HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> Overview of ELCA Concerns related to U.S. Policy and Israeli - Palestinian Relations

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U.S. POLICY and

ISRAELI – PALESTINIAN RELATIONS

An Overview of ELCA Concerns


What follows is an overview of concerns of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with references to various actions taken by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Church Council, and the Office of the Bishop and to resources available through the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Washington, D.C.  Readers are encouraged to study the full texts of the many actions, statements and letters quoted or referred to in this overview.

The ELCA participates in a number of ecumenical and interreligious organizations, including the Lutheran World Federation, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Churches for Middle East Peace, Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means, the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, and the World Council of Churches. This overview does not attempt to make reference to the statements, letters and other actions related to the Middle East of these partner organizations or of partners in the region such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan or the Middle East Council of Churches.


Statement of Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson on Developments Regarding the Middle East (June 27, 2002)

Land for Peace: ELCA Support for Two States

The ELCA is clear about supporting a peace agreement in the Middle East that guarantees Israel’s right to exist and the establishment of a Palestinian state. See especially the 1989 and 1993 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolutions on the Middle East and the 1996 resolution of the ELCA Church Council.

In 1989, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly expressed renewed hope because of Mr. Arafat’s renunciation of the use of terrorism and his acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Resolution 242 states that Israeli forces must "withdraw from territories" occupied as a result of the 1967 war and that all parties must show "...respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." Resolution 338 called for a cease-fire, the implementation of 242, and the initiation of negotiations. Article I ("Aims of the Negotiations") of the accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, signed on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, states that a permanent settlement shall be based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. (The full text of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 can be found on page 40 of the 1987 ALC/LCA resource, "Two Peoples...The Same Land.")

In October 2001, Bishop Anderson wrote to President Bush saying, "The ELCA has long held that the land for peace formula, as outlined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, and the implication of two states, is the best solution to this tragic conflict. The viability of a new state of Palestine is essential and will require a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity, including natural growth of existing settlements, as recommended by the Mitchell commission."

On May 20, 2001, the "Mitchell Report," officially the Report of the Sharm el_Sheikh Fact_Finding Committee, was published. This report is the result of the October 2000 summit convened by former President Clinton in response to the outbreak of violence following Ariel Sharon's provocative visit on September 28, 2000, to the Al Aqsa compound. Former Senators George Mitchell and Warren Rudman were joined by the former Turkish President, the Norwegian Foreign Minister and the European Union's foreign policy chief.


U.S. Aid to the Middle East

The 1991 ELCA Churchwide Assembly requested "that the bishop of this church write the President of the U.S.A. and encourage members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to write to the President, their senators, and their members of Congress, asking them . . . "to relate U.S. foreign assistance to the willingness of those nations to negotiate with one another in good faith and to adhere to international law and human rights conventions; and to oppose further housing loan guarantees to Israel unless and until the construction and expansion of settlements in the occupied territories is stopped."

Similarly, the ELCA social statement on peace, "For Peace in God’s World," adopted by the Churchwide Assembly in 1995, affirmed that the U.S. should revitalize its aid program to people in poorer nations, supported continued and increased development assistance by the U.S., and called for the gradual realignment of U.S. aid toward more development assistance and a proportional reduction in subsidies to purchase weapons. According to the peace statement, "Aid should be provided in ways that promote human rights and build self-reliant individuals, communities, and nations. . . . Aid also should require accountability on the part of recipient governments."

The U.S. Christian Ecumenical Delegation to the Middle East, which included former ELCA presiding bishop Herbert Chilstrom and synodical bishops Margaret Payne and Theodore Schneider, released a statement on December 12, 2000, calling on the United States to "make all necessary changes so that U.S. aid to Israel is administered and made accountable consistent with the rules and procedures that are applied to every other recipient of U.S. aid." The delegation also called on the U.S. government to "suspend current sales of attack helicopters to Israel pending investigation of their use against civilian targets as well as assurances that they will be used in conformity with United States law covering "end-use" in our weapons sales."

The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly affirmed the concern raised in the Alaska Synod memorial over continued U.S. aid to Israel and requested that the presiding bishop send a letter to the President of the United States, Vice President, Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and all members of Congress urging the conversion of funds presently budgeted or allocated for military assistance for nations of the Middle East to support for humanitarian assistance and economic aid and discouraging the private, direct or indirect, sale of military weaponry to Middle Eastern nations.

In 1994-1995, the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs (LOGA) participated in the development of a proposal, "Toward a Safer Future for the Children of Abraham: A Proposal for Restructuring U.S. Aid to the Middle East," in order to prompt discussion on this issue.


Breaking the Cycle of Violence:  Human Rights and International Protection

The ELCA Church Council approved a "Statement on Palestine" on April 6, 2002. In this statement the Council called upon the leaders of the United States to be resolute and determined in: seeking an end to the violence; establishing a cease-fire; calling all parties to adhere to their international obligations in regard to humanitarian law and human rights standards; seeking the establishment of an international peacekeeping presence in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; facilitating the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian-controlled areas; bringing about an end to the occupation; and resuming negotiations that will lead to sustained peace with justice. The Council urged all members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to join in writing to the President of the United States and Senators and Representatives, appealing to them to do all in their power to end the violence, respect human rights, and create a climate for the establishment of a just peace through the resumption of negotiations between the parties.

On April 4, 2002, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson issued a statement calling upon members of the ELCA to write to senators and representatives and President Bush urging them to use their offices to seek an immediate cease-fire and provide for an international presence to provide for and maintain a lasting peace.

The NCCCUSA-sponsored delegation to the Middle East in April 2002 stated that a critical component of a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the establishment of an international peacekeeping force, agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to oversee the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and maintain order until a peace agreement can be fully implemented.

The 2001 Churchwide Assembly requested that the presiding bishop send a letter to the President of the United States, Vice President, Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and all members of Congress 1) asking that they urge and work with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to end the cycle of violence and seek a just and lasting peace, 2) urging the immediate international protection of Palestinian populations under occupation, and 3) urging the cessation of human sacrifice by suicide bombings from Palestinian military factions.

Former Presiding Bishop Anderson, writing to President Bush in October 2001, said, "I support you in your efforts to work with both the Israelis and the Palestinians in ending the cycle of violence, including assassinations, human sacrifice by suicide bombings, tank shelling, and missile and mortar attacks. I ask that the U.S. exert diplomatic pressure on those countries which aid groups operating in the Middle East and have as their primary purpose to oppose the peace process, destabilize further the region, or promote violence. This is in the context of the ELCA's consistent affirmation of the right of Israel to exist peacefully within recognized and secure borders and its call upon the international community to recognize the same right for the Palestinian people. All of us who work for peace between Israelis and Palestinians recognize that ending the cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine is one important key to building confidence and promoting reconciliation throughout the Middle East. The cycle of Palestinian-Israeli violence that must stop, however, is not limited to drive-by shootings, assassinations, suicide bombings, helicopter missile strikes, mortar attacks, and tank shelling. The cycle of violence includes the violence inherent in decades of occupation: imprisonment without trial, demolition of homes, torture, intimidation, destruction of thousands upon thousands of olive trees and other crops, confiscation of land and the building of settlements in disputed areas, economic strangulation, and so on. Addressing the root causes of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is in the best interest of both parties. We mourn the devastating loss of life and the many wounded among the Palestinians and Israelis. The cycle of violence must stop."

On April 30, 2002, a delegation sponsored by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, called upon Israel and the Palestinian Authority "to agree to an immediate ceasefire, to end all attacks upon civilians and civilian institutions, and to exercise the highest degree of restraint in responding to violations of the ceasefire." The delegation said, "We condemn equally and unequivocally both the suicide bombings and Palestinian violence against Israeli society and the violence of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. All are counterproductive to achieving peace with justice." This delegation included a representative from the ELCA. The full text of the statement is available online at: http://www.ncccusa.org/nccmiddleeastdelegation/statement.html

The December 2000 statement of the U.S. Christian Ecumenical Delegation to the Middle East 1) called on the Israelis and Palestinians to cease all acts of violence and attempts to kill and return to the negotiating table immediately, 2) urged Israeli forces to end the use of disproportionate force in violation of international norms, as when tanks and helicopters are used to attack civilian neighborhoods, and 3) urged Israel to stop further confiscation of land, house demolitions, widespread closures, destruction of trees and agricultural fields, settlement expansions, and other policies that victimize Palestinians and change the "facts on the ground" before reaching a final negotiated peace agreement. The delegation asked "that, prior to such a peace agreement that can end the current violence, Palestinian populations under occupation have some form of immediate protection provided by the international community."

According to the ELCA social statement, "For Peace in God’s World," promoting respect for human rights is one of the things we should be doing in order to keep, make, and build international peace. Our priorities include providing for the most basic necessities of the poor and defending the human rights of groups most susceptible to violations, especially all minorities, women, and children. The ELCA is participating in the development of the "Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel - EAPPI" announced in October 2001 by the World Council of Churches.

The 1996 ELCA Church Council resolution on the Middle East calls upon the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to protect and preserve internationally recognized human rights. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority LOGA has raised various human rights issues with the P.A. as well as the Israeli government. In January 1999, Bishop Anderson joined other U.S. church leaders in opposing the Israeli policy that has resulted in confiscations of Jerusalem residency cards of Palestinians. The confiscation of ID cards from Palestinians, along with other difficulties related to housing and residency, has prompted church leaders in Jerusalem, including Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, to fear for the future survival of their communities.

In 1995, the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs (LOGA) participated in the development of a human rights resource, "The Middle East Human Rights Advocacy Handbook," which includes an overview of human rights issues throughout the Middle East and offers ideas for grassroots advocacy.

The 1991 Churchwide Assembly encouraged ELCA members to write to their political leaders asking them to pursue diligently and persistently nonviolent resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East. The ELCA social statement, "For Peace in God’s World," strongly supports efforts to develop the potential of nonviolence to bring about just and peaceful change, encourages education on nonviolence, encourages conscientious consideration to participation in nonviolent action, and affirms pastoral support for those who undertake nonviolent action for peace.

In 1989, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly affirmed an action adopted by the Church Council, "A Message on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict," which stated: "Our most immediate and urgent concern is for the cessation of human rights abuses against Palestinians, because of Israeli occupation. These abuses include detentions without trial, the closing of schools, denial of access to health care, deportations, and the use of live ammunitions and plastic bullets in response to non-life-threatening situations.... we are aware that a peaceful settlement can only be accomplished when human rights abuses against the Palestinians are ended." The 1993 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolution, "Conflict in the Middle East," speaks specifically to the lack of access for Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to Jerusalem and the destructive effect that such measures have on the Palestinian economy.


Support for Advocacy, Education, Accompaniment, and Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue

The 2001 Churchwide Assembly affirmed the work of the Division for Global Mission and the Division for Church in Society in their efforts to organize an ecumenical response to the crisis in Palestine and Israel that includes accompanying Palestinians and Israelis in nonviolent efforts to end the occupation; mobilizing grass-roots activists in the U.S. for prayer and advocacy; developing and distributing congregational resources; and engaging the public media concerning U.S. policy toward the Middle East. The Assembly also commended the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Palestine, Bishop Munib Younan, its congregations and schools for steadfastness in faith and courage in witness throughout this time of crisis; for their ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking; and for their tireless assistance and service including ministries with traumatized children, students, and congregation members.

The 1991 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a resolution encouraging "individuals and congregations to reach out to people in the Muslim and Jewish communities in North America, in order to foster interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding so that we may build trust relationships."

The 1989 ELCA Churchwide Assembly affirmed a message on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict expressing solidarity with members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ) "...in their suffering and in their hope that peace might come in a place where there is little peace." The 1989 CWA resolution urged members of the ELCA to "...familiarize themselves with the history of the Middle East and current issues affecting the conflict so that they can be advocates for responsible political action."

In the context of a 1982 resolution on "peace with justice in the Middle East," the Eleventh General Convention of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) asked congregations and people of the ALC to seek, when making pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to establish contact with the living Christian communities of the region. The 1982 ALC resolution also requested the national agencies of The American Lutheran Church to include the social and international concerns of the resolution in formal and informal contacts with the Jewish community in the United States. The Lutheran Church in America adopted a resolution in 1982 expressing solidarity with the churches of the Middle East by recognizing the suffering which their people have endured from the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The NCCCUSA-sponsored delegation to the Middle East in April 2002 urged NCCCUSA member churches to support the development of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel sponsored by the World Council of Churches.

The "Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Jewish Community" was adopted by the ELCA Church Council in April, 1994. The statement repudiates Luther's anti-Jewish writings and expresses the ELCA's "urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people." The "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" are suggestions for fostering Lutheran-Jewish dialog and cooperation. These guidelines were adopted by the ELCA Church Council in November, 1998, as a follow-up to the 1994 Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Jewish Community. While these documents do not directly address public policy issues related to the Middle East they are important reading for Lutherans doing public policy advocacy related to the State of Israel.

The Seventh General Convention of the American Lutheran Church adopted a statement on "The American Lutheran Church and the Jewish Community" in October 1974. This document affirmed that the State of Israel should be a topic for Jewish-Lutheran conversations. According to this document, "The tragic encounter of two peoples in the Middle East places a heavy responsibility upon Lutherans to be concerned about the legitimacy of the Jewish state, the rights of the Palestinians, and the problems of refugees. The history and circumstances of the Israeli-Arab conflict are very complicated. It is understandable that Lutherans should be deeply divided in their evaluation of the situation in the Middle East. In Jewish opinion, Israel is more than another nation. It is a symbol of resurrection following upon the near extinction of the Jewish people within living memory. There are also some Lutherans who find a religious significance in the State of Israel, seeing in recent events a fulfillment of biblical promises. Other Lutherans espouse not a "theology of the land," but a "theology of the poor," with special reference to the plight of the Palestinian refugees. Still other Lutherans endorse what might be called a "theology of human survival," believing that the validity of the State of Israel rests on juridical and moral grounds. It seems clear that there is no consensus among Lutherans with respect to the relation between the "chosen people" and the territory comprising the present State of Israel. But there should be a consensus with respect to our obligation to appreciate, in a spirit of repentance for past misdeeds and silences, the factors which gave birth to the State of Israel and to give prayerful attention to the circumstance that bear on the search for Jewish and Arab security and dignity in the Middle East."


Call for a Shared Jerusalem

In 1996 the ELCA Church Council welcomed the "Memorandum of Their Beatitudes, the Patriarchs, and of the Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem," November 14, 1994, on "The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians." The ELCA Church Council endorsed the Jerusalem leaders’ affirmation that "the experience of history teaches us that in order for Jerusalem to be a city of peace, no longer lusted after from the outside, and thus a bone of contention between warring sides, it cannot belong exclusively to one people or to only one religion. Jerusalem should be open to all, shared by all." The ELCA Church Council also endorsed the Jerusalem leaders’ invitation to all parties concerned "to go beyond all exclusivist visions or actions, and without discrimination, to consider the religious and national aspirations of others, in order to give back to Jerusalem its true universal character and to make of the city a holy place of reconciliation for humankind" and the call for a "special judicial and political statute for Jerusalem that reflects the universal importance and significance of the city." The purpose of the statute is to satisfy the national aspirations of all Jerusalem’s inhabitants. In order that Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be "at home" in Jerusalem and at peace with one another, representatives from the three monotheistic religions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated in the elaboration and application of such a special statute. According to the Jerusalem church leaders, "Because of the universal significance of Jerusalem, the international community ought to be engaged in the stability and permanence of this statute. Jerusalem is too precious to be dependent solely on municipal or national political authorities, whoever they may be. Experience shows that an international guarantee is necessary."

In 1996 and 1997, Bishop Anderson and other ELCA leaders signed ads in The New York Times and Roll Call calling for a shared Jerusalem where the human and political rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the rights of the three religious communities, would be respected. In May 1998, Bishop Anderson and 19 other church leaders signed an open letter to President Clinton calling for a shared Jerusalem and for the Administration to redouble its peace efforts. In May 1999, the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs helped to develop a resource on the peace negotiations, "A Guide to Oslo’s ‘Final Status Issues’ for Advocates of Israeli-Palestinian Peace."

In 1995, Bishop Chilstrom wrote to the Secretary of State at the time, Warren Christopher, expressing the concern of the ELCA and the Executive Council of the Lutheran World Federation about "certain actions proposed by leadership in the United States to encourage the Israeli government to focus its capital in Jerusalem and to extend its territories into the lands traditionally held by the Palestinians." As a member of Churches for Middle East Peace, the ELCA has encouraged members of Congress to oppose actions, such as moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, that could undermine the permanent status negotiations.

The 1993 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolution, "Conflict in the Middle East," spoke specifically to the lack of access for Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to Jerusalem and the destructive effect that such measures have on the Palestinian economy.


Israeli Settlements

The problem of Israeli settlement building in disputed territory has been addressed by the ELCA on various occasions. In 1991, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a resolution opposing further housing loan guarantees to Israel unless and until the construction and expansion of settlements in the occupied territories is stopped. In 1995, former ELCA Bishop Herbert Chilstrom signed a letter with other church leaders expressing concern that the U.S. Administration was not using its influence to bring a halt to Israeli settlement building and expansion in East Jerusalem and other Palestinian areas.

On June 7, 2001, a high-level delegation of church leaders – representing Episcopal, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Lutheran churches, as well as the National Council of Churches – presented Secretary of State Colin Powell a letter supporting U.S. efforts to bring an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence and calling on the U.S. to "do what it must to bring Israel's settlement activity to an end." The delegation urged Secretary Powell "to make clear to Israel and the Palestinians that the United States is committed to a negotiated end of Israel's military occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as called for in U.N.S.C. Res. 242 and that an immediate freezing by Israel of its settlement activity including "natural growth" is imperative. It will likely require considerable diplomatic pressure, and possibly economic pressure as well, to convince the government of Israel to recognize that this is a major policy concern of the United States."


Ecumenical Prayer Vigil

An ecumenical prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East began December 3, 2000, and will continue until the violence between Palestinians and Israelis ends and a just and lasting peace agreement is reached. The prayer vigil is offered as an opportunity for congregations to incorporate the welfare of the people of the Middle East into the heart of their church life: in their worship, in their learning, and in their advocacy. ELCA members are encouraged to participate in this prayer vigil as an expression of concern for Palestinians and Israelis – Christians, Muslims, and Jews – whose lives are overtaken by broken relationships and the conflict which flows from these divisions. Suggestions for implementing the vigil, prayers, and links to other denominations’ prayer vigil pages can be found at www.loga.org.

The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly encouraged ELCA members "to participate in the ecumenical prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East, to support through prayer and material assistance the people in the region affected by civil strife, and to pray for the ELCA missionary staff in the region." The ELCA Church Council, in a "Statement on Palestine" on April 6, 2002, affirmed the continuing ELCA Prayer Vigil for Peace in the Middle East, asking that the members of this church hold all people of the Middle East – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim – in their prayers.

(Overview written/updated by Mark Brown, Assistant Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, May 14, 2002)


 

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