In the Name of God, End the Siege over Gaza

One and a half million people imprisoned and without proper food or medicine. 800,000 without electricity supply; this is illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human and natural laws as well as International Law. It cannot be tolerated anymore. The siege over Gaza should end now.

Voices from our people there say “We feel the threat of being exterminated by this siege”

In the Name of God, we, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land urge the International Community, President Bush and the leaders of Israel, to put an end to this suffering and call upon Israel to activate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s initiative for Palestinian responsibility control of the borders thus ensuring sufficient normal flow of medicine, food, fuel and goods to Gaza

We urge the International Community and the European Union to act according to their recent pleas. There is no time to waste when human life is endangered.

We urge the Palestinian Leadership to unite in ending their differences for the sake of their people in Gaza. Put the differences aside and deal with this crisis for the good of all human beings demonstrating that you care for your brothers and sisters who have suffered enough already. We would say to all concerned parties; while ever you persist in firing rockets into Israel you encourage public opinion outside this Land to feel there is a justification for this siege.

We urge Israel to act responsibly and to immediately end this inhuman siege. To deny children and civilians their necessary basic commodities are not the ways to security but rather throw the region into further and more dangerous deterioration. This siege will not guarantee the end to rocket firing, but will only increase the bitterness and suffering and invite more revenge, while the innocents keep dying. True Peace building is the only way to bring the desired security.

We pray for the day when the people of Gaza will be free from Occupation, from political differences, from violence and from despair. We pray for the Israelis and Palestinians to respect human life and God’s love for every human life, and to take all possible measures to end this suffering. Only bold steps towards just Peace and ending the violence will protect the Human life and dignity of both People.

With the prophet we keep praying and hoping;

” A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope”

Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land

ELCJHL Bishop Younan Writes Open Letter to Annapolis Leaders

Peace is Possible

“In the midst of all the skepticism and cynicism over Annapolis, I believe we are called to embody hope and act with courage. In a world where too many leaders see the cup as half empty, we are called to be a people of hope and choose not only to see the cup as half full but to commit ourselves to whatever it takes to make the cup overflow.

Leaders of Annapolis, I implore you to make this more than a glorified photo opportunity with smiles and handshakes. Time is not on our side. Every step toward just peace delayed is a step toward the entrenchment of extremism in the Middle East. This we cannot afford.” –Bishop Younan, ELCJHL

The Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land

Washington, D.C.
November 7, 2007

All of us believe in one Creator and Guide of the Universe. We believe that the essence of religion is to worship Him and respect the life and dignity of all human beings, regardless of religion, nationality and gender. We accordingly commit ourselves to using our positions of leadership, and the influence of our good offices, to advance these sacred values, to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and instead serve the goals of just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation.

Our respective Holy Places have become a major element in our conflict. We lament that this is the case, as our respective attachments to our holy places should not be a cause of bloodshed, let alone be sites of violence or other expressions of hatred. Holy places must remain dedicated to prayer and worship only, places where believers have free access and put themselves in the presence of the Creator. Holy places are there for believers to draw inspiration to strengthen their acceptance and love of Almighty and all His creatures, from all religions and all nationalities. Accordingly each religious community should treat the Holy Sites of the other faiths in a manner that respects their integrity and independence and avoids any act of desecration, aggression or harm.

We, believers from three religions, have been placed in this land, Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is our responsibility to find the right way to live together in peace rather than to fight and kill one other. Palestinians yearn for the end to occupation and for what they see as their inalienable rights. Israelis long for the day when they can live in personal and national security. Together we must find ways of reaching these goals.

Towards these ends we are actively working to:

  • Establish “hot line” procedures of rapid communication among ourselves in order to address and advise government officials regarding issues of protection of and access to Holy Sites before such issues become cause for conflict.
  • Establish mechanisms to monitor media for derogatory representations of any religion, and issue statements in response to such representations.
  • Together reflect on the future of Jerusalem, support the designation of the Old City of Jerusalem as a World Heritage Site, work to secure open access to the Old City for all communities, and seek a common vision for this city which all of us regard as holy.
  • Promote education for mutual respect and acceptance in schools and in the media. We will sponsor a conference for Israeli and Palestinian educators, academics and Ministers of Education on “The Role of Religion in Educating for Peace: Principles and Practices.”
  • Demonstrate through our relations that differences can and should be addressed through dialogue rather than through violence, and strive to bring this message to our respective communities and political leaders that they may embrace this approach accordingly.
  • Provide ongoing consultation to our government leaders, and through the example of our work together remind them that the interests of one community can only be served by also respecting and valuing the humanity and interests of all other communities.

Stop the Violence and Work Together for Justice/Peace

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)
by Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
June 15, 2007

We have been warning for some time now that the situation here in the Occupied Palestinian territories – especially Gaza – is untenable and explosive. I fear that unless we take drastic action, we will sink into all-out, protracted civil war that will dramatically fuel the fires of extremism, violence and chaos in the Middle East. This could further radicalize the whole Middle East and perhaps tip us over a turning point toward religious fanaticism that would be hard to change. So I speak today to urge leaders, combatants, ordinary people and the international community: for God’s sake and the sake of all those suffering here from violence and oppression, stop the internal violence, end the international aid boycott and implement a serious plan to end the illegal, 40-year occupation of the Palestinian people.

The heads of local churches in Jerusalem issued a statement Wednesday, June 13, 2007, calling on all Palestinian brothers to put down their arms against one another and stop the violence immediately. There is no justification for this violence, and it only damages the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people for self-determination, our own state and an end to occupation.

Sisters and brothers of Palestine, accept your responsibility to end all violence and return to the higher ground and aim of non-violent struggle to this illegal occupation. People of the Arab League, please step in and help us regain our balance.

Although a resolution to this conflict seems so unreachable, we already know the solutions: follow international law, UN resolutions and basic human rights law. Implement the two-state solution, based on the 1948 armistice line (the Green Line), which would lead to two equal, viable, sovereign states, each with Jerusalem as its capital, just resolution to the refugee problem, shared resources and ending the policy of settlements.

So as I sit in Jerusalem trying to analyze what is happening and why, I can’t help but wonder. Why, instead of implementing the many relevant UN resolutions supporting these concepts (66 in all), has the international community ignored them all these years and continued to allow the confiscation of Palestinian land and building up almost 500,000 illegal settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Why, if the West wants to foster democracy, did they reject the outcome of democratic elections held under occupation with little violence and boycott the new government? Why has the international community sat by and watched the longest occupation in history – 40 years – and then placed an unprecedented boycott on them, which amounts to sanctions against a captive people. How is this possible? Maybe it is time for deep self-evaluation for Palestinians, Israelis and the international community.

For this reason, from Jerusalem I call on international leaders of the world to wake up and see that some of their policies have had devastating negative effects on this conflict and, in fact, the whole Middle East. Realistically, what can one expect in Gaza when you lock 1.5 million people into a tiny patch of land 20 miles long by 5-10 miles wide, virtually seal the borders except for a small fraction of trade and then completely stop the already meager salaries? A recent OxFam study of families in Gaza showed that the average family in Gaza has an average debt of $1750, in a land where a school principle only earns about $6000 per year. And in the West Bank, what can we expect when you herd people into tiny enclaves, take away freedom of movement and allow continued violations of human rights to go on behind walls of concrete and barbed wire fences?

Leaders of the world, your complicity in allowing and supporting the illegal occupation and your unprecedented action in boycotting this occupied people have created a humanitarian, political and economic crisis that now threatens not only the people of Palestine, but also Israel and the whole region. The Arab and Muslim world see this conflict as the litmus test for how the West treats them, and until some justice and improvement on the ground occurs for Palestinians, it will continue to fuel the fires of fanaticism in the whole Middle East.

If you want to bring an end to the horrific violence in the Middle East and if you are concerned as I am by the rampant growth of religious extremism: please, I urge your from Jerusalem, get serious about implementing the two-state solution, begin immediate serious talks about these issues with all sides and end the illegal and immoral boycott and occupation.

If we truly want to end this deadly stalemate and build a modern, democratic civil society in Palestine living side by side in a just peace with Israel, let us use our resources to educate our children and not to buy weapons to oppress them. We in the ELCJHL continue to be committed to a just solution based on international law and to see education as the key in preparing the future leaders who can lead us from occupation to freedom, from fear to mutual trust and from violence to peace/salaam/shalom.

For more information about the churches, schools and ministries of the ELCJHL, see www.holyland-lutherans.org

Bishop Younan Tells National Unity Conference Palestinians Must Use Wisdom not Weapons

Feb. 10, 2007 – Bishop Munib Younan urged Palestinians to “use brains, sanity, dialogue and non-violence and not arms to deal with differences” at a national conference Monday. The conference, called by independent groups, non-governmental organizations and other agencies, encouraged democratic, non-violent strategies as the only way to achieve Palestinian goals of an end to the 40-year military occupation and the creation of an independent, viable state living side by side with Israel. Banners and stickers at the conference said that Palestine is big enough for all of us and our differences.

The conference started off with Islamic Chief Judge Sheikh Tamimi and Bishop Younan speaking to the 200 people gathered. Bishop Younan told the group that recent infighting between Palestinians “is a sin and a shame on our people” and urged politicians and other leaders to listen to both those who agree with them, to the silent majority and to the voice of the opposition because this is the only way to develop a peaceful, nonviolent strategy for justice and to build a common vision of a modern, civil, democratic society. He urged the victims of the fighting to forgive and not to allow hatred and vengeance to overcome them.

The Bishop has been talking on radio and television and working with Muslim and Christian leaders behind the scenes to try to unite Palestinians toward non-violence and mutual respect in this crucial time of recent infighting, a new unity government and increased tension over recent excavations near the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Bishop Younan to World: Let’s Get Palestinian Children Back to School

by Bishop Munib Younan

As I was driving to Ramallah the other day and stopped at an intersection, a child came up to the car with a towel to try to clean my windshield. I said, “what is this?” He said, “Please, for God’s sake, one shekel. I want to eat!” Other children later started following us when we were walking, “Please, a shekel, a shekel.” I was offended and humiliated to watch Palestinian children turn into beggars. And then, I realized it was daytime, and these children should be in school, but they were just a few of the more than 725,000 public school students who have been out of school for two months now because there are no salaries to pay the teachers. As a Palestinian Bishop, this saddens and angers me.

These children have become the pawns of the politics between the Palestinians and the whole Western world and between the infighting of Hamas and Fatah. It is time that we all – Palestinians, Israelis and the international community – stopped making the children the victims of this political statemate.

We all know the best path for developing a modern, democratic society is education. We all know that education for children is a basic human right, as in the UN declaration for human rights. Children should be in school, opening their minds to the world’s best practices and learning to build their community. Now, as a result of the international boycott against the political leaders, our children are becoming beggars and our teen-agers are becoming more embittered by injustice and hypocrisy and driven into the arms of the extremists. This worries every one of us and should worry the international community.

I call on the international community to help us get our children back in school. If we work together, we can make this happen by the end of next week’s Muslim holiday feast of Eid al Fitr.

I call on Hamas and Fatah to stop the infighting and move forward to solutions that promote peace with justice. We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into a civil war where everyone is the loser. The future of our children is at stake. We must act now.

In the meantime, we in the Lutheran schools continue to be open and to serve as many students as we can, regardless of religion, gender, political or denominational affiliation. It is their natural human right.

Heads of Churches in Jerusalem Visit Gaza and Nablus

The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem visited both Gaza and Nablus in late July to see the people there under siege and constant closure that has been in force for months. With the tragedy in Lebanon and northern Israel, the ongoing tragedies in the Palestinian territories has been forgotten. The people there asked them to remember them. (Pictures courtesy of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

We are approaching the sixth month with no salaries for government employees, and now more than 60% of Palestinian people fall under the poverty level of $2 a day. Almost 250 Palestinians have been killed in the last two and a half months. According to Israeli human rights organization BtSelem, 162 people were killed in July, the highest number since mid-2002, and approximately half of these casualties were civilians. The organization urges continued monitoring of events in the West Bank.

The IDF continues to act in the Occupied Territories, making arrests, destroying structures, and bombing residential neighborhoods from the air. The separation barrier continues to be built, and living conditions in the areas under occupation continue to be intolerable. It is precisely at such times that careful monitoring of Israel’s acts in the Occupied Territories is needed.

Palestinian Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem Supports Catholic Call for a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace

Twenty-five Catholic bishops through-out the Middle East and Africa have called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Israel and Palestine on Dec. 22 and for urgent action by the Christian world to do more to make peace. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan of the ELCJ, serving in Palestine, Jordan and Israel, has written his colleague His Beatitude Patriarch Michael Sabbah of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem in gratitude and support, and is asking the Lutheran world and all partners to join in solidarity with them.

“The situation has dragged on many years now, and requires, today more than ever, action to put an end to the sufferings of all inhabitants of this land, Jews, Christians and Moslems, who have become equally incapable of ending the conflict, fettered as they are in a spiral of cruel and irrational violence. Both peoples, Palestinian and Israeli, are on the verge of perishing, the strong as well as the weak, those who use violence as well as those who wait patiently for a peaceful solution,” the statement says.

Bishop Younan states, “We believe that churches should stand together at this time for the sake of humanity and justice in Israel and Palestine and to save them from every kind of fear or oppression, in order that the two nations may live together in their own viable states, side by side in justice, peace and reconciliation.”

Bishop Younan also states that this call must also extend to all people of faith and courage who seek just peace in the Middle East for the sake of our children. He also strongly agrees with the Catholic bishop’s call for urgent action in the Christian churches because it represents the mind of the grassroots when it says:

“We believe that the churches can do still more. If all the Churches of the world recognize their duty towards the Holy Land, and if they all join together in common and concerted action to sensitive their governments, their people and the international community, their intervention will become a decisive factor in the attainment of justice, peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land”.

Both the Statement and Bishop Younan stress the need for relieving suffering on all sides of the conflict.

“We do not call you to take one side against the other. On the contrary, we want you to help both sides find the way to reconciliation. We are calling for an awakening in the Churches of the world, for a strong voice to be raised to promote peace in this Holy Land, where both peoples are in need of outside help in order to find peace and reconciliation,” the statement said.

Bishop Younan asks all the world to join the initiative of the Catholic bishops for a day of fasting, and prayer on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004 because “we believe that the babe of the manger in Bethlehem will hear the yearnings of every suffering person and will transform the hearts and minds of peoples and politicians toward justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation for Christ is our only hope in our troubled Middle East.”

A Message from Jerusalem

A Message from Jerusalem
26 March, 1999

We Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land dedicate this day, Friday, March 26, 1999, as a day of prayer and fasting for our city Jerusalem. Jerusalem today, is an occupied city. It came under Israeli sovereignty by a unilateral Israeli decision that violates international law and the consensus of the international community. It is maintained by the power of might rather than justice and right. We therefore declare – peacefully, non-violently and with calm reasoning – that the present situation of Jerusalem can never lead to a secure and durable peace. We refuse to accept it and firmly believe that it is also unacceptable to God.

Israel’s monopoly of control over the Holy City, to the exclusive benefit of Jews, increases tension between Israelis and Palestinians and exacerbates the violence. Israel continues to confiscate more Palestinian land and property for the building of Jewish colonies. It persists in demolishing Palestinian homes and in confiscating Palestinians’ identity cards causing their forced expulsion from the city. Israel continues to close Jerusalem to Palestinians, to deprive them of their livelihood and deny them access to the Holy City even for worship. All these measures, as well as the humiliating and inhumane treatment of Palestinians are in violation of religious, moral, and ethical principles, as well as international conventions.

We reaffirm that the city of Jerusalem is a city for two peoples – Palestinians and Israelis – and three religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism; and that its sovereignty must be shared. We, therefore, call upon the Israeli government to halt unilateral changes of the city’s character and composition, and the violation of the rights of its indigenous people whether religious or political. We also call upon all peace-loving governments, institutions and individuals to continue working for an end to aggression and the establishment of justice.

As we commemorate the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and celebrate his glorious resurrection, we affirm, inspired by his great example, the victory of right over wrong, of justice over oppression and of life over death. We live in the hope of a better future for all the people of our region. We pray to Almighty God, to cause a miracle to happen, to bring about a change in our situation and grant our city and country a just and secure peace.