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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.

Video Message from Presiding Bishop Eaton on Annexation

Liberation Not Annexation | ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

In response to the government of Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, Bishop Eaton calls on the church to accompany the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in being a disturbing presence for peace through prayer, action, and advocacy with our elected leaders. Watch Bishop Eaton’s video here.

Take Action: Use the Peace Not Walls sample letter to urge your Senators to join Sen. Chris Van Hollen and his colleagues in standing up for international law and democracy by preventing U.S. aid to Israel to fund West Bank annexation.

Tracking ELCA, ELCJHL and LWF Annexation Responses in 2020

The ELCA, ELCJHL and LWF continue to respond to Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. Here are the statements and actions taken so far in 2020.


You can take action:

Send your members of Congress a message using this sample letter: Tell Congress: No to annexation, and no to continued occupation (June 2020)



Amplifying the Message in Word and Deed: Liberation not Annexation” by Kathryn Lohre  #DisturbingPresence (June 24, 2020)

Living Lutheran article: ELCA presiding bishop responds to annexation statement (June 18, 2020)

ELCA presiding bishop issues response to President Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” document (January 28, 2020)


ELCA Ecumenical:

Faith Leader letter opposing annexation June 2020: ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton joined 26 faith leaders in a June 2nd letter to Congress about the annexation of West Bank land by Israel. (June 2, 2020)

#ChurchesAgainstAnnexation CMEP Campaign : Bishop Eaton tweets #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation (June 29, 2020)

Letter to Congress about Peace to Prosperity Plan (February 25, 2020)


ELCJHL and Palestinian Christians:

Statement on Unilateral Israeli Annexation Plans” by the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem (May 7 2020)

Liberation, Not Annexation: A Statement and Pentecost Message from Bishop Azar (June 9, 2020)

The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope, a book by Pastor Munther Issac (June 16)

This is the Holy Land (Exodus 3:5). It Needs Justice and Only Justice,” a statement by three former Heads of Churches in Jerusalem on the Israeli annexation plans (June 18, 2020)



Annexation will undermine Peace in the Middle East: The Lutheran World Federation with World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance issued a statement on 29 June calling for an end to the occupation and for a resumption of dialogue to build lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.  (June 29, 2020)

International Agencies Warn Israeli Annexation Will Deepen Suffering and Poverty:  The Lutheran World Federation and 9 other humanitarian, development and religious organizations serving Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  The statement calls on U.S. Congressional leaders and the U.S. Administration to oppose Israeli annexation of territory in the West Bank and warns that such annexation will deepen suffering and poverty. (June 22, 2020)

Statement: Peace can never be unilaterally imposed (January 29, 2020)

NGOs warn U.S. Middle East Plan risks exacerbating instability and rights violations (January 2020)

Annexation will undermine peace in Middle East

Ecumenical organizations warn Israel’s planned action would further damage hopes for justice and lasting peace

(LWI) – Leading ecumenical organizations are urging the international community to oppose Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), together with the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance issued a statement on 29 June calling for an end to the occupation and for a resumption of dialogue to build lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Israeli government has said it plans to effectively annex parts of the West Bank by extending its sovereignty to areas that contain Jewish settlements, as well as parts of the Jordan valley. The settlements are considered illegal under international law and an obstacle to a proposed ‘two state solution’ in the region.

The ecumenical organizations say the planned annexation “is in direct violation of international law” and would further threaten hopes for justice and peace in the region.They warn it would “undermine even more the rights of Palestinians, reducing their mobility, their access to land and livelihoods, to adequate infrastructure and basic services,” as well as increasing forced displacement and putting at risk access by humanitarian organizations.

The organizations pledge to continue working for peace in the Holy Land, insisting that “peace can never be unilaterally imposed or achieved by violent means.”

(This text is from the LWF website and can be found here)

READ the Full Statement here

Amplifying the Message in Word and Deed: Liberation not Annexation

By Kathryn Mary Lohre

The government of Israel has declared its intention to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, as soon as July 1. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depends on the backing of the US presidential administration to legitimize what would be considered illegal under international law.

The Palestinian people, who have lived under Israeli military occupation for nearly 53 years, are crying out once again. They are calling us to recognize yet another looming pandemic: the dissolution of prospects for peace with justice for Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims.

In recent weeks, these pleas from our Palestinian Christian family have included:

To our Palestinian family, and especially our Palestinian Lutheran family: the ELCA hears your cries. This cannot be overstated – to you, and to anyone else who is listening. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has spoken out clearly on behalf of the ELCA, and also with ecumenical partners. This is critical.

At the same time it falls to all of us to work to amplify your call for “liberation not annexation,” and to accompany you in being a “disturbing presence” for peace through prayer, action, and advocacy with our elected leaders (For Peace in God’s World, 1995). Consistent with our social teaching, we denounce beliefs and actions that “ordain the inherent right of one people, race, or civilization to rule over another” and that “despair of any possibility of peace.” Therefore, as an act of Christian witness, we denounce the government of Israel’s plans for annexation and the political and theological beliefs that falsely justify it as a viable solution for peace.

When we are a disturbing presence for peace, our focus is on justice. Thus, we make a clear distinction between our critique of unjust Israeli government policies and our commitments to anti-Semitism and right relationship with the Jewish community. Our Churchwide Strategy for Engagement and Israel and Palestine can and does coexist with A Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community. As Lutherans we live faithfully in the tension of this “both/and,” as justice is at the heart of both sets of commitments.

When we are a disturbing presence, we work to uncover the deep, systemic connection between the oppression of one people and the oppression of another, and between the liberation of the oppressed and the liberation of all. The racism that has kneeled on the necks of Black Americans for 400 years is part of the same global pandemic as the racism that has been kneeling on the necks of Palestinians for 53 years of military occupation, and that has been even more suffocating under Israel’s nation state law, adopted in 2018. The Palestinian cry for justice cannot be heard apart from the Black cry for justice. For those of us who are not crushed under the weight of anti-Black racism or military occupation, we must redouble our efforts to learn, listen, and be transformed for the sake of the liberation of our whole human family.

When we are a disturbing presence, we put people front and center. This means we look to our Palestinian partners, and especially our Lutheran family, to guide our work and witness for just peace. We also engage with our ecumenical and inter-religious partners to amplify these voices, and to enhance the impact of our collective advocacy. Importantly, it also means that we build strong relations with our Jewish partners so that when our church’s decisions, policies, and public witness cause misunderstanding, tension, or conflict, we can interpret as we seek to accompany both the Palestinian people and the Jewish community in seeking justice for all.

500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote the treatise “The Freedom of a Christian.” In it, Luther summarizes the Christian life, also reflected in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Our freedom in Christ is not a freedom for ourselves, but for the sake of our neighbors, lived out in love. As an expression of the liberating love we share in Jesus Christ, we join our Palestinian family, and our partner Bishop Azar, in calling for “liberation not annexation.”

Please join in ELCA advocacy through Peace Not Walls: June action alert

Kathryn Mary Lohre serves as Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment for the ELCA

The original blog post can be found here by Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations

No To Annexation

ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton joined 26 faith leaders in a June 2nd letter to Congress about the annexation of West Bank land by Israel.

The letter states, “As of this writing, there is no evidence that President Trump and his administration will reverse course and reject annexation. Warning about the Administration’s current trajectory, Rev. Munther Isaac and Father Jamal Khader, Christian leaders in the West Bank, wrote in Haaretz in early May, “Let us be clear: implementing the Trump plan would bring catastrophic consequences for the prospects of a political solution between Israelis and Palestinians, and particularly for the fulfillment of the rights of the Palestinian people, including Palestinian Christians.”

We call on Congress to wield its power of the purse and not allow any United States funds provided to Israel to be used for the recognition, facilitation or support of annexation, or for denial of Palestinian rights and violation of international law, including continuing occupation. Respect for human rights, compliance with international law, and achievement of peace with justice is essential not only for the security and wellbeing of Palestinians, but for that of Israelis as well. Should Congress fail to oppose and create tangible consequences for annexation by the Israeli government, the United States will bear significant responsibility for the continued deprivation of Palestinian rights and for the continuation of the conflict.”

Read and share the Faith Leader letter opposing annexation June 2020.

In a June 2 statement, ELCJHL Bishop Azar writes, “at this critical time, we call upon our friends, partner churches, and allies around the world to advocate for us now. Please lobby your politicians, speak out on social media, call on friends in halls of power, and tell them that the US-Israeli plan for annexation is not the way to peace based on justice. Annexation is not the way to reconciliation and living together for the people of this land, who all deserve the chance for a liberated future: Israeli and Palestinian, Jew, Christian, and Muslim.”

Read and share the full ELCJHL statement

Take action now: Tell Congress that now is the time for the United States to oppose Israeli annexation and make clear that it will not continue to subsidize Israeli occupation and appropriation of Palestinian land in contravention of international laws and conventions and against established U.S. principles and interests in the region.

It only takes a minute — Send a letter to Congress using our sample letter.

Responses to President Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” document

On January 28, 2020 President Trump presented his administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” proposal.

Here is a brief description (from the Washington Post ):

“The Trump administration’s now-published “vision for peace,” the culmination of what the president said was “a long and very arduous process,” outlines a scenario in which Israel maintains sovereignty west of the Jordan river, a capital in an undivided Jerusalem, and control over Jewish enclaves and settlements scattered through the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, get … not much. In Trump’s scheme, backed by Netanyahu, they would give up the claims of Palestinian refugees and accept a conditions-based path to statehood in a patchwork of territory carved up by Israeli roads and settlements. Trump’s plan cedes security control of the eastern border with Jordan wholly to Israel, calls for the dismantling of Palestinian militant groups and allots a Palestinian capital on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem — rather than in East Jerusalem proper, as envisioned by the international community and successive U.S. administrations.”

ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton issued a statement on January 28, 2020 in response, saying:

“I am very dismayed and disturbed by President Trump’s announcement of a “peace plan” that, I fear, will bring greater insecurity for Israelis and Palestinians instead of peace.

Our church has long held that any successful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on negotiation between the parties. Unfortunately, this “plan” has involved only one party. A plan made for a people without consulting that people will not bring peace. It also seeks to remove from the table many of the final status issues by effectively giving a green light to Israel to further entrench the occupation, rather than end it, – a policy we have advocated for years…

Therefore, I call upon President Trump to develop a different plan that would involve all parties, and to pursue efforts that would adhere to international law and human rights conventions. This plan should ensure the protection and preservation of internationally recognized human rights and realize, for Palestinians and for Israelis, two viable, secure states living side by side in peace.”

Bishop Sani-Ibrahim Azar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) released a statement on 29 January calling on partner churches to urge their governments to take specific action.

“Peace can never be unilaterally imposed,” write Lutheran World Federation (LWF) president Archbishop Panti Filibus Musa, and LWF General Secretary Rev Dr Martin Junge in a statement released on 29 January. “The plan ignores fundamental principles of international law and human rights conventions, as well as numerous UN General Assembly and UN Security Council resolutions, setting a dangerous precedent for the future.”

The statement continues: “The LWF calls upon the international community

  • to renew their commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation and negotiation, as the only way to safeguard security and ensure lasting peace,
  • to take immediate actions to reduce the humanitarian suffering in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including encouraging Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, ensuring sufficient funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and increasing its support for the East Jerusalem hospitals and other humanitarian programs given the severe cuts in U.S. funding for the West Bank and Gaza.”

The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) also released a statement on the US plan on January 29, stating: “US recognition of Israeli moves toward unilateral annexation of occupied Palestinian territory would constitute a breach of international law, which obliges states not to recognise, aid, or assist Israel’s international wrongful actions. Annexing parts of the West Bank will further exacerbate the risk of forcible transfer of Palestinian families and communities, entrench poverty, and hamper the provision of essential humanitarian assistance. Annexation endorsed by the US plan not only violates Israel’s responsibilities as an Occupying Power under international humanitarian Law, it also denies Palestinians their right to self-determination, condemning them to enduring discrimination and dependency.”

The statement goes on to say:

“A genuine, viable, and just peace plan must adhere to international law, uphold equality, and ensure self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis. The US ‘Deal of the Century’ fails to meet these basic tenets. We urge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work together on a plan that can deliver a just and durable peace.
We call on the international community, including the EU, its member states, and other countries to:

  • Reject the inequitable US proposition and urgently advance an alternative peace plan, based on human rights, international law, and realisation of self-determination for all peoples.
  • Take decisive action, including employing all available lawful countermeasures to uphold accountability, in order to halt further annexation and severance of Palestinian territorial integrity, and ensure rapid reversal of those measures announced or already implemented.”

Nine NGOs, including the Lutheran World Federation, issued a statement warning that Trump’s Middle East peace plan risks exacerbating instability and rights violations:

“As humanitarian, development, and religious organizations serving Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, we fear the US Middle East Plan may spark an escalation in violence and entrench violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. We urge the international community to pursue a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in line with human rights and international law that guarantees safety for all of the region’s people.

The situation facing Palestinians is already critical. Nearly half of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza need humanitarian assistance. More than two thirds of Gaza’s population is food insecure and 90 percent lack access to clean water through the public water network. The health system in Gaza is on the verge of collapse and unemployment levels are unsustainable yet continue to increase – especially among women and youth. Any path forward must address this urgent and stark reality.”

Letter to President Trump on UNRWA and Humanitarian Aid

On Sept 27 the ELCA joined other churches and church organizations in a letter to President Trump on UNRWA and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

“Mr. President, we ask that you restore U.S. funding for UNRWA to $365 million, as it has been in previous years. ​We also ask that all funds appropriated by Congress for the Palestinian territories be directed to its intended recipients. U.S. policy already ensures that these funds are channeled through credible humanitarian organization​s working in the Palestinian territories. Assisting these organizations to provide education and healthcare services is in the United States’ best interests in the region and a necessary step toward helping to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As faith leaders we are called to stand together with the vulnerable and oppressed in Israel/Palestine and throughout the world. We appeal to you to at this critical moment to reverse your decision and reaffirm U.S. humanitarian and economic assistance to the Palestinians.”

Read the full letter: Letter to President Trump on UNRWA and Humanitarian Aid 

Take action: Tell Congress cutting aid to Palestinians won’t bring peace. You can fill out this simple form and send a letter to your members of Congress.

Churches for Middle East Peace Welcomes PLO Re-Commitment to Peace Negotiations, Condemns Anti-Semitic Remarks

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)’s executive director, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, attended the Palestine National Council convention this week, including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech. CMEP welcomes the commitment of the PLO to peace negotiations, but condemns the inflammatory and anti-Semitic rhetoric used during the speech. To learn more about CMEP’s reaction to the speech and Abbas’ subsequent apology, click here or read below. As a member of CMEP, the ELCA affirms the CMEP statement.

For Immediate Release: Churches for Middle East Peace Welcomes PLO Re-Commitment to Peace Negotiations, Condemns Anti-Semitic Remarks.

Washington, D.C. – May 3, 2018 – Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas presented his future policy to the first regular session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) since 1996, calling for new negotiations leading to a two-state solution. His re-commitment to the peace process comes after remarks made earlier in January in which he threatened to withdraw from the Oslo Accords and suspend PLO recognition of Israel. However, the conciliatory tone brought to the conversation regarding the two-state solution was severely undermined by anti-Semitic rhetoric peppered throughout the speech.

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) welcomes President Abbas’s renewed commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel and his calls for non-violent popular resistance to Israel’s occupation. CMEP condemns the anti-Semitic and inflammatory remarks and affirms that support for a Palestinian state does not require downplaying historical Jewish suffering or denying their connection to the land.

The PNC is the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s parliament representing a wide range of Palestinian political groups, including President Abbas’s own Fatah Party. The PNC endorsed Abbas’s vision of a two-state solution and his calls for non-violent resistance. They elected a new PLO Executive Committee with Abbas serving as its chairman.

Abbas’s remarks before the PNC also included highly inflammatory, anti-Semitic rhetoric, which included claims that modern Israelis have no ties to the land, that European Jews are descendants of the Khazar converts to Judaism and not Middle Eastern Jews, and that the Holocaust can be blamed on Jews’ social behavior.

On May 4th in Ramallah, Abbas issued an apology and clarifying his remarks, “I would also like to reiterate our long-held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims… Likewise, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security.”

CMEP Executive Director Dr. Mae Elise Cannon attended the PNC session, along with representatives from Canada, the European Union, Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and a deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset.

Cannon said this about the PNC Meetings: “It was appalling to hear some of the comments from Abbas about history and the Jewish people. While I am encouraged by his recent apology and statement, the anti-Semitic tone and emphasis of his speech were unacceptable. At the same time, Abbas’ speech did reconfirm a stalwart commitment to peace and the two-state solution; which should be lauded. The Palestinian Authority has reiterated time and time again that they are willing to be a partner for peace of the core commitments of 1967 borders, a shared Jerusalem, and other final status issues are addressed.”


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.