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Peace Not Walls

The US can help Israel and Palestinians reach a just peace

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, co-authored an op-ed published in Religion News Service on January 4, 2021.

They write, “The fundamental question is how Congress and the administration can help build peace. On the question of annexation, the Israeli government needs to hear more clearly than it has from some American lawmakers that annexation of current Palestinian areas of any kind — de jure or de facto — is unacceptable. Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar said last May that, for Palestinians, annexation is “certain to have severe consequences for Israeli and Palestinian people” and, first and foremost, for peace. The bishop said the real issue is “liberation, not annexation.””

Read the full op-ed here.

Ecumenical Letter to the President Marking 50 Year Israeli Occupation

Presiding Bishop Eaton is among 20 ecumenical leaders to sign a letter to President Trump on the 50 year Israeli occupation. The letter was organized by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) in connection with the CMEP Advocacy Summit now underway.

“Mr. President, we ask you to take the necessary steps to make this year a true jubilee year and work toward a just and durable solution that advances security, human rights, and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians. These steps should include upholding longstanding U.S. policy that recognizes Israeli settlements as illegal and an impediment to peace while ensuring accountability for policies about settlements that disregard legal restraints and international consensus. We call on your administration to promote a shared Jerusalem by Palestinians and Israelis, as well as full access to the Holy Sites of the three religious traditions – Jews, Muslims and Christians – who call them holy.

We pray and hope for a negotiated resolution to the conflict. In this 50th year of occupation, we ask your administration to do more than just seek an end to conflict. Through the confiscation and destruction of viable agricultural lands, deindustrialization, and restriction of movement, the occupation has placed a stranglehold on the Palestinian economy. Trade is an essential component of a stable economy and without it poverty, unemployment, food shortages, and medical crises will continue to destroy the livelihoods and safety of Palestinians which in turn contributes to instability and violence that harms Israelis.

Mr. President, we encourage you to support development and humanitarian assistance that will promote human dignity, especially in the West Bank and Gaza, including access and protection for aid agencies and others. This year, there are more than 2 million people in Gaza and the West Bank in dire need of humanitarian assistance — nearly one out of every two Palestinians.

Mr. President, we Christian leaders continue to choose hope and call for a just peace for both peoples and an end to the occupation. We will support your efforts to build a peace between Israelis and Palestinians “that allows both peoples to live, worship, and thrive and prosper.” It is possible in this 50th year to move from occupation toward jubilee and realize the vision of two viable states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”

You can find the full letter here.

Tell your representative no on punishing Palestine

This new alert from Churches for Middle East Peace urges constituents to contact their members of congress and dissuade them from signing on to a letter to President Obama that would punish Palestinians for their successful bid to raise their status to non-member state at the UN: 

Members of Congress are still seeking to punish the Palestinians for elevating its status at the UN last month. A bi-partisan group is asking other House Members to sign a letter to President Obama asking him to close the PLO mission in DC, recall the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem who works with the Palestinian Authority, and cut off funding to any other UN body that admits the Palestinians as a member. The letter is being circulated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Howard Berman (D-CA), Edward Royce (R-CA), and Eliot Engel (D-NY).

The measures recommended in the letter are ill-conceived and self-defeating. The Members state that direct talks are the only way to resolve the outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians, but the measures they propose would undercut U.S. diplomacy and make it harder for direct talks to take place. Cutting off funding to UN agencies would deprive the U.S. of the benefits those bodies bring to U.S. national interests around the world.

Act now and tell your Member of Congress not to sign on to the Ros-Lehtinen/Berman/Royce/Engel letter

From the letter to the President:

Your Administration discouraged the Palestinian leadership from pursuing non-member state observer status at the United Nations and took a firm stance in both voting “no” and encouraging other nations to do the same, and we appreciate those efforts.

 We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative. This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums—a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiation or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.

Read the full letter here.

Advent: Reflections from Bethlehem and devotional materials


Pastor Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem shares an advent greeting from the Holy Land. Christmas Lutheran does a simulcast Christmas Service between Bethlehem and the National Cathedral in Washington DC each year.  Find out more about this year’s simulcast on Saturday, Dec. 22 at 10 am EST.   Check out the new website for Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a US organization that supports the work of DIYAR Consortium, begun by Pastor Raheb in cooperation with  the ELCJHL.

In another article, Pastor Raheb reflects on the Christmas story in his hometown of Bethlehem:

Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall.  So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.

Full article

On the way to celebrate what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, let us not forget the people who yearn for peace with justice now in Bethlehem and all over the Holy Land. Here are some Advent reflections by various people and organizations to help us remember:



Amendments to cut aid to Palestine unsuccessful

Recently, three amendments were proposed in the Senate which would have cut aid to Palestine, including $370 million for budget support for the Palestinian Authority.  This would probably have affected vital organizations like Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. The amendments were in response to the successful bid by Palestine to become a non-member state in the UN.

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) sent a letter to the 100 members of the Senate, urging others to do the same. J Street, the liberal Jewish pro-Israel group, rallied against the amendments, with followers sending nearly 15,000 letters to senators and making close to a thousand calls.

Tuesday, the National Defense Authorization Act passed without these amendments. Thanks to those who voiced their opposition to these moves which would have punished the Palestinian people. 

Other amendments favored by pro-Israel groups passed, including one approving additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system and one tightening Iran sanctions. Read full article.

Here is CMEP’s letter:

Three amendments have been introduced to S. 3254, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) namely SA 3171, SA 3139, and SA 3203, that would severely limit or eliminate US assistance to the Palestinian Authority under various conditions. We believe the amendments are ill-advised and should be opposed. This assistance totaling $490 million in FY 2012 is for security assistance carried out in cooperation with the U.S. and Israel; USAID humanitarian and civil society projects, and budget support for the Palestinian Authority.

Reducing or cutting off funds for these would leave Palestinians and Israel less secure, reverse economic, social and civil development in the Palestinian territories, and threaten the Palestinian Authority with financial collapse. These developments would cripple US diplomatic efforts to bring about an agreement to end the conflict and impose great human hardship.

When similar measures were proposed a year ago they were opposed by many groups including Israel’s Ambassador the U.S., Michael Oren. Israeli Defense officials said if cuts to US assistance to the Palestinian Authority were imposed, Israel would suffer. For all these reasons Churches for Middle East Peace urges that these amendments not be brought to a vote or defeated.

CMEP asks Americans to urge President Obama to work urgently for long-term peace

Churches for Middle East Peace urges Americans to support the ceasefire and write President Obama to renew an urgent process for peace in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories:

All of us watching the escalating violence in Israel and Gaza must tell the President and Secretary of State that pursuing and achieving a just, durable and comprehensive agreement to end the conflict, starting with an immediate cease-fire, is the only moral response and the best long-term political, economic and national security decision.

See the CMEP Action Alert    |  Read more from CMEP

CMEP bulletin on Palestinian non-member statehood, background on Oslo and recent events

Churches for Middle East Peace outlines recent events including the Palestinian bid for non-member status, speeches by both Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN, recent protests in Palestine and the financial problems as well as background on those issues.  Read more here.

Thank 60 minutes for story on Palestinian Christians

The story about the shrinking population of the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land was broadcast on “60 Minutes” Sunday, 22 April 2012, including an interview with the Rev Dr. Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. The story includes information about the Kairos document as well as Ambassador Michael Oren’s objections to the story, which he voiced to the President of CBS to before the piece aired. 

The video and script are at the CBS news website at;cbsCarousel.  There is an added feature on “60 Minutes Overtime” at;cnav about Taybeh, a Palestinian town. 

Go to to send comments directly to CBS or go to the Churches for Middle East Peace action alert to add your voice to the Thank 60 Minutes movement.

Delegation from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land in Washington DC


A delegation of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land visited Washington to speak with administration officials and congressional leaders about the role religious leaders can play in Middle East peace-making. Here Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land and Jordan, talk with Churches for Middle East Peace Executive Director Warren Clark about the Christian presence in the Holy Land and the role of the Council in the Holy Land. Bishop Younan outlines 4 things people can do to help: 1) strengthen Christian institutions in the Holy Land; 2) build community-based education; 3) create jobs; 4) build affordable housing.

Peace in the Holy Land is a necessity – and possible.  So said the delegation from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land  who visited Washington DC this week to speak to high level administration officials, congressional leaders and interested lay people.  The group, made up of top Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in the Holy Land, have been working together since 2005 toward mutual understanding and ultimately to bring a just peace to their beloved land.

They spoke to Vice President Joe Biden for an hour and a half, and spoke Tuesday at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, stressing the role of education in peace-making.  I have asked for a transcript of the panel to be put up at, but don’t know if that is possible.

A written statement from their delegation states that their goals for this visit include advocating for equal, free access to all holy sites and for respecting all three narratives of Jerusalem, Jewish, Christian and Muslim.  The council speaks out regularly against incitement and has commissioned a study of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks to monitor and hopefully lead to change of material deemed to incite hatred and racism.  The council is also working to launch a project to prepare emerging religious leaders to enable them to also work cooperatively toward a just peace.

They say that religious leaders can and should be a great help to address entrenched issues that touch on both religion and politics, and are ready and eager to be of service.

Read their full statement of goals and a message from this delegation.

Bishop Hanson and other faith leaders visit White House officials to urge action on Israel and Palestine peace

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, and other ecumenical faith leaders met with White House officials to express urgency and encourage action on the situation in Israel and Palestine.   According to Hanson, continued meetings with the Obama administration are “a priority because of our commitment to our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. It is also carried out in the commitment we have made in the ELCA’s Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine.

“As we began our conversation with Mr. Ross, I expressed disappointment. We hear our Christian partners in the region question the United States’ commitment. They wonder why the U.S. has not been more vocal about the increased settlement construction. I told Mr. Ross that we repeatedly hear Palestinian churches say they see this as a moment of abdication by the U.S. administration.”

Hanson said afterwards that, “More progress must be made toward the goal of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. Since our meeting a year ago, the prospects for peace seem to have diminished with the expansion of settlements and the absence of face-to-face negotiations.”

According to a Nov. 10 news release from Churches for Middle East Peace, the church leaders who attended the Nov. 8 meeting said they are disappointed with developments since their 2010 meeting at the White House. 

“The position of the Palestinian Christian community is precarious,” stated the release. “There are constant problems of obtaining visas for clergy who must travel outside Jerusalem and the West Bank. Restriction on movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is a problem that undermines Christian life. Church leaders are humiliated at check points.”

Ecumenical leaders at this year’s White House meeting included Hanson; Katharine Jefferts Shori, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church; Denis James Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman-elect of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Neil Irons, executive secretary of the Methodist Council of Bishops; and Sara Lisherness, director of compassion, peace and justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
The meeting was arranged by Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 24 national church denominations and organizations working to encourage U.S. government policies that promote a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read full ELCA story