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

    “Peace Process” or not, Israeli Occupation Grinds On

    Posted on May 28, 2014 by Robert Smith

    During the past two weeks, two events have caught the attention of the international community: the shooting deaths of two teenage protesters in Beitunia and the destruction of thousands of fruit trees on a farm south of Bethlehem. The Nassar family has endured years of harassment by Israeli authorities and set up a retreat center known as Tent of Nations. For Christians affiliated with Lutheran churches throughout the world, these two incidents were heaped on top of the financial crisis facing Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), an institution of the Lutheran World Federation on the Mt. of Olives providing Palestinians with regular cancer and dialysis care.

    These three crises exemplify different aspects of how Palestinians experience Israeli control over their lives. In Beitunia, Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Salameh, both minors, experienced the deadly threat of confrontation with Israeli military forces. The Nassar family experienced the looming threat of Israeli claims to land, either through outright confiscation or prohibited usage for reasons of security. AVH is experiencing institutional threat due to funds not being transferred in a timely fashion from foreign aid agencies, including USAID. Each level—personal, to family, to institutional—is a direct effect of Israeli occupation. Each level is cloaked in excuses and attempts to make the case for the occupation—claims are made that the trees needed to be removed since they could be used to hide terrorist activity; the video of the shootings was forged by Palestinian propagandists.

    None of these situations is unique. In February of this year, Amnesty International released a stinging report titled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” documenting tremendous abuses of power by Israeli police and military units. With this context in mind, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has expressed “grave suspicion that forces willfully killed two Palestinians, injured two others” in the Beitunia incident. In the same way, the Nassar family is experiencing the same threats against farmland in “Area C” portions of the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed twenty years ago. Their case is more public, in part, because they have built an international network to support their claims. Many other farmers—especially along the so-called “seam zone” between Israel’s separation barrier and the Green Line denoting Israel proper—have not been so fortunate. And AVH is one in a network of East Jerusalem hospitals, all facing funding shortfalls due to restrictions by western governments. Each of these threats—not just the shootings of unarmed teenagers—present the overwhelming violence, both direct and structural, of the Israeli occupation, harming every aspect of Palestinian life.

    These three incidents are related. International advocates seeking to raise awareness about the human toll of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought not focus on one without addressing or acknowledging the others. Even among progressive American activists aware of many aspects of life in Israel and Palestine, the deaths of two Muslim teens previously unknown to them can seem distant. Even while we seek to preserve necessary humanitarian institutions like AVH and seek to show solidarity with all farmers with generations owning land in what remains of Area C, the blood of these boys cries out for justice. Because each person has inherent dignity in the eyes of God, these matters are related when this dignity is horribly violated. There is no doubt which one demands swift investigation and swift justice.

    The occupation must end. Human dignity must be respected and allowed to flourish. People in Gaza and the West Bank should have access to necessary health care. No more trees should be uprooted under the guise of security concerns for nearby colonies. No more children should die.

    October Third Thursday Advocacy Alert

    Posted on October 22, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe


    Peace Not Walls, along with other organizations in the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, sends out action alerts monthly on every third Thursday. Each action alert will focus on a different facet of the situation.  We encourage you to contact  your Members of Congress advocating for these issues and continuing to call for a just and lasting negotiated resolution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. 


    roadblockThis week tell your Members of Congress in person or in writing that Israel should remove the hundreds of movement restrictions on Palestinians only (not Israeli settlers) within the West Bank which protect expanding Israeli settlements. With over 500 movement restrictions limiting access to farmland and making import and export extremely difficult, the Palestinian economy is dramatically limited.

    The complex system of restrictions on movement and access imposed by Israel is the most significant impediment to Palestinian private sector growth.
    – From a recent World Bank report

    Read October’s full action alert.
    Read more about settlements.
    Read 2012 UN OCHA Report on Movement and Access

    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

    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.

    LWF President, Bishop Munib Younan of ELCJHL, addresses ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2013

    Posted on August 15, 2013 by karin

    The Rt. Rev. Munib A. Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation and Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, addressed the ELCA Churchwide Assembly today, August 15, 2013.

    “Please allow me to address the situation in the Middle East. My friends, the Middle East is boiling. While I am President of the LWF, I also serve as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. I am grateful that the LWF Council supported the World Council of Churches’ call to support the presence and witness of Christians in the Middle East. Several churches in the Middle East Council of Churches feel that they are facing an existential crisis. In response, King Abdullah of Jordan has called for a regional conference to strengthen Arab Christian witness and presence so Christians can remain as instruments of peace, brokers of justice, promoters of human rights (including women’s rights), builders of human society, ministers of reconciliation, and apostles of love. In order to strengthen the witness of moderate Muslims, we need strong accompaniment from our sisters and brothers around the world.

    bishop Younan

    The LWF has a strong presence in the Middle East. Our communion’s legacy of service in East Jerusalem is grounded in the witness of the ELCJHL and in the diakonia of Augusta Victoria Hospital, led for several years now by a Palestinian Christian CEO. Recently, and with the ELCA’s assistance, this legacy has been extended into Jordan, where the LWF is helping establish and manage the Za’atari Refugee Camp for Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country.

    I am grateful for the ELCA’s commitment to the entire Middle East, especially its support for Christian communities. The situations in Egypt and Syria demand our attention and concern. I was glad to learn of the ELCA’s strong accompaniment of Christian leaders within Syria as they address the needs of their own internally displaced persons. You are making a difference in the lives of people enduring the changes affecting the Middle East.

    We cannot discuss the Middle East without mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am grateful for the strong accompaniment relationship between the ELCA and the ELCJHL as well as your church’s long-standing strategy for engagement in Israel and Palestine. The United States has again renewed negotiations between Palestinians and the State of Israel; it is my strong hope that these discussions result in a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a shared Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the end of Israeli occupation, including settlements, according to international law.

    I continue to believe that security for the State of Israel depends on justice for Palestinians, and that freedom and justice for Palestinians depend on Israel’s security. We are in a symbiotic relationship. It continues to be my vision that Palestinians will one day see the image of God in their Israeli neighbors and Israelis equally see the image of God in us, their Palestinian neighbors. For it is only when we recognize our common humanity and hold each other in dignity and respect and mutually recognize each other’s human, civil, religious, and political rights. Only then will the Holy Land become a promised land of milk and honey for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I pray for the fulfilment of this vision and that we can experience peace and justice in our days.

    We are tired of wars and hatred. We continue to be committed to the vision that our children and grandchildren will experience peace based on justice and reconciliation based on forgiveness. I ask you to pray for the Middle East. Please pray for Syria, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. Pray that God may open the eyes of our leaders to say “no more hatred, no more weapons, no more bloodshed—only dignity for every person and justice for every nation.” Please pray for the LWF and the ministry of the ELCJHL.”

    Click here to read the full greeting from LWF President, Bishop Munib Younan.

    Jewish, Christian and Muslim Leaders United In Support of Secretary of State Kerry’s Peace Initiative

    Posted on August 15, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    NEWSPeace-is-PossibleIn a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry this week, thirty key Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders “voiced strong support for his determined initiative for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”  In similar letters, the leaders called on key members of Congress “to support Secretary Kerry’s continuing urgent efforts for peace.”

    The group, including ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, represented The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for the Middle East.  Inspired by the Abrahamic traditions,  a similar group met in January, 2013, declaring “twilight has fallen on hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”  They called for “a bold new initiative for a two-state solution before it’s too late.”

    The religious leaders warmly welcomed Secretary Kerry’s announcement a week ago of an agreement “that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” Appreciating the progress made in earlier formal and informal negotiations toward resolving final status issues, the religious leaders noted that “while these talks have yet to yield a blueprint for peace, they have identified ideas for addressing key issues that must be resolved in a manner acceptable to both sides.”

    The Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders offered their prayers for Secretary Kerry’s efforts and pledged that they “are prepared through the national organizations we represent to activate members of synagogues, churches and mosques across the country to support bold American leadership for peace.”

    “We know the path to peace is complex and challenging,” the leaders said, “but peace is possible.”

    Read the full letters below:


    Tell Congress – Peace talks must enforce international law

    Posted on August 15, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe


    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.


    New European Union guidelines ban EU funding for Israeli projects in the Occupied PalestinianTerritories

    Posted on July 17, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe

    The European Union has announced that it will no longer fund Israeli projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which are slated to become a Palestinian state.

    According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, any Israeli entity seeking funding from or cooperation with the European Union will have to submit a declaration stating that the entity has no direct or indirect links to the West BankEast Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.


    Although everything you see here is in the West Bank, the Israeli separation wall near Bethlehem claims all of the territory to the right of the wall, confiscating olive groves and the settlement on the hill into the “Israeli” side of the wall and allowing no room for growth on the Palestinian side.


    The guidelines, which condition all future agreements on Jerusalem’s acknowledgement that its occupied territories are not part of Israel, have strained relations with the EU to an unprecedented level.

    This is a key development in the long-drawn-out saga of Israel and Palestine because now EU policy officially recognizes that these territories are not a legitimate part of Israel, upholding international law, UN resolutions and the basis of the Oslo Peace Process.

    Israel disputes that this settlement is against international law.

    Israeli minister Silvan Shalom said this measure was a “big mistake” which cast doubt on the EU’s impartiality in the Israel-Palestinian conflict:

    Europeans are making a big mistake once again. They always would like to play a key role in the peace process but once again they are showing us that they cannot play a key role because they don’t have a balanced attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    The Oslo Peace accord, which Israelis and Palestinians signed, designated the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as the future Palestinian state, which was supposed to have been created by 1999. In this agreement, both parties agreed that they would do nothing to alter the conditions or status of these areas.  Since that time, the settlement population has more than doubled and, according to a UN report on construction planning in parts of the West Bank, Palestinian construction has been effectively prohibited in over 40% of the West Bank, where the land has been largely designated for the use of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military.

    Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the EU announcement as a “significant move”:

    The EU has moved from the level of statements, declarations and denunciations to effective policy decisions and concrete steps which constitute a qualitative shift that will have a positive impact on the chances of peace.

    The Israeli occupation must be held to account, and Israel must comply with international and humanitarian law and the requirements for justice and peace.

    B'Tselem Map of The West Bank, June 2011

    July Third Thursday Action Alert

    Posted on July 13, 2013 by Julie Brenton Rowe


    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.

    President Obama to visit Israel and Palestine next month- take action to help shape his itinerary

    Posted on February 19, 2013 by karin

    Ask President Obama to meet with religious leaders when he visits the Middle East next month; call for a halt to settlement activity; ask his delegation to visit Augusta Victoria Hospital

    President Obama is scheduled to visit Israel, Palestine and Jordan next month, his first such visit as president. The president has often sought out the views of U.S. religious leaders through his White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and other meetings. It will be important for the President to hear the voices of faith leaders during his visit to the region as well. The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land consists of leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths, including Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and President of The Lutheran World Federation.

    As you may be aware, the Council’s long-awaited study of the “Portrayal of the Other” in Palestinian and Israeli school books was recently released and generated much discussion, some of it critical. However, the Council’s researchers utilized identical, standardized scientific methods for this work. Now, as much as ever, the Council needs support from us and U.S. leaders for this effort as well as its overall mission to advance the sacred values of each faith, “to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and to promote mutual respect, a just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation between people of all faiths in the Holy Land and worldwide.”

    Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to meet with the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land during his visit.

    As noted in a report issued late last year by the United Nations (U.N.) on the humanitarian impact of the Israeli settlement policy on Palestinians, since 1967, Israel has established about 150 settlements (residential and others) in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; in addition to some 100 “outposts” erected by settlers without official authorization. Three new settlements were approved in 2012 by retroactively ‘authorizing’ such outposts. More than 500,000 people live in these settlements, which are against international law. Additionally, in 2012, one Palestinian was killed and approximately 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements, including demonstrations.

    Furthermore, a recent U.N. report states that: “The establishment of the settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem is a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The settlements have been established and developed at the expense of violating international human rights laws and international humanitarian law, as applicable in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory] as notably recognized by the 2004 ICJ [International Court of Justice] Advisory Opinion.”

    Repeated warnings by U.S. officials to stop the growth of settlements have fallen on deaf ears, as settlement expansion has advanced at an accelerated rate and could render a viable two-state solution virtually impossible.

    Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to urge him to demand, during his visit, a halt to all settlement activity.

    The Lutheran World Federation has operated the Augusta Victoria Hospital for the benefit of Palestinian refugees since 1950. The ELCA and other churches around the world have been strong supporters of this effort to meet human need and be a sign of hope over the years. In addition, the U.S. government has supported the hospital’s work, particularly in the field of oncology through significant grants for crucial equipment. In March 2010, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the vice-president, visited the hospital during her husband’s visit to Jerusalem.

    Please contact the White House and ask President Obama to have one or more members of his delegation visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

    Click here to write to President Obama now

    Click here to share your concerns for the President’s upcoming trip with Secretary of State John Kerry

    Click here to share those concerns with your members of Congress