Peace Not Walls

Articles, stories, photos and video about keeping faith in the Holy Land and creating a peaceful, just environment where all humans can flourish.

The ELCA joins faith organizations from Middle East and around the world in urging restraint in Syria

Posted on September 4, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe
kidnappedbishops

Please pray for all the people of Syria, including Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim from Aleppo,
whose whereabouts are still unknown since they were kidnapped earlier this year. May the spirit of peace, justice and reconciliation fill the hearts and minds of all those in that troubled region.

An ELCA action alert today urged constituents to contact President Obama and Members of Congress to condemn the use of chemical weapons and to urge restraint and encourage non-violent means to resolve the 2-year-old civil war in Syria that has claimed 100,000 lives.  The US has recently threatened the Assad regime with military strikes in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons attacks, the most recent of which killed over 1400 people.  Early this week, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson sent a letter to President Obama asking him to continue diplomatic efforts rather than pursuing military action in Syria.  According to the statement:

The use of chemical weapons in Syria is heinous and inexcusable. These atrocities are an assault on human dignity, and violate international standards and law. However, the people of Syria, along with many others in the Middle East who are living through this time of profound instability, deserve our concern, compassion and accompaniment, not the escalation of an already horrendous war.

Write to President Obama Write to Members of Congress

Middle East Christians Speak out Against Military Action Against Syria:

According to Middle East expert Professor Juan Cole:

…these Eastern Christians are solidly against an American missile strike on Syria. Many US congressional representatives discussing the possibility of military action against that country invoked God and prayer in their remarks, lending the discussion a Christian ambiance. But they didn’t refer to any statements on the crisis by actual Syrian or Lebanese Christians (the two are closely linked). 

Read full story which references statements by the Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, the Bishopric of Damascus and the Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Lebanon that warn military intervention will increase the suffering of the Syrian people.

Earlier this week, the General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod in Syria and Lebanon sent an urgent letter to its partner church, the Presbyterian Church USA, advocating a non-violent response to chemical weapons attacks in Syria:

We urge the international powers to refrain from the use of power against Syria as any strike from the USA or any other power will only multiply the suffering and human destruction.  We appeal to all who are able, by the name of the God of love, to help bring violence to an end.  Stop financing, arming and sending foreign groups to fight in Syria – help the Syrians to come together to build a new Syria.
Rev. Fadi Dagher, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon

ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan, also President of the Lutheran World Federation, issued a similar call to the world community:

While the use of chemical weapons is wrong, the forms of intervention being predicted thus far can do little to bring a positive outcome…  Such military intervention threatens to bring even greater suffering and instability to communities throughout Syria and the region as a whole … The situation in Syria will be solved not with bombs but with diplomatic efforts and true dialogue among Syrians of goodwill … To choose the path of diplomacy brings the Middle East closer to the goal of peace. Such a choice is not weakness, but the sign of peace and security.

Kairos Palestine also released a statement:

The people of Syria deserve better, safer and more just lives based on more respect for their human rights – but these must be brought about, by Syrians themselves, within their own context. External intervention will cause further destruction and push the Syrian people further into relentless civil war.

Kairos Palestine condemns the calls for war, and we urge countries around the world – whether Western states or regional ones – to help Syria maintain itself, broker peace among all Syrian parties involved, and stop supporting any armed groups entering from outside the country.

Similar statements have come from:

The Lutheran World Federation
The World Council of Churches
The World Council of Reformed Churches
The National Council of Churches
The Presbyterian Church (USA)

Read religious leaders commenting on whether an attack on Syria would be considered a “just war.”

Please keep the people in Syria in your prayers, advocate for peace with justice with your faith, political and community leaders and ask that God strengthen and inspire the people who can bring justice, peace and reconciliation out of the chaos and brokenness.

Tell Congress – Peace talks must enforce international law

Posted on August 15, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

THIRD THURSDAY ACTION ALERT FOR AUGUST:  TELL CONGRESS THAT PEACE TALKS MUST UPHOLD INTERNATIONAL LAW

Peace Not Walls, along with other organizations in the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, will send out action alerts monthly on every third Thursday. Each action alert will focus on different issues so that Members of Congress hear consistently that their constituents support a just and lasting negotiated resolution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Read the full Action Alert for August.

BethlehemGateAs people of faith, we are hopeful that the renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians will be a positive move toward bringing peace with justice to Palestine and Israel. While many have lauded this development, in order for there to be a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict, core concerns will need to be addressed.

In the 20 years since the Oslo Peace Agreement and in violation of international law the government of Israel has encouraged and subsidized a more than doubling of the number of Israeli settlers on occupied Palestinian land. Since the new peace talks were recently announced, Israel has announced construction plans for more than 2000 new settlement units and has added 90 settlements to its National Priority list which means the Government of Israel is officially encouraging even more settlement growth by subsidizing costs to live there.

Just as the United States is swift to hold Palestinians to account for actions not in keeping with U.S. positions or international law, we should not hesitate to apply the same standard to the State of Israel. Since the 1967 war and subsequent occupation, the U.S. and international policies have been consistent in declaring the military occupation, the settlement building and the annexation of East Jerusalem to be against international law. And yet, there have been no consequences for these flagrant violations.

As stated in the Oct. 5, 2012, letter signed by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and 15 other faith leaders, the U.S. has continued to give $3 billion a year to Israel despite these and other violations. For any real progress to be made, we must confront violations of international law on all sides and firmly hold both parties accountable.

For the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis, it is time for a peace process that results in the enforcement of international and human rights law and ends the illegal military occupation of Palestinian land.

FOR MORE ON THE PEACE PROCESS:

July Third Thursday Action Alert

Posted on July 13, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

TELL CONGRESS TO STOP PALESTINIAN DEMOLITIONS AND DISPLACEMENT

Peace Not Walls, along with other organizations in the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, will send out action alerts monthly on every third Thursday. Each action alert will focus on different issues so that members of Congress hear consistently that their constituents support a just and lasting negotiated resolution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. This is the first of these monthly alerts.

The ongoing displacement of Palestinians and the demolitions of their homes and villages by the Israeli government are a clear violation of international law. Read the action alert about the villages within “Firing Zone 918″ and send a message to congress that we must use our relationship with Israel to stop violations of human rights and international law.

The displacement and dispossession of hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children in the oPt each year must be brought to an end and the policies and practices placing thousands of others at-risk of displacement must change.

- From a UN Report on Palestinian Displacement

 

Documentary films on Israel/Palestine vie for Oscars

Posted on February 22, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

Two documentary films about Israel/Palestine are in the news right now because they are both up for an Oscar award for best documentary film.

Five Broken Cameras was made by two men, one Israeli and one Palestinian, and tells the story of  non-violent resistance in the West Bank village of Bilin to the Israeli separation barrier and the growing Israeli settlements infringing on their daily lives.  See an interview with Christine Amanpour with the film makers. 

The Gatekeepers captures the stories of the 6 living past directors of the Shin Bet, the Israeli Secret police, and their warnings to the state of Israel that the current path of occupation and expanding Israeli settlements will not lead to peace but perpetual struggle.  See an interview with Christine Amanpour with the film maker.

UN report shows increasing violence from both sides in Syria

Posted on February 21, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

In its latest report, released Monday, the UN commission of inquiry in Syria finds that both pro- and anti-Government forces have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life as the conflict draws to the close of its second year. It emphasizes the urgent need for parties to the conflict to commit to a political settlement to end the violence.  The commission is to present its report to the UN Human Rights Council on March 11.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in the two-year conflict, and a rising number of internally-displaced people head toward refugee camps.  The numbers, however, are in dispute:

“‘“Syria is the largest IDP crisis in the world,’ said Clare Spurrell of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, the leading body monitoring internally displaced people worldwide. ‘The longer we underestimate the reality of what is happening on the ground, the further we are getting from an appropriate response.’

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released new figures Monday showing 2.08 million people in urgent need in six provinces of northern Syria. That’s way below a partial survey of the same provinces that the Syrian opposition and 10 international aid agencies conducted over four weeks in January.

That survey, undertaken by teams of researchers who met with local relief committees, religious leaders and local police, among others, estimated that the number of people in urgent need totaled at least 3.2 million in those provinces: Idlib, rural Aleppo, Latakia, Raqqa, Hasaka and Deir el Zour. That’s nearly three-quarters of the 4.3 million people thought to be living now in the surveyed areas of those provinces.”  Taken from McClatchy newspaper, read more here

Read about the ELCA’s response to the Syrian crisis.

Obama: “Israel doesn’t know what its best interests are”

Posted on January 18, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

Photo from mycatbirdseat.com

Following the UN vote to upgrade Palestine’s status to non-member state last fall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s intent to develop E-1, a crucial area between Jerusalem and Jericho that is Palestinian land and would, if developed into Israeli settlements, virtually cut the West Bank into northern and southern enclaves.  Netanyahu also announced the building of 3000 new illegal settlement units in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

According to American  journalist Jeffrey Goldberg,  “In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.’  With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.”  

According to Goldberg, “What Obama wants is recognition by Netanyahu that Israel’s settlement policies are foreclosing on the possibility of a two-state solution, and he wants Netanyahu to acknowledge that a two-state solution represents the best chance of preserving the country as a Jewish-majority democracy. Obama wants, in other words, for Netanyahu to act in Israel’s best interests.”    Read the full article.

Netanyahu is expected to win the upcoming Israeli election handily.  Read more about the Israeli elections.

New Report by OCHA on Conditions for Palestinians in Jerusalem

Posted on January 3, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

A UN report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was released in December that focuses on key humanitarian issues in Jerusalem, including:

- Around 293,000 Palestinians currently reside in East Jerusalem, in addition to 200,000 Israeli settlers who reside in the settlements which have been constructed and expanded since 1967, contrary to international law (end of 2011, ICBS).

- Approximately 4 million Palestinians from the remainder of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) are prohibited from entering East Jerusalem without Israeli-issued permits, which are difficult to obtain.

- Access to East Jerusalem is controlled by a combination of physical and administrative obstacles. Palestinians who are able to obtain permits can only use four of the 16 checkpoints along the Barrier.

- Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem lack a secure legal residency status. Between 1967 and mid-2010, around 14,000 Palestinians had their Jerusalem residency revoked by the Israeli authorities.

- Approximately 55,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are physically separated from the urban centre by the Barrier; they must cross crowded checkpoints to access health, education and other services to which they are entitled as residents of Jerusalem.

- 35% of land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated for Israeli settlement use; only 13% of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built-up.

- At least 33% of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, which are difficult to obtain, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement, which has a psychological impact. Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished some 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem.

- There is a chronic shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem: 1,100 additional classrooms are required to accommodate Palestinian children and many existing facilities are substandard or unsuitable.

The Writing on the Wall

Posted on December 14, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

From Pastor Fred Strickert of the English-speaking Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem comes a blog post, the Writing on the Wall:

A report “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” was recently released by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report sees more hostile divisions within Israeli society between views of openness and exclusion.  It states, “At home Israel faces increasing social and political divisions between those who still cherish a vision” expressed by its 1948 founders versus “the growing demographic weight of the religiously conservative Haredim and settler movement.”

While concerns about the influence of fundamentalism and extremism in the Muslim world is a major topic in the Western Media–and of which we are very much aware and concerned–the following are concerns that confront us daily in the local Israeli press, as can be seen in a selection of Haaretz photos below.

A sign in West Jerusalem says “Lehava only hires Jewish Workers.”

Pastor Strickert takes us from photos wiping out Arab names on signs, to Death to Arab graffiti to a sign posted on the LWF Augusta Victoria property on the Mt. of Olives announcing that people have 60 days to comment on plans that are being fast-tracked to build an eight-story IDF college right next to Augusta Victoria in East Jerusalem.  Leaders of the Mt. of Olives Housing Project, which will serve the community by providing affordable housing, a community center, an elderly center and a sports complex, have been trying for years to get authorization and building permits to build their project, for which they already have significant funds raised.

Palestine becomes UN non-member state with observer status; Israel to build 3000 new settlement units

Posted on November 30, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

Photo from Haaretz

In an historic vote at the United Nations Thursday, Nov. 29, exactly 65 years after passing the Partition Plan for Palestine, the General Assembly voted by a huge majority to recognize Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member state with observer status in the UN.  138 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 41 abstained and 9 voted against: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, U.S., Panama, The Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, and Micronesia. 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, closing his speech to the UN, asserted:

The support of the countries of the world for our endeavor is a victory for truth, freedom, justice, law and international legitimacy, and it provides tremendous support for the peace option and enhances the chances of success of the negotiations. Your support for the establishment of the State of Palestine and for its admission to the United Nations as a full member is the greatest contribution to peacemaking in the Holy Land.

The US opposed the move, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it “unfortunate and counterproductive.”  U.S. UN envoy Susan Rice said the resolution does not establish Palestine as state, that it prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and ignores questions of security.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Proser responded to President Abbas’ speech, saying  “the UN was founded to advance the cause of peace. Today the Palestinians are turning their back on peace. Don’t let history record that today the UN helped them along on their march of folly.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying the world had watched a speech “full of dripping venom and false propaganda against the IDF and Israeli citizens. This is not how someone who wants peace speaks.”

An Israeli spokesman announced on Friday that Israel will build 3000 new housing units in the illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that it will advance plans for the controversial E1 area outside Jerusalem.  If the E1 settlement plans are fully developed by Israel, it would threaten the contiguity of any future Palestinian state by virtually cutting the West Bank into northern and southern portions.

Read full Haaretz article | Read President Abbas’ full speech

Other reactions to the vote:

World weighs in on UN Palestine vote
World headlines showed a mix of emotions – but a lot of common ground on how much impact this may have on prospects for peace.
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/terrorism-security/2012/1130/World-weighs-in-on-UN-Palestine-vote

UN vote celebration in Ramallah
http://edition.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_t1#/video/world/2012/11/29/wr-pleitgen-ramallah-reacts-to-un-palestinian-vote.cnn

After Vote, Palestinians and Israel Search for the Next Step
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/30/world/middleeast/palestinians-and-israel-seek-next-step-after-vote.html?ref=middleeast

Vatican hails UN vote, wants Jerusalem guarantees
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=543566&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Palestinian Legal strategy against Israel: The Real Prize is Europe AND Israeli Reaction to UN Vote: Politicians Burn Palestinian Flag, Pundits fear International Criminal Court
http://www.juancole.com/

Supporting Palestine at the UN today is a vote for peace in the Middle East by Hanan Ashrawi
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/29/supporting-palestine-un-vote-for-peace

Israel and Hamas: Fire and Ceasefire in a New Middle East – International Crisis Group

Posted on November 24, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

The International Crisis Group analyzes the politics and new realities of the Gaza situation post-Arab Spring:

For now, the immediate objective must be to ensure fighting truly stops and that the other commitments mentioned in the ceasefire agreement are fulfilled. There is good reason for scepticism given the history of such undertakings and the imprecision in the text itself. But new dynamics in the Middle East potentially could make this time different. Cairo has an incentive to ensure success; it has much to offer – politically, diplomatically and, together with its allies in Ankara and Doha, materially – to Hamas; and the Islamist movement would be loath to alienate Morsi’s Egypt in the way it rarely hesitated to alienate Mubarak’s. By the same token, Israel can take solace in the fact that, even when governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt proved pragmatic and eager to avoid escalation. If it does not wish this situation to change, it too will have to live up to its undertakings. Finally, the U.S. and President Obama likely acquired new credibility and leverage in Israel by virtue of the unquestioned support they offered Jerusalem; those assets can be used to ensure compliance with the ceasefire agreement.

Read full analysis.