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.

A Call From Jerusalem: Political Solution, Not Military Intervention

Posted on September 3, 2013 by karin

Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, issued a statement against military intervention in Syria. See the full text below.

JERUSALEM – With many people around the world, I am deeply troubled by the apparent use of chemical weapons inside Syria.  Such weapons have no place in our world and their use by any party is unacceptable under any circumstance. While the use of chemical weapons is wrong, the forms of intervention being predicted thus far can do little to bring a positive outcome.

Even after the vote from the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, some Western powers continue to prepare plans for military intervention in Syria. Such military intervention threatens to bring even greater suffering and instability to communities throughout Syria and the region as a whole. We in the Middle East have witnessed several interventions from Western powers. We see that the countries that have been the targets for such intervention have neither democracy nor security. The recent history of Western interventions in the Middle East has brought only greater hatred and violence.

The only ones who will benefit from Western military intervention in Syria will be extremists on all sides. The violent ambitions of extremists within all traditions in the Middle East—Muslims, Christians, and Jews, among others—will be stoked by the fuel of even greater military destruction. As an Arab Christian, I am concerned for the effects this violence will have on every community in Syria, whether they are Sunni, Shiite, Alawite, Druze, or Christian.

Syria’s civil war threatens to tear the fabric of the country. Syrians have suffered from the presence of foreign fighters on all sides and the intransigent self-interests of both regional and global powers. The situation in Syria will be solved not with bombs but with diplomatic efforts and true dialogue among Syrians of goodwill. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in response to the conflict in Vietnam, “The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

I call on all people to resist the threat of military intervention in Syria. Arab and Middle Eastern Christians and Christians throughout the world have a responsibility to raise a critical public voice, thus contributing to civil society. Our primary concern is not for abstract notions of national interest but for the flourishing of human communities. 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.

Rt. Rev. Munib A. Younan Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

Text from Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

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.

ELCA works to provide relief to people internally displaced in Syria

Posted on June 28, 2013 by karin

ELCA NEWS SERVICE
June 26, 2013

ELCA works to provide relief to people internally displaced in Syria

CHICAGO (ELCA) — In response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is providing more than $540,000 to the Syriac Orthodox Church to support its outreach to people displaced from their homes but remain in Syria because of the violent conflict. According to news reports, the conflict in Syria has claimed 100,000 lives since the fighting began in 2011.

Funds from ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response will provide for six-month’s worth of rent for 500 families, health services and supplies for children and infants, and support medical programs and surgeries.

On a recent trip to Chicago, His Eminence Archbishop Jean Kawak, patriarchal office director of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Damascus, discussed the effects of the fighting on the entire population of Syria, across all sectarian and ethnic divides.

“It is not only the Christian(s) who are harmed or affected by this situation. I’m scared about the entire Syria, but because we (Christians) are a minority in Syria, the minorities are usually more affected by a civil war or a problem like our Syrian problems,” said Kawak.

Although more than 1.5 million people have fled Syria and are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, there are an estimated 4.25 million Syrians who are internally displaced. According to the Rev. Robert O. Smith, the ELCA is one of the first churches in North America to provide aid to Syrians internally displaced from their homes.

“We started exploring what the Syriac church was doing to respond to the situation in Syria and then how the ELCA might be able to accompany them in that work,” said Smith, the ELCA’s area program director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It became apparent that the aid was not getting to the internally-displaced people,” said Smith.

Lutheran Disaster Responds funds will primarily support Christians in Syria, who have no other source of relief.

“Christians are the most vulnerable of all the vulnerable populations (in Syria), because they often can’t access the little aid that is available. In order to help the Christian population, the ELCA has to accompany churches in Syria, but the ELCA does not choose to work with only Christians,” said Smith.

Kawak explained that all communities in Syria are suffering from the violence that is spreading throughout the country, stressing that the church will not turn away anyone who needs assistance.

“I’m proud to say my nephew in Damascus asked me to help a Muslim family. The family was in a suburb of Damascus where it was attacked and destroyed,” said Kawak. “I told him let them come to me and I gave them money and medicine and many other things. And I’m really proud of him because he asked me to help a Muslim.”

“You see this is our life. And they tried many times to come and see me and say thank you. I told them you don’t have to thank me. This is my duty and I’m happy to do it. Please come always. We need each other; we need to be together. And we hope that everybody, the extremists from all sides, we need and we pray for them to understand that we have to respect they are human beings because they are human beings.”

Kawak said, “This is our mission to help everybody. This is an instrument of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He told us to help everybody, regardless his color, his religion, his sect, his ethnic group. We need to do it and we are helping to do it.”

The ELCA also provides aid to Syrian refugees living in other countries and participates in humanitarian assistance in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, along with other Lutheran companion churches and partner organizations. Earlier this year, the ELCA provided $100,000 to support the needs of Syrian refugees at the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan. The funds were sent to The Lutheran World Federation, which helps manage camp operations in cooperation with the Jordanian authorities.

The federation, which is managing the camp operations, is a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.

Text from ELCA News Service

Bishop Younan Speaks at Conference on Christians in the Middle East

Posted on May 27, 2013 by karin

Beirut, Lebanon: On May 22 2013, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), spoke during the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) conference on Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East. “We do not live in the mentality of the ghetto, nor in the mentality of a minority complex, nor do we live as dhimmi (dependent) people,” said Bishop Younan. “We have always been, as Arab Christians, building our societies, loyal to our countries and nationalities, bringing hope in hopeless situations.”

Read the LWF news story here.

For the full speech click here.

Join ELCA leaders and urge Obama to pursue diplomatic solutions in Syria

Posted on April 23, 2013 by karin

In a letter to President Obama on April 12, ELCA leaders urged Obama to “take steps to find new avenues toward peace and resolve the war through diplomatic means” in Syria.  In their letter, the ELCA presiding bishop and four synod bishops offered their appreciation for Obama’s chosen “path of restraint,” particularly as the bishops have heard louder calls in recent weeks “for the United States to provide lethal military assistance to the Syrian opposition,” they wrote.

“The volatility of the conflict in Syria continues to lead to violence, suffering, death and people fleeing for safety,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, in an interview. “Acknowledging the conflict’s complexity should not cause us to silence our voices or refrain from acts of compassion,” said Hanson. “The letter to President Obama calls for restraint in actions by the United States that could escalate the violence and for renewed efforts to find a resolution that will become a foundation for a lasting peace and a Syrian society that experiences justice and reconciliation.”

Hanson said that through the ELCA’s partnership with The Lutheran World Federation, this church “is aiding Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan.” The ELCA continues to participate in humanitarian assistance in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, along with other Lutheran companion churches and partner organizations. According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have been killed during the two-year civil war in Syria.

“We are steadfast in our support of immediate and unhindered access to assistance by all available means for victims of this war,” the bishops wrote in their letter.

Click here  for the full text of the ELCA leaders’ letter.

Click here to send your own letter to President Obama.

Click here to read more about the current humanitarian situation in Syria.

(text above from ELCA NEWS SERVICE)

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.

LWF President’s Christmas Message

Posted on December 18, 2012 by Julie Brenton Rowe

Children hold hands in Za’atri Refugee Camp in northern Jordan, caring for thousands of Syrian refugees.

Lutheran World Federation President Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, released his Christmas message this week, urging people to think of Christmas as a time to remember the refugees among us, even as the Christ child was born to a refugee family.

We can see the faces of the Holy Family today in refugee families forced to flee from Syria into the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, in Somali refugee families in the Dadaab complex in northeastern Kenya, and in other refugees throughout the world. In Europe today, we see the Holy Family in the experiences of Roma communities. An ancient nomadic culture, Roma are still exposed to marginalization simply because they do not conform to dominant culture.

Many refugees are uprooted with little hope for a solution. I am one of them, a Palestinian who carries a refugee card. I know what it means to be rejected, neglected and stateless. My heart breaks for every refugee, for every family forced from their home. In this Christmas season, we know that Christ finds his manger in every person who seeks asylum, in each of the nearly 44 million refugees and internally displaced people throughout the world. Forced to escape Herod’s persecution, Christ experienced abuses of power and the effects of armed struggle.

The child of the manger continues to understand the plight of every refugee wherever they are. The duty of the church is to be a safe haven for all refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. To them we say, “Do not be afraid. A Savior is born to you and the whole world.” They must find a place in our inn.

We in the Lutheran communion continue to commit ourselves to accompanying God’s people, especially those who are marginalized and displaced. Our call is to provide refuge from violence and poverty, shelter in the storms, and shade from the heat. Today, the LWF is directly serving nearly 1.5 million refugees throughout the world. That means that each of our 143 member churches is responding to the needs of 10,500 refugees. This generous spirit reflects the strength of our communion working together to respond to God’s call to welcome the stranger.

Read the full Christmas message | Read LWF press release

 

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.