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Peace Not Walls

Tell Congress – Peace talks must enforce 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.


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

Photo from

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.

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

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.

UN vote celebration in Ramallah

After Vote, Palestinians and Israel Search for the Next Step

Vatican hails UN vote, wants Jerusalem guarantees

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

Supporting Palestine at the UN today is a vote for peace in the Middle East by Hanan Ashrawi

Israel controls 94% of the Jordan Valley, a potential breadbasket for a Palestinian state, new report says

A Palestinian family in the Jordan Valley cannot access their land due to Israeli restrictions on it.

Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has toured Israel and raised controversy in several arenas.  First, he said he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, a controversial move that others in the international community have not done.  Then he compared the Israeli economy to the Palestinian economy, implying that a superior Israeli culture accounted for the better Israeli economy.  Read a New York Times editorial about Mr. Romney’s visit.

Meanwhile, more and more sources are pointing out how much the Palestinian economy is decimated by the Israeli occupation of its land and resources.  In a new report, On the Brink: Israeli Settlements and their Impact on the Jordan Valley, Oxfam points out that the Jordan Valley, which could be a potential breadbasket for the Palestinian economy, is actually almost totally controlled (94%) by the Israeli government, settlements and infrastructure.  From the report:


The Jordan Valley, located in the eastern part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), makes up 30 per cent of the West Bank (see Map 1 on page 7). Requisitions and expropriations of Palestinian land by the Israeli authorities continue to destroy the livelihoods of Palestinians living in the area and, unless action is taken, there are strong indications that the situation will only get worse. The Israeli government recently announced proposals and policies for the expansion of settlements, which, if implemented, will further threaten the living conditions and human rights of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, undermining efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the OPT and Israel.

Only 6 per cent of the land in the Jordan Valley is currently available for Palestinian use and development.1 While the Israeli settlements there have developed modernised agribusinesses that produce crops for high-value export to the European Union (EU) and international markets, Palestinian farmers – most of whom are smallholders – face restrictions that severely hamper their ability to sell their produce locally, regionally, or internationally.

Development is further constrained because Palestinian families and businesses, and even EU donors and aid agencies, find it nearly impossible to gain permits to build homes, toilets, wells, animal pens, or other vital infrastructure for local communities. Less than 1 per cent of „Area C‟ (the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control where nearly all of the Jordan Valley is located) has been planned for Palestinian development2 by the Israeli Civil Administration,3 and 94 per cent of permits have been rejected in recent years.4 Essential structures built without development plans and hard-to-obtain permits are frequently demolished in contravention of international law.

It is estimated that if Israeli restrictions on Palestinian development were removed, an additional 50 sq/km of the Jordan Valley could be cultivated, potentially adding $1bn a year to the Palestinian economy, or 9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).5

Read full Oxfam report:  ON THE BRINK: Israeli settlements and their impact on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.

Jerusalem – Separate and unequal

Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day on Sunday, which commemorates the “unification” of Jerusalem after the 1967 war.  An editorial in Haaretz, called the Lies of Jerusalem, argues that Jerusalem is anything but united:

The wall that divides statements such as “We come with a united government to a united Jerusalem,” which was issued on Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from the facts on the ground, is growing ever higher.

The article cites  a report released by the Association for Civil Right in Israel (ACRI) that outlines the economic and practical disintegration of East Jerusalem due to the discriminatory policies and neglect of the Israeli state authorities and the Jerusalem Municipality.  There is also a short film that details these conditions: 


These policies, according to the report, have resulted in an unprecedented deterioration in the state of 360,882 Palestinians in Jerusalem: 78% of the total Palestinian population in the Jerusalem District live below the poverty line, including 84% of the children, according to the Israeli National Insurance Institute.  

See more statistics about life for East Jerusalemites.  |  Read more  about the background issues of Jerusalem.

Clashing memories in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories

Late April and early May mark a stark contrast for Israelis and Palestinians.  This year, the state of Israel celebrated 64 years of independence in late April.  But on May 15, Palestinians commemorated the same events as a tragedy they call Al Nakba – the Catastrophe, when 800,000 Palestinians became refugees by being displaced by the very people who now celebrate  independence.  In Israel, several universities were prohibited from holding events that would have acknowledged the Palestinian reality. 

 The Jerusalem Post has several articles about Israel’s celebration Haaretz has an article encouraging the right of Palestinians to acknowledge the event from their perspective  as well as an op-ed by Hanan Ashrawi.

Israel has been earmarking Palestinian land for settlements for years, maps show

The Israeli government has been earmarking Palestinian land for settlement expansion for years, maps released recently show.  The maps, which name some new or expanded settlements where Palestinian villages now exist, were only disclosed by Israeli authorities because of a challenge through the Freedom of Information Act by anti-settlement activist Dror Etkes.  90% of this land is east of the Separation Barrier, beyond the main settlement blocs.    Read more

Thousands mourn late Egyptian Copt leader Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Copts for over 40 years, died March 18, 2012. Photo from ABC news.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt, as tens of thousands mourned the death of Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic spiritual leader since 1971 and a president of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from 1991 to 1998. In a letter to the church dated 18 March, World Council of Churches general secretary the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit paid tribute to Pope Shenouda’s unwavering pursuit of Christian unity and peace throughout the Middle East and the world.

“As a leader he taught us that modesty is the best way to serve Christ,” wrote Tveit, noting that Shenouda is remembered as “a strong believer in Christian-Muslim conviviality and cooperation. His initiatives in the field of interreligious dialogue contributed to the unity of the Egyptian people.”

Shenouda III held the ancient office of Pope of Alexandria and, as such, was a successor to Saint Mark the Evangelist who, according to tradition, brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to the great Mediterranean city in the first century A.D.

Tveit concluded his tribute with this prayer, “May Pope Shenouda’s words, witness and memory strengthen the faith of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East; and, may his soul rest in the peace of the Kingdom of God.”

Read more about it

Watch video of Presbyterian Symposium on Land and the Bible


A symposium entitled “Bible, Land, and our Theological Challenge: A Presbyterian Conversation” was held in October with key speakers presenting views on biblical perspectives on the land and the Palestinian-Israeli situation.   See the schedule of speakers below and watch the video.

9:00AM Welcome, introductions, statement of purpose, prayer  
9:30AM-10:20AM Kairos Palestine and Interfaith Relations in North America” Rev. Dr. Said Ailabouni,ELCA Pastor, La Grange IL, Former director of ELCA office on the Middle East
10:30AM-11:20AM “Biblical interpretation and Old Testament Land Theology Today” Rev. Dr. Eugene March,Old Testament Profesor Emeritus, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
11:30AM-12:20PM “Biblical interpretation and New Testament Land Theology Today” Rev. Dr. Gary Burge,Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College and Graduate School
12:30PM Lunch and discussion: catered in the Presbyterian Center. Registration includes cost of lunch.  
1:45PM – 4:30PM Panel Discussion Moderator: Darrell Yeaney, former university Campus Minister in Kansas, California and Iowa; Founder with his wife Sue of the Congressional Accompaniment Project to Israel/PalestineSpeakers: Said Ailabouni, Gene March, Gary Burge(see above)National Staff:Rev. Dr. Christian T. Iosso, Coordinator, Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (PCUSA)Rev. Dr. Charles A. Wiley, III, Interim Director, Theology & Worship, PC(USA)IPMN members:Rev. Katherine Cunningham, Co-Executive Director, New Horizons Associates, Counseling and Consultation, New Jersey; a past moderator of the Committee on the Office of the GA; Vice Moderator of IPMN.Professor Nahida Halaby Gordon, Schools of Medicine and Nursing, moderator of the National Middle East Presbyterian Caucus, officer and member of the Steering Committee of IPMNRev. Dr. Donald Wagner, Research Professor for Interfaith Engagement, Eastern Mennonite University and former Professor and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies North Park University, Chicago, ILRev. Raafat L. Zaki, Transitional Synod Executive, Synod of the Covenant. He was educated in the Middle East, Asia, & the USA and has held three pastorates, two GAMC positions, and two synod positions.


Palestinian President Abbas on a Palestinian State

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an op-ed in the New York Times, talks about the importance and international legitimacy of a Palestinian state.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu takes issue with him and his account of history.  President Abbas does leave out the detail that the Arabs did reject the UN partition plan on the basis that it gave half of the land to the Jewish state when only a fraction of the land was owned by Jewish people.