peoples and three religions, shared in terms of sovereignty and citizenship.
- Encourages the government of Israel to base its security on peace with all its neighbours, including the equitable negotiation of final borders with those neighbours and excluding the unilateral imposition of borders on those neighbours.
- Encourages the Palestinian Authority to include parties across the political spectrum in the processes of democracy and of non-violent conflict resolution, to protect the democratic rights of its people from external pressures as legitimate rights under international law, to maintain the existing one-party cease-fire toward Israel and extend it to cover all parties, and to demonstrate that all forms of violence and attacks across the 1967 borders between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories against innocent civilians on either side must stop.
- Calls member churches and the WCC to share solidarity with people on both sides of the conflict as a witness for peace:
- Advocate for the measures indicated above, reflecting world-wide church concern at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the implications of the conflict in different regions, and the ever more urgent need for remedial actions by the responsible authorities; use legitimate forms of pressure to promote a just peace and to end unlawful activities by Israelis or Palestinians.
- Find constructive ways to address threats experienced among the Jewish people, including the nature, prevalence and impact of racism in local, national and international contexts.
- Heed calls for help from the churches of Jerusalem at this time of trial, assist them in their service to society and support church aid work with people in need; seek help from churches in the Middle East to educate churches elsewhere about the conflict, the region and the path to peace; pray for peace.
- Send church members to Israel and Palestine as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel until the occupation ends.
- Engage in dialogue with churches that link current events in the Middle East with certain Biblical prophecies. Such dialogue would include concrete and legitimate political perspectives on justice, the impact of such linkages on the presence and witness of the Christian churches of the region, and discussions about the nature of Christian witness for peace in the Middle East.
- Work to enhance the security of all people in the region, in accordance with the WCC Ninth Assembly Minute, by urging relevant governments to support the establishment in the Middle East of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone to include Israel and Iran.